I was asked to write a short blog about what life is like in the Military, this might be a hard task in keeping it short!!!!!
I have to state at this point that I wasn’t a serving soldier in the British Military, but rather I worked for the Military for 2 years, from September 1994 to September 1996, as a Youth Worker, yes the British Military has its own Youth Service, it was a lot larger back then than it is now, and that is a reflection of the reduction of the military over the years, but have to say that the Military Community (including Veterans and their families) has grown to quite a sizeable number.
So back to what I did as a Youth Worker in the Armed Forces, I was based in Krefeld in Germany for those 2 years (only 2 year maximum contract), and was attached to the Army Education Corps, I was given a rank of Captain and lived in the Officer’s Mess for the 2 years.
My life before I obtained the Youth work position for the Military, was quite active as I did a lot of Youth Work volunteering, I am a Qualified Joiner, but not much work at the time, so diversified into Youth work, life was great, socialised often and used to drink moderately when able to afford to go out for the evening.
A new start was ahead so took the bull by the horns and went for it (I am a Taurean!!!). The first week in Germany, was quite busy visiting lots of different places and lots of training in what to do and not to do! We stayed at an RAF base as part of our induction, alcohol was cheap and we all socialised in the evening at the Mess bar, a few late nights and groggy mornings, but this was induction week, so had to get used to this life for now!!!!
To put into context Beer was around 50p a pint and spirits were around 30p for a double (and only doubles were served) mixers were same price as the alcohol!!!!
The food in the mess was also very good and we all sat down to dinner each evening and ordered from a menu like in a restaurant.
So was this the life for the next 2 years?
After the induction week, we all departed and went to our own bases, mine being Krefeld the, during the 2nd World War this camp was the home of a Panzer Tank Division, and apparently there were tanks buried under the parade square.
The first week was busy during the day meeting all the people on the base, but quite quiet during the evening as the regiment was away on a training exercise.
When the regiment returned from exercise things were quite different, the other officers who lived in the mess returned and things were busy on Camp.
During the day, would be meeting and getting to know the young people on the school buses, whose parents were based with the regiment, devising activity programs for the children and setting up and running the youth centre, we had a number of volunteers from the regiment, a number of soldiers and some of the Wives all helped, that community spirit set in, where people helped and looked out for each other. A lot of people used to shop in the NAFFI shop, which was similar to, say a local CO-OP store, but there were armed guards on the door and you had to show your Military ID whenever you went out of the base to get back in. I used to shop in the local German Stores to get that feeling you were actually in a different country, otherwise it was just like living on an island!!!!
That was the usual day-time activities, but the evenings were a lot different than what I was used to back home. Every evening would start with drinks in the bar before dinner, may be a pint of beer or some wine, (Monday to Thursday evening would be quite formal, having to wear Lounge Suits, Friday to Sunday quite relaxed wearing Casual clothes but not Jeans!), so the evening would continue with drinks over dinner with a conversation about what had happened during the day (normally military related or green as it was called), maybe a glass of port as well. Dinner finished and retirement to the bar, for more drinks and maybe a few bar games, one game was shock, were there was a series of 10 shot glasses of Appfelkorn in a line, with matchsticks placed around them to form boxes, you would then take turns to shake 5 dice three times, and if you got a 1 then that would unlock the box and you would have to drink a shot, but if you got 5 1’s then that would unlock all the boxes that are left and you would have to drink those drinks that were in those boxes.
Being the only Civilian living in the officers mess, matter of fact only civilian on the whole base, I felt that if I didn’t join in with the drinking culture then I would be ostracised by the others that lived in the mess, I would be glad on the evenings when I was working or when most of the other officers were away on a training exercise as I was able to have a night off the drink.
I used to get invited to parties and dinners from those who lived outside the base, which always involved drinking which led to some very drunken nights.
I thought that this seemed a great life, but involved Alcohol in almost every aspect, if you got anything done on your car, you paid in crates of beer, it became a Currency in most cases, because it was so cheap, in the NAFFI you could actually buy a 3Litre bottle of Smirnoff Vodka for about £10.
The Culture of the Forces back then seemed to me to be that of a Drinking Culture!
Work Hard! Play Hard! Was the slogan!!!!!