The door closed quietly behind the officer, standing tall and looking distinguished in his uniform. The man sitting closest to the door looked up and stood quickly.
"Officer present!" he announced to the rest of the men, who instantly morphed from lounging layabouts to full attention
The officer smiled to himself as he walked to the front of his men.
"All right, gentlemen, at ease," he told them as he took off his jacket and loosened his tie. He threw his jacket on a chair and looked at his men, all waiting for his next order.
"Sit down, lads. You're making me feel nervous," he grinned.
Billy Malone picked up the officer's jacket and sat, folding it neatly and glancing at it as he went to place it onto the desk. "You forget to tell us something, Skip?" He held up the jacket to show the other men.
All hell broke loose as the jacket was passed from man to man.
"When were you going to tell us?"
"I thought I'd take you all out for a drink and let you know then," the officer smiled.
"I think a meal would be more appropriate," Billy said, refolding the jacket and placing it on an empty chair, allowing the gold crown to show on the lapel.
"Okay, I can see we're not going to get anything done for the rest of the afternoon, so fall out, men, and we'll meet up at 18:30 hours. Reg, can you arrange the transport?"
"No probs, Skip."
The minibus pulled up outside Saxty's restaurant in Hereford. The men groaned when they realised that it was Tuesday, so the nightclub wouldn't be open. The officer grinned, knowing what was on the cards for the following morning and betting the men would thank him for making sure they got back to the unit at a reasonable time after their meal.
They were soon all seated and ordering the famous Hereford steak from the menu. Once their meals were in front of them, Billy cleared his throat and stood up. "Okay, lads, I'll keep this short and sweet." He was interrupted by cheers. "Before we get stuck into this beautiful meal, I'd like to ask you all to raise your glasses to the boss to congratulate him on his well deserved promotion."
The men all stood and held up their wine glasses towards the man seated at the end of the table. "Three cheers to MAJOR Terrence Thorne."
The lads all cheered, and were joined by the other diners and the staff. Terry stood up and took a bow, smiling at everyone there while thinking he was glad it wasn't a busy night in the restaurant. He held up his hand to get his men's attention before speaking. "Thanks for the ovation, lads. Do I take it that you'll finally stop calling me Skip now?"
"No way, boss," Reg piped up. "You know it was never to do with your rank, Skippy."
"Would it help if I told ya there aren't many roos in Sydney?"
"NO!!" all the men shouted back, enjoying being able to tease the officer.
"Aw, fair go, mates. None of you are old enough to remember Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo."
"You can thank satellite re-runs for that, Skip."
Knowing when he was defeated, Terry sat back down to enjoy his meal, laughing and joking with his men as they enjoyed their evening.
3:30am. The lights in the narrow corridor were blazing as the sergeant major strode from door to door, hammering on each as he went down the line. "Rise and shine, gents - rise and shine!" he roared, listening to the groans as he walked back up the line, opening the doors and switching on the lights. He reached the end of the corridor and stopped by Terry Thorne, who had been up for about an hour already and had been out on a run, then showered and dressed, ready to join his men for breakfast. As the lads staggered to their doors to see what was going on, Terry announced, "Showers, lads; brekkie in fifteen," before turning to head off towards the mess with the SM by his side.
4:00am. Everyone was standing outside the mess with their kit, watching as the troop truck rumbled towards them. "In you get, lads," Terry winked at them, watching as they threw their kitbags into the back of the truck and quickly followed. He walked to the front and climbed up into the passenger seat next to the driver.
"All set, Major?"
"All set, Dusty."
They set off through the gate and headed west. Terry smiled to himself, wondering if the lads were working out where they were heading. The trip was about 1 hour 15 minutes, but this early in the morning it would most likely take less. Terry expected them to arrive just after 5:00am. That was good; they should be the first there.
About half an hour into the trip there was banging on the rear of the cab and voices chanting, "Are we there yet?" Terry and Dusty grinned at each other as Dusty took the Abergaveny turn a little sharper than necessary amid shouts from the rear of the truck. It wasn't too long before they reached their destination and the truck pulled up. Terry got out and walked round to the back, then climbed up and lifted the flap.
"Okay, kids, we're here."
The lads got up and grabbed their gear, jumping down and looking around. It was still dark, but they all realised where they were and groaned. "What are we doing here, Skip?" Reg asked.
"I don't know, I bring you all on a nice day out but you do nothing but moan," Terry laughed. "I thought you all loved it here."
The men looked around them in the gloom. Yes, they hadn't got it wrong on the first look. They were at the Sennybridge Training Camp in Wales. From here, trainees were exposed to the Brecon Beacons and Elan Valley in the beautiful Welsh National Park. The weather was notorious here and could change in a heartbeat, which was one reason the service utilised the area.
"We're the advanced guard, lads. There's a bunch of newbies on the way, and we have the pleasure of being their guides for the next couple of weeks."
The lads cheered up a little at that. Being a trainer wasn't a walk in the park, but at least they could get away with not wearing the heavy kitbag the entire time, unlike the trainees would be.
It didn't take too long for them to stow their gear, smiling at the fact that the trainers' quarters were better than where the trainees would be sleeping for the next few nights.. They were soon enjoying a filling cooked breakfast washed down with piping hot mugs of tea, wondering when the trainees would be arriving.
The trainees had all jumped down from the truck and were milling around waiting to be told what to do next. They spotted someone marching towards them and soon met Sgt. Major Willis.
"Right, gents. Gather up your gear and follow me." He led them to a long building which was going to be their home for the duration. "You got ten minutes to pick your spot and stow your kit, then head out across the square to the mess hall."
Exactly ten minutes later, they all filed into the mess hall, which had been set out like a classroom, with rows of tables and chairs. At the front of the hall, lined up in front of a desk, stood a group of serious soldiers, all wearing the coveted sand-coloured beret and blue belt of the SAS. The recruits picked their spots and sat down, watching the silent soldiers closely.
A door opened behind the desk and the soldiers snapped to attention. "Officer present!" one of them stated. The recruits all stood behind their chairs at attention, all eyes on the new arrival. The soldiers moved from their place in front of the desk and stood either side of it in front of chairs that were lined up either side.
The officer placed a pile of folders on the desk and looked at the recruits before nodding for them to sit.
"Good morning, men, and welcome to the second phase of Selection. My name is Major Terrence Thorne, 22 Battalion Special Air Service, and these gentlemen either side of me are my squad. Between us, we hope to find out which of you, if any, are good enough to join us. You've already managed to get through your one week briefing course, now, for the next four weeks, your souls belong to me."
The recruits weren't too sure if they should chuckle at the last remark, so all decided to keep quiet and find out the lay of the land.
"This phase of the course covers Fitness and Navigation. Your initial test will be the standard Personal Fitness Test, a 2.4K run in under 9 minutes 30 seconds, preceded by a minimum of 44 press-ups and 50 sit-ups in two minutes each. Now, you've all done this in your basic training when you first joined up. Let's see how many of you have let your standards drop since then."
Terry's squad grinned at that remark as they knew full well the young bloods would believe that they were fitter than their trainers just because they were all younger.
"Okay, after the PFT, you'll begin training proper. The first week will consist of runs in the Beacons, up and down hill with a loaded Bergen. You may have heard of the Fan Dance, which comes at the end of your first week. You'll all love it," Terry paused and smiled at the recruits, who smiled nervously back.
"The Fan Dance consists of a 24K march. You'll be divided into two groups, each starting from opposite sides of Pen y Fan. It's a nice walk, just 886m high. One of the groups will start at Torpantau Station, and one will start from the Storey Arms...before you all cheer, this isn't a pub, but a Mountain Rescue Station.
"You'll each be carrying an 18K Bergen, a water bottle and a 5K rifle. You will climb up one side of the peak and down the other, then you'll turn round and do it again in reverse, passing the other group. There's a time limit of four hours for this one. This will sort out the men from the boys, and by the end of the exercise, we will know which of you have the mental and physical stamina to continue on the course. Those who fall by the wayside will be RTU."
One of the recruits put up his hand. "Sir?"
"Yes, trooper," Terry replied.
"If the Fan Dance is at the end of the week, what kind of thing will we be doing up to then?"
"You'll spend a lot of time doing navigation and map reading exercises. For these you'll be broken down into small groups and will be in the woods and also undertaking night tabs [Tactical Advance to Battle - long distance marching] right after the daytime exercise. This increases the physical and mental load you'll have to bear. Your loads will be increased over the two week period, and you will be expected to carry your personal weapon unsupported, your rifle in your hands at all times as you jog up and and down the slopes, and there are a lot of slopes on the Beacons.
"Week three will consist of navigation from a grid reference. Trainers will be at each 'RV', and you will be required to accurately indicate to them the grid reference on your maps before they will reveal the next grid reference to you.
"The final week is the 'Test Week'. Six marches on consecutive days. Each day your Bergen weight will increase, along with the distance of the march. On the penultimate day you'll be covering 35K using only a hand-drawn sketch map, and on the final day there will be a 65K march across the Beacons, with a 20 hour time limit, carrying in excess of 25K, plus food, water and your rifle."
The recruits all sat in silence taking in the information.
"Anyone want to go home yet?" Terry grinned. "Right then, shift the tables and you can get a hot brekkie inside ya."
"Does that go for us as well, Skip?" Reg asked with a serious face.
"Bloody hell, who are you, Oliver Twist? Right-oh, you can feed your ugly faces again. You'll soon sweat off those calories.
Over breakfast, everyone introduced themselves and started chatting. Reg kept the seat next to him empty, knowing that Terry would join them. and he soon appeared with a steaming mug of tea and a pile of buttered toast.
"Off your food, Skip?"
"Bugger off, Trog. You might be able to put away two full English in the space of an hour, but I'll make do with this, ta."
One of the recruits looked over at Terry. "Can I ask a question?"
"Feel free," Terry replied.
"How do we address you?"
"You can call him Major Thorne, Major, Sir, or if you're lucky, Boss," Reg replied as Terry had a mouthful of toast.
"Okay, after you've all finished filling your faces, we'll get the introductions done," Terry said, grinning at Reg.
"Right, we'll soon get to know you all by name, we've got the rest of the day to read your files, but before we let you go and find your way around the camp you need to know your instructors," Terry said, nodding to his team, who were now lined up in front of the mess counter.
"From left to right as you're looking at them, we have Lt. Reg 'Trog' Presley, Lt. William 'Bugsy' Malone, Lt. Danny 'Petal' Flowers, Lt. Dave 'Fish' Pike, Lt. Mike 'Taff' Williams, Lt. Pete 'Angel' Angelis, and out favourite non-com, Sgt. Steve 'Dusty' Miller. Any questions?"
"Do you have a nick-name, Major?"
"As a matter of fact I do," Terry replied. "It's Sir," he grinned as the recruits all groaned . "Right, the rest of the day is yours to explore and settle in. We'll see you all bright and early tomorrow morning."
Terry and his team watched the men leave the mess hall and then went to his office to review all the files. They needed to know if there was anyone they should to keep an eye on once the training started. A few hours later, satisfied that they knew as much about the men as they could from their notes, they all headed off for the gym.
The following morning the recruits were up before first light and after a quiet shower they were in the mess hall lining up for their breakfast. Terry and his team were already there, and half of them had already finished eating and were enjoying their mugs of steaming hot tea.
"Good morning, children," Terry remarked at the recruits as they waited in line.
"Morning, Sir," they answered in unison.
"It's like being back in school, isn't it," Bugsy chuckled.
"More like lambs to the slaughter," Taff replied.
"Behave, you two."
"Yes, Skip," they replied, grinning like a pair of Cheshire Cats.
Terry stood and walked over to the recruits. "Right, lads, don't hang around. We don't have all day. You need to be on the parade ground at 07:15 in your PT kit."
The trainers left the mess hall together and prepared for the recruits. Trog, Petal and Dusty headed toward a parked jeep and prepared to head out to the finish point of the run. Before they left, they checked their radios as they would be called when the run began. The rest of them walked over to the parade ground to await the recruits.
The recruits were all very keen. Most of them had joined the army with the burning ambition to one day belong to the elite group. Failure was not an option, so they started as they meant to go on, all arriving on the parade ground earlier than expected. Terry smiled, remembering how keen he was to join the unit all those years ago. He was going to let Taff take the lead while he took a back seat in the proceedings, all the better to assess the eager young men.
They started off with ten laps around the parade ground just to loosen up and warm their muscles. After that, Taff had them on the press-ups quickly followed by the sit-ups. They were then marched to the main gate of the camp and Taff pointed up the road into the hills.
"Okay, lads. 2.4k, maximum time allowed is 9 minutes and 30 seconds. Not a second longer. Anyone who finishes out of that time will fail the PFT. There will be NO appeal. Any failures will be RTU as soon as you get back here to the camp. Understood?"
"Sir!" was the reply.
Terry walked along the line, looking at the serious faces. He clicked on the radio. "Are you receiving, Trog?"
"Loud and clear, Skip," came the reply.
"Okie dokie, get your stop watch ready. Taff's about to start them off." He kept the channel open so that Trog could hear Taff start the men off and as soon as he heard the whistle, he started his stop watch.
They watched as the recruits headed off up the road, waiting until they were out of sight around the first bend before heading back through the camp gates.
"Did you make a list?"
"We sure did," Angel laughed, handing his clipboard over to Terry.
"Interesting," Terry said, studying the list. "You really think that many will fail?"
"Not really, Skip. Not after watching them. They're all pretty keen."
"It could work against them, though, mate. They all started off at one hell of a pace. I know it's only 2.4k, but if they're not careful they may seize up before the finish. I'd hate to see anyone fail because they were too eager."
"Well, Skip, we'll know soon enough. They've been gone 5 minutes already."
"Time for a quick cuppa before they get back then," Terry laughed, heading back to the mess hall.
Fifteen minutes later they were back outside as the truck came in through the main gate and pulled up. The recruits climbed down from the back and lined up in front of Terry. They turned their heads as the jeep pulled up and Trog walked over and handed Terry his list. Terry glanced down at it and the recruits tried to read his expression. They decided they wouldn't like to play poker with him.
"Right, lads. When I call out your name you can head for the showers. Be back in the mess in one hour."
Terry read out names and the selected men all breathed a sigh of relief when they realised they had made the cut. Seven men were left on the parade ground...seven utterly dejected men. They wanted to plead their cases, but knew there would be no reprieve. They were taken to a separate shower block, and when they had freshened up, they found their kitbags packed and waiting for them in the changing room. Getting dressed, they silently picked up their kit and walked slowly outside where the truck was waiting to take them back to their units.
"Glad I'm not a full time trainer here," Dusty remarked as the truck left the camp. "That's got to be the saddest sight ever.
"There are bound to be more before we've finished," Terry replied. "Let's go see the survivors. get them ready for tomorrow."
ON TO PART 2
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