This is rated the worst opening line in the history of English Literature for some reason.
By some coincidental quirk, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ figured large during NSF days and even now during NS ICT.
With hundreds of items of military equipment that each soldier was responsible for, from his bootlaces up to his night vision goggles, it was inevitable that the rough and tumble of combat training would render at least some of the equipment damaged or inoperable.
In the event that this happened (quite often), that particular soldier was accountable for the damage/loss, and this accountability entailed writing a detailed report of how the damage/loss occurred. As you can imagine, many incidences of loss/damage would be discovered a while after it actually happened. (E.g. you don’t realize something is lost until you want to use it). And very often, the soldier would have no idea when or how he lost or damaged that piece of equipment.
Nevertheless, a report or a statement, as the army loves to call it, had to be written. And all the statements I have read have begun with, “It was a dark and stormy night”.
“It was a dark and stormy night, and my company (‘A’ Coy) was conducting combat team block and delay exercise in Area D at around 0200hrs on 010290. We contacted enemy elements at around 0230hrs and had to perform hasty retreat. My platoon (Pl2) encountered thick vegetation which we had to bash through in order to escape enemy, and it was then that the cover of my sharpshooter scope broke off my rifle. I discovered it missing a few hours later during re-org, and backtracked to try to find the cover, but in vain.”
Dark and stormy nights, thick vegetation and rapid movement are the invariable ingredients of all statements, owing to the need to illustrate the earnestness but ultimately the futility of the required search for the lost item.
These statements, handwritten and up to 8 carbon copies depending on the type of equipment (optics, signals and armoury being the most severe), are then handed up to the immediate superior soldier, and then depending on the severity of the loss (night vision goggles lost equals official board of inquiry, or BOI), the damage/loss would either be written off, or the soldier responsible made to compensate monetarily or be punished militarily (anything from extra duty to detention).
Being low-ranking combat troopers that we were, it wasn’t uncommon for blame to be placed on some of us by our superiors for the loss or damage of equipment. One of my favourite statements (I read many, because one of my many duties included being the armskote in-charge) was about the loss of a tiny spring from the inside of a GPMG, which couldn’t possibly be misplaced unless the GPMG was disassembled, and even then, very diligent care had to be taken during the disassembly of weapons.
Anyway, the little spring was lost, and the battalion armourer was consulted as to the official name of the spring, so that the statement could be written.
A story had to be made up and by a careless trooper, on whom blame had to be placed.
That soldier wrote:
“It was a dark and stormy night. My company (‘A’ Coy) was conducting combat team deliberate attack in Area D at 0300hrs on 020289. During the attack, I was the section MG gunner, and set up a support firebase. We contacted the enemy troops, and I finished about 200 MG rounds of blanks. After re-org, our company was ordered to leaguer at Tanjong Skopek at around 0500hrs. My platoon was ordered to clean our weapons because we fired many rounds. I stripped my MG on a groundsheet in order to clean it. However, as I was taking out the bolt carrier from the MG, the ‘Spring, trigger mechanism, GPMG’, suddenly flew out of the MG and into thick vegetation about 10m away from my groundsheet. Because we had to remain tactical, I could not use a big torchlight to search for the spring, but I asked my section mates to help look for the spring. Suddenly, we were contacted by enemy troops and the whole company had to conduct hasty retreat, so there was no time to look for the spring. After re-org, I went back to the area to look for the spring in the vegetation, but in vain”.
“This would not have happened if my sergeant did not tell me to strip the MG. Therefore it is not my fault but my sergeant’s”.
Best of all, that soldier gave it to his sergeant for approval. Not only did he not get it, but got a smack round the back of the head from the sergeant and three weekends’ extra guard duty for his creativity.
These days, during our annual ICTs, statements still have to be made when we lose things. The only difference being that blame is agreed to be shared among all the civilian/soldiers before the start of any training for any loss or damage, and any monetary compensation required is also shared. This is so because we all want to expedite matters and F.O. from camp as soon as possible.
In order to expedite matters, a team of statement writers (I was one of them last year) is also selected beforehand so that statements can be handwritten quickly, and a random soldier picked to put his signature on them. These statements are then given to the superior officers, who view, sign and declare the item irretrievably lost, and consult the armourer or QM on the replacement or repair cost. This is announced to the company’s men, who fork out whatever’s necessary, and then wait while accounts are closed for the year before we are allowed to go home.
The thing that of course remains the same over the past decade is our favourite military fiction that begins “It was a dark and stormy night”, and ends, signed off, with “Your Obedient Soldier”.
© CPL (NS) Lee Soo Yaw Benjamin, 4th July 2003.
 Bulwer-Lytton, Edward, Paul Clifford, (1830), p1.
 Full-Time National Service
 National Service (Reservist) Annual In-Camp Training
 A combat sub-unit of a battalion of around 90 to 100 men
 Not telephone call. Contact enemy means either we shot at them or they shot at us.
 A sub-unit of a Company (see note 4) of around 27 to 30 men
 Re-organisation – after every battle or contact, the unit or sub-unit counts their dead, nurses their injured and reports their status to higher authority.
 Communications equipment like radios etc.
 Military euphemism for Jail
 A secure room in which the company’s weapons and optical equipment are stored
 General Purpose Machine Gun
 The unit’s weapons technician or repairman
 form up to rest and stand-by
 sub unit of a platoon, of around 7-9 men
 F*** Off
 Quartermaster – Military officer in charge of stores