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A Shout From The Attic: Are You Fit Enough to See the Doctor?

You had to be extremely fit to be ill in the Army, Ronnie Bray recalls.

To read more of Ronnie's wonderfully entertaining autobiography please click on

Sick parades were a bit of a joke. To report sick, one had to collect all one’s belongings, including mattress and bedding, every item of kit, take it to the stores, a million miles away with no transport, and get to the sick room to see the MO. One had to be extremely fit to be ill!

Physical training toughened us up. Having worked in the brickyards had helped me reach a good standard of physical fitness, but I still lacked mental rigour. Nature or nurture, I know not. Perhaps a bit of both. Anyway, it was always by dint of great effort that I achieved what was possible for me to achieve. I am lazy, constitutionally hedonistic, a dreamer without the energy to pursue my dreams. The Army training did not include the option to avoid the unenjoyable and so it was good for me although I disliked it.

I took care to get my kit up to standard. Most of us did that, spending the major part of each evening in ‘bulling’ for the next day. Standards were high, and those who did not reach the standard were dealt with summarily. Humiliation and peer pressure were used to move our performance upwards. The shouted command, “Stand by your beds” got us stood at the end of our beds, paralysed with fear, as our NCO walked down the line looking suitable, if theatrically, grim. We were not possessed of sufficient confidence to test the reality of the theatricality of the NCOs. They had the power, or at least they had us convinced they had, which amounts to the same thing.

“Do you call that clean?” the sergeant or corporal would scream at 100 decibels into the eyebrows of the unfortunate trainee. The answer should have been “Yes, Sergeant” or “Yes, Corporal”, but that would not be what was required. In spite of opinions to the contrary the answer had to be, “No, Sergeant!”

“Open that window,” the NCO barked to the man in the next bed space. The man dutifully obeyed. The NCO then put his swagger cane in front of the man’s kit on the locker top, and pushed it through the open window.

At other times, a bedding block failed to please. The offender was ordered to pick it up and throw it up the room. This done, the voice would bark, “Not far enough.” Then, pointing to any soldier in the vicinity he would bellow, “Kick it up the room!” This was inevitable followed by an even louder, “Not far enough!” A process continued until the offending former bed block was as far as possible from its origin and resembled nothing like its original.

The humiliation was soul-destroying, which was precisely the intended effect. We were continually berated for our underperformance as individuals and as a platoon. The Army machine broke us down to “rebuild us nearer to its heart’s desire.” It was, therefore, a huge surprise to be told how good we were just before passing out. Some were better than others. That meant that some were not as good. I was one adjudged not to have benefited sufficiently from my time at Blandford. But plans were in hand to cure my condition.


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