The last week of Sandhurst, this is a full week of drill, so if I am going to try and drag this out into another weekly blog, it could be somewhat of an effort. So I shall just talk about the only day that matters… and then the worst morning of my life!
Friday, the day of commissioning. Traditionally the day starts with commissioning PT, the last bit of physical training that is done at the academy. However it is all done in jest, think less London marathon and more Notting Hill Carnival. Each platoon turns up in fancy dress and does a lap of honour around the academy. My platoon decided to pay homage to our Jamaican colour sergeant and we went as the Jamaican bobsleigh team from the film Cool Runnings, complete with bobsleigh! Once the mornings fun is done then comes the mad twelve hours, where everything happens so fast there’s not really any time to take anything in. Our families arrived and we went to a church service, full of the hymns that would spark a patriotic flame in anyone. The most remarkable part, I was told, was when the national anthem was played and 160 officer cadets stood bolt upright to attention without any hint or any thought. For the normal civilian, this may have been somewhat surprising.
Then comes the parade, a large spectacle which some of you may have had the chance to watch. If I am honest, I was only on parade physically, not mentally. My mind was elsewhere, I was thinking about commissioning and planning everything I will do when I get my first platoon of soldiers. However, the final order is given and the senior term march up Old College steps under the watchful eye of Mars and Minerva, the Gods of War and Wisdom.
After the parade is the commissioning lunch, this was possibly my favourite part of the formal events and the reason for this? Your family have an opportunity to eat with your military family. My military family, of course, is the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who had their own table. Joining us were members of staff and a few VIPs from the regiment with the three officer cadets commissioning and their families. This was one of the highlights of the day.
Then the part everyone becomes obsessed about, the commissioning ball. Essentially it’s a big knees-up, all of your civvie friends come in black tie and all of the officer cadets get to wear their mess dress for the first time, with the added exception that we must cover our pips until midnight. The reason for this is that we only commission at midnight, so then, the tabs covering our pips can be removed and thus we are commissioned officers. I, of course, remembered the entire night. The lemonade was very refreshing and my mess dress was in pristine condition by the end of the night.
Saturday morning was possibly the worst day of my life. At six in the morning, after two hours rest, the fire alarms sound. The colour sergeants and sergeant majors run riot around the lines getting everybody out of their ‘pits’ and we are dragged to tidy up the academy. I have never felt so rough in my life! Apparently lemonade has a high alcohol level content! There was no real comfort, at all, but it did feel odd being called “sir” by a company sergeant major, a moment I shall treasure forever. Well let’s admit it, it’s not going to happen as a thrusting young subaltern any time soon! Next is six days leave and then the infantry battle school…