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15 October 2014
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Chapter 3 - War Office Selection Board

by TORRANCE Duncan Leitch

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TORRANCE Duncan Leitch
People in story: 
Duncan Torrance
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15 November 2005


Soon after the 36 hour scheme, the sheep were sorted from the goats. We had to fill in our particulars on an entrance form for a War Office Selection Board -(WOSB). It was announced that we were to act as 'guinea pigs', sitting one WOSBy in a month's time and a second in six weeks. If we passed either we would be accepted for OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit). Each board was going to examine us independently, then the War Office Was going to compare the results of the two in case standards differed.

That month seemed to be a long time but eventually we were off on the train. On arrival at the WOSBy, we were shown to some steel nissen huts, alloted beds for the three nights, then taken up to a large room in a rambling old-fashioned mansion.

It was grand to sit down at a table, eat with proper cutlery off decent plates, and be waited on by ATS girls. There was a strained atmosphere however, the members of the Board sat with us. Everybody knew only too well they were all eyes and ears. We were not living in all this luxury as a public gesture.

In the afternoon we answered various written tests and question papers, a lot of which seemed pointless to a degree. There was of course the usual schoolastic ones, but it was the others that made us think.

Why should they read fifty nouns at thirty second intervals, and tell us to record our first idea on paper. Next, to be shown some indistinct photographs and be asked to write a paragraph on the idea they each conveyed. We toiled at these papers 'till the evening. Then we went back to our ante-room, sat, talked, and read, generally trying to appear at ease despite what we felt.

On the following morning we did the 'group task'. This consisted of getting a heavy sand filled wooden crate through a steel scaffolding most of which was painted red and must not be touched. Everybody worked like fury, trying to put their own ideas into practise, instead of all working on one plan.

After this was over, we tried similar tasks but of a simpler nature, in which one person was put in charge. An obstacle over which we had to go in groups of three provided yet another form of punishment. It was in a way amusing to see what story tellers we were. Nearly everyone hated these tasks quite openly amongst his comrades, but, if asked by a member of the Board, nothing could be better fun.

There was one more ,team event which was called PT. I admit we wore PT kit but there the resemblance ended. We were split into two parties of eight, each armed with a twig, 100 lb log, which we had to take round an obstacle course. A stream about twelve feet wide was the first obstacle. They also had tyres hung from beams through which one must clamber, high walls, and, worst of all, a canvass tarpaulin pegged and roped down to some wet ground. The examining officers took great delight in standing on this sheet making it more difficult to crawl and keep direction as we struggled for light and air. So effectively did they do this that once I lost my PT shorts on the way through, emerging covered in mud with my shorts wrapped round my ankles like a pair of blue gaiters.

It was not all brawn. We had a discussion at which the President of the Board attended as well as the usual retinue. We had to discuss various articles in the room, one of which was a horse shoe. In this I was very lucky as I had by pure chance had a discussion with my Father on this subject during my last leave. Father was a veterinary surgeon with wide experience of horses.
I kept quiet, then as ideas ran short, the President turned to me, indicating I was to speak. I quoted my Father's words as accurately as I could, whether correctly or not I do not know. The President seemed surprised. I think he hadn't the knowledge to say whether I was right or wrong.
The real ordeal was a private interview with the same Colonel. We got wind that he asked many general knowledge questions so were soon to be seen pooling our items of news from which everyone extracted a complete list of generals and armies, then laboriously learnt it by heart.

Our other interview came very close to this last except that it was given by a Captain, the psychiatrist, or, in soldier's slang, the trick cyclist. He asked us questions about our views, ourselves, most of which were of an extremely personal and searching nature, things which not even one's closest friends would dream of asking. I think he particularly pursued weaknesses we had exposed in the earlier tests, where we had commented on vague and indistinct pictures and words.
All things must come to an end, and soon our three day ordeal was over. Back at camp, I could not but think about our experiences. Had I passed or failed? I hated to face the truth, but felt I must have failed. They had found every weak spot in my character. Anyway, I though_, if I had passed there, the second WOSBy did not matter, if I had failed the first, why should I
pass the second? I made up my mind the second was going to be a holiday.

At the second one we went through the same old things again. By way of consolation we found a grand old Surrey pub nearby which we soon found sold some excellent cider. A party of us used to go down there every night returning about ten o'clock. Then we had a further two hours of harmless horse-play which usually ended in one or two less popular gentlemen being tipped out of bed. So it carried on for three days. We had a really first class time.

There was an individual assault course here, as there had been at the last place. This consisted of various obstacles for which different points were awarded. The whole thing was run on a time basis. The obstacle which gave the highest reward consisted of a platform on a tree about eighteen feet off the ground, from a branch of this tree hung a tantalising rope, some four feet away, for which one had to jump. Beyond me, I didn't try it. It was over a much simpler obstacle that I came to grief. I jumped of a twelve foot wall, fell, winded myself, and gave my knee a slight twist. It was insufficient to prevent my getting about and enjoying life, but sufficient to prevent partaking in any more of the physical parts of the examination.

When I left this WOSBy I felt more confident. Why, I don't know. Back at camp, we waited five days for the results. Then, one evening, we were told to put on our best battle-dress and get on parade for the C.O. Before he arrived, we were split into three groups - those who passed, those who failed, and those in need of further training; but which was which?
The Colonel came and spoke to the first group. Our straining ears could not catch what he said. Then he passed to the second group. Then at last he came to us and told we had been found fit for training at OCTU. What a relief. I had made the first and biggest bound towards becoming an officer.

As I walked back to the barracks, one of the officers had a word with me. He might have seen the glow of conceit on my face and wished to wipe it off.
He told me I had failed the first WOSB, and the reason - I had gone down to the PT field in a PT vest that wasn't freshly washed.

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