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Pull Up A Sandbag
Sandbag Reminiscences of Mick Thomas Sandbag
Over The Hills And Far Away
It was another one of those exercises to test or should I say hone our military prowess. A sections night exercise in the Idris area. The plan was simple, after a kit search in one of the drill sheds on the parade ground, for no-no items like food and money, plus a kit check, then into the 3 tonners we hopped. Each section having been issued a map the size of a postage stamp, a compass and an all important torch, (I'll come to the torch later). Given a grid ref we were duly dropped off along a desolate track somewhere up in the hills, waving goodbye to the lucky ones who departed into the distance still on the truck. We set about trying to find where we were on that map, compass out, and round and round the needle went, "must be bust" said one, "typical" said another, not knowing that in the pitch dark we had been dropped off under some high voltage cables crossing the hillside. Not put off we tramped in the general direction of our checkpoint. Oh, I didn't mention that we had to make for checkpoints along the way where we were to be given new GR's and eventually food. Well in any event we must have strayed off that map, but low and behold walked straight into the first checkpoint. With luck on our side we made the second, which was by a lake.
It was about here that the whole exercise started to fall apart. We were supposed to be ferried by canoe over to the other side were we would be given yet another GR and yes some much needed FOOD. Due to a bottle neck at the canoe every other section was sent round the lake on foot instead of the boat trip and that was the last time we saw a checkpoint. Those devious permanent staff must have been hiding on the other side of that lake, so somewhere in what we thought was the right place we headed off on our next bearing up Cader.
We must have been slightly out in our calculations because we never even found Cader.
On through the night we tramped with not a soul in sight until in the very early morning we found ourselves wandering through a small hamlet and for the first time in the beautiful moonlight we could see the valley all around us. After using some of our Tonfanau survival training by relieving every doorstep in that village of its daily pinta milk, and curiously enough finding a milk crate at the end of the village in which to deposit our empties, we plodded on.
Someone always has a wonderful idea at moments like this and sure enough up came the idea for us to head for the coast where we knew we would hit the railway. Sure enough at around 0600 hours we staggered onto a deserted railway platform, and off to sleep we all went, cold, hungry and tired.
Woken up by kids who travelled the line to school every morning we boarded their train. "Sorry, we haven't got any money" we told the ticket collector, who had already heard that statement a couple of dozen times before as the train was already packed with Junior Leader's escaping from those hills, "You will have to pay at the other end" came his reply, taking our names.
Into Barmouth station we pulled, and what a sight, the platform was awash with squaddies. There must have been at least a hundred to add to the dozen or so already on the train. Word travels fast in Wales, I think they are a bit like the American Indians with their smoke signals because by the time we poured out onto the platform at Tonfanau, we had a welcoming committee of the RSM, all the provo staff, old uncle tom cobbly and all. Off to the billets we trudged after yet again giving our name, rank and number.
After a well deserved rest we were debriefed (that's an army term for interrogated). The outcome being that it was not our fault (thank god). Poor organisation was to blame with every group missing some part of the essential kit, torch, map or compass. Yes! That's where we were let down, we had a map, we had a compass, but what good is a map without a torch, and what good is a compass without map to read in the dark.
The final blow is always the army's and that came on payday, with two tables on pay parade, one to collect your seven and six from and the other to pay the RSM two and six for your rail ticket.
And here ends a night exercise story that I just had to get off my chest. Too others it was a laugh but to me it was a learning curve. With four kids of my own, I never let them be without their morning milk. Unlike that fateful night when seven, sneaky little imps pinched all the kids' milk in that little Welsh hamlet. Amen.

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