Note: This is part of a series about Phil Campion’s experiences in SAS selection. You can read part one here.
The door cracked open on the plane and within a millisecond, the whole plane was engulfed by a hot, sticky, humid heat. It was late and the orange glow of the airport’s lights obscured my view out of the small airplane window, which was half steamed up. I had not taken my seat belt off before the plane was boarded by the local police for the now familiar paperwork/bullshit exchange. I didn’t envy the job of the RAF crew one bit.
The comings and goings of strangely uniformed Asian-looking men subsided, and the Tannoy crackled alive, this time with the voice of a woman, and announced it was time to leave via the front steps. We would make a short walk to the large hangar to the front of the plane, where our people would be waiting for us. As I came down the steps holding onto my belt kit and weapon, I could see the four-tonne trucks lined up, engines running, ready to go. Like lemmings, we just filled the trucks without caring who we were sitting next to, and as soon as the vehicles were full and the last tailgate slammed shut, we took off out of the hangar, heading toward the main gates of the airport.
The heat was incredible; I was sweating like a rapist in a college shower block. The whine of the truck engines just about drowned any other noise out as we sped down dimly lit, poorly maintained roads on our way to the base camp. Nobody was really chatting. It was about 2300 and we knew once we got to camp it would not be bed time straightaway, and we would be getting up properly early. I didn’t want to sleep because, not knowing how far we had to go, I thought I might feel worse off if I was awakened after only a short time. Eventually the street lighting disappeared and the road surface made any form of relaxation a dream. But I picked up the orange flash of the indicators against the side of the mud track, and sure enough, we peeled off to the left. I could tell we were there given the lights coming from the accommodation blocks.
Our bergans and para bags were already there in a heap outside of the old jungle-style accommodation. The buildings were pitch-roofed and open-sided from about head height up. You could just make out the top bunks with the mosquito nets shrouding the mattress. We collected our kit and, in our patrols (four-man teams), we were led to our bunks. There was no ceremony or messing about; we were simply told to be ready in PT kit at 0600 outside of the block, ready for a briefing followed by some fitness.
Now I knew enough about selection to know that the first part of The Trees was all about acclimatizing. The method was simple: 12 days or so of learning drills in the clear so that everyone in the team was completely happy before repeating the drills in the thick trees. The second part was rigorous beach runs every morning to get people well and truly used to the heat and hard work. The beach runs were legendary, harder than any run ever in the U.K. The beach was a sandy one, and the second you hit it, your feet sank and became extremely heavy. A mile up there felt like five on the road. It was going to be hard work.
People were already up and scratching about by 0500. There were those who just couldn’t help themselves: They pack, then unpack, and pack their kit continuously. It won’t make it any fucking lighter, I thought to myself. And if you don’t know what you’ve got by now, you’re struggling. I would lay all my stuff out once and then stow it away—job done. Anyway, today the early gang had gotten me up, so I jumped out of my bottom bunk, and as soon as my bare feet hit the stone floor, I could feel the heat.
I grabbed a razor and my toothbrush and headed for the shipowner block in the nude, with just my towel covering me up, my feet shoved in my Havana flip-flops. There was no such thing as cold water in Brunei—just warm or hot. I showered, shaved, and brushed my teeth, all more or less at the same time, then walked back to the block before I was dry. I pulled on my PT kit and had just about enough time for a cigarette before it was time to parade. We fell in three ranks at the back of the basha in a small clearing. The drill sergeants came striding over in their PT kit. I was still pretty wet from the shower and I had just finished my smoke. There were other guys who had just literally jumped out of bed, dragged on their rig, and fallen in still with sleep dust in their eyes.
I could smell breakfast, and the faint sound of pots and pans being bashed around made me extremely hungry. There was a lot of activity on this little camp on the fringes of the jungle, and by the sea first thing in the morning. The transport guys were checking their trucks, the squadron clerk was rushing about with a clipboard—probably bluffing, but still looking busy—and the stores blokes were all humping and dumping endless piles of kit and equipment.
The first DS rocked up by our formed-up, half-awake squad and said, “Left turn.” Without so much as good morning, we were headed toward the same camp gate we had arrived at five hours earlier, only this time on foot and at speed. This was not going to be a walk in the park. Welcome to jungle, I thought. It was on.
Featured image courtesy of London News Pictures