The following story – some parts of which are absolutely true; the language of the RM Sergeant being the exception – marks the love/hate relationship that then existed between the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines.
After several months spent aboard a Royal Navy commando carrier in S.E. Asian waters during the ‘Sixties, I managed to wangle an ‘off-ship’ opportunity that allowed me – as a sailor – to join a small Royal Marine forward spotting patrol on a jungle exercise led by a seasoned sergeant.
As the newcomer to the team – and as far as the rest of the patrol was concerned, a walking, talking liability – I was kitted out with jungle green camouflage gear, handed a big machete, and told that my role was to be that of the communications man, i.e. I was given a bloody big radio – the size of a Volkswagen – to carry on my back.
“Can I have a ‘gun’, please, Royal?” I said to the sergeant in charge of the patrol.
(The Navy always called members of the Royal Marines, “Royal” to their faces. Behind their backs they were known as, “Bootneck Bastards.” They called RN sailors, “Jack” … when they were being polite.)
“No, you can’t.” He replied.
“Go on, Royal. All the other blokes have weapons. Why can’t I?”
“Because, Jack, the most dangerous bleedin’ thing known to bleedin’ man is a bleedin’ sailor armed with a bleedin’ loaded bleedin’ firearm. That’s bleedin’ why!”
(To be fair, he only used the adverb “bleedin'” once, before then expanding on his extensive vocabulary of words that my old granny probably knew existed, but would never dream of uttering.)
His well-structured argument had much to commend it. But as it happens the radio was so big (in those days they were bloody huge) that carrying both it as well as a rifle would have proved a bit of a chore; although I did feel that a side-arm on my hip would have set off the ensemble rather well.
At one stage during the patrol, we set up camp for the night close to a small clearing and where an almost indistinguishable track led off into the jungle. Although the place chosen was away from known enemy activity, it was decided to do a quick reconnaissance. The point man set off down the track with me following – still with the radio on my back in order to avoid any ‘domestic’ chores. (Sailors ain’t stupid … despite what others might say.)
After a short distance, during which the machetes were put to good effect while we hacked our way through the dense foliage, the point-man gave a high-pitched scream, turned and streaked past me, heading back down the track towards camp. For a brief moment, I stood still and looked at what he had seen; which turned out to be the world’s biggest spider-web with – travelling down at eye-level – a spider so big that it made King-Kong look like a toy poodle playing with a ping-pong ball.
Discretion being the better part of valour – and not caring overly much for super-sized spiders either – I took off after the Royal Marine. To my credit – even when weighed down with the radio – I overtook him.
Streaking back into camp ahead of the point-man, the sergeant summoned the other members of the patrol to arms and asked me what the panic was all about? Having my wits about me – and the honour of the entire Royal Navy resting on my shoulders – I told him.
“I thought you said your blokes were fit, Sarge? I just challenged your point-man to a race. I even gave him a head start – and loaded down with this bloody radio, I still managed to win.”
Some people insist that it was foolhardiness on my part, but uttering comments like those while surrounded by Royal Marines – and with no back-up support from other Naval personnel – is, to my way of thinking, a demonstration of outstanding courage and bravery.