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U3A Writing: Different Paths

...There was another surprise in store when I discovered that I could shoot straight and hit the target. The 303 Lee Enfield was the rifle, but my weapon of choice was the LMG, the Bren gun. When a new consignment of weapons arrived at the barracks, Sgt. Bennett, Corporal Mathews, Alan Heppenstall and myself were chosen to take the guns onto the range and zero them in. We were told to take refreshments with us, and my wife had cooked sausage pies. These were absolutely gorgeous and were probably the reason why I was chosen for two similar outings. On both subsequent occasions I was told by Corporal Mathews not to forget the pies...

David Bennett tells of his days in the Army as a National Serviceman.

I started my National Service by completing Basic Training with the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, popularly known as 'The Dukes', in Halifax. Although I was very recently married, my time with the Dukes was quite enjoyable, some aspects of the training very much so.

To my surprise I found that I quite enjoyed marching, provided that I wasn't positioned directly behind Frank Battye. Frank was one of those unusual people who didn't seem able to synchronise arm and leg movements. Left arm and left leg moved forward together, followed by right arm and right leg. Attempting to keep proper step behind him was a nightmare and often involved kicking him quite hard on the shins.

Annoying for me and rather painful for him, Army boots did not have soft toes!

After a while the drill sergeant (Sgt. Bennett by name but no relation) accepted the fact that Frank simply could not march and excused him all parades and sent him on other, unspecified, duties. After that, marching on the Square, particularly with the Band playing, became quite a pleasure. Rifle drill added to the enjoyment - a bit sad of me to admit it but true nonetheless.

There was another surprise in store when I discovered that I could shoot straight and hit the target. The 303 Lee Enfield was the rifle, but my weapon of choice was the LMG, the Bren gun. When a new consignment of weapons arrived at the barracks, Sgt. Bennett, Corporal Mathews, Alan Heppenstall and myself were chosen to take the guns onto the range and zero them in. We were told to take refreshments with us, and my wife had cooked sausage pies. These were absolutely gorgeous and were probably the reason why I was chosen for two similar outings. On both subsequent occasions I was told by Corporal Mathews not to forget the pies.

At the end of Basic Training I was awarded the crossed rifles to confirm that I had graduated as a marksman. My one serious disappointment was that I was never allowed to sew these onto my uniform. By this time I had decided to transfer to the RAEC or the 'schoolies'. Schoolies were looked on with some contempt by the proper soldiers and this with some justification. The majority of the schoolies that I subsequently met were not to be admired! My RAEC captain told me that the crossed rifles could only be worn by line regiments, basically the Infantry. I still think he was wrong, but as a private you didn't challenge the word of a commissioned officer of any rank and certainly not a captain.

Even before my transfer was completed I was becoming disappointed. At our passing-out parade in Halifax, my mother couldn't attend so my mother-in-law came. Our CO, Major Johnson, took the opportunity of having a word with her and asked if I could be persuaded to stay with the Dukes and possibly apply for a commission. She very wisely said the decision had to be mine, and so I went into the RAEC. The advantages of the RAEC were twofold and at the time seemed totally important.

After RAEC training there was immediate promotion to sergeant which meant more money and virtually no Mess bills. So as a penniless newly married man there was no contest. However the temptation was there. Had I been single, I would have stayed, but I was married and I don't think Jean would have enjoyed the life of an Army wife. I certainly wouldn't have liked to see her in that role.

Training at Beaconsfield for the RAEC was the worst eight weeks of my National Service. Boring, boring, boring and a long way from Hull. I got into a lot of trouble at Beaconsfield but somehow I managed to survive.

After Beaconsfield I was posted to 44 HAA Regiment Royal Artillery. I made good friends with some of the RA men in the Mess, and was eventually invited to have a go on the indoor .22 Rifle Range. I well remember the surprise on my friends' faces when they discovered that I could handle a rifle reasonably well. In their past experience, schoolies simply didn't shoot. Eventually, as an attachment, I was allowed to shoot for the Regiment. That didn't go down at all well with my RAEC boss, a Captain Mathews. However, Colonel Wilde, who was the CO of the RA garrison at Oldenburg, was all for it - so I did. I eventually became part of the Regiments 'All Sports' team, which involved running, snooker and darts as well as shooting.

They were good times and I was often asked what I was doing in the RAEC. Most people seemed to understand when I told them.

Had I taken a different path when I was called up, who knows ?

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