biography of James Stirling
author James Stirling
James Stirling, born in Dundee, Scotland in 1935 is a much travelled author, and in this novella he takes a light hearted look back into the halcyon days of childhood, and to his travels as a working musician.
James Stirling is married, and he and his wife Salina have a daughter and two sons. They live near the city of Preston in Lancashire, UK.
(George Bernard Shaw supposedly said ‘If God plays a musical instrument then surely it is the trombone’)
“Ef ‘ight, ‘ef ‘ight, ef ‘ight – GET IN STEP STIRLING!!” The voice of our mentor boomed across the parade ground.
Sergeant Crowther was our Drill Instructor and a fellow Scot and didn’t like me at all. I was sure of it. Because I was a lanky lad of 6ft.5ins I stood out like a flagpole above the other recruits.
“Squaa-d……HALT!” He roared; the letter ‘T’ ending as a high pitched squeak.
It was November of 1951 and I had just arrived at the Royal Marines School of Music as a boy recruit. Now I was wearing a very itchy and oversized blue serge uniform, along with service issue thick khaki woollen socks inside huge hob nailed boots that hurt my feet, because they were made of stiff new leather and had rubbed the skin almost off my heels. Added to this discomfort was the fact that we were standing on a parade ground exposed to the elements on a cold and frosty morning.
Just a few days before my arrival in the small Kentish coastal town of Deal, I had celebrated my sixteenth birthday at home with my mother in Walsall, an industrial town in the midlands of England. I had told her how much I was looking forward to becoming a Royal Marine. As I gazed across the vast expanse of the parade ground of the Royal Marines Barracks, I was wondering what I had let myself into.
My feet hurt, and my heart was thumping like a jack hammer as I observed the formidable bulk of Sgt. Crowther rapidly marching towards me, swinging his right arm skywards as he held his chest out like a prize cockerel.
The polished brass plate on his pacing stick under his left arm gleamed like a diamond in the morning sunlight, and the razor sharp creases in his trousers plus the prominent three stripes of rank on the arm of his immaculate tunic, stated his position in life, or more to the point, my life and that of my fellow recruits for the next three months.
His hat was precisely in the middle of his shaven head and his steely eyes missed nothing from beneath the highly polished black plastic peak that glistened like a mirror. I could feel my knees trembling as he finally stopped abruptly in front of me and bellowed in his thick Glaswegian accent “Stirling! – you long streak of pish - what the hell do you think you’re doin?”
I could hear the other recruits trying to stifle a sniggering laugh.
“Shut up the lot of ye!” he bellowed, still in my face. He had not moved a muscle as his voice ascended to a banshee scream. He couldn’t have been more than six inches away from my chin and I could smell his garlic breath.
“You’re marching like a bloody pregnant duck! This is not an ‘oliday camp! You’re here to become a Marine - do you understan’ me?”
“Yes Sir” I said in a weak and nervous voice that I did not recognize as mine.
I honestly thought he was going to have a seizure, for his face turned a bright purple as he drew himself to his full height and roared “Don’t call me Sir! I’m a non commissioned officer and that means you address me as Sergean’. DO YE UNDERSTAN’? Sergeant Crowther rarely pronounced words correctly that contained the letters ‘T’ or ‘D’.
People walking their dogs on the seafront half a mile away must have been able to understand. I gulped and blurted out “Sorry Sergeant, I didn’t know.” I felt like crying at any moment. He walked away to bellow at another unfortunate who had the audacity to speak through the corner of his mouth to the recruit next to him.
The other lads who had arrived a few days before me had already experienced Sgt. Crowther, saying he was a real terror, and under no circumstances should you ever speak to him unless he asked you a question, and even then your life could be made a misery if you did not chose your words carefully.
I had a feeling of dread that our little one sided tete-a-tat was not entirely over, for the good sergeant started marching briskly back towards me and we were nose to nose once again. The tone of his voice suddenly changed down to a lower gear as he said softly “An’ I promise you this laddie, you will be a Marine by the time I’m finished with ye!” He stepped back and said in a matter of fact manner “Extra parade for this man.”
The Corporal that lurked in the background of our DI was a little man of Welsh decent named Alyn Lloyd, who repeated the instruction in his soft and pleasant accent. “Extra Parade for Stirling”. He smiled at me as he continued “You will enjoy this one Jock, for it is in the drill shed where it is nice and warm, and you will be in full back pack at 6pm. I advise you not to be late or you will make the NCO in charge very cross.”
He walked away a couple of paces, writing something into his notepad then casually returned to me with another big smile on his face as he announced with some degree of satisfaction “Sorry Jock, didn’t I mention it? Sergeant Crowther will be taking the punishment parade tonight.”