The Making Of The Man Page 4

We were quartered at Gunside Camp. twixt Wormwood scrubs Prison and the Middlesex Hospital. For those who can recall the location, around the square were the wooden huts. MT Park at the top of the square, living accommodation to the right, and administrators block at the bottom of the square. The veranda enclosed the PC Adjutant and Orderly Room. The regimental flag flew in all its glory and the hub of the Royal Engineers Postal Section was the centre of a world wide service, second to none. This was an experience I enjoyed very much, shift work and good food. On inspection days a white towel on your bedstead meant that you could stay in bed and the room was inspected around you if you were on night shift. If awake lay to attention! A ritual that gave a lot of people a great deal of pleasure was to see Tubby Reading get into his staff car, a Mini, driven by his equally rotund driver, Tracey. It was truly a sight to behold. The only emergency I experienced whilst there was the inquisition as to how daffodils were stolen during the night despite guards being on duty from in front of the regimental offices. I was posted prior to the result being published. Whilst on the subject of guard duties, this was a two hour stint spent prowling the perimeter fence in pairs, or being on gate duty. This was boring, but was not without its compensation. You had very little to do and the most rewarding shift was 2200-2400 hrs. The reason for this was that the Nurses’ Homes and sleeping quarters were adjacent to your sentry box. Very few rooms had curtains and those that did rarely had them closed or drawn. Being a good living young man I naturally asked to be given another time slot... Where this was not possible I faced the scrubs and looked down the road. Whilst on duty one evening, I spotted an "Officer" coming into camp from the main road. Peak cap, Riding Mac and Golden Labrador dog walking in step one pace behind. I was determined to let him know I was switched on. In my mind I rehearsed it over as he came closer. This was it. Salute, challenge, identify, salute and then grant entry. My moment had come, grasp it, embrace the opportunity to show all the previous weeks had not been wasted. Go for it, I told myself. I saluted, two three up, two three down. Challenge. I never had a chance, The vision in front of me erupted with a range of profanities I had never ever heard in my life. The dog even looked as if he was wanting to continue where his master left off, if he ever did. I was asked by this adversary in front of me if I was taking the 'micky' out of him, because he was not a "proper" officer, it was in fact the R.S.M., John Corrigan. I explained how I was new and did not realise he was not anything else other than a proper officer. The coat, peak cap and dog misled me into making a very grave mistake. This was the first time he agreed with me. Progress was being made. His departing shot to me was "How many fire buckets are there on camp?" and I replied "36". Silence reigned and then he departed leaving me to my hurt feelings. However, a quick glance to the Nurses Home windows renewed my faith in human nature. Three days later I was to see the R.S.M. without dog, or trench coat, coming out of the admin block. His eyesight, perceptions and mental agility was perfection and the cry of "You there! Come here at once". Double, get off the square, use the road, faster - I was a gibbering wreck when I stood in front of him. "Name and number son" he barked. I knew my name as I had had it a lot longer than the wretched number. He suggested that I opened my left breast pocket and I would find a picture of myself and on it would be number, rank, name, blood group, but not my parents name. Relief came over me, I could have hugged him. My mind raced, what had I done? Was he still cross with me for the other night? He put his face close to mine and said in that Irish accent, "There are 60 fire buckets on Gunsite Camp. Not only are you stupid, you cannot count". He repeated my name and left me with that memorable sentence "I’ve a surprise in store for you. You are going so far East you will be on your way back west before you know it. Keep alert and watch for your posting orders! You can get your hair cut as well". In a few days it was posted on Part 1 Orders to attend the Orderly Room 08.20. Best Battle Dress,Gaiters and Belt, and I was duly despatched to Millbank Military Medical Room for injections prior to service abroad. The envelope I was given bore no clue as to what injections or to which destination. I made my own way to Millbank, got to reception, handed in my envelope and was invited to wait until I was called. This did not take very long and a very attractive nurse invited me to remove jacket, shirt and vest, and to put my hands on my hips. Then another medical assistant arrived on the scene, this time a male nurse, not quite as tender as the female nurse. A tray was uncovered with various ampoules of liquid in various colour coated phials. I was a little concerned when I was told the 'cocktail' was for me. Various double checks were called out: "TAB T. 1 & 2, YELLOW FEVER, MALARIA, JAUNDICE, CHOLERA and TETANUS 1 ". I must say even with the passage of time, the memory of the actual insertion of the needles has not diminished. In my simple mind, I was aware I was not having this just to go to Bulford Camp, so I asked where I was going, only to be told "Don’t know! Ask your unit". By the way, the pretty nurse added "No alcohol for 7 days, and good luck". Page 4