November 24, 2011
In the bright morning sun three hundred boy soldiers halted in front of the unit armoury. From the head of the parade the sergeant major marched smartly to a position midway left of the column, turned sharply to face the troops and gave the order to advance into line. The platoon sergeants marched smartly to their new positions in front of each platoon. The CSM then gave the command to order arms and handed the parade over to the platoon sergeants.
Dismissed, the boys formed up into a long single file and shuffled forward to hand the weapons over the counter to the unit armourer. Rifles handed in, the boys made their way, some singly, others in groups, to the billets where they changed into denims prior to going to the cookhouse for the midday meal. The majority, with the ravenous appetites of growing males, ran to get near the front of the queue.
They had to do this if they wanted a full three course meal. The cookhouse staff never seemed to know how many diners there would be and always erred on the side of less as opposed to plenty. Often the soup would run out or the custard would dry up before all the boys were fed. On some days, such as Sundays, when two choices, such as meat and fish, were available, the choice only extended to the first thirty in line. The less desirable choice was all that was available for the rest.
Not all the boys however, handed their weapons in and after a tally the armourer announced to the Sergeant Major that one weapon was missing. According to the booking out records this was registered to Boy Monami.
Monami was an enlistment from the Channel Islands. He was dark and his face was devoted to the full time cultivation of acne. He had a timid demeanour and pronounced stoop both of which caused him to be the butt of cruel adolescent practical jokes and derision. He suffered dreadfully from homesickness and was the victim of the endemic harassment, closely akin to bullying, that prevailed among the teenage boys. A quick investigation by the sergeant major revealed that Monami had last been seen walking, not towards the cookhouse, but towards the woods that surrounded the barrack area. He had also been on the ranges recently where he had access to ammunition
Only a few boys had been served lunch as a group of Boy NCOs swept into the dining room area and ordered everyone to fall in outside. With much muttering and bitching everyone joined their platoon formations. Here they were told by the sergeant major that Monami had absconded with a rifle. This was unconscionable. The weapon and Monami must be brought back. The whole formation was turned into line and marched off in the direction of the woods.
At the edge of the woods the battalion was formed up into single line abreast and given the order to advance, much in the way that ghillies and beaters in the Highlands would, to raise game. The annoyance at having missed the midday meal gradually dissipated as the boys began to enjoy the brightness of the day and laughed and joked among themselves.
After several minutes the trees began to thin out and the terrain changed to a combination of sand, brush and heather that the boys knew as “the tank tracks”. The extended line emerged from the tree line and advanced across the moor land. By this time the purpose of the exercise had diminished in the minds of the majority of the boys and completely disappeared from the minds of those who were giddier than the average teenager. They advanced in desultory fashion, beating at the bushes with twigs and sticks in a halfhearted manner, and none really cared if Monami showed or not — or so they thought!
Suddenly with a blood curdling shriek Monami leapt from hiding some thirty to forty yards in front of the search party. Continuing to screech he worked the bolt of the purloined .303 Lee Enfield, threw it up to his shoulder and aimed in the general direction of the other boys.
Never in the history of the RAOC Boys School had the coordination in the execution of a military drill movement been so precise and simultaneous. With a concerted “Oooh!” three hundred boys literally leapt into the air, spun round one hundred and eighty degrees and took to their heels with Promethean strides towards the barrack blocks.
The lone demented Monami spurred them on from behind with crazy banshee wails.
Eventually, one of the permanent staff instructors opened an upstairs window and called down to Monami who was prowling the area between the blocks. He asked if Monami was hungry and if he was would he be prepared to turn the weapon over in return for a meal and amnesty.
Monami, who was not the top of his class as a negotiator, agreed a little too promptly. He was quickly surrounded by a group of adult instructors who took the weapon, reneged on the amnesty part, and Monami, his brief moment of glory extinguished, was marched in double time to the guardroom where he was put in custody until the following Monday. On orders that morning he was sentenced to fourteen days confinement with a compulsory discharge from Army service to follow.
Looking back I’m sure he would have preferred not have been incarcerated, but to be discharged, freed from harassment and returned to his home island at the tax payer’s expense, must have been bliss for young Monami.
November 20, 2011
Corbin Rider was the Company Sergeant Major of a British Army Vehicle Depot in Belgium where, for my sins, I spent some time. It was generally agreed that Corbin was in the wrong profession because he was too genial, too good natured, forgiving and too good all–round-nice guy to be a CSM. However, on rare occasions, he would convince himself that he was ruthless and could administer discipline as well as any of the Army’s martinets.
Corbin had a long haired Alsatian dog, Fritzi, to whom he was devoted. Fritzi was similar to his master, in that he was really too sweet and docile to be a bona-fide German Shepherd. The two were inseparable and, on the rare occasions, when the dog could not accompany Corbin, on inspections or on parade, Fritzi would remain in Corbin’s office, front paws on the window ledge, eagerly awaiting his master’s return.
During his brief lapses, into that of would–be disciplinarian, Corbin could be sharp tongued and inclined toward bloody–mindedness. In the course of dressing down someone the CSM would trample on that person’s sensitivity and naturally anger him. On one occasion he offended Yogi Bear. This became memorable purely for what followed.
Yogi Bear was the nickname of the Staff Sergeant in charge of the guard dog section of the depot. The section comprised of a pack of extremely ferocious canine psychopaths, Alsatians, Dobermans and Bouviers who, with a passion, hated each other, all human beings, to include their own handlers, and any moving object in their immediate vicinity. Every night they would be allowed to roam free in the depot precincts to treat trespassers in the same way Hannibal Lecter treated his dinner guests.
Yogi was not, to say the least, the epitome of sartorial elegance when on parade, due to his rotundity. He was understandably sensitive when attention was publicly drawn to this. One particular morning, on parade, Corbin did exactly that. We were all to learn that Yogi was not one of the jolly, happy go-lucky, round individuals with a forgiving nature.
Immediately after this muster parade Corbin went, sans Fritzi, to inspect the billets, returning forty-five minutes later. As he passed he waved to the ever expectant Fritzi, standing at the office window, and entered the building. After opening the door to his office, he tried his usual party trick of throwing his hat, 007 style, across the office to land on his hat stand, beside his desk.
The hat undoubtedly saved him from a bad mauling as Sultan, a drooling, frothing at-the-mouth, four legged anti-social dead ringer, but only in physical appearance, for Fritzi, hurled his one hundred and ninety pounds of muscle, bone, hair and razor sharp teeth, into mid-air to chomp down on the red and blue No 1 Dress Cap and convert it into ragged and uneven shreds. Corbin barely managed to drag the door shut before Sultan engaged the door and wrenched the handle off.
Although he never praised him, CSM Rider nevertheless seemed to be entirely satisfied with Yogi’s turnout on all future parades.
November 11, 2011
Some of the youths of the RAOC Boys Wing of the British Army at Blackdown came from deprived homes or abusive parents and this was a contributory factor for their presence there. Pete Roberts was definitely not one of these, although I was.
He had a loving family of whom he was rightfully proud. He also had a desire to visit Scotland particularly at Hogmanay. Since he and I were mates, he suggested that we spend Christmas at his home in Selly Oak, Birmingham and New Year at mine, near Brechin, in Scotland.
His home was a delight to share. His Mum made me welcome like a family member and his Dad, realising that Boy Soldiers were not particularly well off, and as a contractor in painting and decorating, was able to employ us as unskilled casual labour during the week leading up to Christmas. I remember we worked in Edgbaston Girls High stripping and priming walls. The girls had already broken up for the holidays. It was a particularly mild winter that year and we diverted ourselves by catching flies and blue-bottles on the skylights in the girls’ toilets and incinerating them in a special gadget, mounted on the wall, that appeared to be specially designed for that purpose.
Shortly after Christmas we left by train for my home in Scotland. The days were uneventful until New Year’s Eve. During the course of the evening we would stagger from pub to pub, down a pint of bitter and move onto the next. On the street we would drink copiously from half pint bottles of spirits, offered by strangers, who in turn would drink from ours, and everyone would wish all and sundry A Happy New Year.
During our walkabout we arrived at the bus depot and collapsed in the shelter beside the departure stop for Arbroath, a town which is on the coast and roughly eight miles distant from Brechin. At some point we became aware of a sleeping figure on the bench at the other end of the shelter. In our befuddled state we were convinced that he was a kindred spirit, rather the worst for wear, who had fallen asleep while waiting for the bus for Arbroath. Full of good intentions, we attempted to waken him but failed, so we compromised by carrying his inert form out of the shelter and onto the Arbroath bus which had just arrived.
On the third of January, I read in the local newspaper:
“At the magistrates court this morning James Gellatly of 12 Bank Street, Brechin was found guilty of breach of the peace. He was fined 30 shillings and bound over for a year. Gellatly alleged that he had been manhandled aboard the bus for Arbroath but being the worse for wear was in no state to fight off his assailants. He had lost consciousness only to awake in Arbroath, where, being penniless, had demanded passage back to Brechin. When the conductor had refused, Gellatly became abusive and offered violence. In passing sentence the magistrate, Mr Archibald Henry, complimented Gellatly on his original defence but stated the court had long since ceased to believe such fanciful tales. Mr Gellatly was given seven days in which to pay. “