No introduction is necessary to Ex Bootneck’s story. Only know it involves practical jokes, Royal Marines, and latrines:
Standard issue camouflage ‘wind proof smocks and trousers’ were hidden by the wearing of arctic ‘cam whites’, an invaluable aid to arctic conditions, but also a double edged weapon (more of which I will explain as the tale goes on).
I have some great memories and photographs from operating in Norway through Arctic Winter Warfare Training. My first bewildered issue of winter warfare clothing was as a novice prior to deploying to Norway, for a Mountain & Arctic Winter Warfare Training and Survival Course. All ranks not trained in this dark art are sent on a novice course that includes arctic survival, tactical movement, and ski-ing on 120mm long ‘planks’ whilst balancing a 100Ib bergan and weapon; up, down, and across country.
On my novice course I shared a ten-man tent with ranks combined from marine up through to Lt. Bright (USMC), a R.M. Major, and the Brigadier of 3. Commando Brigade R.M. (a marines marine and a real growler)! Each and every novice abided by the code of ‘rank has no privilege’, arctic temperatures dictate the same policy that all men are equal. The daily ‘beastings’ issued from the RM Mountain Leader instructors (of the Mountain & Arctic Warfare Cadre) required each novice rank to trust and rely upon each other to get through and survive.
Upon completion of the novice course (there are those that become arctic unsuitable; a career changer for most); each individual would continue to train within their respective qualification, i.e. Fighting Company, Signals, Heavy Weapons, Stores, Clerks, etc. R.M. Commando Units spend three months of every year on winter deployments, which supplied many adventures, broken bones, torn ligaments, tales of woe and absolute hilarity.
The ‘dit’ that follows has been ‘sanitised’ as much as possible to protect the feeble minded, weak, and insane readers who may be of a flushed disposition!
Imagine if you will…
A ten-day warfare scenario in arctic conditions; from blizzards and ‘white outs’ to dead still calm bright days.
A Commando Unit in advance to contact, defence, and then a fighting withdrawal. To survive in such arduous conditions five thousand calories a day are required as fuel to keep the body from burning muscle. Exhaustion and sleep comes easy, though morale is always at a high because of the ‘wind-up’s and ‘bites’ played upon each other. (Joshing)?
Sunrise in the Arctic is 08:00, and sunset 15:30hrs. The nights are long and drawn out, with the air temp falling downward to minus 10 to 25 degrees on average, this is without the wind-chill factor.
The snow in and around the endless forests could be between 4’ to 6‘ deep; in parts it could lay up to 10’. In white out conditions being caught several feet away from your tent & essentials can be the difference between life and death, it is so easy to become disorientated and slowly freeze to death as you wander in the wrong direction.
The rule on every deployment is to operate a tactical clean and tidy routine, which meant designating a single breast outer pocket for wrappers, and a bergan pouch for ration pack debris; gash is never ditched or buried. Every individual enforces and abides by this rule.
Each evening after dark, where possible, collapsible cardboard ‘crappers’ would be provided around each company location, a necessity and essential for health and hygiene.
But; not for the old and bold ‘arctic foxes’, who preferred the old school way of a shovel used as a leaning/straining bar, and polythene bags as depositary’s. These ‘arctic foxes’ would deposit the same after wards into the ‘crapper’ as it was more convenient than carrying it in an outer pouch of their bergan.
(Where it would lie frozen until a suitable time came for disposal).
One of my ‘arctic fox’ section corporals (Pete) insisted on taking his tactical ‘toilet duty’ every evening at 19:00hrs. Fully equipped and armed with a soft toilet roll, polythene bag and shovel, he would venture several feet away from our four-man tent to ‘prepare and adopt the stance’.
As an ‘arctic fox’ Pete would often say, “how else can you see how your body is functioning without seeing what you have laid”? Which was true in a sense, but those of the ‘new way’ much preferred to ‘sit and hum’ in cardboard town!
One evening as the temperature plummeted, a tactical halt was called to the exercise as white out blizzard conditions were expected for a couple of days. Such a break was a cause for merriment as going ‘non-tact’ meant that naked light discipline was no longer enforced, which allowed small naphtha filled tilly lamps to be used within the four man tents. This light added to the heat and glow of naphtha cookers, which always lifted spirits.
Regular as clockwork at 19:00hrs Pete readied him self and departed the comfort of the tent. Just after 19:20hrs Pete returned in a somewhat flustered state. His cam-whites where in disarray, with the elasticated sleeves on his trouser legs pulled up to his shins. His story and cursing (in proper London cockney rhyming slang) had me in a fit of laughter as he explained his mishap.
He went on to explain how he picked his position in the dark, (except for the light of a quarter moon and the low glow from a nearby tent), and tamped down the snow around his ‘delivery’ spot, which then allowed him to part bury the polythene bag. He sunk and readied his shovel and tested the angle to offer the best support, he then dropped his cam-whites & windproof trousers & adopted the half squat-seat position; he commenced thus to do what a full arctic ration pack is designed to do to the human body.
After which he ‘wiped and polished’, placing the used paper material at the base of the shovel. He pulled up his sets of trousers, and turned to place the used paper into the depositary bag in the snow, only to notice the bag was there, but there was no deposit?
Yet he knew he had indeed made one, it just wasn’t there!
The agony of realising that he may have made the absolute novice mistake of ‘depositing’ within his cam-whites mortified him. He had to conduct a hand search & check, to his utter relief this was not so… The golden rule is that you do not expose bare flesh in the arctic unnecessary, especially tender bare skin, so he returned post-haste to the tent completely mystified…
His story and antics in the tent had me in absolute tears as he described his tale of woe and loss… he still insisted in checking his trousers in the better light of the tent, but to no avail.
I suggested that his deposit must be there outside somewhere? Of which he replied “it isn’t mate, I searched, I even got down on me bloody hands and knees for a better look around and there was nothing”!
I was laughing so much that I had to get out of my cosy arctic sleeping bag as I needed to pee. As I got to a ‘stick in the ground pee-point’ I heard mirth and muffled laughter coming from a nearby tent. I unzipped the entrance and stuck my head in to see four marines in their ‘bags’ in absolute hysterics, each trying not to laugh out too loud. I asked if they where they laughing at Pete’s demise (you can hear every thing through a tent wall even in a gale). They were, only that was only part of it.
They went on to explain that two of them had left their tent before 19:00hrs and waited for Pete to exit from our tent. Wearing their full white camouflage they took a wide headed white plastic shovel and sat behind what they hoped would be Pete’s selected position.
From ‘real’ close by they watched Pete go through his ceremony, and then when he adopted his stance and ‘motioned’ one of them caught it on his shovel and deftly, silently, withdrew it away keeping it at arms length. They then stayed motionless behind the base of the tree, while poor Pete mumbled & chuntered and searched, questioning his loss and sanity in utter disbelief.
They watched him panic as he searched his cam-whites, and had to fight hard not to erupt into laughter.
As he departed they deposited their ‘result’ into a nearby ‘crapper’ and returned to their tent.
It was too much for me to bear, I had to let go with a belly laugh, which set the four of them off uncontrollably, the more we tried to stop laughing the worse it became, my sides were aching so much I had a stitch, hot tears were streaming down my burning cheeks.
The following day the tale of Pete’s ‘tom tit’ became legendary, (poems were written about Pete, and the mystery disappearance of nature’s depositary).
Pete responded by ensuring the four marines caught up the company’s ‘cardboard crapper’ disposal detail, which at the end of a winter thaw is not that pleasant.
Poor Pete. . .