A Close Call! Military Days – River Crossing training.

I was completing some troop training during which my troop were going to cross a river – our Troop Sergeant suggested that our strongest swimmer swim across the river holding on to a rope… ‘Great idea!’ we all thought… ‘then tie it off and we can use it to hold on too as we cross’

Our strongest swimmer set off holding on to the rope… the river was about 10 meters wide and deep so although the water looked slow… there was a lot of water moving down stream!

I was designated as ‘last man to cross’ the rest of the troop were hidden and I was on the bank paying out the rope as our strongest swimmer… (lets call him ‘Jack Frost’ – for that was his name) set off to the other side.

Jack was a good swimmer… very good swimmer in fact having even had trials to swim in the Olympics! We had a plan…

’Mick.. try and keep the rope out of the water, but pay out enough so you don’t pull me back!’

Made sense to me… and with that, Jack stepped into the river, and set off for the other side, rope in his hand – we had all read the training manual that said ‘Don’t tie yourself into a rope when crossing rivers!’

Jack’s progress was slow… much slower than it should have been… it must have been his weapon slung over his back… as I was doing a pretty good job of keeping the rope high while feeding it out!

Jack finally made it to the other side… he got out of the water and tied the rope off to a tree…. I tied the rope off at my end, and then… tactically, one by one the troop crossed the river, using a combination of side stroke and pulling on the line as a ‘hand rail’ getting them across.

Then it came to my close call… As last man, it was up to me to cover any signs of entry into the water and to untie the rope… Just before he crossed, the Troop Sergeant said to me

’Just tie the rope in a loop and put it over you – we will all pull you across… it’ll be faster than you swimming’

Well it was my turn now… and remember that thing I mentioned about not being tied into a rope? Well I wasn’t too keen on the idea, so… I tied a small loop to hold on too with my hands (a bit like a water skiing line).

I climbed into the river and was immediately in deep water as the bank dropped away sharply…. all of a sudden, the rope pulled tight, my comrades on the other side all pulling me across, up I came, gliding along on the surface… whoo hoo!… that was until the rope slackened… unknown to me, my comrades had run out of room to pull… and down I went! the weight of my wet clothes, my rifle and the drag of the current on the rope pulling me under the water.. fast!

I remember looking up through the murky green water and seeing the light of the surface… I was still holding on to the rope and I knew it was pulling me down… I started to kick for the surface.. hard work and that light just didn’t seem to be getting any closer… I remember thinking ’surely they are going to pull me out’ as I started to think ‘drop the rope, ditch the gun and SWIM FOR YOUR LIFE!’ – all of a sudden… the rope tightened… I was being pulled through the water.. along under water… (not up!) but the light of the surface WAS getting closer… then splashes.. as I was dragged near the surface.. I lifted my head.. and gulped for air… I got air… and a mouthful of river water… the taste of earth and decaying leaves!

I finally broke the surface proper.. managing to get my head out of the water… and breath! and there was the bank, as steep a climb out as the climb in had been. I dragged myself out of the river, feet slipping against the muddy bank, fingers digging into the grass and mud – anything to find purchase to pull myself out… still clutching that rope.. slack by now, as the others had dropped it.. getting ready to carry on with our patrol. I ‘regrouped’ ‘checked my kit’ coiled the rope and took up my position in the patrol…

I was point man… no time to dwell on the fact hat that rope had pulled me under as soon as it had gone slack. No time to dwell that when being pulled I didn’t come straight up, instead being dragged through (under) the water. No time to dwell on what might have been if I had been tied into the line with the rope around my waist or under my arms… Never tie into a rope or line when crossing water!

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