Since joining the Regiment we had lost many of our
friends, who had either found the training too tough or had been
“black-balled” by the psychiatrist and having heard so many stories about
the strict regime at Hardwick, we were now beginning to wonder whether we
would cope with the final and toughest challenge on our way to
To qualify for Ringway, where we would complete our parachute training and receive our wings, each
man was expected to be fit enough to :-
Each day started at 6am with a two-mile run, then after breakfast the fitness programme included unarmed combat, boxing, milling, abseiling in the quarry, tackling the assault course (much use was made of the muddy ponds), gymnastics and cross country running. The final test of fitness, stamina and endurance was a 10-mile forced march (running and fast walking) in two hours over a tough course. For the airborne training, a series of tubular scaffold-built swings were erected within the camp confines
Each man taking part in the boxing was matched
against a similarly weighted opponent but this did not take account of the
fact that some men were skilled boxers whilst others, including me, had no
previous boxing experience. For my first bout of three rounds I was matched
with an experienced boxer and was knocked-out seconds after entering the ring.
On the second occasion I survived the first round but was ko'd in the second .
That was when I decided to try "Milling" but little did I realise what I was letting
myself in for !
By this time I was already feeling rather despondent about my
chances of reaching Ringway then, to make matters worse, the RSM stopped me
on my way back from breakfast one morning, because my hair was too long,
and detailed two men to escort me to the barber’s and wait until it had
been cut. As a result, I missed a blanket-changing parade and on the
following morning I was on "Company Orders" where I was sentenced to seven
Built on sloping land, Hardwick camp was particularly suitable for toughening training, for in addition to two ornamental ponds, connected by underground overflow culverts. there were also five small ponds which drained the high ground around the hall. Around the main ponds, was an assault course leading to a quarry face, used for both abseiling and climbing and a firing range using the cliff face as the butts area. Hardly any weapon training, was given, as every Hardwick trainee was expected to be a fully trained soldier, the emphasis being on extreme physical fitness. Before tackling the assault course in battle order there was a "dry run" in denims with no weapons. The assault course started with a 20 ft high obstacle, constructed with wooden scaffold poles lashed together to form 4 ft squares. These had to be scaled before dropping into the first of the lakes, where enthusiastic and sadistic instructors shouted "get a move on!" whilst they pelted us with thunder flashes and detonated slabs of gun-cotton all around us. On the far side of the lake, was the first culvert, more than 20 feet long but little more than 2 feet square, which drained into the second lake. This was a very tight squeeze for men in battle order and the "nose to tail" (more accurately "nose to boot") progress through the culvert was very claustrophobic with the man at the back pushing hard, in a effort to get through as quickly as possible , whilst the man at the front hesitated at the end of culvert when he realised that there was a large drop into the next lake and tried to think of a way of keeping his rifle dry and exiting the culvert without landing head first into the water.
The noise and abuse from the instructors continued as we crossed the second pond and clambered up the far bank .Then running down the slope we reached an area which was criss-crossed with tripwires and led to a 10ft wall. The first man arriving at the wall, leant back to the wall, cupping his hands in front of himself to form a stepping stone for the man behind who then used the first man's shoulders as a further step to reach the top of the wall. When the last man in the squad had climbed the wall he pulled up the first man by means of his rifle. This procedure was repeated by the squads which followed. Continuing downhill we reached one of the small muddy drainage ponds where four inch rails had been mounted on top of posts which were high enough to be clear of the mud. Nevertheless it still required confidence and good balance to run along these narrow rails, already made wet and slippery with the muddy boots which had gone before. Even the slightest hesitation could lead to loss of balance which is why so many finished up in the mud. Those unfortunate enough to land with a leg each side of the rail, suffered a much more painful experience.
The course continued with trip-wires and other obstacles including a 10ft ditch which had to be jumped and. to make sure that everyone took the hard way, the ditch was filled with coils of barbed wire. Running downhill we arrived at the far side of the pond which we had to cross using two cables, one above the other and about 5ft apart. which were stretched across the pond. It only took one man to lose his balance to start the cables shaking and eject a few more into the water. Back on dry land we continued up the slope and after successfully negotiating a wire mesh fence we found ourselves at the top of a 40 ft cliff-face which we descended by abseilling. This turned out to be the target end of the camp's rifle range and from here we had to crawl on or stomachs whilst bullets whistled overhead as machine guns fired live ammunition on fixed lines. Doubling to the firing point we were greeted by the armourer, who used a clearing rod and pull-through to ensure that our rifle barrels were clear, and then issued us with five rounds which had to be fired as quickly as possible from the prone position. It was suprising that anyone managed to hit the target. After removing the worst of the accumulated mud and slush and collecting some dry clothing we were off to the ablutions where we had a quick shower, washed our muddy clothes and took them into the drying room. Then there was just time for a quick meal before defaulters, like myself, reported to the cookhouse for our daily fatigues.
Our intensive two week physical training course,
was designed to motivate all limbs to the extremes of fitness and prepare
us for what was known as the "Bash". This was the final and most difficult
hurdle on the road to Ringway. a ten mile march & run. in full
battle-order carrying a rifle, which took us through the peaks of
Derbyshire and had to be completed in two hours. Our squad started the
"bash" in the worst possible conditions, a very hot, and humid day in May
and most of us were suffering heat exhaustion before we reached the half
way mark, To make matters worse our rifle slings were cutting into our
shoulders, full water bottles bounced on our hips, ribs suffered
constant chafing from full ammunition pouches and most of us were
suffering with blistered feet . This is where the 10-man squad under an
instructor was to prove a great success. for the "esprit de corps" led to
friendly rivalry among the squads which also encouraged the stronger and
fitter to help the weaker by carrying their equipment or by urging them to
endure the pain barrier. Our instructor was brilliant persuading those who
where lagging behind to rejoin the squad.