‘Potential Officer Cadets? Three right clowns.’
Basic training at an end, I and two others were taken by lorry to join a RASC Potential Officer Cadets (POC) course at a neighbouring barracks. The other two had signed on as regular soldiers in the hope of becoming officers and make a profession of it: Farrington, son of a deceased former ship’s captain, and Tomkins, young-looking son of a vicar.
The three of us are met in an empty room by a soldier who says that an inspection could be sprung on us the next day. “Dump your kit on the floor,” he says, “and I’ll return later to show you how to lay it out.” So, we do.
A while later a young sergeant appears asking why the kit is on the floor. I explain that we were told to leave it there. “Dump your kit on the floor?!” he shouts derisively. “Three right clowns. You’ll be a laughing stock. Potential Office Cadets? If you’re lucky.”
Then the sergeant tells us. Inspection by Captain Jones and Unit Selection Board members in 15 minutes followed by interviews.
Ten minutes of hectoring, fumbling and finger-trembling removes must kit into lockers. Cramped, unbrushed battle dress hangs orderly; finger-stained cutlery lies neatly on beds.
“Pathetic,” says the sergeant and sends us straining over tops of seven-foot lockers in a race round the room, the last one to do 12 press-ups. I wrench a tendon and on shaking arms raise and lower my sweating weight once for everyone stone.
Then the sergeant roars Captain Jones and Board members into the billet and I shun from a lying position.
Sniffing and prodding of unpressed khaki and drawling insolence from men who know they are better than you.
“This is the worst intake I have ever seen sergeant.”
“I did my best with them, sir. They’re rather a poor lot, sir.”
Tomkins, hapless and probably ex-private school, goes left right, dig your heels in, down the corridor to his interview, and a newly arrived corporal supervises a top speed room cleaning operation by Farrington and me. He tells us Captain Jones has a sense of humour. If he asks us for the corps motto “you give him the corps motto. But if he asks for it in LATIN you should sing: ‘ I ‘ad her, I ‘ad her, I ‘ad her, aye eh. I ups and I stole her away.’
I do so after I am marched in to face Captain Jones, sitting at a table with a lieutenant and gentlemen in civilian clothes, who I’m informed will report to War Office on my suitability for this course.
Are you mad Jamieson?
My singing evokes groans: “Are you mad Jamieson?” I explain that the corporal told me to sing it.
The lieutenant: “Tell me, Private Jamieson. Do you do everything you are told without question?”
Consider. “If it’s an order from a superior office, sir.”
“All right, I order you to tell Captain Jones to fuck off.”
I do so. Another groan from all at the table.
Captain Jones: “Why do you speak so peculiarly Jamieson?”
“That funny way you have of saying various vowels.”
“Just my accent, sir. Geordie, I suppose, sir.”
“Yes. Hmmm. Do you think officer could command respect with such an accent?”
“I don’t see what that has to do with. I mean, it would be the way I conducted myself.”
Further humiliation follows, which I described more fully in a piece titled The Experts in The Honest Ulsterman literary magazine in1969 (a renowned magazine that included work by the likes of prestigious poets Stevie Smith, Gavin Ewart, Tony Harrison, and Sean O’Brien.)
Finally, Farrington and Tomkins join me before the table and after the selectors confer, Captain Jones says:
“Private Thomkins, you may well have great potential as, say, a shop assistant, but in nothing that you did or said have we discerned the glimmerings of officer-like qualities.
“You will be Returned to Unit in the morning.
“You, Private Farrington, will also be RTU’d but for one month only. There is in your nature an element of pretentiousness, which further discipline in your training unit may help to eliminate.”
“Finally, Private Jamieson, you are somewhat naïve. However, much of what you said and did please us immensely and we think the rigorous training you will receive here may bring you to the standard required for entry in Mons Officer Cadets School.
“Consider yourself a Potential Officer Cadet.”
On, the pleasure of it.
He then gets us all to sing the ‘corpse motto in Latin,’ and as we sing the lights go on and off and a jumble of figures emerges from behind lockers.
Everyone congratulates us….
Someone from an ongoing POC course says: “Don’t worry old chap, everyone goes through it. Officers turn a blind eye. Usually tougher than this actually. Two of our intakes cried during theirs. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
So, all a hoax! An initiation!
I smile stupidly and sit on the table as reality soaks in gently.
So, the triumph at passing the test was worthless…though the feeling lingers.
And Farrington and Tomkins won’t be Returned to Unit.
Yet look at them. Peeved as hell.
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