June 16, 2012
The barrack room was the scene of many pranks. Some could be hilarious and a few extremely moving. One of the latter, devised by Johnny Tebbs, a National Serviceman from Leeds who claimed to have worked alongside Peter O’Toole on the local newspaper, was to booby trap the toilets. Who fell afoul of the trap was not important, but it was virtually guaranteed to be Gubby since he was the only one not present that evening.
Johnny decided to use the contents of a fire extinguisher for his bomb. The main tank of the standard Army issue extinguisher contained a solution of sodium bicarbonate in water, and an inner container of Aluminium Sulphate, harmless or inactive, when separate. When the solutions combined, usually by inverting the unit and smashing the plunger against a solid surface to break the glass vessels, the reaction would create gallons of frothy foam and carbon dioxide gas to douse fires.
With one charge emptied into the cistern and the other into the toilet bowl there would be no reaction at that time. To channel an unsuspecting user to the booby-trap Tebbs climbed over into the other compartments, locked all the doors from inside and clambered out.
Gubby returned in the early hours of the morning, more than the worse for wear, headed to the toilet, unaware that the eighteen occupants of the billet were dogging his footsteps. He disappeared into the prepared cubicle.
The noise of the flush was closely followed, a few moments later by a loud, exaggerated and explosive “sigh”. White amorphous foam blossomed over the door of the cubicle, rolled under it and expanded over the dividing walls into
the next cubicles. Almost a full minute later, the door opened, slowly, to reveal a bemused Gubby, enveloped in the white clinging froth, trousers and underpants lost somewhere in the nether regions under the surface of the clinging bubbles, with his face empty of all expression. Aware of the uproar his appearance caused the lads gathered round him, he looked around and down at the source of the eruption and said woefully, ” I should never have forced down that third Donner Kebab!”
Gubby attracted the attention of the many pranksters and practical jokers due to his apparent gullibility and good nature. During one boxing season, conscripted unwillingly to the unit boxing team, he was the brunt of many jokes. On other occasions he managed to involve himself in such situations without help.
One Saturday morning, the boxing team, because of overweight members failing to reach their designated weights for an impending competition, travelled to the Turkish baths in Antwerp to sweat off the surplus pounds without physical effort.
The Baths were located in the same building as the main swimming pool. On days when the use of the steam baths was reserved for men, the pool would be reserved for women.
Fortunately, for the boxing team that Saturday the Turkish baths were available for males. We went through the complicated system of hot and cold showers, ice-cold dips and plunges into vats of boiling water, prior to entering the steam rooms. Shortly afterwards Gubby found an unlocked door, which opened into the swimming pool area. Assuming that the pool was for use by the patrons of the Turkish Baths, Gubby threw his towel to one side and made a running dive off the side plunging naked into the water only to surface in the middle of a group of shrieking and supposedly shocked female bathers.
One weekend the unit hired a bus and made a trip to Amsterdam. Everyone’s thoughts were not on the picturesque sights and ancient architecture one could see in the Venice of the North but rather on the delights offered by ladies of the red light district whom, everyone believed, were the most attractive and sexiest in Europe. Gubby was no exception.
Within half an hour of arriving in the red – light district, Gubby had accepted a solicitation from an attractive young professional. In response to the questions that go to make up the customary small talk as they undressed Gubby claimed that he was a management consultant assisting Shell Mex corporation on a large new project.
The girl immediately collapsed in bursts of uncontrollable laughter and asked why a presumably highly paid executive would chose voluntarily to wear Drawers, Cellular, Green, British Army and Socks, Grey, Woollen, Worsted?
I would stress that the foregoing anecdote is based on hearsay, I was obviously not present and is not, I emphasise, not, based on any similar personal experience.
Gubby, although not proficient, enjoyed sports. Besides the exercise, he particularly relished the beer that invariably followed an army sports outing. Rugby was his favourite and he was selected to play on a regular basis. One occasion stands out.
Well and truly beaten by another Army team from Germany, we were not too despondent. There is no difficulty in remembering that we had lost that particular game because for the two years that Gubby played we never won a match. After three or four hours of heavy drinking in the Clubhouse at Grobbendonk the after-match “celebration” moved to the Torenhof, a small cafe in the village of Olen. In the pub we continued to sing and perform our drunken rugby songs. We liked the Torenhof particularly because the owner would ring a bell, randomly during the course of the evening, signifying that everyone standing at the bar at that moment was entitled to a free beer.
Probably everyone who has watched rugby has seen the occasion when a player has had to change his torn shorts in what would appear to be full view of hundreds of spectators. In fact, no one sees anything untoward because a ring of players surrounds the individual. We had a variation of this that we used to do in the Clubhouse. The performer, to the accompaniment The Zulu Warrior, sung by the group, would start a striptease, by removing his tie, and another player would dance around him. When the stripper had removed the next item of clothing and thrown it to a watching team member, one more dancer would join the first. This would continue for each item of clothing until the stripper would be completely naked in the middle of the group but unseen by anyone outside the circle. The clothing, item by item thrown back to the “artiste”, would be put back on, as members of the group, one by one, left the ring. Finally, all that would be seen would be the performer putting on his tie. Puerile, I know, but we were simple folks.
Normally we only performed in the Clubhouse but that night at the Torenhof we were fairly “wasted” and someone called on Gubby to do the Zulu Warrior. Gubby got up and things were going quite smoothly until finally he was wearing only a sock. At that moment, however, the barmaid, who had a wicked sense of humour, rang the bell and everyone in the circle dived for the bar.
To give the indomitable Gubby his due, bare-buff except for a grey, woollen sock, he joined the queue with the rest of us for his ex-gratis beer.
June 4, 2012
Based on the belief by the British strategic planners that Belgium would rapidly be overrun by the Warsaw Pact in any future conflict the Vehicle Depot in Belgium consisted of a series of individual camps and sub depots spread over a wide area, in the region surrounding Antwerp. Each site, sparsely signposted, concealed in woods and copses, was difficult to locate. This was true for both newly arrived troops, usually sober, and for soldiers returning from local hostelries, invariably drunk.
“A” Camp, Olen, where the majority of the depot’s military personnel were billeted, was adjacent to, but hidden from, the main road from Herentals to Aarschot. Public transport was negligible and taxis were few. When they were available, the price was exorbitant. Facilities for extra mural activities, such as sports or hobbies were non-existent and cinemas, such as the Olen Fleapit, held no attraction for the single soldier. The troops spent many hours pursuing the age-old pastime of drinking, interspersed with fights with the locals or plundering local orchards and gardens.
There were many cafes and bars in the area, some of which
were only a few yards apart. However, the British soldier, who in the annals of his military history, has demonstrated a much vaunted prowess of marching from one hellhole to another, has a strong aversion to voluntary walking, especially after the consumption of alcohol. This is
evidenced throughout those areas of Europe, where Tommy has served, by the high incidence of bicycle theft. Technically the offence should not be construed as theft since each perpetrator had no intention of keeping the cycle but used it only to reach his billet where it would be abandoned just short of the main gate. This continued until visits by the Gendarmes had become so frequent that Commanding Officers intervened prompting the ‘rustlers’ to dispose of the push-bikes in canals, woods and ditches.
Belgians relied heavily on bicycles for transportation and until the arrival of British troops had no need for security or locking devices. Hence, the tandem bought at a local market, by Lofty and Gubby, was all the more noteworthy, since these two had been the leading “borrowers” in the region.
Soon the tandem became more than a means of transport for the duo. As a vehicle, in a country where the bicycle was king, a tandem was a remarkably rare sight. The Belgians, who at that time, dominated the sport of cycle racing with riders like Rik van Looy, four times world champion, believed no other nationalities could successfully manage a bicycle. This arrogance was the basis of Lofty’s confidence trick which was to work exceedingly well during the long hot months of that summer.
Lofty, a six foot three broad-shouldered Northerner, and Gubby, a ruddy faced good-natured ploughman from Gloucestershire, who deceptively appeared slow-witted, would arrive, expending great effort, on the tandem at a cafe in full view of the local tipplers. Gubby caused the impression of exertion, in the second saddle, by surreptitiously applying and maintaining pressure on the brakes. The tandem would invariably be the subject of discussion, and before long the two squaddies would claim that they could cover a certain distance in a specified time. This would cause amusement and such cynical responses from the Belgian side that wagers were the logical progression. The lap would be defined, the time established, a timekeeper appointed and everyone would gather outside as the duo mounted the tandem and set off.
Since both men were, despite their frequent carousing, physically in good shape, the stretch would be covered well within the stipulated time.
Like all good things, this scheme ended.
Lofty regularly had to steer the tandem home with an inebriated and dysfunctional Gubby aboard but declared one evening that Gubby had to remain sober to ‘drive.’ Gubby agreed but reneged on his promise. In the course of the evening he became totally drunk. He took his place, however, as tandem driver and they set off for home. Before long Gubby succumbed to the alcohol and fell asleep at the handlebars. The tandem left the road, remained upright down a very steep bank, and disappeared into the Albert Canal, just as the two racers fell off.
Unfortunately, patrolling gendarmes saw them and promptly took them into custody for disposing of stolen property. The tandem was never recovered.