My Life Before Joining The Armed Forces.

From an early age I enjoyed being outside in the open, although I didn’t really start enjoying structured physical fitness until I began sixth form college, but I was always outside whatever the weather was doing. Opportunities came my way from an early age to take part in sport or adventure training. If I wasn’t abseiling with the Boy Scouts I was out cycling with my mates.

As a childen, I liked to hide… who didn’t?

I was brought up as the youngest of twin boys, my elder brother Ross, could not be more dissimilar to me if we had tried. I was loud and my brother quiet, he was thoughtful and cautious to my sometimes overbearing and headstrong nature. Ross was happy to sit and play with his toys, I was happier escaping from my pram or play pen. When we were born my parents owned a springer spaniel called Smudgy. He used sit in-between our two prams, if one of us made a noise he would jump up on each pram to check that we were both okay. We had a happy childhood in a quite village in the south of England.
My mother, Moireach which is a Gallic name, was a nurse and a great cook who often made tasty cakes every week and special ones for our birthday, one each as it would not have been fair. She took a great interest in our education always giving up her to time to try and help us with our reading, writing and maths. I imagine it must have been an uphill battle with the two of us. She was an only child, her father Charles and mother Margret, who had both served during the war.
My father, Robert who went by his middle name John who was one of two sons, his younger brother was called Danny. Dad was an engineer first, then when made unemployed though mass redundancy during the 1980’s, he became a postman and then a senor store man at the local Army Training Regiment. He also happened to be an excellent artist, who plied his talent in wood; he would often make my brother and I animals and birds out of different types of wood. He seemed to have an encyclopaedic memory for not only all the trees but by looking at a piece of wood and knowing what type it was, much to my mother’s amazement and sometimes annoyance my father used to store away lots of useless information which often won him games of trivial pursuit.

Both my parents gave up a lot to raise my brother and I; they were only expecting one as it happened but ended getting two, I was always called the free gift.  My parents, worked hard to provide for us and we never really went without, something you never really appreciate at the time. One thing I will always remember about them is that they where avid home brewers and jam makers. So in the back of our bungalow there was always something being produced in a demijohn or stewing pot. We had different jams and wines to drink and eat throughout the year. Our back garden was given over to vegetables and fruit, so we had fresh seasonal produce which my dad would grow and we sometimes helped pick.

I imagine it must have been hard bringing up two young children; my father whilst at the post office would be in for work at four in the morning finish at one in the afternoon and then return from four to six in the evening this would be every day of the week apart from Saturday when he wouldn’t work the latter part of the shift and then he would have Sunday off. My mother would work nights, then you got extra money for working a night shift, this meant that during the week we spent the night with our grandparents who we both adored.

It is from my grandparents that I got my fascination with the armed forces from at an early age. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, had been a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy during the WWII and, his wife, my grandmother had been an officer in the WRAF. They had both achieved a lot during this turbulent period, my grandfather talked about his experiences in more detail. What always struck me about him was that he was very humble, he always talked about other people and their heroism not his own. Something else which fuelled my fascination with the forces was watching war films with my grandparents, I am sure they didn’t help my over active imagination one bit. I remember a story that my grandfather told me which seemed very lucky for a lot of us, he had been posted to HMS Hood just before it was involved in the sinking of the Bismarck, but luckily he had been reassigned to another ship before it set sail for its last voyage. On my father’s side, his dad had been in the Great War serving in the Kings Own Rifles in the infantry. I know that he had had a torrid time during that awful war; he had survived after being gassed and shot by the Germans. Eventually he died from the effects of the mustard gas he had inhaled, unfortunately I never met him as he passed away many years before I was born.

My Grandparents: my brother and I adored them both.

My Grandma had been an officer in the WRAF

I should also mention my grandmother’s brother he had joined the Scots Guards, from what I have been told a very humble man himself he had said that he had never been abroad. Forgetting that he had been at the Somme and ‘gone over the top’ no less than three times until he finally was shot and injured on his third attempt. He survived this injury but took no more part in the conflict.

George Hutton, Royal Scots

I should also mention my grandmother’s brother he had joined the Scots Guards, from what I have been told a very humble man himself he had said that he had never been abroad. Forgetting that he had been at the Somme and ‘gone over the top’ no less than three times until he finally was shot and injured on his third attempt. He survived this injury but took no more part in the conflict.

One thing that did help focus my energy was the Cubs and later the Scouts. I certainly wasn’t the model scout and probably didn’t embody all the core values that they held close. But I loved to be outside, hanging out with others to lead me astray and to lead astray. It was good fun looking back to invent our own games using our imagination to bring them to life. The Scouting organisation has some awesome camp sites which always had loads of activities to take part in. All in all I think that I learnt a lot about myself during those fun years it’s a shame that I wasn’t as engaged at school.

My first school which was and still is a very good primary school held some amazing memories. The main school had been built near an old Victorian house which was probably big enough to have servants and staff; I understand it had been built by a wealthy businessman for him and his family. This building had a two class rooms which the senior year used before moving to secondary school. The main school was relatively new and that’s where we started our education. My brother and I were put in different classes in our first and last year, we would have both probably done better if that had been an option throughout our primary schooling but it wasn’t to be helped the school just wasn’t big enough to accommodate those kind of needs. Both my brother and I struggled at school; however, I  was genuinely lazy and far too easily distracted whilst Ross had genuine needs with his learning. I don’t think that this was helped by his quiet and reserved manner.

When we turned eleven we had to catch a bus to attend secondary school which was about a thirty minute drive. Looking back I regret not buckling down with my work and trying my hardest, but you can’t turn back the clock and have a word with your self can you? I will defend myself slightly though, I was very poor at maths however hard I tried I couldn’t get to grips with remembering all the formulas and for the life of me couldn’t tell you my time tables. The numbers just didn’t add up for me, even now I have to be very careful how I write down a figure, because what I see somehow gets jumbled up and gets written down as a completely different number. This really problem really didn’t help in my exams, suffice to say I didn’t achieve a very good grade at all.

At school I enjoyed reading. I used to consume as much as I could, my big love was Greek Mythology. I haven’t the faintest idea why but I enjoyed all the myths and legends. Hercules was my favourite hero followed closely by Homers, The Odyssey and The Iliad. Many would say that I was a bit of a geek and I think that my wife would probably agree.

I left school not setting the world on fire with little in the way of qualifications. I decided upon leaving school that I wanted to eventually join the Fire Brigade. I knew that without any qualifications this would be a struggle, so I enrolled in my local technical college. The course that I took was called Repair and Servicing of Road Vehicles, to be honest with you I had very little interest in fixing cars but I needed an understanding of mechanics, I thought this was the easiest way. It was good fun whilst I was on the course but I knew it was a means to an end, take nothing from the fact that they didn’t ask me back for the second year.

My school work experience, I worked as a fireman for two weeks.

As my friends had gone to the local  sixth form college I decided that I wanted to enjoy the fun they were having. I started my first year there in at the beginning of their second. It was an excellent school with dedicated teachers and staff who really wanted to encourage their pupils to learn.
I had chosen my subjects with really no thought, I needed to redo my English which I did, but why I chose key board applications I really don’t know. Two lessons I did enjoy though where the Community Sports Leader Award and strangely, Photography.
At this point I had worked in McDonalds which I did enjoy but really wanted to work somewhere else. Besides, although I did have three stars, I may have found one of them on the floor and promptly attached it to my badge.
Part of the sports leader award was being awarded the Bronze Medallion which was a pool life guard qualification. This in turn allowed me to try for a job at the local pool, I applied took their first internal test and failed. Soon after I retook the test and passed.
This allowed me to leave McDonalds and work part time at the local leisure centre. It was an awesome environment to work in, we could use the pool whenever we wanted and have use of all the gym equipment. The added advantage was that girls took you ever more slightly seriously.
My education at sixth form college continued in much the same fashion as secondary school; I did actually attend my English and Photography classes but that was about it. Photography I enjoyed immensely, the whole process of taking pictures in black and white, spending time developing the camera film and then seeing the end product in the dark room on photographic paper really appealed to me. I ended up leaving that course with my first GCSE pass and then continued with the A level in night school.

I soon left college with no clear direction; I had spent most of my time in the library reading books. Some might say I used my time wisely. But I suspect that both my parents might disagree. I continued to work at the leisure centre and soon started to work there full time. I started to learn to drive but as I spent most of my money on going out it took me a few tests until I finally qualified. Although I still harboured desires to join the fire brigade I still thought I needed to improve my chances so decided to inquire about joining the army.

Taken in Cyprus in ’98 a very young and green soldier.

I remember turning up at the Army Career’s office in a pair of cut off jeans an old pair of work boots and a dusty old t-shirt at this point I was working on a building site. The recruiting Sergeant must have thought here’s another loser who wants to impress his girlfriend. Any way he took some details and gave me information about various trades within the British Army, I wasn’t interested in the infantry as I valued my parent’s thoughts on that particular trade, I probably had a top three but I had set my mind on joining the Royal Army Medical Corp as a Combat Medical Technician.

I think on my first visit he was glad to get me off his clean seats and out his sight. However I was very keen indeed to get on with all the paper work and as time went on and when I kept going back he must have started to take me seriously. Back then we had to take a test on a computer to assess which job within the Army you where best suited for, remember that I had not been the best student throughout my education, to say that I struggled was an under estimation. I think that I must have taken that test about three times. The part of the test which I kept failing was to do with the alphabet, you were given a letter and then given a number with a plus or minus beside it. Obviously you had to work out the letter after either using subtraction or addition to get thee answer. Unfortunately for me I hadn’t a clue about the alphabet, sure I knew sort of up until about G or H, embarrassingly that’s what grades I had ended up with after taking my GCSE’s.
The Recruiting Sergeant had offered me loads of different trades within the Army, but the one I had chosen was a few points above the grade I had achieved. I was adamant that I wanted to be a medic. On my final test he gave me a sheet with the alphabet written on it and then left the room. The result indicated that I was one point below the target; he kindly told me that he was going to shade me through the test and allow me to join my chosen Corp.
Before I went anywhere I had to pass a selection course up at Pirbright, I don’t remember a great deal about this course bar two things, one was the mile and a half run and two was the date, 14thFeb 1997 which was a Friday.
 On the Monday morning I was back at the recruiting office, they had decided now, that I was a good candidate to join straight away. During that short week I was formally attested into the Army again given my instructions and told to report to the guardroom at ATR Lichfield on the 24th Feb 1997. It was happening ever so quickly indeed, if I was cynical maybe they just didn’t want me to think about it for too long and then change my mind.