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  • Chris Jones

Day 76. Friday 28th April. Lossiemouth to Kinloss.

After walking for an hour or so, I finally plucked up the courage to call the RSM. I had rehearsed what I'd say and to be honest, I wasn't a bit comfortable making the call. I didn't get an answer so I mumbled a message into the voicemail and hung up. I'm absolutely terrible at accepting charity and the last thing I want to do is put anyone out or cause them any trouble, I'm the one wandering around aimlessly while everyone else is busy trying to get on with their hectic lives and I knew how busy this man would be. I'd walked on the beach for an hour or so, under the flight path of RAF Lossiemouth, no excitement for me in seeing the jets, apart from being on the beach it was like being at home living only a few miles from RAF Coningsby, same jets, same racket !!

Startled to feel my phone buzzing in my pocket, it was the RSM...😬

"Oh, morning Sir, I'm terribly sorry to bother you and to be honest I don't know why I am bothering you"....

"Chris, it's Bruce, RSM 39, I know all about what you're doing, I got a call yesterday from Lossie, there's a bed in the Sgt's Mess, if you want it.... Give Matty a call when you get to the back gate, he'll look after you, I'll text you his number now"...

"Ah, right, thank you Sir, I really appreciate it"...

Sure enough, by mid afternoon, I called Matty when I got to the back gate and he gave me the number for the combination lock so I could let myself in, five minutes later Matty pulled up in his car to give me a lift, to the Mess, not the block !!!

I instantly felt bad as clearly Matty had been 'dicked' by the RSM to look after this fat old bloke waking around the coast. It was Friday afternoon, Bank Holiday weekend and a lot of the guys had been knocked off for the long weekend. Matty, who is a WO2 by the way, not a bell boy was great, he showed me to my room to dump my kit and we sat in the dining room chatting over a brew. A plan was hatched for another one of the guys to look after me for some scoff and the bar would be open later for a few jars but first, a bit of admin time to square my kit away and get a shower.

Sat in the Mess bar enjoying a few beers, on the RSM's chit, a few others turned up. It was then I learnt that the Regiment was actually on 6 hours to move due to one of the many crisis going on somewhere in the world. That meant that many of the senior guys were still on duty with the responsibility of drafting everyone back to camp should the call go out. I think we were on the 3rd or 4th beer when the mobile phones started buzzing with news that they had been stood down which of course then resulted in those guys still working on camp retiring to the bar.

For me, this was a most surreal experience. Bearing in mind, I reached the dizzy heights of Corporal, I had completed and passed my plant Sergeants course but had decided to leave before promotion came my way. I had therefore never been privileged to gain access to the Sergeants mess. I had spent 12 years training and learning from those more senior, more experienced than me and here I was, talking and listening to a group of senior NCO's, but they were now at least 10 years younger than me. Very odd indeed... the army slang was very much still the same, the ethos and drive to get the job done the same and I can assure you, the desire to play hard is still incredibly strong... I think we left the bar at about 4am, I don't remember leaving the bar or getting back to my pit... I'll put that down the late hour and I was clearly very tired, nothing to do with the 3 beers and 1 small glass of port I drank !!! 🫣

I was up and dressed to meet Matty at 8am for breakfast, pay as you dine in the cookhouse, I was still somewhat under the influence so after a plate full of breakfast I did go and lie down for a few hours on my bed before Matty kindly dropped me off in Inverness. He was going in to do some shopping and I had a train to catch, I was going home on leave for a couple of weeks and to be honest, I wasn't in the best shape for walking that day.... I think I sobered up sometime late in the afternoon when it dawned on me... The RSM had kindly put a tab behind the bar for a couple of the guys to look after me. I don't think he was planning on everyone else turning up and having a good night at his expense !!! 😬🫣 I dread to think what the bar tab was... 🤫

Of all the experiences I've had since starting this walk on New Years Day, this brief stay with these gentlemen of 'The Corps' has been the most poignant. For many years I have wondered how my life might have played out had I decided not to start Build-a-Future but had chosen to stay with the Army. When my regiment was dispanded as part of one of the defence reviews, I had joined an Independent Royal Engineers Commando unit and started my Commando training. The world had been a reasonably quiet place up until then, well through the past 12 years anyway, but soon after, the second gulf war kicked off as did the troubles in Afghanistan. Many of the guys in my regiment transferred to other units and played their part in those and other conflicts and I have always wondered how different it might have been had I not had the opportunity to start my own business, had I completed the all arms commando course and continued on that path. I loved my time in the army, I always believed I was meant to be a squaddie and because I loved it so much, I think I was good at it. Possibly good enough to one day have become a Sergeant Major or who knows, maybe even an RSM. Talking to these young men in the bar, they had done exactly that, multiple tours under their belts, they had reached the pinnacle of their careers but of course, many of them were coming to the end of their military careers so were starting to consider what comes next. A massive change in their lives and one I sensed many of them were well adjusted to making. My dad left the army after 27 years, he had reached the rank of ASM (the REME equivalent of a Regimental Sergeant Major) and he never did adjust to the civilian world. He died 25 years after leaving the career he lived for, a very bitter and twisted man. He just never could adjust to being a civi. I sensed that the men of todays army are very much better equipped for that transition, many already own their own homes, their families already settled in their own communities. Many of them already have strong interests beyond the army gates in the civilian world. I was also relieved to learn from the RSM about how seriously the army are tackling the issues presented by this mental health pandemic we are currently living through. I can't even begin to imagine how challenging this must be for him and his SNCO's, they need strong, tough men & women to play their part in todays Armed Forces, physically and mentally strong but the young people joining up these days experience exactly the same pressures todays world puts on them. Clearly it isn't just the raw young recruits either, my mental health deteriorated sometime in my 40's and I know that these guys are looking closely at themselves and each other and are trying to work their way through, while of course being massively overworked, undermanned and for what they do, underpaid. I don't envy them having to tackle this very difficult challenge but they are taking it very seriously so tackle it they will.

I met Chris in the RSM's office, he's been a very active Freemason for many years so already understands how important that feeling of belonging is, we both agreed that the camaraderie you experience within Freemasonry, in many ways is actually stronger than that you feel in the military. Like many of the others, Chris seems well adjusted to making that transition when his time in the army comes to its conclusion, he has amassed a huge array of skills and experiences that will serve him and the civilian world well.

It was an honour and pleasure to meet you all and I'm grateful for the conversations we had. I think I've managed at last to put that part of my life to bed with thanks to this breif experience. My life took a different path, it's a simple as that. I still have the mentality of a Sapper, that training and experience was not wasted in the path I took, in fact it was probably the underpinning reason my business was so successful, in terms of what it did to change the lives of so many young people.

Good luck to you all and thank you for allowing me the briefest look back into that world I loved so much.

Now, I'm off home to see my family for a bit, I've walked just over 800 miles in 76 days, I need a bit of R'n'R and to surround myself with people that are now the most important in my world...🥰😉

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May 26, 2023

Absolutely brilliant Chris 👏


Karl F
Karl F
May 26, 2023

That’s great reading Chris, going to be a great book. You are a gifted writer.

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