Utrinque Paratus

MEMORIES OF HARDWICK

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 Ringway

The regime at Hardwick was harsh. Officers and other ranks were organised into 10-man squads under an NCO physical training instructor for gymnasium workouts, road running of various distances in both battle order and PT kit, and undergoing a punishing assault course. All movement around the camp was "at the double" ( even going to the NAAFI in the evening), the instructors continuously driving the men to ever more effort. The emphasis was on finding men who possessed extra stamina and were more disciplined than the ordinary soldier. Some had volunteered thinking they were being posted to a military Eldorado, escaping discipline or"bull", but they soon discovered that the regime was too tough, and were immediately RTU'd(returned to unit), a bitter blow to their morale. Although some trainees were housed in Nissen huts, most were in Bell tents, six to a tent, sleeping head outwards, feet to the centre, with rifles secured around the centre pole.

To qualify for Ringway, where we would complete our parachute training and receive our wings, each man was expected to be fit enough to :-
Run two miles run in battle order with rifle in 18 minutes
Run 100 yards in 12 seconds.
Jump a 12 ft ditch wearing battle order.
Jump over a 3ft 6in obstacle, in battle order.
Climb a 12 ft rope, swing across a horizontal rope and descend a third.
Run 100 yds, carrying a man of similar weight, plus two rifles, turn and return to starting point in 2 minutes.
Climb a double rope without using your feet
Chin up to a beam, 5 times and then bring feet to beam 5 times.
Complete the Parachute Regiment assault course, after which fire five rounds, rapid fire at standard target.
Complete a ten mile forced march, wearing Field Service Marching Order and carrying a rifle in two hours
Additional tests were , tree climbing , cliff climbing and descending using ropes, (abseiling?) and every
man had to engage in either one round milling or three rounds boxing.

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 !
A "Milling" team consists of all boxing weights from flyweight to heavyweight and each man enters the ring against a similarly weighted opponent. That is the only similarity with boxing for milling is the bloodiest sport ever devised. Each bout consists of one, one minute round, during which time punches are thrown without let up. No boxing skills are required, just sheer brutal aggression, and the success of a "milling " match is measured by the amount of blood which is spilt. The bell for the end of the round is also the signal for the next weight to enter the ring and, quite often, a man leaving the ring was punched by someone entering.

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 days "Jankers"
Every morning, after our 6am run, and before breakfast, "defaulters" were paraded in uniform outside the Guard Room . Then, after the PT instructors finished with us for the day, and we had had our tea, we were on defaulters parade again, this time in denims. After we were given our chores, such as whitewashing immoveable objects, or cookhouse duties, we were also instructed to produce certains items of equipment when we were inspected by the Duty Officer at 2100hrs. On one occasion we had to produce our best boots, highly polished so that you could see your reflection in the toe-caps and with each stud highly polished. On the next occasion it was a freshly scrubbed kitbag with the brass eyelets highly polished and a freshly blancoed belt with the buckle highly polished. By the time we were dismissed at around 2130hrs we hadn't enough energy left to visit the NAAFI and went straight to bed

One of the large ponds<

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.


five small drainage ponds

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.
After eight miles we were all on "automatic" , just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. We were also feeling very bolshie for, from the very first day we joined the Regiment, everything seemed to be stacked against us reaching Ringway. We had seen our friends being rtu'd for a variety of reasons, the least understood being an unsatisfactory psychiatrist's report, and having already endured so much discomfort at Hardwick we fiercely resented this last attempt to prevent us reaching Ringway. The thought which kept most of us going was, "having come this far nothing is going to stop me reaching Ringway!" Although three men were in a bad state we did succeed in getting the whole squad to the finish in the time allowed, although several of us were carrying two rifles or an extra set of webbing. Just before re-entering the camp we were halted in order to compose ourselves and for the instructors to check timing because they didn't want to set a precedent by being too fast. The squad was then formed up, brought to attention and marched, rifles at the slope, into camp to be inspected by the camp commander,
Then it was back to our tents , to remove our boots and inspect our sore feet whilst those of us on jankers also prepared for cookhouse fatigues.

LAST UPDATE 15/10/14