Charles Derbyshire Reflects on a day in Training at IJLB Oswestry in the 1960’s
Potholing at IJLB – The Army sense of humor
They called it Adventure Training. I called it torturous insanity. I mean abseiling off viaducts was one thing, scrambling up sheer rock faces hundreds of feet up was another but crawling on your belly, hundreds of feet underground through dark, damp confined spaces was never my idea of a jolly time.
But there I was, in the worst environment imaginable undergoing panic and claustrophobic attacks in silence when we found ourselves sitting huddled in quite a cavernous area. There was a stream running into what looked like a blank wall. But it wasn’t a blank wall, there was a tunnel running under it which was invisible under god knows how many feet of murky freezing water which, we were informed, we would be going through.
The plan was that an instructor would go first with a rope around him, once through the tunnel he would tug on the rope to signal he was safely through and the next man could go. So, in turn we would set off using the rope as a guide and as soon as the man before us had got safely through he would tug on the rope.
It all seemed pretty straightforward as we watched the instructor disappear under the water and waited for the signal he was through. And we waited……. and waited……… and waited. After a good five minutes or so the rope tugged. Now, underwater swimming is normally quite good fun but even the best swimmers were only good for about two minutes or so under water. None of us said anything. We didn’t need to, you could tell just by looking at the expression on our faces what we were all thinking. The remaining instructor ordered the first man to go through and off he went. The same thing happened – five minutes then the tug and off went the next man. I was busy looking for an escape when I was prompted it was now my turn. Gripping the rope I took what I thought might be my last ever lungful of air and proceeded to haul myself along the underwater tunnel when, after about ten seconds I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders as I was hauled upwards into fresh air. I had emerged on the other side of the wall with a stern command not to tug on that f*&$£*@ rope until I was told to. Which happened when the obligatory five minutes had passed.
I was far too overjoyed at still being alive to be angry at being had, in the most cruel and obnoxious way possible, to the great amusement of the instructors and the guys who went through before me. I considered I had escaped a fate worse than death and my appreciation of the comedy in this episode was slow in coming.