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Lunch-time in the Sergeants' Mess

by Harold Pollins

Contributed by 
Harold Pollins
People in story: 
Harold Pollins
Location of story: 
Penicuik and Aberdeen
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Contributed on: 
19 November 2004

Lunch-time in the Sergeants’ Mess

Just after the war I spent the first few months as a Personnel Selection Sergeant in Scotland. Initially I was at Perth then I was transferred to the Royal Scots depot at Penicuik (pronounced Pennycook), near Edinburgh. On the first evening in the Sergeants’ mess an old Royal Scots Sergeant-Major saw my shoulder flashes, ’Queen’s’ - for The Queen’s Royal Regiment - and he asked me in a very broad Scottish accent. ’Ah. Queen’s. Were you at Quetta?’ with a remarkable glottal stop for the double ‘t‘.
I did remember that I had heard of the great earthquake at Quetta in India in 1934 and that British troops in India had helped in the rescue work. But I was a little surprised to hear him, thinking that he may have been there, for I‘m sure we had been told, in lectures by officers on regimental history, that the Queen‘s, being second of foot, were the senior regiment in India. The Royal Scots were the first of foot and according to that should not have been there. However, I didn‘t think along those lines at the time. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I was only ten years old in 1934.’

Yet that is not my story of lunch-time in the Sergeants‘ Mess.. For some reason, my posting to Penicuik lasted only a day or so, and in due course I found myself in Aberdeen at the Bridge of Don barracks, the depot of the Gordon Highlanders. I soon became acquainted with aspects of Aberdonian speech, one being something like ‘Fit ye’re daeing?’ meaning ‘What are you doing?’ I also found old copies of a regimental magazine and noticed in an issue of 1939 a report of recruiting for the regiment at a hiring fair in the county. I knew a little from my history studies that the annual hiring fair in agricultural districts was the occasion for young men (and women?) to be hired for the year, mainly for agriculture but also, it seemed, as opportunities for army recruitment. I was surprised to read that as I had thought that hiring fairs had died out before the First World War. One lives and learns.

The lunch-time business was this. I knew that I would be demobbed in the autumn of 1947 and was preparing myself to return to the London School of Economics to resume my studies. For the three and a half years I had spent in the army I don’t think I’d read much beyond the Daily Mirror and I thought I’d better prepare for university. On this particular Sunday, after lunch, I went into the Sergeants' Mess and settled down before the coal fire - it was a very comfortable barracks - with a book. I was wearing carpet slippers and at that time was smoking cigarettes through a holder. I was sipping a glass of sherry, bought at the Mess bar, and was reading a famous economic history book in a Penguin edition called ‘Religion and the Rise of Capitalism’, although not understanding a great deal.
I have a feeling that I was smoking a Turkish cigarette. I sat there, reading, drinking my sherry, and smoking. I gradually became aware that a small group of (mostly) regular, pre-war Sergeants were standing behind me. They were whispering, surprisingly, and pointing. What on earth, they seemed to be saying, is that exotic creature doing in our Mess? I may have blushed, but I affected to ignore them, and went on reading, smoking and drinking my sherry.

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Message 1 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 12 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Harold -
those sergeants whispering behind you had probably never seen anything quite like you in all their lives,especially in aiberdeen !


Message 2 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 12 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


I very much enjoyed your story. You will be pleased to know that Tawney's argument, in "Religion and the Rise of Capitalism", against Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism", was still going strong when I read for my BA with the OU in the 1980s.

Peter <cheers>


Message 3 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 15 October 2005 by Harold Pollins

Tawney was my tutor. In 1942-3, during my one-year student time at LSE, evacuated to Cambridge, although only 18 , I was in my second-year of the degree (having got exemption from the Intermediate exam via the Higher Schools Certificate). I had seminars with Tawney, newly back from a stint in the USA. We were doing Tudor economic history. I recall one evening seminar, in his rooms opposite King's College, where a paper was given by a nun who, I believe, was taking her degree in one year. He subject was Usury which was one of Tawney's topics. It was a very long essay and took her some time to read. It was peppered with long quotations, some in Latin, and bits of poetry. A tour de force. Except that it was very boring. Tawney sat at the table, doodling. Soon he found that his pen was leaking so he wiped it on the underside of his jacket, then finished by wiping his hands on the cat.
He was a tall, imposing figure, who used to wear a wide-brimmed hat which he used to raise if he met you in the street. He served in WWI as a Sgt (I believe he refused a commission) and was wounded on the first day of the Somme.



Message 4 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 15 October 2005 by Harold Pollins

Thanks for the message. Actually I quite enjoyed Aberdeen except that it was very cold in the winter of 1946-7. I remember going to a music hall there, probably for about sixpence. And having a haircut by a girl (never experienced that before). Gradually got to understand some of the language too.




Message 5 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 15 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


Many thanks for that lovely anecdote.

Peter :)


Message 6 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 15 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Harold -
everywhere in the U.K. was cold that winter - I had just returned from Austria where I had been doing a lot of ski-ing in their dry cold but I had not experienced anything quite as cold.
Barnard Castle awaiting de mob I managed to be detailed to dig out some trains which had been snow bound at Kirkby Stephen...nearly bumped into Frank Mee on the same chore !There were many young soldiers about and so we "old sweats" left them to it !
Aberdeen was always a nice city and with many friendly people, spent some of my python leave up there on a farm,which was delightful and refreshing.



Message 7 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 17 October 2005 by Harold Pollins


If we are comparing depths of coldness then that of 1981-2 is worthy of note. It lasted for over a month and my recollection is that Oxfordshire, where I live, had the lowest temperature in Britain. I am sure that my memory is not at fault that I read in the local newspaper that it reached minus 20 (preumably Celsius). Srangely one got used to it after a time. I'll try and look up the temperature in the Internet.



Message 8 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 17 October 2005 by Harold Pollins


I've managed to find a website about weather. I was wrong. Oxfordshire was not the lowest in that winter. In January 1982 the lowest minimum was
-27.2C on the 10th of the month at Braemar. Anyway it looks as though my memory that it was -20 in Oxfordshire was possible.



Message 9 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 17 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Harold -
When ever weather is discussed we are always told - by many English people that they couldn't live in Canada as it is permanently cold, they then quote a 15 second TV snapshot of somewhere in Northern Canada which has about 20 feet of snow and a temperature of -35 C etc.
This is not the case as where I live in the eastern Fraser Valley some 75 miles east of Vancouver, we had a whole 3 ins of snow last year which fell one night with a temp of 31F - this was gone by four in the afternoon when the temp rose to 35F !
Not too many weeks ago in early September we were still basking in Temps of 85F, which is quite warm !
Our highest temp. this year was 104F
and it lasted around five days.
But then - TV like statistics - does not lie !


Message 10 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 17 October 2005 by Harold Pollins


I plead guilty. My impression of Canada is one of snow and ice. I have in mind a TV series called, I think, something like 'Going South' about a Mountie doing police work in Chicago (don't ask). The programmes always started by showing scenes of snow. And some Americans I know from New York State tell of the great cold in winter which, they say, comes from Canada. But I'm glad to hear from you that it's not as bad as that.

Perhaps we ought to continue this correspondence via e-mail as the site is going to close.
My e-mail address is HPollins(AT)
[replace the (AT) by @. The purpose of doing it that way is to frustrate any attempt to dredge for e-mail addresses and so avoid getting spam.]



Message 11 - Lunch time Sgts Mess

Posted on: 17 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Harold -
I recall that series of the Mountie doing the Police work in Chicago - it always depicted his little old log cabin in the Yukon and half an hour later he was magically in Chicago some 3000 miles away - and that was before Concorde !
Not surprising that Canada gets the blame for most bad incidents in the US of A or as I am fond of saying - the Excited States of Amurica.
Last year they had a power outage all over the eastern seaboard - within minutes - the Mayor of New York had established that it was the fault of Canada - the facts came out three days later - it was an obsolete power station in Ohio which overloaded and failed ! The Aromatic Cedar trees of Tennesee are being destroyed by pollution - it's all the fault of Canada is the cry ... partly true as we have established that the pollution originates in - again Ohio - the prevailing wind takes it into the Northern areas of Ontario where it pollutes our trees and lakes before meeting the Arctic outflow winds which bends it towards Quebec - destroying their Maple Trees - then continues through the NE states and peters out over Tennesee. What do the Americans do about this - nothing !As they are probably the biggest polluters in the world after China !
We have a "freetrade" agreement signed in good faith which benefits both countries but recently they have disagreed with the rulings of the panel of adjudicators by saying that these are "rulings" and not decisions ! They are experts in semantics and really believe that "Freetrade" means they get our goods for "free" !
Will be in touch via e-mail shortly Harold as I can see a disassociation with many of the friends we have been introduced to with this series !

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