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Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster...for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Shortly after joining up we saw this notice on the notice-board looking for volunteers for a "suicide mission." Some brilliant officer had come up with the idea that he would like to form a unit that would go behind the enemy lines at night and blow up the German's tanks while they slept. Imagine that!
Anyway we certainly weren't feeling heroic but we thought this would be a good chance of getting out of the jankers*. So we signed up and the very next day we were gone.
It was great, ....great! There were about 30 of us, and an Officer and a Sergeant on our own, near the sea, and for quite a long time we learned all about explosives. How to blow up this, - and blow up that. Finally we were joined by some more people and formed a company and settled down in a dog kennel. Hunting hounds, ... and they were still there! In fact they were sleeping in the new kennels, and we were sleeping in the old ones. As well, I'm sure, they were getting better food than us.
Anyway, some other brilliant guy came up with the idea that if we were going to do this work we'd need to have some way of travelling, - and travelling very quietly. So this is when they came up with the idea of issuing us with with bikes, - bicycles. Well we got these bicycles and the Officer, - being as this is the British Army don't forget, .. our Officer said to the Sergeant: - "We're going to have to come up with some routine and drill as we used the bikes". Well he was an old "sweat" from the India days, ... a regular soldier, who had been in the cavalry, so quickly we worked on the orders of the cavalry. Such as: - "Stand by Your Mounts!", "Prepare to Mount!", "Mount!", .... and away we would go.
We practiced this up for quite a bit, as well as doing our explosive stuff, and then we got the notice that the officers from Brigade were all coming down to see how we were making out with our task. So we put on this show at a quarry. The officers all got to the top of the quarry and another guy and I attacked a log house that we had built, ....we all went in under fire and threw fire bombs and rushed in through the fire and the smoke and blew up the log cabin. The officers thought that was great.
Next thing we did a little thing on our bikes. The officers all lined up and all sat down by the roadside and we came over this hill on the bikes. Well, as we were drawing near to the officers, toward the bottom of the hill, our Sergeant made a sign which we took, at the back, for "Hurry Up" or "Quicken Up". Actually, he was giving the sign to "Stop", ... so you know what happened, - we all piled into the Sergeant!
The officers didn't think very much of that one!
Now every man in the British Army knows what "F.F.I." means. What it means is "Free From Infection". The company or regimental Doctor would come around every so often to inspect the men, looking for crabs, scabies or any other horrible thing he could find. We had a Doctor who was so old. He was really old and fragile. I don't know what he was doing there...perhaps he was the only doctor they could get.
When you appeared before him, one at a time, you had to drop your pants, and he would inspect your genitals. Anyway, he was also very near-sighted and he would have to take his head down, very, very close and would sometimes use his cane to lift up your penis to get a better look.
Now then, we had a man in our unit who had an obsession to "goose" other men. Now goosing was a fairly common thing in the British army for one man to goose another for the hell of it, .... just for fun. Now this man just could not help himself. If you stood in front of him he would goose you whether you had your pants on or off.
So this one day we were all out in line. Just ahead of me was the "Gooser". As we drew up toward the doctor, the man in front of the Gooser stepped up and dropped his pants. The doctor peered forward, and peered forward again, and lifted the man's penis and with that, the Gooser couldn't help himself, - he goosed the man in front of him and the poor old doctor got a face full of "Oh be Joyful"!
Needless to say, both men were put on a charge and received 2 weeks jankers.
Talking about jankers, ... there was another time that infuriated me at the time, - but I laughed about it afterwards.
I was going on guard duty, and of course, - British army again, you had to have "Changing of the Guard" with the Sergeant-Major and Officer-of-the-Day. We were all stood at attention on this home-made barracks square, .... all standing there waiting the orders and suddenly a plane, - a low-flying plane came overhead. "Whoooosh" .... and I looked up! Couldn't help myself. Just looked up. The officer yelled: "Put that man on a charge Sergeant-Major", - and he did.
Next morning I came up before our Major, - another old guy. Probably never ever saw, from the beginning of the war to the end, an angry German. He said to the Sergeant-Major, "What is the charge Sergeant-Major?" He said, "Private Tee was on 'Changing of the Guard' and a plane flew overhead and HE looked up"!
The Major looked at me as if I had just farted and said - "Do you realize that when you looked up the man in that plane could see the white of your face? It is because of people like you that we may lose this war, - 7 days!!".
Then after all our training, they changed their minds!
They decided that this suicide stuff wasn't really a good idea after all. What they had forgotten was, that the Germans were not going to stand idly by while we blew up their tanks. So we swapped our bicycles for armoured cars and that was when the reconnaisance regiment first started.
Our first armoured cars were regular trucks with thick steel plate fastened on all sides. We stood inside and fired over the top with our 303's. It seemed to me that they had things like that in the days of the Romans! Except that they were using spears and bows and arrows. Anyway it wasn't too long before they came out with a Humber armoured car. A three personnel armoured car which consisted of the Commander, the Driver and the Gunner. The Gunner operated the turret with his feet! Yabba-Dabba-Doo! Course, later on, they came up with armoured cars that were a little bit more complicated than that, .... and did the job very well. They eventually formed a reconnaisance regiment for every division in the British army.
And so we started training once again, - this time with armoured cars. But what a funny war this was. Do you realize that the sailors on the boats were in action from the beginning of the war; - and so were the airmen in the planes. There were some soldiers in Burma and North Africa, mostly English of course, - or Commonwealth, but England was full of millions of soldiers like me, who never saw any action for years. I didn't see any action 'til about the 10th of November 1942. But there were some soldiers, including some Canadians, who didn't see any action until D-Day, the 6th of June 1944!
But that's the way it was I guess.
Months went by and we moved from town to town.
One time we were very close to Brighton where my father was in the Navy. I wrote to him and we made arrangements to meet one afternoon in the local village. We had a meal and a game of darts and a drink in a pub, but all the while I felt kind of awkward. I never quite knew my father but I do believe I was his favourite and he loved me in his own way. I wasn't exactly sorry to see him off on the bus.
Very quickly I went from there to the local dance where I met a young lady. I kind of got the courage up to ask her for a date and she agreed to my surprise! I thought about the movies, - but I'd have to pay her way in. So we came up with the idea that we would meet the following Sunday at the local park and go for a walk.
It was a nice day. We met at the park and went for a walk. We got very close to a very lonely part of the park and I plucked up courage to give her a cuddle and a kiss. And with that, she dragged me down into the long grass! We scuffled some and then she made it very clear to me that she would like me to "perform"!
Oh dear! .... I was so scared, and thinking I was the perfect gentleman, .... I bashfully backed off. We got up and I took her home. I still had my virginity, .... I don't know about her.
In the next couple of days I thought, "What a bloody fool you are Ron. Anytime now you'll be going into action and could be killed". So I plucked up courage and went to the next dance where I asked her for another date.
She turned me down flat! I guess I don't blame her!
We had a Sergeant Major who was with us from the beginning to the end. A huge brute of a man and tough as nails. We called him the "Black Adder", but generally referred to him as the "Adder".
I couldn't seem to get along with him at all, so I assumed he didn't like me. Some time later I realised he didn't like anybody! Everything he did, he had to be the best.
One morning, we were all out on a cross-country run. A short way out, another guy and I secretly slipped behind a hedge and let the rest go on. They did about a five mile circle and came back in on the same road. Well in the lead, were about twelve men with the "Adder" in front. As soon as they passed, we jumped out of the hedge and took up the race! We, of course, were fresh and had no trouble gaining on them and eventually leading the pack!
The Adder was furious! He knew there was something fishy, but couldn't prove it. Now I knew he didn't like me!
Back in the days when we were raw recruits as you might say, .... 20 year olds, not knowing too much, we had a particular Corporal. Once again he was a regular soldier, probably in his 30's, .... knew everything about everything, .... very experienced. We sort of looked up to him I guess. He was a soldier's soldier. When he went out in the evening you could cut your finger on the crease on his pants, .... you could comb your hair on the shine on his shoes. He really was a smart-looking lad.
Now quite often he would come into our barracks before he'd go out in the evening, and out of his pocket he would take what appeared to be a piece of heavy rubber. He'd stretch this rubber out and let go with one hand and .... "Ptooh", it would land in the other hand. What was it? It was a reusable condom! I'm sure it must have been made with inner-tube material or something because he'd had it for years! He called it his "Dreadnought". He would slap this thing backwards and forwards and he'd talk to it. He'd say, "Dreadnought! It's your turn tonight!" and off he'd go. When he came back later in the evening he'd have stories about the games he got up to with "Dreadnought". Well of course, we're sitting there with our eyes sticking out like organ-stops!
As the years went by, - and of course you get to know more and you get older, I often wondered if it was just a bunch of bullshit!
Later in 1940, we were billeted in a large house in the country. In typical fashion, a small building on the grounds was designated as the guard house. I was on duty one night, and as there was only one sergeant in charge, we had to change sentries ourselves. Well, the soldier ahead of me did his 2 hours, came into the guard room and told me to get outside for my turn. He then promptly got into bed and fell asleep. Of course, not being awakened properly, I went back to sleep too! I was quickly aroused by the orderly officer screaming at the sergeant, "Where is your bloody sentry??!!" I could have reached out of my cot and touched him! His back was toward me so, thinking fast, I grabbed my rifle, slipped out the back door and raced 'round to the front. Too late...the officer was waiting for me. "Where have you been??!!" he bellowed. "I heard noises 'round the back so I went to investigate," says I. Then the arsehole yelled at me, "You are on a charge for deserting your post!!!"
I received 2 weeks jankers which took in Christmas and New Years of 1940-41.
I never could understand the sense of it all - one man standing like a stone. What sort of security is that?!
(*jankers was punishment duty - also known as "KP", or "Kitchen Patrol" in the US armed forces)
Note: by Ronald Arthur Tee, 56th Reconnaissance Regiment, 78th "Battleaxe" Division of the British 1st. Army, 1941-1946.
This Day in History
Puritans jail Governor Stone after a military victory over Catholic forces in the colony of Maryland.
The Secretary of the Navy approves the first formal uniform of the Marine Corps.
The frigate USS Essex
flies the first U.S. flag in battle in the Pacific.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presents the first Medals of Honor to six of the surviving members of Andrews Raiders. They are the first Medals of Honor ever presented.
The Battle of Paducah Kentucky takes place.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee makes Fort Stedman his last attack of the war in a desperate attempt to break out of Petersburg, Virginia. The attack failed, and within a week Lee was evacuating his positions around Petersburg.
The Battle of Bluff Spring Florida takes place.
The Battle of Mobile Alabama takes place.
Japan invades the kingdom of Liuqiu (Ryukyu) Islands, formerly a vassal of China.
Italian troops invade Abyssinia (Ethiopia).