I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
I'm sure many others out there in the world have served in the forces at some time of their lives, and I'm sure they, too, will have some fond and some not so fond memories to share. This one, in particular, keeps coming back to me every time I hear a helicopter flying overhead.
Navy Larks - Part One
It was at Portland Bill way back in 1970 during a very bitter winter, that our ship arrived for Work Up! This, as some of you ex sailors may know, is not a very pleasant experience. It is, in fact, six weeks of war conditions and rations, where you hardly ever sleep and go through every uncomfortable experience that you would expect in war time. It's the Navy's way of checking the ship is ready for action after a refit, or a large crew change, where everyone learns about their ship and the ship learns about the crew - that is about the only way to describe this event.
At one point during this the landing party, of which I was a member, had to train for all possible events. Now, for reasons only known to some high flier in the admiralty, they trained us to fly ashore and search and defend a mock-up village. The reason for this escapes me totally, as I thought we had an Army for that kind of thing! So there we all were kitted out in full action-man style, right down to the fold-away spade sticking out of our already heavy back pack and with our faces all blacked up Rambo style! In order to carry all six fully-kitted out, confused sailors they had to strip all seats and other equipment out of the chopper and we sat at the side doors, with our feet danglng out. As we approached our Drop zone we had to reach behind and grab the bloke's hand who was sitting behind us. The reason for this was that the chopper could only hover at around six feet from the ground and had to be kept really stable in order to stop the roters tilting and hitting the ground. So when the time came - as soon as you felt the other blokes hand leave - you jumped! This way you both left at the same time, and the chopper remained stable.
All well and good except for the day when, for some reason that we never dared ask, the drop zone was a roped-off area at the end of the dock yard office staff car park and we were being watched by every member of the office staff, who looked just as confused as us! Now the chopper couldn't go as low as we would have liked due to a rather steep embankment that they seem to have forgotten about, so we were hovering at about twelve feet and the chopper was swaying between a nice soft landing on grass and a hard fall onto tarmac. I was holding this bloke's hand behind me, praying to God that I got the grass to land on. But, I'm afraid the odds were against me and, to my horror, I felt his hand go just as my side of the chopper was hovering over the Tarmac!
The jump seemed short, the noise intense but then came the contact with the ground, then nothing and then the lights went out.
You see I had planned to land and roll - a technique they had trained us to use - but, unfortunately, the weight on my back, plus the height of the drop combined and caused me to lose my balance. This resulted in a very clumsy landing, where the back pack shot forward as I landed pushing the portable spade up, which in turn knocked my hard hat forward which then shot in front of my face and broke my nose and cut my forehead. As if all these injuries were not enough to put me off the whole idea, the next bloke who left the chopper, having no choice of when to jump due to his partner, then proceeded to have a much softer landing - on me!
The whole experience must have looked like a comedy routine to all the watching office staff! As for me, well I can't remember much after hitting the ground; my first recall was to wake up and see this horrified marine instructor shouting at me for lying around his drop zone, and keeping the rest of the choppers waiting. He told me that I would be no good in the real thing, but I only have his word on that!
Next week: After Landing...