Another rifle through the khaki issue

Yesterday I suggested that instituting cadet forces in schools was a very good idea if you wanted to diminish people's interest in military teamwork. Inevitably I base this partly on my own experience. I have not touched a gun since I left school, yet the Scottish school to which I was sentenced for five years was mad keen about guns. Not only did it make us march up and down in khaki uniforms every Wednesday holding rifles, but the school entered every shooting competition it could and often did quite well in competition at Bisley. (A place I have still not located on the map or the landscape of England. I once thought I had found it but it turned out to be Wisley.)

I was tested, like all other boys, on the shooting range to see if I had any natural ability. "Don't pull the trigger - squeeze it! Fire only when the gun is still! Pull the butt gently into your shoulder!" I obeyed all these instructions perfectly and still turned in bad scores, so I was turned out. Nobody was happier than I was. I had no desire to be a good shot. (Actually, I think I had already decided that when I was about seven. My friend Philip Riddell had a much older brother Ian who had been given an air gun for his birthday. We begged him to demonstrate it for us. He went out with us into the garden and looked round for a target.

"How about those sparrows in that tree?"

Fine, we said. He fired. All the sparrows scattered except one, which he had fortuitously hit. We went to look at the bird, as it lay on the ground. It was still breathing but obviously fast dying from its bloody wounds. I was horribly shocked by the reality of actually shooting something living, and have never wanted to repeat the experience. I don't know what the opposite of blood lust is, but I have got it.

Of course, the question of military training at a Scottish school was not quite as unclouded as it would be elsewhere. Military training means training to fight an enemy. But who would be the enemy? The Russians? The English? That's not quite as fanciful as it sounds. There was a healthy anti-English feeling abroad at the school which sometimes emerged into the open. I was once set upon with fists by a big Perthshire farmer's son called Sandy Thomson, who, when I asked him why he was beating me up, said: "Because you're English!" After that we became good friends and indeed united as free-thinkers against a boy called Emslie, who came from Plymouth Brethren stock in the Orkneys. (I thus learnt the vital lesson that the best if not only way to conquer the Scots is to divide them against each other.)

The English/Scottish divide was not imaginary. Nearby the school ran an old rutted lane which was still known as Wade's Road, being one of the military roads built by General Wade to speed troops to any Scottish uprising. I have never seen anything similar in England later than a Roman road, yet here next to the school was a symbol of English occupation only 200 years old. And we went to different history lessons depending on our nationality. Those of us aiming at English universities did general European history. The ones aiming for Scottish university entrance went off for their own lessons and came back talking about the doings of Montrose and the Covenanters. Why, it affected even the games at school. All the main sporting activities were compulsory except cricket which was still seen as an English game.

Anyway, by the time I got to Oxford the whole experience of cadets and guns had left me a lifelong non-combatant, so it was probably as well that I just avoided National Service. I asked one of the college servants one day what exactly was the difference between us and the National Service lot.

"They had a much higher standard of practical joke, sir," he said. "I remember one time the dean of the college - a rather unpopular man - woke up to find that his entire staircase from top to bottom was filled with barbed wire and he couldn't get out. Moreover, the barbed wire was laid according to commando principles in such a way that only commandos could remove it. As it happened, there were several ex-commandos in the college who had a grudge against the dean, so we went to look for them, but they just happened to have gone to London for the day. The dean couldn't leave his room until they returned that evening. Oh yes, National Service has its advantages ..."

All right. Military training improves practical jokes. But not a lot else.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission, Benefits, OTE £100k: SThree: ...

Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

£32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

£27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you a recent graduate loo...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine