By Howard Hilton - 2nd July 2008 3:41pm
Some years ago, a young fellow turned up at the gate of a government establishment in the north of England. He had finished at university a few months previously, and spent the summer working on a farm. He was from a respectable family and had never been in trouble with the police, yet when he went through the gates they would not let him out. There was a guard at the gate, and a high wall all round the place.
He was made to change out of his own clothes and wear the things they issued to him, which did not fit very well. He was put in a room with a group of other young men of all kinds, from all over the country, and told that was where he would live for the time being. He had no contact with his family or his friends, no visits from them, no telephone calls, nothing at all.
Each day he was made to do hard physical exercise, sometimes marching about on a wide open space (or standing about there in unnatural postures for what seemed ages). There were chores to be done daily: brushing, sweeping, polishing the place where they lived — and any other place the authorities thought needed it. If the work was not done to the satisfaction of those in charge, there was shouting and bellowing and what had been done might be spoiled, to be done again.
He saw his clumsier colleagues struck with the stick which all the supervisors carried. He was made to clean the boots of his supervisor in what little spare time he had, and deliver them to the man's room, early in the morning, before the life of the institution began. Washing and shaving was done in a walled off enclosure open to the sky, in cold water. The toilets were similarly basic.
Through all this, there was no enquiry by politicians, lawyers, or civil rights activists about what was happening to him. There were no official visitors to examine the conditions at the institution. Nobody turned a hair.
At last, after six weeks or so, 42 days or more, he was told that he was to be allowed to leave the institution on the coming Friday evening and could go home, but that he had to report back before midnight on Sunday. For 48 hours, he would be free!
The young fellow was me. The place was Wellington Barracks, Bury, HQ of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and the experiences were the start of my "Basic Training" as an infantryman, after reporting to start my two years National Service. I think it did me good. Certainly we all grew up.
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