A walking blast


Heels clap. Hands slap the fatigues. Backs straighten up. Just look ahead to a far and distant horizon of glory. Wait for the orders.


Relax a bit. Spread your legs. Clasp your hands behind your back. Wait.

“Today we shall do an explosive drill.” The Adjudant says. An ‘Adjudant’ is a non-commissioned officer in the French Army. One rank above ‘Sergent-Chef’. Gunnery Sergeant or ‘Chief’ in Anglo-Saxon hierarchies. I’ll call him Chief.

I look around. We’re standing in a large clearing in dilapitaded woods at the military camp of C. Took us two days to drive down from our base in Brittany. Open lorries. In March. A tad chilly.

“Chief, can we lower the flaps? It’s freezing inside the lorry.” (I’m the Corporal. I’m “in charge”.)

“Nope. If the enemy attacks on the road, you need to be able to jump outside. In a rush.”

Enemy? This was the 70’s. The freakin’ R*ssians were out there, but they hadn’t moved much lately. At that time.

“This is a major exercise,” the Chief says, anticipating my unrequested comment. He knows me. “From the minute we leave our base to the minute we are back.”

And an “exercise” it was. Multi-arm maneuvers at one of the largest military camps in the Centre South of France. Infantry (us). The 41st R.I. (Regiment of Infantry). Plus an armoured regiment. They still call them cavalry. Two Regiments of Marine Infantry. Crazy buggers. (No offence to the Marines), when they would “attack” a position and run out of blanks, they would use their rifle butts. Crazy mothers I tell you.

Now the cavalry? Haughty chaps. Their guns were bigger than ours. Infantry and cavalry don’t go along well. Try climbing a hill with your infantry squad (a dozen men, give or take) right behind a tank. (We still had tanks then). The tank goes up the sand/mud hill, you and your group are taking cover behind. Can’t walk too far behind, no cover. Can’t walk too close behind the tank, what if the 30+ ton contraption slips back? (Note: starting in 1966, the French Army received about 1500 AMX-30 tanks. A handful are still in service. Current tank in the French Army is the Leclerc tank. As of February 2021there were 241 Leclerc tanks left in the French Army. Four mighty Cavalry regiments. By my calculations they should be able to defend a 50 kms front at our border. Did I miss something? (Oh, the production line for the “Leclerc” has been stopped in 2008.)

Back to the clearing. There’s about a dozen or so us. My group, platoon, section whatever. We’re an 81 mm mortar group. Tree 81mm mortars. (See the picture above) Well manned, 81mm mortars are very “efficient”. Three men a piece. A well trained team can shoot 15 shells a minute. We are well trained. After a few months we can shoot just about weapon of any caliber from 9mm to 81mm. Mark my words: a few months. You can’t throw soldiers in combat in a coupla weeks. They become cannon fodder. Ask the R*ssians.

We’re circling around makeshift log tables in the middle of the clearing. Privates are bringing the “serious” ammo boxes to the tables. Lower gently on the ground. Open each box. Put the stuff on separate tables. (Don’t expect a crash course on explosives here. It’s a no-no. I’ll stick to the basics.)

“Now, here, is your basic plastic brick,” the Chief says, lifting a grey “brick”. “Everybody take one brick in your hand. Don’t worry, it’s inert. It won’t blow up in your hand.”

We all gingerly pick a brick each. Look at it. Turn it around. Put it back on the tables when ordered to.

“Now, here’s your detonator. Pick one up.”

We Follow orders. (There will be no further indication about detonators… LOL)

“And this here is your detonating cord.” The Chief shows us a roll of thick black cord. Puts a roll on a separate table. He goes on:

“Each of those three elements are harmless when separated. I can drop the brick on the ground, nothing happens.”

He drops one bl..dy brick on the ground. A few of the group drop on the grass in the clearing. I can’t. I’m the Corporal… (Plus I read the manual last night).

“Get up!!! You morons!” The Chief is a good man. Not one to argue with rank, no-one argues with rank, but he takes care of his men. He does like a joke though. Practical jokes. Like the time he took us into a bunker for gas mask training…

The Chief spends the next half hour explaining the mechanisms. What you do with the detonator. How to check and recheck. The combustion speed of the cord.

“Now everybody split. Five yards away from each other. Plenty of space. Everyone has his own brick? Show me.”

We each dutifully show our grey brick.

“Detonator? Show me.”

We each show our detonator.

“Good. Now everything back on your table. We will now cut a 60 second cord. Everybody has a knife?”

We all show our Opinel Nº9. (I would get one of those on my throat a few weeks later, but that, “Best Beloved”, is another story. (Opinel Nº9 is a traditional, folding, all purpose knife. Very good knife. I still have one.)


We all… You know.

“Right,” the Chief says. “Now you will cut one length of cordon to last 60 seconds, give or take. Remember the speed of combustion?”


“So you know how long a cord you need?”

Obviously the Chief checks. And doesn’t pick the smartest of the group.

“You! How many inches?”

“Er…” Counting on his fingers… Wrong answer.

“You!? Can you count?” Wrong again. I look at the sky… Until D. gives the right answer. “So many inches, you morons. Corporal, did you bring measuring tapes?”

“Yes Sir.” I fish 4-5 measure tapes from my fatigue pockets. Be prepared always..

All start measuring and cutting their cordons. I’m supposed to supervise. I’m the Corporal. If I don’t, the Chief will chew me out. It looks good. The Chief circles around. Nods.

“All right. We’re almost there. Once the three parts are assembled, we’re ready to light up. No! Durand! Not yet. Wait for my order. Before we light up, one last thing. You turn around holding the three pats together. Place the explosive on the ground 5 yards away from the tables. Light up at my command. And WALK. AWAY. Understood?”

“Walk away, Sir?” I ask. But, but, it’s gonna blow up!”

“You walk away Corporal, as do all of you. WALK. You don’t run. You run, you trip. You trip, you get blown up. WALK. AWAY. Never run. On any terrain. That’s the last and Number one rule. That is why you have cut a sixty second cord. Plenty of time to walk away twenty yards to that ditch over there. See?” He points at the ditch. Looks more than twenty yards away… Maybe twenty-one, or twenty -two… Where’s my measuring tape?

“Understood? Now assemble! Turn around. Walk five yards from the tables. Lighter out?” The Chief looks at his watch. “Light up! Now walk away.”

All light up. Walk away. Slowly. The Chief shouts. “Walk. Away. Slowly.”

Meanwhile, I was trying to light my own bl..dy cord. No dice. I grab another lighter from a private before he walks slowly away, shaking inside. No Effing dice.

“Chief. My Effing cordon doesn’t Effing light up!”

Meanwhile the other bricks are “lit”. Cords are slowly burning. Everybody is walking slowly towards the ditch. So close yet so far away! The Chief walks (briskly) towards me. (Never run) Tries to light up the Bloody sh.t of a brick. No triple dice. He puts my brick on another nearby. Tells me:

“Faulty equipment as usual. Must be the cordon. Come on Corporal. Let’s walk to the ditch. Plenty of time.”

And we walk to the ditch. Slowly. Ever so slowly. I can feel the seconds ticking at the back of my head. A dozen bricks lit up. Cords burning. Time ticking. Counting the seconds in my head. Every step I take, another yard away from the blast.

We get to the ditch. Jump in. Counting. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six… All hell breaks loose. Blast! Blast!Blast! The Chief had calculated well. Even factoring extra time to account for lighting malfunction. The Chief turns to me. Claps me on the shoulder and says:

“See Coporal? Plenty of time. Remember: always walk. Don’t run. Of course, if you’re under enemy fire, and you can’t attack which is always the best option, you run for cover. But with this explosive shit? Just walk. Slowly and away. Don’t run. Don’t trip.”

I got the lesson. Which I have applied in many circumstances. No! No more explosives! Everyday stuff. When the going gets tough? Slow down. Think. Think clearly. Make a decision. And if you can? Face the adversary with the best decision. Or just walk away slowly. Just. Never. Run.

With “my men”. c.1977. Yours truly is second from the right. What are we digging? Sorry. Classified.

Corporal and crew thank you for flying Equinoxio’s Tme-space shuttle.

Free Ukraine 🇺🇦

53 thoughts on “A walking blast

  1. That was a fascinating share, Brieuc!
    I always told my children to walk, not run, when crossing the street for the very same reason. You fall, you can get run over by the moron who doesn’t wait for you to cross…

    • Exactly. Though I detested about every single day in the Army, I did learn a few things. (Besides shooting! LOL) Having said that I do not regret any single day. I am totally in favour of military service. When the sh.t hits the fan, any country needs an army of citizens… 😉
      And, yes. Walk, don’t run… 🙏🏻

      • I think I am happy that you detested it. Those who love being in the Army have a certain edge to them. And good; because regrets are a waste of time and everything we do gives us something good. I guess you are right. The military is necessary.
        Walk. Always, walk.

      • Yes, walk. In most cases. As usual l’exception fait la règle…
        I indeed disliked it. But. But. Again, an Army is necessary. (Even more so in today’s world) Now it has to be a people’s army, to make sure the top officers don’t get the wrong ideas… 😉

  2. Dag Brian. Whatever you are digging, the guys on the left are digging it. 🙂 Cool story with a lesson at the end: don’t run. I tend to agree, although I probably would have invented a kind of walkrun, running with the air of leisurely walking, whistling a song of summer joy, perhaps lighting up a cigarette, if, of course, the lighter actually was working. I had to laugh when reading line about the manual. RTFM, always. And such an Opinel nr 9 I own myself as well. Good knife, that I mostly use to cut off the top of the christmas tree (no joke). Well, I have to r…. walk. Tot ziens!

      • Un test où on coupe et largue la sangle qui retient le satellite sur le lanceur … juste pour vérifier qu’il y aura séparation effective une fois là-haut. “Couper” veut dire couper un des deux boulons, de beau diamètre, qui tendent la sangle. On fait cela avec une paire de cisailles pyrotechniques chargées avec une bonne dose d’explosif. Laissez faire les pros. Et je suis d’accord, marcher. Surtout ne pas courir. Il y a pire : le remplissage des réservoirs. Les “pompistes” sont très très spéciaux !
        Belle journée à toi, Brieuc.

      • Okay. J’imaginer qq chose comme ça. Et effectivement, il faut des mini-charges d’explosifs. Travail sûrement très précis… Pour les pros. Et j’imagine sans peine de “faire le plein”. C’est pas du diesel… ⛽️
        Bonne soirée Gilles.

    • As I mentioned in another reply, though I am fully in favour of an army of citizens, and military service, I hated just about every single day in the Army. But everything is useful. And I did learn a number of things. 😉
      All well Liz? Looking forward to Spring?

  3. This was nerve-wracking. “WALK. You don’t run. You run, you trip.” I don’t think I’ll forget these words. Lol. You’ve had an amazing journey, Brian. So many stories to share. And each so interesting (dramatic). I hope you have very few regrets. Take care. 🙂

    • Haha! Glad the expert at nerve-wracking appreciates… We’ve all had varied experiences. One should always try to make the best of it. Regrets? I had a friend in College who used to say “better have remorse than regrets…” 😉 A very good thought. And after all these years we are still friends.
      Au revoir…

  4. Great read!
    We hope to volunteer in Ukraine at the end of the year and think I mentioned before that my partner’s “other” profession is an EOD Tech. If we don’t get into Ukraine, sadly, there are many more countries to volunteer in…

  5. Another fascinating post. I have never been in the army, I wasn’t even a Girl Guide, but I am fascinated by the psychology of war and I read a lot of war novels. This is an interesting story and informative too. Your comment: Mark my words: a few months. You can’t throw soldiers in combat in a coupla weeks. They become cannon fodder. Ask the R*ssians. – this is so true, WW1 made this point loudly and clearly. How many young ‘greenies’ were killed in their first few days at the front, poor kids. No training and just thrown into the fray as cannon fodder.

  6. Loved this first account of training ~ made so real by the world events of today… Amid all the seriousness of the training, prepping for an unpleasant possibility, your great (and hilarious) writing, brings such feeling to the forefront of us well behind the lines. I can tell you had a pretty good team to work with from the conversation you created 🙂 However great a leader you are in the field, Brieuc, you have a greater talent for storytelling, be it writing, photography, or drawing ~ art defeats war any time. And you leave us with wisdom we should always reflect upon: “Remember: always walk. Don’t run.” Cheers to a peaceful finish to winter, and into the springtime as well. Take care ~

    • Thank you Dalo. You’re only too kind. “Life is a tale”, right? Let’s forget about Shakespeare’s idiot. One has to tell that story in the best possible way…
      And the Chief’s lesson was very good. Works in many cases…
      Ultimately, you are right again, Art defeats war any time. That was Camus’ position in “A letter to a German friend”.
      Xie xie Peng Yu.
      You too.

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