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Sandbag Reminiscences of Paddy McClure Sandbag
Over The Hills And Far Away (The Sequel)
As Mick Thomas recalls in his 'Over The Hills And Far Away' story the preparations for the escape and evasion exercise - just reading his recollections so vividly brought the sordid affair back to me as if it was only yesterday and not some 40+ years ago! Yes - everything he writes is true - the body searches for food, money or maps prior to departure from Tonfanau.
As I recall we were also informed that those in groups which got apprehended, lost or simply gave up would be returned to camp where they would be marched to and fro across the main square dropping white stones one way and picking them back up the other (much to the delight of Pte. Fagg – no doubt)! If this was an idle threat or reality – I for one certainly did not want to put it to the test!
Having heard how Mick's group faired by missing out on the canoe trip across the lake and consequently what was the most important thing to all Junior Leaders – "FOOD" – they, were probably some of more lucky ones.
My group (we were split into groups of 4) had the honour of finding the checkpoint at the lake side in the pouring rain. We managed to get into our canoe for a trip to goodness knows where. Despite the reasonable calmness of lake with the rain continuing to pour down, there still was an unpleasant smell in the air (sea sickness I think not!) when my group gingerly climbed ashore. We were out of our canoes fighting for a foothold in the pitch black on a wet muddy embankment somewhere on the other of the lake. Another checkpoint and informed;
"Here is the new slip of map and the grid reference of the checkpoint and you will get – "FOOD" – " (if you get there!)
On we pushed full of hope and arrived safely at the next checkpoint – it resembled the place where the 3 tonner had dropped us off! (Surely no one could have that twisted sense of humour?) Oh and - yes - you have probably guessed correctly. The statement followed – "Here is the new slip of map and the grid reference of the checkpoint and you will get – "FOOD" – " (if you get there!) - This was a statement which was to repeat itself several times - in the next 24 hours.
My group pushed on - still in the pouring rain - dawn was just beginning to break and in the twilight we were approaching yet another check point. The problem was we had a river straight ahead – did we either wade across or make sensible use of a nearby bridge – a vantage point for a possible ambush. Despite being wet through from the incessant rain – we put it to the vote and by the narrowest margin of - 4 to zero - we went for the bridge - two minutes later we knew we had made the wrong decision!
We were ambushed and captured by a group of graduating Leaders, but I must stress here, that to our credit we had more sense that to resist! Our boot laces were confiscated. We were glad we did not have to give number rank and name we were so cold – I doubt if any of us could have answered.
However not to be deterred and foremost with "FOOD" in mind, we scuffled on bravely on to the nearby checkpoint. Here (what else) we were given the now famous spiel of "Here is the new slip of map and the grid reference of the checkpoint and you will get – "FOOD" – " (if you get there!).
Determined not to be seen to give in (nor return to drop and pick up white stones) off we trudged (and if you have ever had the pleasure of attempting to walk even short distances in boots without laces) scuffled and trudged are the politer expressions – back down the track, passing nearby to the bridge where we had be bushwhacked.
This is where the Knightsbridge Platoon pride comes to the fore - one of those big graduates - a senior NCO - ran over to us and throws us our boot laces back, shouts good luck Paddy and disappeared into the dark. Thanks mate - if you are still out there somewhere - you kept us going – never was I so glad to be in Knightsbridge Platoon!
However, as I have written this to confirm to Mick Thomas and others that endurance does not always pay dividends because after a couple more checkpoints and the empty promise of – "FOOD" – we arrived to the welcome site of a 3 tonner. Where we were thrown........ a bar of the black compo chocolate (designed to make you S**T through the eye of a needle) and a cup of cold tea – no doubt with a portion of bromide designed to effect other bodily organs! That was the much needed – "FOOD".
For several days after the exercise - that smell – first present when we departed the canoes back at the lake was again prevalent!
Footnote: Out of over twenty groups only one and a half actually completed the exercise!
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