Drill in the rain: serge cloth really cuts the mustard

Drill in the rain: serge cloth really cuts the mustard

The week before last I took part in an event where, to cut a long story short, I spent the entire day doing drill sessions for teenagers.

I am really comfortable delivering drill sessions, I’ve been doing it for years with all age groups from Reception right the way up to University students. It almost always goes down a storm so I look forward to it. There is a bunch of reasons why it works. Not least of them is that everyone buys into the semi-roleplay of the situation: they expect the drill leader to do shouting, to be picky and for them to make a mess of it to begin with. I oblige on all counts, albeit with good humour so that everyone gets a chance to shine. It also requires a level of mindfulness, something that is very du jour. Above all, it’s an opportunity to succeed at something new: I want them to do well, the instructions are delivered in a way that encourages success and I heap praise on them when they get it right (which they do). It’s lots of fun for everyone.

WW2 drill

Second World War drill without arms

It’s been a while, though, since I’ve delivered six back-to-back sessions in a day. It’s been even longer since I’ve delivered sessions teaching drill at arms. Drill at arms is doing drill but with a weapon. Here’s an example of modern Royal Marines on their Pass Out Parade doing some display drill at arms.

It’s potentially complicated and confusing as well as me being a little rusty, so I spent the days before practicing at home with a broom handle (which works very well). By the night before I was pretty confident I could lead twenty recalcitrant teenagers through some simple drill movements.

The sound of wheels coming off…

Everything was going well (apart from a slight navigational stramash en route). We arrived at the incredibly scenic Fort Purbrook on top of Portsdown Hill. We got ourselves set up in the middle of the parade ground. All was good.

Then I was presented with the replica rifles they’d be using for the drill. Jono and myself were in full Second World War kit with Second World War rifle. When I was presented with the replicas they were modern SA80 replicas. If you want to know why this might cause problems, compare these two images:

The Lee Enfield is 110cm long and the SA80 is 78cm. Not only are they completely wrong for the uniforms we were wearing but the drill is completely different. This was not going to work as planned. Time for a spot of re-tooling then…

…By the time we received our first group we had a plan and knew what we were doing. We were good to go and raring to get on with it.

The only thing between us and a hog-roast was 6 iterations of drill in the open air on top of a hill with no shelter.

Blame it on the weatherman

And then the heavens opened. At first it was just a little bit, the odd spot here and there. Then it became a steady downpour. The group all ran for their waterproofs, leaving myself and Jono standing there in our serge cloth uniforms. We could have followed them but somehow a modern waterproof would have looked utterly silly. We had one option: to put up with it with good grace and a smile. Otherwise, how could we expect the children to carry on? We gave each other the “no choice but to man up” look and cracked on.

There was nowhere to hide. Literally.

Serge cloth is made of felted wool. The benefits and drawbacks are more than adequately explained here. The thing that was really bothering me, as I stood in the rain, was the “holds up to twice its own weight in water”. After years of pointing out how much fun Marines had on D Day wading in through the sea I was about to get a taste of my own medicine.

We got through each session, one by one. My face was ringing wet. My hands were soaked. Handling the rifle had become like catching an eel. Stay on target. At the end of each session we let them hide under the gazebo we’d brought. They seemed to be enjoying the silliness of the whole affair.

Wait for it…

All the way through the morning I was waiting for that moment when the uniform wetted through. That moment when you feel the cold water seeping onto your skin. The moment when the first dribble goes down your back.

I kept waiting for it.

It never happened. When we stopped for lunch and hung up our blouses, our undershirts were clearly wet but there wasn’t that feeling of drowning I’d expected. They were soaking on the outside, but inside we were still snug and warm.

The same was true when the next wave of rain came in during the afternoon.

Day out at Fort Purbrook

Fort Purbrook Day

It turns out that the sheer amount of lanolin in the cloth makes it pretty water resistant. We were certainly much more comfortable than the lady in her modern outdoor gear running the assault course. I wouldn’t say we were dry but we were definitely still happy.

After years of waxing lyrical about how rubbish serge is and how much of a pain it is to wear, it suddenly makes sense. I see it now. No, it’s not waterproof, but it does shrug off much of the rain. It doesn’t dry quickly (the blouses were still wet the following morning) but it’s not awful to wear when it’s damp.

Serge really cuts the mustard sometimes.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Session reports, 0 comments