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15 October 2014
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The Stick Man

by brssouthglosproject

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Trooper Ken Turner, Major Flemming
Location of story: 
Faversham, Kent
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 October 2005

It is January 1944 and the 7th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment is stationed near Faversham in Kent.

I was a member of the Reconnaissance Troop which was part of Headquarters Squadron and we were housed in Nissan huts in the grounds of a very large old country mansion called Bunce Court which was occupied by HQ Offices and the Officers sleeping quarters.

Headquarters Squadron was responsible for providing overnight guard duty for Bunce Court and to this end; a roster was drawn up so that each Troop would provide its share of duty. My turn eventually came around. I cannot recall the exact date but I know that it was bitterly cold with snow on the ground.

Now guard duty is a very important business. A soldier on guard is not only there to prevent undesirables from entering the barracks, he is also seen by the public as a representative of his regiment. To this end a great deal of trouble is taken to ensure that all soldiers on guard are extremely smart and well turn out. One of the ways in which the army encourages this is by the appointment of a “Stick Man”.

When the guard is assembled for inspection, the inspecting officer will select the smartest and best turned out soldier to be nominated, “Stick Man”. Trooper Turner K, being a dedicated devotee of the art of ‘bull shit’ was duly nominated. This meant that although I was still required to be part of the guard, I would not have to do my stint on the gate. However, although I would get my uninterrupted nights kip, it was laid down that the stick man would be required to light the boiler, which provided the heating system for Bunce Court.

I was awakened by the sentry on duty at 5am and grabbed a mug of gunfire, (strong sweet tea) put on my great coat and stepped out into a bitterly cold winters morning. It was pitch black and in the light of my torch I could see that it was snowing steadily and underfoot it was deep and crisp and even!

I made my way round the back of the old house, found the cellar and made my way down a short flight of rickety wooden steps. There was no light that I could see and in the beam of my torch I saw an enormous boiler. It was quite warm to the touch by inside there was barely a glimmer from the dying embers. There was a huge pile of coke in one corner, some coal and a pile of wood, which upon inspection, turned out to be very damp. I selected the best of the wood, opened the boiler and poked it in to what remained of the glowing cinders. I spent the next fifteen minutes with my head in the boiler, blowing the damned embers until I was dizzy. All to no avail. Suddenly the solution came to me.

I hurried from the cellar, across the snowy darkness to the Carrier Park. I quickly located a can of petrol and returned to the cellar confident that success was surely within my grasp. I arranged a good quantity of wood in the boiler along with some coal and liberally sprinkled a gallon or so of petrol into the still warm interior.

In the split second before I struck the match, I remember thinking, ‘I wonder what all that white smoke is on the floor?’ I was hurled bodily up the rickety steps, out through the door, landing on my back in the snow. The explosion rocked the building. I sat up, dazed and bewildered and covered in a thick layer of grey dust. Suddenly there were people everywhere. The guard commander, numerous officers in varying stage of undress and the RSM, who, after examining the cellar and the now roaring boiler, announced, “You are on a fizzer lad. Squadron Office 9 O’clock”.

I duly turned up in my best BD and was informed that the Second in Command, a certain Major Flemming, would hear the charge. Known in the ranks and Handlebar Hank because of huge moustaches.

He listened to my pathetic tale with unconcealed astonishment at the stupidity of young troopers and awarded me seven days CB to “clean up the b****y mess in the cellar” and would I in future “Save my b****y demolition talents for the enemy”.

Normandy was a few short months away. I would get my opportunity.

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