Tuesday 24 December 2013

Of Foxes and Chickens

‘Righto lads!’ I said as we all assembled in the RMP storehouse, ‘Make yourselves comfortable.  Forget FBO (Full Battle Order), just make up your bed spaces and dump all that shit at the back of them.  All I want is rifle slings as belts, magazines in pockets and rifles.  I want one GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) per Sangar so get them ready to move.  Why haven’t we got a radio?’
‘We have radios, Sir!’ said the signaler busy unpacking the VHF sets.

‘Not those sort of radios,’ I said testily, ‘the kind that play music!’  One of the lads ran back to the barracks to fetch one.  Music while you shoot?  This was new for them.

There were only two radio stations in Belize.  The national station, fine if you loved Bob Marley, and BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service.  BFBS Belize while in the very capable hands of Mr. Marc Tyley was brilliant. 
‘Right.  I only want two guys in each Sangar, a gunner and his mate.  The rest of you just make yourselves comfortable.  When in the sangars I want you to smoke, laugh, joke, cough, chat loudly amongst yourselves, shine torches around, brew fucking tea.  If you need a piss, step out of the sangar and piss up the side of it, I don’t care, just do anything to prove to the enemy that you are the bored unprofessional soldiers you really are.  I want you to relax and have a good time.’  Rarely has any order given by an Army Officer, other than ‘you can all knock off now’, received such approbation.

‘FOWO, can I ask you to see that the maps of the camp are up on the wall, organize the ops desk and see that the comms network is up and running?  Thankyou.  Staff Smith!  With only two men per Sangar, we have enough men for a three shift system, two on four off.  Draw up a duty rosta for me will you?’  Cpl CALLAGHAN!  Where are you, you idle bastard?’  ‘Right behind you Sir!’ he bawled back in my ear making me leap about ten feet in the air. ‘Get me eleven of our fittest, biggest and meanest blokes and hold them to one side.  This will be your section and none of them are for sanger duty so be quick about it before Staff Smith grabs them.  I will brief you and them separately.’
Every unit, even if filled with misfits has a few men so dedicated to soldiering, so khaki brained they were born with dog tags.  Cpl Callaghan was such a man even if he was cocky.  It was my custom to go for an early morning run before breakfast and then knock off at three in the afternoon and go for another run.  That meant I was covering 70 miles a week for fun.  When Callaghan found out, he asked if he could join me.  Having a running partner is brilliant.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the solitude but having someone equally fit pushing you is invigorating.  Not long after he said that some of the other lads wouldn’t mind running along as well.  Pretty soon there were about thirty of us and more being encouraged to join every week, not just RAOC, but REME, Catering Corps, Signals, HQ Company, you name it.. 

I shared an office with the Stores Platoon Commander, a Captain.  As an ex ranker I really hated the term GOPWO, the really disparaging way Sandhurst trained officers referred to what some of them considered ‘grossly over promoted Warrant Officers’.  Normally an enlisted man can do 22 years reckonable service calculated from his eighteenth birthday.  After that, aged only forty, he’s on Civvie Street looking for a new career.  It is within the Queen’s gift, however, to accept the advice of the Army Board and grant Commissions to outstanding Warrant Officers thereby preventing the Army from losing such experienced and loyal individuals by extending their service another fifteen years to age fifty five, the normal retirement age for an officer.  It did wonders for their pensions.  No one would expect a forty year old to go through the testing rigours of the Standard Military Course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst during which they would all probably keel over and die, never collecting their pensions, so they were sent instead on what everyone colloquially referred to as the ‘knife, fork and spoon course’ and were then granted a Quarter Master’s Commission.  Quite right too.  These chaps (did I say ‘chaps’ again?) had spent twenty two years running around on behalf of the Army so to expect them to revert to the rank of Officer Cadet and do recruit training again would not only be pointless, it would be a bloody insult.  Imagine a Warrant Officer 1st Class being beasted by a Colour Sergeant? 
I was commissioned from the ranks but went through a different system.  I was only a young Corporal when I attracted someone’s attention and a Unit Selection Board was convened.  I passed and went up to the Army Officer Selection Board at Westbury which I also passed.  Unbeknown to me, I was then discharged from the Regular Army and reenlisted in the rank of Officer Cadet.  For one day, I had been a civilian and no longer subject to military law.  Had I known, I would have driven to JHQ Rheindahlen and punched the first military policeman I saw.  Instead I went to Sandhurst and slogged my way through basic training a second time.  Afterwards, even though technically an ex ranker, I was considered by my fellow Sandhurst trained officers a ‘bit of a lad’ but ‘Sandhurst’ nevertheless.

As a Corporal I was oblivious to such prejudice.  As far as I was concerned, if a man had pips or crowns mounted upon his epaulettes, he could make my life a misery.  If he had pips AND crowns, I was especially well behaved and made an excellent cup of tea.  Mind you, Regimental Sergeant Majors were pretty bloody scary too.
My first inkling of the social strata in the Officer’s Mess came with our first company smoker to which I invited a delicious young lady who earned her crust as an air hostess for an exotic regional airline.  Paying her all the attention a chap does when he is trying to climb inside her knickers, I was interrupted by Captain Gopwo who took it upon himself to give this young officer some fatherly advice, in front of my young lady guest, concluding with the statement, ‘After all, you couldn’t possibly take HER into the Mess.’  I, an undefeated Sandhurst light middleweight boxer, was across the table so fast and only a nano-second away from a court martial when I was expertly rugby tackled in midair by Captain Bowles, RCT who, living up to his moniker, bowled me over and out of the restaurant.  ‘You have to understand, Tom,’ he said concluding his little fireside round-the-back-of-the-restaurant chat, ‘the man is not Sandhurst’.

I had to share an office with this guy and I hated him.  He was a GOPWO.  One day I watched while he pulled out a stores requisition from F Company and, frothing with indignation, waved it in front of my face screaming, ‘FUD 2! FUD 2!  For fucking paint brushes!’ before screwing the requisition up and dumping it into his waste paper basket.  I wasn’t a storeman, I was just doing the regimental duty I needed to get under my belt before going back to the Army School of Ammunition to change my qualification from Ammunition Technician to Ammunition Technical Officer.  All through officer training and the time since being commissioned I had been allowed to wear my medal ribbons but I had to remove my AT badge from my uniform.  The badge is basically a black circle surrounded by flames, supposedly to represent an exploding bomb.  I wasn’t interested in his parochial bloody stores issues.  I wasn’t a fat blanket stacker like him.  All I wanted was my Flaming Arsehole back.
As a result of this disinterest, I can’t explain to you what FUD means.  All I knew was that the lower the number, the more importance the man filling it out, or the unit sending it, were attaching to the requisition and the faster the demands of the requisition should be fulfilled by the stores platoon commanded by the man sitting in front of me who had just screwed a FUD 2 request up and tossed into his bin.  FUD 2 is as high as you can go in peacetime and it wasn’t as if this was a request from the catering corps worried about applying an even egg wash to the Brigadier’s steak and kidney pie, this was F Company.  So when he reminded me it was time to go back to the Officer’s Mess for lunch, I declined.  After he had gone I reached into his bin and smoothed out the requisition on my desk.  Sure enough, it was a FUD 2 for paint brushes.  Outrageous.  FUD 2’s are for ammunition, fuel, rations and other mission critical items, not bloody paintbrushes.  The whole camp was connected by a telephone network so I thought I would try and use it to call F Company.  Someone answered on the third ring.

‘We are really fucked,’ confessed the guy candidly on the other end of the phone after I explained what I was calling about, ‘the RAF have delayed a Puma so if we can get the brushes onto it and down to Punta Gorda we should be OK’.
‘Why do you need paint brushes so urgently?’ I asked out of intense curiosity.

‘Because we have broken our fucking ribs!’ came the irritated reply, ‘and you shiny arses couldn’t give a toss!’
Blimey.  I’d had a few bust ribs in my time and I knew they’re bloody painful but there was no need for that!  Now that I knew F Company were writhing about on the ground in agony unable to breathe, of course I gave a toss.
‘Do you want me to call the medics?’ I asked, by now very concerned.

‘I’m going to find you, you smart bastard, and I’m going to poke yer eyes out.  GIVE US SOME FUCKING PAINT BRUSHES!’ said the calm voice at the other end of the telephone.
‘I can do you some paint brushes, we must have loads in the stores somewhere but are you absolutely sure you don’t want a medic as well?’

Good Lord, with all of F Company gasping their last with broken ribs, no wonder the requisition was FUD 2.  There was no time for paperwork.  I was alone in the stores.  I had to make a decision or men would die horribly gurgling under an unforgiving tropical sun. I couldn’t make the connection between broken ribs and paintbrushes but I was only a bullet mechanic and newly commissioned officer, they were Special Forces so obviously had their own way of dealing with things like a mass outbreak of broken ribs.
‘Can you send someone round to the stores right now to collect what you need?’ I said.  Five minutes later there was a Landrover, minus roof and windscreen parked round the back of the stores.
‘Where’s the paintbrushes?’ asked the first and particularly healthy looking guy to leap out of the vehicle.
‘I have no idea,’ I confessed.  The stores were huge, we even had tank engines on the shelves.  How the hell was I supposed to know where we kept the paintbrushes?  Still, I was badged RAOC and these were technically our clients so I tried to do my best. ‘Perhaps if you all split up and had a bit of a root around?’ I suggested in a Sergeant Wilson sort of voice.  They all rushed off into the stores and helped themselves, all bar one.  Now I don’t want to bore you with descriptions of chiseled jaws and ice cold blue eyes but I am sure you get the picture.  As his men loaded the Landrover up with a lot more than just paintbrushes I had to ask him, ‘How do you fix broken ribs with a paintbrush?’
‘Easy,’ he said, ‘you just use Tratoplas, a two part adhesive; brush it onto the rib skin, apply a rubber patch, let it cure and then re-inflate.  We can fix most of our ribs like that’
Bugger me.  I’d been through basic training twice now and we had learnt all about dealing with sucking chest wounds but this was a new one for me.  Blimey, these blokes were hard.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘Sorry I bawled you out on the phone, this is really decent of you. Now that we’ve got the Chopper, any chance of some two stroke oil?  We’re always short of that, in fact we are desperate for everything!’
‘Two stroke oil?’
‘Yes, for the ribs.’
‘You’re talking boats, aren’t you?’ I said in a Benny-from-Crossroads voice as the penny finally dropped.
‘Yes, rigid Inflatable boats, RIBs’
‘Ah well’ I said, ‘in that case, come and have a look at these shelves.’  They were loaded with brand new outboard engines gathering dust.  I had asked Captain Gopwo for permission to re-engine the two Force ski boats with them so I could take the lads out water skiing or fishing but had been refused on the grounds that these were reserved for F Company.  So fuck him, I’d give them to F Company.  It would take him months to realize they’d gone.  He’d then order a complete stock take, the Special Investigations Branch of the Military Police would run round like headless chickens for a couple of weeks without any result and write off any discrepancy to theft by the locals and Store Company’s accounts would balance once more.  It wasn’t like I was nicking them for personal gain, I just could not believe the attitude of Captain Gopwo, ‘Stores are for Storing, if they were for Issues, they’d be called Issues’.  Here was a unit performing a vital role its success only impaired by being strangled through lack of supplies by their own side.  Stores Company was as bad as the bloody military Police, I decided.
The attitude here reminded me of the battle of Isandlwana during which absent Commander, Lord Chelmsford occasioned through a combination of arrogance and incompetence (qualities I recognized in my immediate superiour), the worst defeat the British Army ever suffered at the hands of a bunch of natives.  It was said that the firing line facing the Zulu Impis collapsed and was over run through lack of ammunition, the Quarter Master apparently deaf to the entreaties of the ammunition bearers as he ensured his accounting procedures were followed, right down to reconciling every last brass screw securing the lids of the wooden ammunition boxes.  This was all bollocks of course.  They didn’t issue every bloody soldier in the British Army of the time with a screw driver so he could carefully open an ammunition box under fire before distributing the much needed ammunition to his mates and returning screwdriver and screws to his pocket.  The poor old Quartermaster, who was killed in the action, was probably shoveling the ammunition boxes off his horse drawn carts as fast as he could and the soldiers were opening them in the way they were designed to be opened in a hurry, a smart oblique tap on the edge of the lid with the butt of a Martini Henry rifle.  Chelmsford cocked it all up by underestimating his enemy and trying to defend too long a perimeter.  He lost his army, over a thousand blokes, yet a few hours later, 120 Welsh Guardsmen successfully defended themselves against 4,000 Zulu at Rorke’s Drift by standing shoulder to shoulder three ranks deep behind upturned carts and gunny sacks in a tight perimeter.  It was all too easy for an embarrassed Government to accept Chelmsford’s report blaming an overly efficient Quarter Master for the disaster at Isandlwana and then lash out loads of Victoria Crosses for the heroic defenders of Rorke’s Drift who proved to the satisfaction of the Times newspaper and all its readers that despite the odds, the Empire was still invincible.
‘You had better take a good supply of filters and spark plugs as well,’ I said, ‘and if you request any other parts through the system, use the serial numbers of your old engines, not those belonging to these, they’re all the same make and model so they’ll fit.’  By ‘these’ of course, I was referring to the two brand new engines they had dumped into the back of their Landrover on top of all the other kit they’d nicked. ‘Oh, before you go,’ I called dragging a brand new tarpaulin off a shelf, ‘cover it all with this, will you?  It won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where it all came from if someone sees you driving through camp like that.  And another thing!’ I added as they were leaving, ‘Please make sure it ALL goes onto the helicopter to PG.’
Captain Gopwo was so anal, he personally controlled the issue of things as trivial as pens and pencils to other units.  I kid you not.  He also hated the RAF which meant they generally got bugger all.  In order to make things more efficient, and I am sure the spit ran backwards in many a Group Captain’s throat, some technocrat had decided that it would be more efficient if the RAF were supplied all their non-technical requirements through the Army’s logistic system.  If they needed to swap out a Harrier engine, they could fly a replacement in on one of their Hercules aircraft but would have to come to us, the Army, to beg a pencil to fill in the requisition form to get it loaded in UK in the first place.  One evening I was working my way through the Playboy book of cocktails at the officer’s mess well stocked and staffed bar when an RAF officer pitched up in front of me and stuck three biros in front of my face. 
‘Do you know what this is?’ he demanded.
Momentarily nonplussed by his use of the singular I tentatively ventured, ‘A set of biros?’
‘No!’ he said, drawing out the N sound and clipping the O so together it sounded like a mosquito straining to break the sound barrier. ‘This,’ he declared with a manic gleam in his eye, ‘is one month’s allocation by the RAOC of pens for the RAF!’  He slapped the pens together with the original requisition form on the bar, turned his back on me and ordered himself a drink.  I took a peek at the requisition.  The RAF had asked for fifty blue pens, fifty red pens and fifty black pens.  A line had been drawn across the document and scrawled on the back, in Captain Gopwo’s handwriting, was written: ‘Sorry, no pens in stock, can spare you three’ as if he was doing them an enormous favour.  The thing is, he was lying.  We had shelves full of them.
This was ridiculous.  How could a grossly over promoted Warrant Officer prejudiced against desperately willing Puerto Rican Air Hostesses and Brylcreem Boys ground Belize’s Air Defences by denying his RAF colleagues a biro?  I fancifully thought we were all on the same side.  Good job he didn’t live in the mess.  I could almost guarantee that since he was so universally despised, no one from any other arm or service would sit next to him at dinner so Corps loyalty would require me to, a thought sufficient to give the bravest man nightmares.
I slid down the bar and pushed the requisition in front of the RAF officer.  ‘Do you think,’ I said, ‘you could have a landrover round the back of the stores tomorrow lunchtime and ask one of your lads to ask for me and no one else?’
‘Could do,’ he replied.
‘Good, I’ll be waiting for him.
The RAF officer and I hit it off.  I told him that I was attempting to drink my way through the Playboy book of cocktails before my tour of Belize ended.  He thought that was a brilliant game so since I was already so far ahead, I did the decent thing and started again.
Pretty soon, we had it all organised.  If Captain Gopwo turned down a requisition, I would receive an informal requisition.  If it was from the RAF, it would be delivered by my equivalent in the RAF Movements Section over a gin and tonic in the officer’s mess.  If it was from F Company, it would be a hissed, ‘Boss?  Boss?’ delivered at night through the mosquito netting protecting the window of my room in the mess.  Either way, delivery was always guaranteed by lunchtime the following day.  I was better than the yet to be born Amazon dot com.  From not having a clue where anything was in the sheds, I was even starting to amaze the storemen.  I heard one of them call out, ‘For fuck’s sake, does ANYONE know where the double overhead chrome dipsticks are?’ and, before I could stop myself, I called back, ‘Aisle E, halfway down, top shelf, brown box right at the back.’
I recognized that the Army had a very efficient logistics apparatus which depended on everyone following well developed and tested procedures so it was perhaps surprising that a young officer would hone larceny to such a fine art and buck the system.  Not really.  I just hated Captain Gopwo and delighted that every time a theft was detected, he had to stay up all night supervising a 100% stock take of the stores and identify any discrepancies so the extent of the theft could be determined.  For a holder of one of the very rare Married Accompanied appointments, this must have been especially galling, counting blankets instead of sleeping under one with his wife.
For some reason, he took an instant dislike to this young officer, an ex-Corporal, now Sandhurst trained who could eloquently express himself much faster than he could think.  What really irritated him, though, was how well liked I was by the troops.  He insisted that this was due to familiarity on my part.  There is a necessary divide between other ranks and officers.  For an officer to become over familiar with the soldiers under his command can be disastrous for his authority and, in war, cost more than just status when instead of orders being obeyed immediately, they are questioned.  He cited, as an example, that at least once a week I could be found not only drinking in the FOCInn, I would be pulling outrageous stunts.  The FOCInn was all ranks.  Everyone from Private soldier up to Field Marshall had the right to enter the bar.  Senior NCO’s and Officers had their own messes in which to let their hair down but occasionally, it was nice to get in amongst the troops, the guys that did all the hard, sweaty work.  Dressed in mufti without the pips on my shoulders, I learnt a hell of a lot.  The things that really pissed the troops off but were so easy to rectify as well as improvements to procedures and any number of other good ideas these lads who actually worked the system had.  All I had to do was listen.  And if occasionally, well tanked, I stacked one barstool on top of another and climbed the unstable pile right to the top until, inverting myself, I could plant two boot prints on the high ceiling of the Nissen hut while all the lads, with fore fingers and thumbs making pretend pilots goggles chanted, Dah Dah dah de Dah to the tune of the Dambuster’s theme, so what?  The floors were wooden planks; I bounced well if I fucked up.
The stores were suffering from ‘Stock Shrinkage’ long before I arrived.  I am sure that my contribution to the overall loss was negligible, the local tea leaves ran rings around camp security and the military police and we were not talking about kit you could stuff in your pocket.  Hundreds of Landrover tyres would disappear out of the war maintenance reserve, even vehicles.  But I still felt guilty that every time a loss was identified, these poor buggers, instead of drinking in the FOCInn, were trying to match store records with stock on shelves.  You didn’t think Captain Gopwo was going to do it by himself?  Of course he wasn’t.  He would turf the troops out and delegate responsibility for supervision to me, retire to his office and sulk himself to sleep.  Brilliant, the poacher left in charge of the estate.
Of all the very pissed off storemen going through their own section of the sheds, not one had an overview of overall losses.  I was receiving the individual section reports so it was up to me how I reconciled them.  If I realized that F Company had hammered the boat supplies a bit hard, I could let them know they had to lay off for a month so I could roll some of the losses over to the next month and normal service would resume a couple of months later.  It was the same with the RAF and both parties knew to keep their gobs shut and let me run my end of the parallel logistics system.
Having worked the guys through the night, I would would usually finish off by pointing out to the OC how hard his men had worked, without sleep and that, by the way, F Company had scored an LCL (Landing Craft Logistic) and were going to sail out to the Cayes to fish and barbecue and had offered to take our lads along in gratitude for the excellent service we, as storemen, were providing them.  As Force Training Officer I pointed out that if the Guatemalans charged down the Western Highway to take the airport, we might have to move troops via sea and tropical islands so that, by landing them at Dangriga we could outflank the enemy and retake the initiative by pushing pretty much unopposed up the Hummingbird Highway, the Vaca Plateau protecting our left flank and the sea our right, to San Ignacio, cut the enemy’s supply lines and relieve the aptly named Holdfast camp’s defence of the route to the airport at the same time.  
This was all bullshit.  You could execute such an audacious maneuver with enough well-trained light infantry but with a handful of cooks and bottle washers?  Anyone with even a modicum of tactical awareness would have realized that such an ill-trained no doubt sea sick force, no matter how well led, would not make it more than ten miles from the beach.
My boss was impressed so the lads and I got our regular fishing and diving trips courtesy of F Company.  Did I think there was any chance of Guatemala invading Belize?  No, of course not, but I liked fishing and diving.
On other occasions I could report to him that the RAF were running water skiing lessons and a barbecue with free beers and were wondering if some of our chaps would care to join them?  He would appear slightly concerned how his stores would continue to run so denuded of staff but I was always able to convince him that, if Captain Gopwo remained in charge, a skeleton crew could deliver the service and how, with such experience, the personnel comprising the Defence Company he commanded could be so much more effective.
Captain Gopwo was a lazy bastard.  His annoyance grew in parallel with the increasing numbers of his platoon in Callaghan’s and my running group.  At that stage, we were only running very early in the morning, still making breakfast and morning parade so he really had nothing to complain about.  I thought it a little unfair that I, as Training Officer, could knock off at three in the afternoon and go for another run and still make tea and toast in the Mess.  We were at nominal wartime staffing levels but had a peacetime workload so most of the guys were bored shitless.  Fortunately, Captain Gopwo rarely had the energy to venture out of his air conditioned office outside of mealtimes so the lads did not have to spend all their time trying to look busy but could play cards hidden away in one of the store sheds instead.  I could not force everyone to go running, except during scheduled physical training periods, but if there were volunteers, keen to keep themselves fit, why couldn’t they run on the Army’s time rather than their own?  There was no point talking to Captain Gopwo about this (which was rich considering he always knocked off at four, earlier if he was off on one of his frequent shopping trips to town) so I slid the idea past the Old Man pointing out that his unit had always come last in the inter company and inter corps sporting events, apart from cricket, and that at the last inter-company shooting competition, one of our men occasioned a negligent discharge and had been promptly marched off the range and jailed.  I said that as Force Training Officer, I was embarrassed at the woeful performance of my own unit compared to the others I was training and really wanted to do something about it.  He agreed with me but once again was concerned how stores platoon could maintain its service if all the men knocked off at three pm.  I assured him that only volunteers would be running and that since, by three in the afternoon, most of the outstanding daily requisitions would have been cleared, the remainder, under the stores platoon commander’s guidance, would cope.  Besides, I said, if every other unit sends men along for extra training, it’ll start to look bloody odd if we didn’t.  The OC gave me the go ahead.
Captain Gopwo’s reaction was predictable.
‘How fucking DARE you buck the chain of command!’ He screamed at me, temporarily halting all work in the store shed as soldiers dropped work in favour of sneaking close to the offices and listen in.  ‘You are NEVER to go directly to the OC without talking to me first.  I am your superior!  You work for ME! DO YOU FUCKING WELL UNDERSTAND!’  He paused, eyes and veins popping, his face a very peculiar shade of puce.  I paused just in case he would do the decent thing and keel over with a heart attack allowing me to save my breath but no such luck was forthcoming.
‘Actually, Sir,’ I said, ‘I am not part of Stores Platoon.  I am the Force Training Officer and as such report directly to the Commanding Officer Force Troops through Officer Commanding Force Ordnance Company.  That is why I have to go to the Brigadier’s weekly O Groups over at HQ British Forces Belize and you don’t’.  Now if THAT didn’t induce an immediate and catastrophic myocardial infarction, nothing would.
I think I can safely condense what followed by describing it as being barfed over by a giant rabid dog.  Had he been a great deal lighter and fitter, I am sure he would have left boot prints all across the ceiling.  As it was, the only thing he could manage was to barge a bit of furniture over so keen was he to get his hands around my throat, all the time yelling obscenities and telling me exactly how many years I would either spend doing extra duties or in jail after my court martial for insubordination and insolence.  The troops thought this was hilarious; the man had really lost it.
At that moment the door to the flimsy glass partition separating us from the store shed and by then virtually all of stores platoon opened and Captain Inions, the Supply Platoon Commander walked in.  Captain Inions was the living, breathing embodiment of a young Sergeant Wilson only with pips on his shoulders.  I never heard him raise his voice or get in a flap about anything.
‘Tom, run along to the OC’s office, please.’ He said quietly.  All the time I had been in Captain Gopwo’s office, my back had been turned to the glass partition.  As I came out of the office I saw all the lads wide eyed and grinning.  I hurried down the corridor to the OC’s office, knocked and walked in.
‘What’s that all about?’ asked the OC.
‘Captain Gopwo is a little upset with me for coming to see you about the new volunteer training programme without obtaining his permission first.’
‘A LITTLE upset!  I thought he was murdering you! Didn’t you talk to him about it first?’
‘No Sir, I didn’t’
‘Why ever not?’
‘Three reasons, Sir.  Firstly, it is not just his platoon, it is supply platoon, all the other platoons; it is REME, catering corps, HQ Company, Signals everyone in Force Troops bar Infantry and Royal Engineers.  Secondly, by asking him I would have established in his mind an authority over me he does not possess, I report to the CO through you, I just happen to share an office with Captain Gopwo.  Thirdly, had I asked him, he would have said no and placed me in the awkward position, having acknowledged his authority, of not being able to do my job.’
‘You didn’t tell him that did you?’ asked the OC hopefully.
‘I did, Sir’
‘Christ!’ he muttered.  I could have sworn I detected a note of awe.  Many times we had all heard Captain Gopwo giving the OC, who was by nature a very kind man spending all his time fruitlessly trying to please everyone, a hard time so we all knew the OC wasn’t exactly fond of the pain in his side that was his arrogant and opinionated stores platoon commander.
Captain Inions walked in, without knocking I noticed,
‘Well?’ asked the OC.
‘Ach, I think the fat bastard is just worried he’ll have to do some running as well,’ said ‘Onions’ with breathtaking disregard for the golden rule of never criticizing a fellow officer in front of a subordinate.
‘Well, there’s no way Tom can carry on sharing his office.’ said the OC.
‘There are no more offices free,’ Onions pointed out.
‘I could easily set up a desk in the typing pool with the secretaries,’ I suggested.
And that, dear children, was how the cunning fox persuaded the farmer to let him into the chicken coop.


  1. Aaannnd I'm still left hanging...You should make this a subscription service so I could complain about the pacing.


  2. Bloody hell. That should definitely have come with a coffee warning. Especially as I had to read two entries. Tom, you must write that book. This reminded me of an updated Spike Milligan memoirs. Excellent. And i can't wait for the next episode.
    A very merry Christmas to you and your extended family.

  3. Wow, i'm also eager for the next instalment.

    Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and New Year.


  4. In aprox 1944 my father was 'offered' a short term commission as an army accountant. There were several transit camps in his area, and stores were disappearing as fast as the men could nick them. It was his unenviable job to find out where everything was going and who was nicking it. A few officers were later court-martialed. He wasn't proud of his work.

    1. "He wasn't proud of his work."
      Cro- It appears that is not an uncommon feeling among veterans. I have close friends currently dealing with a family member who was directly involved in the infamous 2007 Marsoc-Fox company firefights in Afghanistan. (google it) He is now on an unstoppable suicidal drinking binge as he can't deal with his participation and the political/legal shenanigans that resulted. At this point we are all at a loss as to how to prevent the inevitable.

  5. To all a big thank you for your kind comments, there is plenty more where that came from. I will be quite busy over the next few days so you will have to wait a bit for the next instalment during which Defence Company and F Company tease each other by getting Marc Tyley of BFBS to play certain records on air, Defence Company start capturing members of F Coy red handed all leading to the grand climax, the Battle of F Coy Accommodation which results in yours truly being shot in the chest with a 40mm grenade launcher and we burn down F Coy accommodation block.

    Cro, if the officers concerned were thieving to line their own pockets, no shame can be attached to what your father did.

    1. Keep them coming Tom. I have a friend that took a Russian RPG to the chest in Vietnam and lived to tell about it, though it messed him up real bad.

  6. I have been catching up on the blog reading. Storytelling is a great gift. I hope you write more. I also hope you are enjoying your Christmas !

  7. I suspect the next instalment will have to be run by Blogger's censorship department. Those poor chickens!

    1. Yorkshire Pudding, to my utter chagrin - and thank you for being midwife to a still birth - as much as I'd like to be dead (there are people who will miss me) comatose will do fine. Good old Tom has the size of where even inflation dares not go. One of these days I'll challenge him to 145 words (not letters - that WOULD be CRUEL)..


  8. Tom, you always nail it with your writing. This is one hell of an incredible piece you've written. I hope to read the next installment plus your book. Good luck with every project.


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