10 things no one tells you before you join the Royal Marines

10 things no one tells you before you join the Royal Marines

From Jackspeak and silly rig to Spoof and skiing accidents – former Royal Marine Commando Mark Time explains what life in the Corps is really like…

Royal Marine Commandos taking part in a Remembrance Day service on Plymouth Hoe in 2011Royal Marine Commandos taking part in a Remembrance Day service on Plymouth Hoe in 2011

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines, which traces its origins back to 1664 and the Second Ango-Dutch War. During those three and a half centuries its brave members have seen action in the two world wars, in Afghanistan, the Falklands, Crimea and the Napoleonic Wars. Today it numbers less than 9,000 servicemen, yet it continues to make a huge contribution to Britain’s military credibility.

Mark Time, author of ‘Going Commando’ and himself a former Royal Marines Commando, shares ten entertaining facts about life in this most elite of institutions.

Mark Time, preparing to fly into Northern Iraq on Operation Haven, 1991

‘Basic training’ is not basic

32 weeks basic training may seem a long time. When you are undertaking it, it feels even longer. However, it is necessary to turn a civilian into a Royal Marines Commando. Many people ask how hard it actually is. The simplest analogy is “think of the hardest thing you could ever do – then double it”.

Being camouflaged isn’t sexy

While the stereotypical film shot sees the hero blend seamlessly into the background, it doesn’t show the discomfort of sweating like a cheap beef salad while lying awkwardly in spiky gorse bushes, with twigs, leaves and broken branches scraping and scoring your skin, leaving you feeling like you have been mistreated by a sexually frustrated Laburnum.

You become bilingual

Royal Marines talk “Jackspeak” – a Naval lingo where toilets are “heads”, and steak-and-kidney puddings “babies heads”. Conversely, actual heads become “grids”, “nappers” or “fat ones”. Confounded family members wonder why you are suddenly unable to speak “normally”. Even today, I still struggle to construct a sentence without using the word “hoofing”, “chad”, or “essence”.

Wanderlust is in your job description

You will visit places you have not yet heard of, but this is no holiday. You will not be deceived by tourism’s mendacious attractions but instead will have your senses sledgehammered by brutal, unfiltered surroundings. You will see such poverty and suffering that you will return home to feel exasperated by the complaints of those who live within the slothful ignorance of their cosseted existence.

Like sleep? You’ll learn to love it

When on operations, discard the concept of time. You are either working or not. When you work, your body is put through such stress and trauma that once you have down time, once administration is complete, sleep becomes your best friend. Take it while you can. You never know when you will next get the chance.

Like food? Read my last

Speed eating becomes a survival instinct; indigestion indicates fulfilling this most important of tasks. When the fatigued body requires refueling, noxious foodstuffs become epicurean delights. Leaving food is as taboo as having a dirty weapon. Don’t do it.

You will become an aficionado of fancy dress

A Royal Marine’s locker is the chipboard gateway to his soul. It smells of aftershave, shaving foam and toothpaste. As sure it will contain a green beret, it will also be home to Lycra dresses, tutus, togas, superhero capes, and in my case a pantomime camel costume. “Silly rig” – fancy dress – is as much engrained into corps culture as the 28th October anniversary date.

You WILL lose at Spoof

Spoof is the unofficial, yet mandatory drinking game of the Royal Marines. To succeed, you need the numeracy of Einstein combined with a champion winning poker face. A composite of chance, bluff, and bravado, to lose will mean a forfeit that ranges from a round of drinks to receiving a “chad” tattoo.

An expert on the piste? Norway will bring you down to earth – literally

Forget the pressed, manicured slopes of ski resorts. Skiing in Norway, where natural unevenness caused by -40°C winds ensures that when carrying 60kg on your back you fall as if been shot. Weight drives your head further into the snow, frustrated abuse muffled by frozen grass. Baby ostrich legs attempt to stand while skis are eager to continue without you. Tentatively, you set off again, knowing that the experience will be repeated as soon as you hit anything that could be dismissed as “a bump”.

You will wear more heads than Wurzel Gummidge

Depending on government expectation, in one instance you and your brothers in arms become bastions of decency, regaled in dress uniforms to the glee of London tourists; the next you will be carrying out man’s most violent acts before metamorphosing into social workers with a handkerchief and weapon while on humanitarian missions. Learn to embrace diversity.

Former Royal Marines Commando Mark Time is author of Going Commando – the first book in the new Bootneck Threesome series


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