WW II, a British focus



Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008poppy.gif - 1571 Bytes


Being improperly dressed is frowned on by any Commanding Officer worth his salt. Soldiers can be put on a charge for having a collar hook or a bootlace undone. This may sound petty, but it sometimes does not end with the unfortunate bloke getting seven days extra drill because the bloke charged may refute the allegation and refuse the punishment of the company Officer. In that case the bloke takes his grievance to the C.O. of the regiment. But if found guilty he will probably end up with a sentence double that of the Company Commanders punishment. The punishment of tying a man to a wagon wheel and flogging the skin off his back was abolished long ago. Some intelligent gent suggested ‘we are merely beating in hate, and the person is no longer in a fit state to carry out his duties as a soldier until his wounds are healed’.

Some blokes got the wounds infected and they died. However the Army got updated as time went by and we had a more subtle way of dealing with miscreants who were wont to break Army regulations. Someone invented The Glasshouse.

Not having spent time in The Glasshouse I can only tell this as I heard it from a bloke who spent a long time in there.

I saw a film called ‘The Hill’. It depicted a detention barracks near Cairo Egypt and does give an insight of what happens to some of the lads who get naughty from time to time. The bloke from the glass house told me one of the favorite pass times of The Glasshouse guards was to take about ten links of anchor chain and tie a rope to it. Then they would transport this assembly and drop it into the sea. After about three months they would bring another chain and do likewise The first chain now all very rusty would be recovered and transported back to the Glasshouse. Someone one would be picked out and given the chain and it had to be burnished with a small chain mail burnisher until it shone like chrome, every link. Once the required shine was on it the guards returned it to the sea to rust again. This spirit breaking rigmarole could go on until the bloke finished his time or he ended up in a psycho ward.

Only a fool tries to buck the system.

Actually the pantomime that accompanies a soldier when he is put on a charge can be hilarious.

I was once put on a charge.

I was to be discharged when group no 27 came up after the war so I was moved to this military backwater to await my number coming up, as it were. I was detailed one day to tidy up the N.A.A.F.I. canteen because the C.O. was going to inspect.

Having read the orders of the day I noticed an added subject, ‘all personel going to the dining hall after 8:30 will not be served’.

Since the C.O was going to inspect at 9:0am I had gone to the N.A.A.F.I. early and got finished. The time was 8.15 so in my working denims and a khaki shirt and pullover I wandered towards the Dining hall. Then the N.A.A.F.I. manager, a Colonel from WW1 saw me and said, "Oh Tom, I have left my brief case in my office, would you pop and get it for me, there’s a good chap’. I nipped back and got his brief case and when I returned he had his car warmed up and ready to go.

When I got to the dining hall it was 8:29 am.

I walked in and the bloke behind the counter was about to put bacon and egg on my plate when a sergeant cried ‘oy you, don’t serve that bloke, he’s late.

I pointed to the clock and said, ‘your cutting it a bit fine Sgt., I was in here at 8:29.

‘Your late so you don’t get served’ came the smug answer.

Knowing I was right I sat down at one of the tables that had bread on a plate and Marmalade in a jar with pats of butter on a plate. Having spread the butter I was about to get the marmalade when the Sgt marched up to where I was sitting and snarled, ‘you are on a charge’.

I replied, ‘for what, I was not late, but if I had been I did not get served as the notice advised’.

"Oh we have us a smart bugger, another would be barrack room lawyer, wot’s yer name?’.

I replied, ‘No, Wot is not my name and you do not have the power to refuse me my rations only the C.O. can do that.’

The Sgt. went red in the face and did the only thing left that was legal. "Right fall in two men’ he yelled.

Two lads from the crowd that had now gathered came and stood each side of me.

One whispered ‘sorry mate’.

The Sgt asked, ‘name and number’.

I said, ‘try the Guardroom someone there might be able to help you, I am not about to dig my own grave so you can push me into it’.

The Sgt. looked like he was out of his depth then he rallied with, ‘Accused and escort shun, right turn, quick march’.

I began to whistle the Laurel and Hardy Theme tune ‘errum te dum, errum te dum, diddle te tum, diddle te tum, as the four of us marched out of the dining hall and to the Guardroom. Meanwhile the whole dining hall was giggling.

I languished in the Guardroom for the night.

The next day I was taken before the Company Commander.

As I was standing there waiting for the Second Lieutenant to appear I was mentally going through the jargon that accompanies these situations like, ‘Accused and hescort shun, accused cap off, accused and hescort right turn, quick march, Eft. Ight, Eft. Ight, eft, pick em up, accused and hescort ‘alt.

Then the Sgt. would salute and report ‘Sir, hon the day stated oi wus in the vicinity of the brok tub(food waste)when oi hencountered the accused wiv a knife an’ fork in ‘is ‘ands, a greasy look on ‘is counternance an’ ‘is hintentions hunknown, Hi hemidiately harressted ‘im sir,’ and another smart salute.

‘Thaaaank yooou Sargeant’ would reply the officer with a voice faintly resembling the Queen.

The officer arriving roused me from my reverie.

Like the opening of the State parliament this bloke swept regally into the room and sat down. To me he looked like he had just left school and had not started shaving yet. However the Sgt suddenly barked, ‘ Accused and escort shun, cap off, right turn quick march, halt.

‘Sir, this man refused to give his name and number and took food from the dining hall when I would not allow him to be served on account of he was late sir, he argued he was not late and began quoting KRR (Kings Rules and Regulations).

Then I noticed the R.S.M. had walked in.

The officer looked at me and asked, ‘what is you’re your name and number’.

I replied, ‘2982252 Pte Barker sir’

‘Very well Private Barker, we can’t have people like you coming in here and expect everyone to bow because you have some service in.’

‘I do not expect any gratuities sir’.

‘I merely pointed out only the C.O. can stop my rations and or pay, sir.'

The R.S.M screamed ‘quiet that man’.

The officer said, ‘will you take my punishment’.

I said, ‘yes sir’ and thought ‘so much for justice’.

The officer said ‘very well, 7 days confined to barracks’ That meant I could not go off the barracks and had to report to the guardroom at reveille with full pack and equipment. Then I had to do likewise at the sounding of retreat in the evening.

One evening I reported to the Guardroom after retreat then went back to my billet and got rid of my pack equipment and greatcoat. I set off for the N.A.A.F.I. and who should be on duty as Orderly Sgt. but the bloke who put me on a charge. Behind the counter the girls who were used to seeing me in my working clothes were nudging each other when I was spotted in my best uniform with a dozen medal ribbons over my left pocket. When I explained to the girls what had happened the Orderly Sergeant who usually got his beer for free suddenly found he had to pay for it and suddenly he was getting the cold shoulder from everyone.

The next day the N.A.A.F.I. manager heard about it from the Manageress and he went to see the C.O. He asked why I had not told him about it.

I told him I did not need a nursemaid.

‘Well said’ he remarked, ‘what is done cannot be undone in this case’ but it won’t happen again’.

Which brings me to the point of this story that was triggered by a memory of someone in 1939 when we arrived at the Hill top camp of Um Il Fahm in Palestine. The bodies of two of the Buffs Regiment were found at the bottom of the hill. They had been skinned alive by the Arabs. Someone said, ‘Poor bastards, but at least they cannie be charged for being improperly dressed’ T.O.B 1999

2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker