Barrack Room Inspection
By Martin Ough Dealy

Reveille was at 05:30. I was one of 24 raw recruits roused at this hellish hour by the camp bugle. We had 2 hours to get the barrack and ourselves prepared for the morning inspection. Anything found wrong would mean the cancellation of the weekend pass or worse…and there was so much that might be found fault with.

The barrack room for a start had been built during the Great War with the inevitable accumulation of dust and debris in the years between. A coal stove at each end pretended to heat the hut and there was the inevitable trail of coal dust and ash. The cold wind whistling through the cracks and crannies of the old weatherboards all night had helped to distribute the rubbish over the wooden floor, under the beds and onto the walls. Then there were the trails of mud and dirt brought in after yesterday’s exercises on the heath.

Not for us the luxury of vacuum cleaners. Our supply of stiff yard brooms, brushes and pans, worn out and dirty cleaning cloths, floor wax and coconut "bumpers", stove blacking, Brasso, boot polish and Blanco would have to do.

Each cast iron single bed had three paillasse biscuits that substituted as a mattress, plus a pair of sheets that were grey from long service, a hard pillow with its own grey pillow slip and two dark green thin blankets. On one side of each bed was a small wooden cupboard and on the other a stand for the soldier’s Lee Enfield 0.303 inch calibre rifle that was standard issue in the Army for the last 55 years at least.

Above the bed was a shelf on which our webbing, knapsacks and ammo pouches were kept. These had to be "Blancoed" in the regulation khaki brown, brasses gleaming without a speck of Blanco or mud to mar any surface. The whole ensemble of big pack, small pack and two ammunition pouches had to be a regular box shape with smooth sides, no sagging or round corners and above all "square"!

For the pending inspection the Army required every man’s bed space and issued equipment to be set up in exactly the same way. For example, the bed had to be made up so that there was not a wrinkle anywhere. The pillow had to be placed exactly at the head and in the centre on top
One’s "best" boots had a place on the floor at the end of bed, again exactly mid centre and these had to be spotless and in a state of gleaming perfection that could only be achieved after many hours of spit and polish. In addition the thirteen steel studs on the bottom sole of each boot had to be set in the regulation pattern and polished! So too the instep of the boot, notwithstanding damage done earlier when on parade.

The time to prepare flashed past in a flurry of frantic activity. We each had tasks to do with cleaning the barrack room as well as sole responsibility for our gear and bed space. With barely minutes to spare we were now in our working uniform , the woollen battledress of the 1950’s, woollen shirts that were always too small, tie, blue beret and gleaming cap badge, "shorts cellulose underwear one for the use of" , woollen top and trousers, socks, black leather boots and gaiters.

Then the order came "STAND BY YOUR BEDS" …followed by "attenTION".

The Company Sergeant Major (CSM) appeared standing fore square in the barrack room door. He was attended by the Orderly Sergeant with the Red Sash of duty across his chest and the barrack room Corporal, our own personal dictator..

The CSM filled any space he was in by virtue of his singularly massive presence. He loomed in the door.

His large head was supported by a neck pillar of impressive diameter. His uniform strained to contain his bulky body, muscular limbs going to fat and attached appurtenances. Standing to attention was difficult for him as he was unable to place his heels quite together a characteristic that earned him the nick name  "DB"….. used beyond his hearing of course……..

He bulged, yet the creases of his jacket and trousers remained as sharp as razor edges. His boots were not just black and clean, they glowed especially at the toe caps. Every piece of gleaming brass on his webbed belt, puttees and cap shouted of well applied Brasso and elbow grease.

The face was hard yet showed the ravages of long service both on the parade ground and in the local pub. It was punctured by two jet black eyes overshadowed by impressively hairy eye brows beneath a low Neandarthalic forehead and a blue beret with cap badge set exactly over the left eye as per regulation. A man who had risen to his exalted position only after endless mind numbing hours on the parade ground , in the gym, and on the ranges perfecting his skill in "regimental duties" ….he was GOD and was not to be challenged by anyone let alone a lowly recruit.

Yet there was something about his eyes and general demeanour that suggested a chip on the shoulder, a lack of imagination and innate dull wittedness typical of his bullying kind. His instinct warned him that any one of the 24 recruits given a chance could run rings around him in a test of wits and intelligence. So he was not about to give anyone of us even half a chance. Anything he found wrong was sure to end in tears for the culprit or the group as a whole.
We all stood rigidly "At ease" by our beds staring ahead to discover our fate.

He marched in and stopped in front of the first man, who stamped the wooden floor as he came to attention. "WHAT IS YOU NAME PRIVATE?" he shouted. "XYZ" was the reply followed by "SIR" or COMPANY SERGEANT MAJOR"! "D" BLOCK READY FOR INSPECTION SIR!

Thereupon the CSM inspected the man and his bed space. Any fault however slight was pounced upon and the man’s name was "Taken" for having an "Idle" or "Manky" or "Filthy" " whatever…it could have been a wrinkle in the blankets in which case the charge was "idle bed" or " Manky boots" or whatever. The details would be duly recorded by the Orderly Sergeant as the CSM passed on to the next man to repeat the process. It all involved a lot of stomping of feet, shouting and general noise during which each recruit was expected to remain rigid, silent and unaffected by the general mayhem until his turn came.

The inspection had been going on for about 15 minutes when the CSM arrived at my bed space. By this time he was certainly in the ascendancy and totally in command, nothing was going to prick his balloon or ruin his day.

I duly leapt to attention and was ordered to "present arms". No, he was not about to make sure that I had washed my upper limbs, rather the order was to present my rifle for inspection…..

Unfortunately he found dust in the barrel . I am sure it was more his imagination than real dust because I had pulled the barrel through and oiled it during the hectic pre inspection activity. But there was no gainsaying him and my name was duly taken. I was charged with having a "Filthy barrel".

I was quickly learning that there was little that was fair for any Army recruit…….

And so "DB" passed to the next man……..who was quicker witted than I and more willing to take on the big man. "Private ABC" shouted the CSM WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR WEBBING ON THE SHELF?"

Quick as a flash came the shouted answer" SIR, IT LACKS PARALLELISM. IT IS NOT ORTHOGONAL SERGEANT MAJOR"!

This was followed by a long pause during which we could all sense the cogs and wheels grinding away in the CSM’s skull. Someone sniggered somewhere in the room and was promptly rounded upon by the Orderly Sergeant who took the man’s name for "Idle cheek".

Finally the CSM was able to think of a suitable repost. He wasn’t about to be out done by any recruit."TAKE THIS MAN’S NAME FOR IDLE WEBBING" he yelled "IT AIN’T SQUARE NEITHER"!

Copyright M.& M.M. Ough Dealy 2007-2011
This page last modified on Tuesday, May 08, 2012