'Right, you lovely little man ...' sergeants launch a charm offensive

The Army is short of recruits - 5,000 under strength. This week it will launch a new drive to attract and keep its troops. Instructors have been ordered to adopt a less "hectoring" approach moments from his training days at Sandhurst

"You blokes are rubbish, physically! Rubbish! I will wipe the floor with any one of you! You are shit! If you think you're going to be on a passing-out parade next week with your girlfriend looking at you ... [the next bit is not printable] You have got another think coming, gentlemen!"

Twenty years on, I remember it well. We had been at Sandhurst for six months and were already commissioned as second lieutenants in "P" Company, the Paras' selection course which is to basic army training what a postgraduate degree is to a GCSE. - the lowest grade of officer life - on probation at Sandhurst.

The test was mental, as well as physical. Diplomacy, cunning, survival. It was January 1977, the hardest winter in 30 years in the Brecon Beacons, and we had been in the field for 10 days on the final exercise. A couple of guys had already gone down with exposure. One of our number, a Royal Engineer and a rower took the bait the staff sergeant offered. "I'll race you, staff", he said. "And I bet you 10 quid I win".

Some time later, each carrying the same amount of equipment, machine guns and 200 rounds of ammunition, they disappeared up the snowy trail.

Hours later, Ian came back. "I won". That evening, steaming and smelly, tucking into our food in the canteen at Sennybridge, the staff sergeant approached our table: "Here's that 10 quid I owe you."

That was Sandhurst. You expect that as a soldier in 11 weeks of basic training. You expect that as an officer cadet beginning 15 months' training, though I am told it is all much more "grown up" now. We got it, from instructors who were technically our subordinates. The instructors were supposed to be "firm but tactful". Can you imagine what some soldier recruits go through?

The Army will this week launch a new drive. It is short of recruits, about 5,000 under strength, and wants to try to keep the people it gets. Instructors have been ordered to adopt a less "hectoring" approach. But Brigadier Andrew Cumming, the Army's Director of Recruiting, who commanded the first British United Nations forces in Bosnia, said "we are not going to lower our standards. We are merely going to build them up more gently".

The Army's new policy will be explained on Wednesday at the launch of the newly amalgamated Army Training and Recruitment Agency (ATRA) commanded by Major General Christopher Elliott. As if to underline its efforts to overcome the problem, the launch will be at Pirbright, near Aldershot in Surrey, one of the Army's five training regiments. Pirbright used to be the Guards' training depot with a reputation for extreme toughness. In the Seventies, a visiting team of United States Marines was invited to go over the Guards' depot assault course but refused - because it was "too dangerous".

Since then, the Army, like the other services, has adapted to changed social conditions. But, Brig Cumming said, "a few of the instructors still worry me. They need to better understand how you control a mixed-gender, mixed race bunch of kids. It doesn't take much for one person to bring the most awful brown stuff on the Army".

The new approach will allow soldiers to be trained at their own speed. But the Army also has to adjust its psychological approach to cope with recruits, some of whom have good academic qualifications and have never failed anything or been told what to do.

"The approach now will be more 'follow me' rather than 'do this because I say so'," Brig Cumming said.

Last year, the Army introduced "pre-training" to bring recruits up to the level of fitness needed to survive the basic course and extended the latter from 10 to 11 weeks. Before that, only 60 per cent of recruits were passing the course first time, and 25 per cent were lost to the Army altogether. Since pre-training began, wastage has fallen to 17 per cent.

The British Army's approach relies heavily on robust humour. Twenty years ago, one recruit was pushing hard at a door marked "pull".

"P-U-L-L, sir" said the sergeant-major, with a contemptuous smile.

"Don't tell me." he continued. "You must be one of the graduate entrants."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families