Information Technology has been my chosen (?) career for almost 30 years now and it’s been good to me most of the time. However, over the last few years I’ve become restless and wanting to do something more worthwhile with life and try to make a difference in the world. An interest of mine, going back to my early childhood and teenage years was, landline clearing. My father was a Sapper in the British Army and I was also inspired by Princess Diana and her charity work in the minefields…
So, in January 2011, after earlier taking a year off working for the Queensland Government to travel and see more of the world, I enrolled in an Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Level 1 course at ISSEE in Wiltshire, UK. Trepidation and excitement in equal amounts were the order of the day!
Neil sweeping for land mines in training…should bend the knees more and drop that apron to protect the “midriff”!
The first week of the course was Explosives’ handling and mainly theory-orientated, but also coupled with some practicals. Safety was of course of paramount importance and rightly so as accidents do happen, a lot! One of our exercises focussed on detonators and the damage they alone can do, if not handled correctly. And, the practical demonstration of placing a live detonator on a pigs trotter and setting it off certainly focusses the mind of how to handle them with respect…not much left and this could have been my hand!
The end of the first week saw the students (8 of us), take our Ballistic First Aid course, followed by a comprehensive written exam on explosive theory…not an easy one, but got there in the end; just, pretty stressful all round, but passed it though! I think I was still thinking too much about using a tourniquet on my own leg after blowing it off in a minefield!
During the course, I stayed in Salisbury at a great guest house 12 miles from Chilmark where the course was held at the former RAF base. The guest house was quite old-fashioned but the rooms were good and the breakfasts home-cooked; what more could you ask for? Mind you, I could have done without the ice on the rental car windscreen every morning at 7am after coming from Brisbane via Asia!
The remaining two weeks were a combination of theory and practicals. The exercises were hard, but also a lot of fun. One of my favourites was the team exercise in trying to remove a mortar bomb without touching it, from the top deck of an old London bus using winches, pulleys, and a lot of suction caps! We got there in the end, but it was hard graft. We also had a lot of exercises on UXO identification and practising our landline clearance techniques.
All of this was building up to the final exams (both written and practical), on the last Thursday of the final week. It must have been getting to me, as I was starting to wane on the home-made cooked breakfasts, either that, or I couldn’t fit into my trousers anymore! Every evening was spent revising and reading, and continually learning.
Then the fateful day arrived, on a cold and crisp January morning. It began with the practical tests first and we had to sit in the classroom and wait while one by one, we were called outside to make a long walk (with our PPE on) down to the exam area. I was second from last, so that didn’t help the nerves too much! But on the cold walk down the hill to the sandpits where the lecturers awaited me, I felt that I would be okay and I started to feel a little more calmer. The tests went really well; I managed to find all the land mines that were hidden in the sand (always a good idea in a minefield), and answered all the questions that I was asked…a great relief indeed but a great feeling.
Onto the afternoon and the two hour written exam…I hate exams! It was a long old two hours, but eventually it finished and I was glad I survived it without a visit to the bathroom, extra paper, another pen or more mints! This time, everybody was called in to see the senior trainer on site to be told their results individually. This time I was last, and that really didn’t help my nerves at all. Eventually it was my turn and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I had passed, and with flying colours…I was very very happy, and very pleased that I had passed a tough course.
Training again…this time with a tripwire feeler, looking for booby traps. Still not protecting my “midriff” with the drop down apron…silly boy!
After three weeks of hard graft and a few headaches along the way, I had managed to achieve something of importance and great personal satisfaction. Furthermore, this was something that I hoped would lead to ultimately helping others less fortunate than myself in the future…time will tell on that one but there is more to come on this adventure!