My father was a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), a field medic, stationed in the 18th Field Ambulance, New Territories Tia Po Hong Kong. (Tia Po was still under British rule so it was ‘The New Territories Kowloon, Hong Kong’, in his days.)
Initially I did my basic training at Crookham, Aldershot, the principal barracks of the Medical Corps. The corp was of a non combatant nature, but one had to learn very early how to handle a Lee Enfield Rifle, a Vickers Machine gun, an army issue pistol and grenade throwing.
Finally, once this was over it was gas training. We went into an empty Nissen hut with a Seargent in charge, and put on a gas mask for ten minutes, breathing through the mask. After the initial gas, a further two types followed. If you came out the other door you were alive, and if you did not you had kicked the bucket. Two of my lads did.
All of this may sound inconsistent with a Medical Regiment but it was required, as one needed such knowledge whilst in the field to protect one’s self as required. Only when you had proved yourself proficient in this section of training were you allowed to begin the training of the basics of anatomy and physiology which was intense.
During this period, “lights out” was 9pm, and reveille was 5 am. The cookhouse was open at 5.30 am and the first parade of the day on the main square was 7 am in full battle dress, with rifle and as clean shaven as a pigs bum. You had to ensure your battle dress and trousers had creases that you could cut yourself on, so you learned how to shave your gear so that it would crease. Watch out for cutting though, as you could be done for willful damage of Her Majesty’s property.
You learned how to shrink your beret, how to polish your boots up to glass, how to wear down your brasses so they become flat and shone like hell. You soon learned how to fix your china mug, one of the most important parts of your kit, so that the bromide in the tea was dissipated. During the long day, you needed lots of tea as it was easy to become dehydrated.