– My RAF Journey Part 9
The landscape was covered in frozen tank tracks, which were particularly tough on the ankles with their undulating ridge forms. The army’s objective was to capture us in the depths of night as we ‘yomped’ towards a target. On one occasion, they set off a flare, which lit up the night sky like daylight. As our flight scurried for cover, I was carrying a heavy machine gun and twisted my ankle in one of the tank-track ruts. On recovering in a DS tent, I was advised that I would be taken back to Cranwell the next day for further medical attention. I instantly realised that that would be the kiss of death. Sqn Ldr Leighton had made it patently clear that my graduation was “doubtful” and without being able to rack up points on manoeuvres, the inevitable outcome would be a return to Joburg with my tail between my legs. I couldn’t let that happen. I appealed to a medic to strap me up as tightly as possible, left the DS tent, hobbled around, and made it through the next week across the vast distances on Salisbury Plain.
A blessed weeks leave came up. A girl friend (not girlfriend) of mine had a quarter share ownership of a 32′ yacht in Greece. We sailed to tiny remote isles inhabited by indigenous tribes: culturally unchanged over hundreds of years. I relished the escape from the punishing military establishment with its eternal body/mind/academic challenges and suffocating ceremonial protocols. Here was goat on the spit, slaughtered the moment we dropped anchor, crudely spread out on newspaper, with homemade red wine enthusiastically offered in tin mugs by toothless crones who jabbered away in incomprehensible old Greek vernacular. It was a soul-nourishing experience: the contrast of these lonely and isolated people eager to be authentically hospitable – with zero table manners – to the silverware, crystalware and infinite array of the nuanced etiquette at College. It was just the gasp of breath I needed to gather myself before facing the balance of officer training ahead.
In the Med, especially at sea at the yacht’s helm, I pledged to transform into the best version of myself I could be – way beyond anything I had fathomed before in my life. As I was effectively losing at Cranwell, I had nothing further to lose by finding an unexplored depth of capability – far deeper than all the self-limitations I had imposed on myself and been conditioned to believe in. Those would simply have to go.