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Monday, 23 May 2011

Mononucleosis and the Sterling 9mm sub-machine gun

Epstein-Barr virus (causes mononucleosis)

I was in Germany with the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR).  I was a newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, seconded to 1st Armoured Division near Herford.  My job was to lead (that's a joke;  Ask any soldier what the most dangerous thing is in war.  He'll answer "A 2nd Lieutenant with a map") a small detachment from my based-in-Britain regiment to a major CPX (a Command Post exercise on the large training grounds nearby)


After we arrived (I'm glossing over the numerous times we got lost, almost missed ferries, scandalous behaviour of the soldiery with beer and young Danish tourists, running out of petrol, getting lost again, a serious incident at the Belgian border when one of my semi-inebriated Gunners made an audible comment regarding the King of Belgium , a sheep and the propensity of the Belgian Army to surrender, an almost mutiny amongst the soldiery when I attempted to impound all the booze in the back of the trucks, seeing an irate Sergeant dragging the semi-inebriated Gunner by his ankles towards the ditch to give him a good kicking.  Nothing to do with the King of Belgium, his family were from the Scottish borders, and they liked sheep.) we got settled into the barracks before going into the field the next day.

Day 1. Assembled my now hungover troops, arranged to draw weapons and rations for the next 10 day field exercise.  When I tried to draw a 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistol, I was told by the rather supercilious Armoury Sergeant Major that there were none left, as the entire stock had already been drawn by the officers of the units that had actually arrived on time.  He gave me a choice of a 7.62mm SLR or a 9mm Sterling Sub-Machine gun (SMG)  The SLR was the basic weapon of the Army, but it was large and a bit clumsy to be kept in my Land Rover, so I chose the SMG, as it was smaller and lighter.

I wasn't feeling that great as we set of for the CPX.  We got to the training area, set up our tents, and were assigned our duties. I was to spend most of my time advising the senior officers (that's another laugh, me a newbie 2nd Lieutenant giving "advice" to senior Captains, Majors and the occasional Colonel) of my regiment's needs and capabilities.  The troops were given other duties around the area.  Mostly ditch trench digging, hole latrine digging, and filling sandbags.  The joked at the start that maybe we should be called the 1st Navvy Battery.  They weren't joking after 4 days of the same jobs.  We were warned by a friendly Captain to keep hold of our personal weapons at all times, as some of the other units were in the habit of "borrowing" any weapons they found lying about. ""Take them everywhere", he advised, "Even to the Latrine or showers"  "Don't forget that loosing a weapon is a chargeable offence, and I don't want to set up a court martial while you stupid lot of useless c*nts are here"
But I always kept the SMG slung over my shoulder.

Day 2  Same as yesterday, except I was feeling a bit rough. My throat had started to close, and I didn't feel like eating much. Even swallowing water became a bit of an effort. SMG is getting a bit heavier.

Dehydration is not normally good

Day 3.  Same as yesterday and the day before.  I was beginning to feel a bit dizzy all the time. Couldn't eat at all, and every time I tried to drink my throat just refused.  Also began to get the squirts (which didn't help my still developing hemorrhoids to any great extent). SMG bloody awkward. Have you ever tried to run 150 metres, whilst simultaneously loosening combat trousers and having a 2.7 kg awkwardly shaped piece of metal bouncing off your back and other more sensitive bits?  Not fun.. Although many of the troops in the area seemed to think so. I think they rather enjoyed the light entertainment.  It confirmed their prejudices; that all officers were idiots.

All the bastard soldiers laughing at my squishy guts and running technique

Day 4.  Really feeling like shit.  I could barely stagger from the Mess tent where I tried to swallow some food and water, to the latrines and back to the CP.  My troops seemed to have disappeared. I heard that they had been commandeered by another unit about 5 miles away to help with their digging duties.

You're not well SIR.  Go to Sick Call.  Now.

Day 5.  I went to see the RSM of the parent Regiment. I had remembered the advice given to me by an older officer. "If you're really in the shit, and don't know what to do, ask the RSM"  RSM took one look at me and said "Sick Call Sir" He sent me to the local Aid Station, where they took a look at me, diagnosed "Something quite nasty here Sir" and pushed me into their armoured ambulance and set off at a good rate to the nearest main BAOR base with a Military Hospital. It turned out to be the base of the Royal Irish Rangers (RIR), and I was bundled into the ward, stripped, showered, and put on a drip.  I still had my SMG.  I wasn't going to risk a Court Martial.  I wasn't stupid.  Well perhaps I was, because when a nice young duty officer from the RIR came in to see how I, as a brother officer was getting on, I rather stupidly said:
  1. That's a really funny plume in your hat (The RIR wear a green feather, called a plume, on their berets, behind their cap badges.)
  2. Are their any really odd traditions I should be aware of, if I visit your Mess.
    He looked disgusted and left.
    Day 6.  Had a visit from the Doctor, who said I had one of the worst cases of Mononucleosis he'd seen for a long time.
    "Been kissing some diseased women, Lieutenant?'he asked.

    Big Liz in her stupendous prime
    Actually I did have a new girlfriend in Scotland. Known colloquially as "Big Liz", I wondered if she had been a bit free with her favours.
    The Doc also insisted that I be tested for various STDs.  "Don't want to take any chances that your John Thomas will fall off and rot" he said in a very loud and booming voice.
    Much to the amusement of the other soldiers in the beds in the ward.  It was a mixed ward, and I was the only officer.
    Then I had a visit from the MPs.

    "Dear God", I thought, what have my troops been getting up to.
    I had visions of mass mutiny, mass Danish tourist kidnapping, mass almost anything except following orders.

    But it was me they had come to see. 

    "Do you have an SMG in your possession Sir?" they asked (and not politely)
    "Yes" I said, "It's under this blanket"
    "Do you know it's against regulations to have a weapon inside the hospital area?"  "Sir"
    These guys could make "SIR" sound like a communicable disease,  Which in fact I was at the moment.
    "No Corporal",  "I didn't"
    "Well it is Sir", he said smugly.

    They took my SMG, giving me a receipt.

    A member of the bloody MPs.  (Colloquially known as a "monkey")
    Day 7 - Day 10 Same, same.  Talked to guys in the other beds, but not a great deal, as my voice began to go as well.  By the end of the last day, the squirts had stopped, but I still couldn't eat or drink very much.  My dehydration was no longer that bad, so they discharged me. Got my SMG back from the MPs, they said that under the conditions, they wouldn't be charging me.  They would however be charging the medical orderly who admitted me to the hospital, as he should have known better.


    Day 11.  Found my troops back in their barracks.  They were heading off to Scotland the next day, but I wasn't going with them.  I was off to Norway on another course.  Said goodbye to the troops as they set off for Belgium and the ferries.  Said a quiet prayer that nobody would be killed/ cause another international incident/ got completely pissed/ assaulted young Danish tourist/met any ENGLISH on their way home.  An inebriated Scottish soldier and an unaware Englishman is not a good combination.

    Set off for the Officers Mess, but was stopped by the MP guard at the gate.

    "Really Sir" he smirked, "are you going in there with an SMG on your back?"
    "F*ck" I had gotten so used to the bloody thing that I had forgotten I still had it on.
    Back to armoury to return it.  Of course the Armoury Sergeant insisted I strip, clean and oil it before he would accept it.
    So running very late I didn't have time to get a good shower before I changed into civvies and got a taxi to the Airport.

    As I sat in my seat on the Lufthansa flight to Oslo, I discovered I absolutely reeked of a curious mixture of ingrained dirt, sweat and gun oil.
    It got me rather curious looks (and sniffs) from other passengers, and I noticed that the poor sod sitting next to was looking aghast at my appearance, and that his eyes were starting to water.

    Serves them right.

    They shouldn't have lost the bloody war.

    Next:  My Big Throbbing Black Friend
    Later: Morphine is nice


    1. Damn. I was looking forward to you running amok in the hospital with the Sterling.

    2. Ah - the joys of the British military. Always nice to know our country is in safe hands. {when not being inebriated, abusing local tourists, making fun of Belgioum etc etc etc}

      No wonder you moved.

      Bet all that training - and frustration in trying to command and control is very useful in a teaching carreer. If only you still had the bloody sterling eh?

      Lovely TSB. Can't wait for the next installment.

    3. TC: After what the bastards were saying about me, I must admit I was tempted.

      Alistair: Even after all that, I still think that the British Army is the world's best. Mind you. it doesn't say a lot for the other militaries.
      Yes. A fully loaded SMG could prove very useful in controlling 10DK.


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