The Man who broke the Drill Pig’s Heart, By Ronald Melvin

(note, this email never had any images attached – so we used the Monty Python one! – many thanks Dave M for the email.)

One Scots Guards conscript had the Caterham Drill Sergeants tearing their hair and caused a near riot of laughter in the Depot ranks of the five regiments during WW2.

The first time this recruit formed up with his squad on the square, all seemed routine and normal. But when the squad corporal gave the order ‘Quick March’, the centuries-old Guards patter of precision drill came apart.

Like all his fellow recruits, one new soldier in the front rank stepped off smartly with his left foot – but, unbelievably, his left arm swung forward along with his left leg. And it went on: left arm, left leg. Right arm, right leg, on and on, and …

Until that is, the incredulous squad corporal yelled the squad to a halt.

He then gave some fairly basic advice to the offending squaddie, and tried again. The result was exactly as it had been the first time round. Several more attempts were made, but nothing changed. Except, that is, that the unorthodox marching technique disrupted the rest of the squad. Their own marching became ragged, the required ‘as-one’ precision fell apart.

Higher authority was called for. A Drill Sergeant gave the offending recruit a short insight into what life would be like if he didn’t conform. Still no change. So the luckless lad was extracted from the squad and received a ‘chasing’ – marching alone under the drill pig’s orders at well above the 120-paces-a-minute norm. Even at speed, the left arm still went forward with the left leg … Then the heavens opened and torrential rain began. The squad was dismissed, with dire warnings for the ‘morrow if the offender still didn’t shape up.

Back in the squad hut, reactions ranged from ‘Just keep trying, lad, you’ll get the hang of it,’ to ‘You trying to work your ticket, eh?’ One or two comics tried to mimic the outlandish marching technique. They found it impossible to keep it up for any length of time. The speculation and banter went on till lights out, its subject admitting his fault, but claiming he couldn’t do anything about it.

The following day’s performance was virtually a re-run. After twenty minutes of total frustration for the Company Sergeant-Major, the recruit was taken back to the drill shed. There, he was given carefully choreographed slow-motion practice, no doubt designed to convince him that only the Guards, but world armies going back to the Roman legions had got it right, and he hadn’t.

The drill pig’s day brightened. In near freeze-frame slow motion, the right arm went forward with the left leg, followed by the left arm and right leg. This breakthrough was noted by just about everyone else on the parade ground, and dozens of eyes swivelled to watch the one-man awkward squad repeat the successful, if otherwise unimpressive technique up and down the drill shed.

After a brief halt and some encouraging words from the now optimistic drill pig, the progress was put to the test at normal marching pace … and it all immediately reverted to left arm, left leg; right arm, right leg. The drill pig persevered but to no avail – and by this time there were no NCOs or WOs inclined to volunteer to assist with the problem. The Guardsman’s red face was more than matched by the pig’s as his blood pressure soared. And on the square, discipline and good order came close to breakdown as dozens of jaws clamped down to stifle laughter.

Back in the squad hut that night, the unfortunate Guardsman (by then, his fellow recruits had concluded that his military dysfunction was genuine and involuntary) got a lot of sympathy. But there was still huge enjoyment of the drill pig’s predicament.

Next day, the focus of everyone’s attention disappeared. He was ordered to stay put while the squad went off to continue the daily training regime. When they returned, he had gone, along with all of his kit and personal belongings. We never discovered where, although speculation had him in the glasshouse, in a special unit undergoing psychiatric treatment, even posted down the mines. Some even suggested unkindly that the plot was to allow him to fall into enemy hands in order to foul up Jerry’s basic training programme. But the whole episode closed with none of us the wiser.

Sometimes, in dreams, I see the shadowy figure in the drill shed, still doing his ultra-slow march with total concentration and precision.

And I’m sure the drill pig does, too …

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