Tuesday 27 December 2011

Get thee behind me, Soldier

The Sun in UK has just run an article under the blazing title, ‘Squaddies Are Living in Squalor in UK’

So what is new?

What I found remarkable were some of the comments posted by members of the public in response to that article. Most were supportive but a significant proportion suggested that the soldiers smashed their own accommodation (being little more than animals I suppose and a contention hard to refute, after all, when have you ever heard of a council house being trashed or anyone puking up or pissing in the street let alone engaging in riotous asssembly? Clearly, only awfully uncouth servicemen do that). Others suggested that they should pay into a kitty and perform the necessary repairs themselves (good point, perhaps we could extend that to council house tenants). Worryingly, quite a few felt that knowing what they were letting themselves in for and having signed on the dotted line, accepting the Queen’s shilling as it were, servicemen and women should shut up and get on with it, I quote from one telling comment, 'These guys volounteered and have no rights...especially if they killed in Iraq'. But convicted criminals who turn out to be illegal immigrants do have rights? And how about the fact that the taxes the poor old squaddie pays which, unlike any other ordinary expat earning his salary abroad he must pay, go towards funding 'acceptable' accommodation for asylum seekers yet Cavalry Barracks, the very barracks he lived in before deployment, was deemed unacceptable by the relevant government department responsible for housing refugees? Clearly, for refugees and asylum seekers, including convicted foreign nationals and illegal immigrants, the post code for free housing must be SW7. For soldiers SH 1 T will do.

Obviously, there were also those who blamed the officers. An easy accusation, especially in the light of articles produced in the UK media such as the one written by a clearly very bored Daily Mail correspondent with bugger all else to do but sup his pint and consider his editor's deadline. In it, the rather insensitive author, Christopher Leake, referred to General Sir Peter Anthony Wall, KCB, CBE, Chief of the General Staff and head of the British Army as 'General Two Dinners'. Why? Because ten years ago (ten years ago), while visiting Scotland as commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, Sir Peter ordered a young major to get him two portions of fish and chips. So he was hungry. I have accompanied senior officers on these sort of whirlwind tours and believe me, you survive on Twix chocolate bars from the petrol stations you fill up at. No helicopters for the hoi polloi, even if they are knighted Generals, unlike some politicians I could mention. On arrival (I cannot speak for my General) I could have eaten the arse off a live cow as well as two measly portions of fish and chips, although I always prefered curries with all the trimmings (mint yoghurt, mango chutney, the red stuff guaranteed to give you burning bum by morning) and at least half a dozen Naan breads to mop up the sauce. Besides, Leake is clearly a peasant. Even Northerners, never mind the smart set, know that fish and chips is a supper, not a dinner.

And General Wall's crime? One worthy of several column inches in the Mail?

I quote directly from the article in which Leake (wonderful name, fodder for all school bullies dedicated to giving wimps a healthy thrashing) accused General Wall of being 'measured up for a new Service Dress uniform at a cost of £1,000, which he paid for himself'. Gosh. 'Man Buys New Suit, Film at Eleven!' Yet another Daily Mail scoop. Rather than try and create a story out of a fifty five year old soldier who has given his best years to the country and has now put on a bit of weight (I still wouldn't argue with him, he is a hard bugger) Leake might, if he had been astute, have noted the General's thrift. Had he been measured up at Thieves and Hawkes, General Wall would have spent twice as much and it would at least have been gracious of Leake to note that while Officers get a small (taxable) uniform allowance, it in no way covers the cost of the uniforms which, traditionally, officers are required to have but must pay for themselves. In any case, a grand for a suit is chicken shit in the city. A politician, of course, would have found some way of claiming for it.

I sense a bit of Army bashing.

Anyone remember the accommodation in Bessbrook Mill? Or Airport Camp in Belize? Or how about the transit accommodation on Hohne Ranges? Or the tenement blocks that were the married quarters in Monchengladbach, islands of British destitution and nothing more than English speaking ghettos in the midst of German affluence?

Once I was commissioned, I remember standing there in the luxuriously appointed offices of the Government appointed agency for property services begging them to fix up my lad's blocks and married quarters only to be dismissed with ‘I’m sorry, Sir, there is just no money’ and when I suggested, OK, just give us the materials, the paint, the brushes, we’ll do it ourselves to be told, ‘No chance, Sir, the work can only be carried out by qualified personnel’.

‘OK’, I said, ‘Give me one of your qualified supervisors to oversee the work’

‘Sorry, Sir, they are all busy’


Good job I did not have my swagger stick with me, I was sorely tempted to put it to good use around the smug bastard’s well fed chops.

The lads suffering Cavalry Barracks in London know it is classed as transit accommodation and transit accommodation is at the very bottom of the fetid pile that comprises housing for our service personnel, be they married or single. The singlies can put up with a lot so long as they have a bed space and somewhere to shit but how would you feel to see your kids growing up in squalor and your young wife going slowly mental wishing she had married that Polish plumber instead? Love has its burdens but some are far too heavy to bear.

And for the soldier feeling his way cautiously along some explosive laden track in Afghanistan, his mind half on the immediate business of his own survival, the other half worried about his family, it must be hard for him to reconcile his own poorly rewarded contribution to the honour of his country with those who would use the threat they pose to the honour of the same country for cynical financial gain. How can London transport employees sleep at night after threatening to disrupt the London Olympics unless they are paid some ridiculous bonus just for doing their very safe, very cosy and better remunerated jobs? Jobs. let’s face it, requiring only the intellect that even those creatures with gravel rash on their knuckles are blessed with never mind the quick wit and extensive training the average Section Commander needs to not only keep his men alive, but get the bloody job done in conditions far more primitive than a short shift in a comfortable train or bus cab. The ‘C’ word inevitably comes to mind.

With the lousy pay servicemen are expected to survive on for doing all they do in the service of their country, one can hardly expect them to dip into their own pockets to fix up accommodation they will only occupy for short periods of time risking their claim for compensation of expenditure (another suggestion by a very bright Sun reader) being turned down because it was unauthorised. And quite frankly, were we reduced to this it would be a situation close to madness. I realise that by seriously considering sharing an aircraft carrier with France we are already dancing gaily down insanity beach but aircraft carriers, or the lack of them, bear only a passing relevence to this story.

Most of the lads would happily sacrifice a couple of days on some windswept, freezing bog of a training ground in favour of fixing up their own accommodation but only if the materials were provided. Sadly, this would be against some monopoly or other. Are these civilian contractors seriously suggesting that all squaddies are thick as pig shit and that in an Army that has electrical, mechanical and civil engineers there is no one qualified to mend a pump or splash some paint on a wall? Are they saying that if a ship is pounded to shit by the enemy Admiral Lord Nelson would call in a civilian company to come to the battle zone and patch up the hull and get the engines going again? Are they saying that of all those from every walk of life who join the services amongst them aren’t a few brickies, painters and decorators or plumbers? If service personnel are reallly so incompetent, how come every back garden in UK does not boast the wreckage of a badly maintained RAF aircraft?

The fault does not lie with the lads ‘trashing’ their accommodation, a term which is in any case sensational, but what incentive do they have for taking care of the shit hole they have temporarily inherited?

Yes, there will always be one or two that abuse their accommodation but then the lads usually sort the ‘Grunges’ out themselves. Give the guys smart accommodation, something they can be proud of and they will look after it. That has been my experience anyway, on both sides of the fence. At 3 Base Ammunition Depot, we turned the otherwise spartan room we were issued into a veritable palace, for a soldier in the British Army, five star accommodation but then we knew we would, apart from the occasional ‘emergency tour’ be there for three years. Nowadays with redundancies and a never ending, ever increasing burden on manpower resources, none of the poor sods can be confident of where they will be next week.

It is not the fault of the officers either. God knows I tried to lobby on behalf of my soldiers and non commissioned officers but was always met by the impregnable wall of civil service bureaucracy. I inspected the cooker of one of my married personnel having been told by the property services agency that it could not be replaced because it was still serviceable. How can you cook a family meal on a cooker with only one working burner and an oven which would not bring a cup of water to the boil? So I told my driver to go and get the jack handle from the car and I smashed the cooker to pieces, went back to the PSA and told them that I had inspected the cooker and it was definitely broken. The family had their new cooker and I received a month’s worth of extra duties. With the most outrageous insouciance, it had even been suggested that the damage was malicious so I would have to pay for the replacement cooker myself. Fortunately my CO had a sense of humour (but told me to wind mine in a bit).

The fault lies with an enormous and desperately inefficient bureaucracy farming out maintenance contracts to monolithic civilian agencies against which there is no redress of grievance.

The fault lies with UK governments of every colour who want a Rolls Royce Armed Services so they can continue to conduct diplomacy by other means and maintain the fiction of being a player on the world’s chess board but are only willing to pay for a second hand Ford Mondeo.

The fault lies with a bloated civil service the mandarins of which could not give a shit so long as they get their Knighthoods and gold plated pensions.

But all of this is nothing new,
the suffering of the Few
Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Tommy' knows,
just like he says below:

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

(Rudyard Kipling, 'Barrack Room Ballads')

'Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.'-Samuel Johnson, 1778.

Why can we STILL not look after them and treat them with dignity?

As an aside, the Sun article also included: 'SAS hero and Sun Security Adviser Andy McNab said...'

Oh please...


  1. Hasn't cannon fodder always been treated like shite historically?
    Perhaps events as we have seen in wooton Bassett will help change this old "tradition"

  2. "Hasn't cannon fodder always been treated like shite historically?"

    My point exactly

    "Perhaps events as we have seen in wooton Bassett will help change this old "tradition""

    Somehow I doubt it.

    If we were all bankers, however...

  3. You know a caring subby isnt completely rare, my last one was superb as was the one before that but neither could persuade me to stay in as the prospect of crap multi storey MQs in Berlin wasnt something my Fiancee was looking forward too.
    Yes I chose a woman over the army and 25 years later we are still together!
    Something that wouldnt have happened with the army and the many rounds of redundancies since then!

  4. Oh, mate.

    Is it the wise choicews we make? Or the luck of the draw?

    I left the Army (don't forget, I was truly khaki brained) because my young wife couldn't bear it.

    A year later the Army announced the compensated redundancy scheme.

    A year after that my wife ran off with a married gas bottle filler from Aga Gas.

    So I went to Africa.

    An honest wage and those shitty married quarters in Berlin sound like heaven to me!


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