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A Shout From The Attic: X Platoon

...The history of Barton Stacey covers over 4,000 years
with evidence from Neolithic tribes, through Romans,
Saxons, and Normans - and then there was me!...

Ronnie Bray tells how he became a member of X Platoon, learning to drive Army-style.

To read more of Ronnie's exhilirating autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

The Army has lots of places that seem to be nowhere

There were about a dozen or more of us sent straight from Blandford to Barton Stacey to become drivers, as a prerequisite to our becoming vehicle mechanics. It was a military driver training centre. The normal course lasted six weeks, but ‘X Platoon,” as we were designated, was a two weeks crash course spread over ten days. Fortunately, the only things that crashed were the primitive gearboxes on the monster trucks that we fresh-faced boys were let loose on.

Despite our special status, our privileges did not extend to lessening the requirements of what we considered mindless attention to insignificant detail such as polishing the floorboard nail head with Brasso, and other military minutiae of similar order whose relevance to the defence of the realm quite escaped us. We continued to perform and complain at the scraping, cleaning, and polishing, etc, and took it all in good heart, although it took a lot of our time to keep up with it, and did it by dint of superhuman effort, because we were young – and immortal!

But probably not quite that young!

Another soldier and myself were put into the care of a civilian driving instructor and sent abroad to terrify the denizens of that part of Hampshire. Apart from knowing that we were somewhere in Hampshire, I had absolutely no idea whereabouts on the Island I was. The Army had lots of places that seemed to be nowhere.

The four-ton Austin truck that was the instrument of our instruction flew through the countryside at speeds almost as fast as it was possible to travel in those days. Our instructor, a sensible man with great flair, was a former Battle of Britain fighter pilot who still enjoyed the image. He wore his flying jacket and boots to work. We had two weeks to learn the practical and theoretical knowledge necessary to pass the driving test. I was still seventeen, irresponsible and daring.

Part of our training route lay along Watling Street, an ancient Roman Road. It ran as styraight as an arrow for miles and miles, and we reached speeds close to those enjoyed by our RAF-type teacher when he was driving his Spitfire in the skies over the English Channel and London during bombing sorties by the Luftwaffe. He enjoyed the fact that we were as daft and madcap as he was, and we felt a sense of relief at being permitted to drive furiously when the inkl on our provisional driving licences was still wet.

By the end of the second and last week, most of our platoon had passed the test and were ready for posting to units on the second Saturday after our arrival. However, I had not taken the test. The lorry was ready to take us to the railway station with our kit, when I was rushed into a lorry and targeted to the streets of Andover to be tested. My level of skill was such that I took the rear wheels over the pavement at almost every left hand turn. My instructor, smiling as usual, sent me hot foot into the administration block with his final message ringing in my ears: “Show more concern for other road users, take more care at junctions, keep off the pavement, and tell them you’ve passed!”

By dint of a clerical error, I was also licensed to drive motor cycles. That clerical error almost became the death of me, but that is another story.


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