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This is a question In the Army Now - The joy of the Armed Forces

I've never been a soldier. I was an air cadet once, but that mostly involved sitting in a mouldy hut learning about aeroplane engines with the hint that one day we might go flying.

Yet, anyone who has spent time defending their nation, or at least drinking bromide-laced-tea for their nation, must have stories to tell. Tell them now.

(, Thu 23 Mar 2006, 18:26)
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An Exercise In Cruelty
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I spent 25 years in the service of the Queen (Gawd Bless 'Er), starting off as a snivelling Trainee Signalman at the Army Apprentice College in Harrogate. In the early 70's bullying was a serious business practiced by true devotees of the art, actively encouraged by the resident sadists on the grounds of 'toughening up'. 'If you can't take a joke you shoudna joined' was the mantra of these knuckle-draggers.

I had my fair share of being beaten up by these people, mainly due to my inability to keep my great gob shut, but nothing like the living hell endured by 'Soapy Robinson'. Soapy was a quiet lad, didn't mix well, no social skills, came from a loving family, never been away from home before.........and his personal hygiene left something to be desired. Soapy hummed. His feet bowfed. He sweated a lot and didn't seem to notice the need for regular showers. Soapy was a gunge.

It didn't take long for the vultures to start circling. His room NCO tried to take him in hand, he had to hand in regular laundry bags, he had to sign a bath book, his locker and bed-space was inspected daily. But still he smelled bad....stronger actioned needed, me-thinks.

Those not from a military background will have never heard of a Regimental Bath, and you should count your lucky stars that you'll probably never see it, never mind experience one. The hapless gunge is grabbed by his peers, stripped naked, given a mild-to-severe kicking, then dumped in a bath of freezing water. Soap powder, Brasso, scouring powder, shampoo, liquid soap, lemon juice and anything that might have any sort of cleaning agent is scrubbed into Soapy's skin (paying particular attention to his bollocks), then large bass brooms are employed with great vigor. This is all witnessed by as many baying hounds as can cram inside the bath cubicle, and everyone is encouraged to come along and bear witness to what happens to a gunge. The skin on the back is rapidly stripped raw, the eyes turn bloody and inflamed, bruises sprout like overnight mushrooms. It's not a pretty sight.

It's like a feeding frenzy. Because Soapy is a gunge, he becomes outside the laws and social practices which normally regulate behavior, even in lunatic asylums like AAC Harrogate. The kicks and punches become more vicious, they vie with each other who can land the most telling blow...it's all 'allowed' you see, nay, encouraged.... cos the unstated goal is to make poor Soapy so terrified and beaten down that he'll slink off down to the Guardroom and resign from the Army. A 'Reggie Bath' can last from ten minutes to a couple of hours. It takes a very strong man to resist.

I personally witnessed young Soapy take three Regimental Baths and he still stuck it out. He was a pariah, totally friendless, even his room-mates ignored him completely. After a night on the piss some bright spark would suggest 'Hey, why don't we nip upstairs to Bravo Troop and beat Soapy up? Gungey Bastard needs a good kicking!!!' And off they'd go, drag Soapy out of his pit by the hair and administer a good hiding. Nobody lifted a finger, nobody said anything to the Permanent Staff, the recruit NCO's either turned a blind eye or joined in with a will. Soapy kept to himself, practically lived in the shower, always obsessively washing his kit, ironing his uniform, spraying deodorant like a man possessed and keeping his head well down at all times. Didn't make a hap'orth of difference, his card was well and truly marked, his ostracism and pariah status endured.

What finally turned my stomach was Soap's 18th birthday, a Friday in the summer of 1973. Soapy had been out in Harrogate for the night (by himself, of course), then came back to the darkened barrack blocks around 11pm, cos he had to be in for 'bed check'. Bravo Troop was on the second floor, but Soapy stopped on the ground stair-well by the notice boards, then just slumped in the corner crying quietly. The Regimental Orderly Sergeant found him there and then asked what the fuck he thought he was doing out of his room after bed-check. Soapy just told him he couldn't go up because he didn't want to get beat up on his birthday....he just needed one day off from it. He'd phoned his mum earlier that day and she was the only one in the world who knew it was his birthday, and the only kind word he'd had in weeks.



The Orderly Sergeant escorted him to his room, parked him in the corridor, then told his room-mates what he'd found and suggested we might like to lay off him for the moment. Soapy then came in, quietly undressed and crawled into bed...the Orderly Sergeant left........


Ten minutes later the Gungey Bastard was installed inside a matress cover, hung out of the third floor window while the resident nutters beat him with bumpers and brooms chanting 'Die you gungeball, die!!!'


Soapy never did resign. He completed three years at Harrogate and was posted out into the Regular Army just like everyone else, a qualified Electronics Technician. I saw him again at Catterick in 1979, and went across to talk to him, chat about old times. I told him I couldn't believe he'd made it through all that, I couldn't have taken half the shit he did, and then I stuck my hand out and said:

'I'm really sorry for all you went through, Soapy, I wish I'd said something at the time...no hard feelings, eh?'

He told me to go fuck myself.
(, Sat 25 Mar 2006, 13:18, closed)

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