I’m writing a book at the moment that has an ex-Royal marine as a main character – or as they call themselves – Bootnecks. As always, I’ve done a fair bit of research and learned a lot about the British Royal Marines.
The Royal Marines are known for having the toughest basic infantry training course in the world (for non-special forces). The course is the longest for any infantry in NATO. The recruits have to complete the commando course to be able to win the green beret and the training is extremely hard. For a glimpse into just how hard, you can’t beat documentary maker Chris Terrill’s book about how he trained with the marines and eventually took the test. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Commando-Chris-Terrill/dp/009950989X It takes you through his attempt at the training program and then out into the field in Afghanistan with the Marines.
Now that he did this at all is incredible. He is the only civilian ever to do so and he was over fifty when he started the training. He was incredibly fit – a runner, triathlete, rugby player and boxer but he still carried out an amazing feat in passing. One of the hardest things is the rope climbing. Some of them are thirty feet high – and you have to climb them with full fighting kit, which can weigh up to thirty pounds. And often it is cold and wet and the ropes are slippery. If you fall you can seriously injure yourself. Common injuries are broken legs.
If you can handle the training (and many drop out) you have to pass the physical test at the end of the course. This is four days of intense endurance testing. They have to complete a speed march carrying full kit. Then an endurance course where they have to run, swim and clamber over boggy ground and moors. Then there is the Tarzan assault course. Again completed wearing full kit and starting with what is known as the death slide. Finally, the potential marines have to complete a thirty mile march carrying full fighting kit.
The marines call this marching yomping. And it is what makes them such a unique and versatile force. They’ve been sent into places where other standard troups can’t go – mountain areas in Afghanistan for example.
In Afhganistan the Royal Marines were often used as sort of ‘bait’. They would be sent out every day, directly inside enemy lines to patrol and draw enemy fire thus leaving the regular army and the engineers to be able to clear mines and help clean up villages so local people could move back in. They didn’t sleep in barracks but in crumbling deserted compounds, pitching tents against the walls and washing in the river. Again Chris Terrill spent time with them out in the field. He notes that on their first patrol the company leader told the men: “Right lads, listen up. If you get blown up and live, stem the bleeding and stab in the morphine pronto – that is, if you have any arms or legs left.”
This research has really helped me get into the head of my character (a person so different to me it is hard to be any further away from my phsyically inept, cowardly self). My second character is more like myself. A teacher, and a peacnik type. One day, when the UK was full of people marching against the Iraq war, I saw an interview with a woman from the Womens Institute – marching with her ‘make tea not war’ placard and a soldier heading out to Iraq. They both wanted the same thing – peace and a safe world. They both saw different ways of getting there. It made me wonder how it would go if you threw two people with such different world views into a situation together – and then added a huge dose of attraction. Could they move beyond their initial differences to forge a bond? Or would their world views be too different?
The idea never really left me and now it has become a fully fledged work in progress.
And one thing my research has taught me. No matter what your view on some of the recent wars we’ve been involved in – the Royal Marine Commandos are total ‘double-hard bastards’ 😀