Tuesday, 15 October 2013
By Thomas MooreWho deals the hand and does he cheat?
determines life is hard or sweet?
We all were dealt a life of strife
and played our hand to survive life.
How many can remember being nine years old, the fear and excitement of hearing the drone-drone of a Junkers engines getting closer. How the searchlights started to comb the skies while the first sounds of explosions started in the distance and crept closer.
Then the crack-crack of anti-aircraft guns and an orchestra of falling shell shrapnel. A mother suggesting a cup of tea might help while feeling helpless and dread for the boy and the baby she was trying to protect.
Running to an underground shelter, two hundred yards feeling like miles. Huddled together with bodies sweating fear and then the earth shook and the kerosene lamps danced in the falling dirt.
Across the road an old lady died in her determination to die in her own bed.
From the primary school 300 yards north was a railway line and anti-aircraft battery, a few hundred yards south a heavily protected ex-Siemens factory making God knows what. Half a mile further was the RAF airfield.
I remember free milk about to be given out, then whistles blowing. We formed an orderly line as we were marched to the shelters while from south to north we heard the aircraft roaring past, very low, with machine guns blazing.
It lasted seconds, perhaps minutes, then silence. We were orderly just the same marching back to our classrooms except that we were detoured into the large assembly hall.
A teacher sat at the piano and we all sang The Yeomen of England. Nothing was said, we were expected to understand.
How did you come to be “On Parade?” I remember vividly the HMSO letter containing my reporting instructions, a postal order for a portion of a day’s ration and travel allowance and rail warrant to Fleet, near Aldershot.
It was the 18 April 1948. I was 16 and had never traveled more than 25 miles from my home on a council estate in Braunstone, Leicestershire.
A kaleidoscope of events and emotions got me there, cold, rain, cast iron three-pence in the slot, chocolate machine that had not worked since 1939. Overcrowded train, whistles, steam, body odour, underground maze, Waterloo station, Military Police, Rail Transport Officer, Fleet station, no transport and long wet walk to Boyce Barracks, Church Crookham.
A wooden “Guardroom” with verandah inside Regimental Police lorded over by the Provost Sergeant sitting behind an iron and plank trestle table scrubbed white by generations of “defaulters” commonly known as “Janker Wallahs.”
“Mark time, quick march, double march, halt, stand still.” How those words were to dominate my every move from then on.
A “cookhouse” and the unexpired portion of my days rations’ tinned pilchards in tomato sauce, greasy potatoes and a slab of fruit cake all on the same metal plate. “Eating irons” and a mug of hot sweet tea, the only thing the cooks always got right.
Finally arriving at the “Boys General Duty” wooden “spider,” iron bed, biscuit mattress sections, pillow and two grey blankets, a “barrack box” and a few square feet of “bed-space.”
An old soldier called Bugle Major, my new lord and master for I was now Bugler GD Tom Moore.
We had a recreation room in the spider hut complex. The wooden floor was polished by decades of boy soldiers on their knees. Polished bugles decorated the walls interspersed by group photographs with framed lists of ex-boys killed In action.
It was opened one a week to be cleaned and polished and once a fortnight for lectures by the Medical Officer or Padre.
Boys would trade duties to be present at these events. The MO accompanied his talk with slides of graphic pictures of the flesh devoured by various venereal diseases. Questions afterward were dominated by old soldiers tales akin to a popular Port Said maiden and her exploits with a donkey, or “can camels give you the disease?”
The Padres homilies were of particular interest as they were always concerning the evils of masturbation and “unnatural practices.” He never explained what these were supposed to be and in those days there were myths and taboos but no understanding of the basis for them.
Suffice to say that the old soldiers card school in the Depot boiler room was plagued by boys seeking knowledge gleaned in various “arseholes of the Empire” like Boogie Street and the Sharia El Berka in Singapore and Egypt.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]