- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Location of story:
- Suez and Tripoli March 1942 - July 1943
- Background to story:
- raiding support regt
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 November 2003
It seemed that whenever Ted got into trouble I was always there to bail him out. Well, not always, for in the end and while I was away in Greece in 1944 I was unable to, be there, for him. Ted like so many other gunners from the Artilery had been ordered to trasfer to the Infantry and it was as an infantry man that Ted was killed.
It was through my former ack-ack mates that I heard the news of his death. I met up with them at a transit camp in Northern Italy after the war was over and we were all gathered together before returning home to England. It was there that they spoke to me of his death, even now I'm not sure of the exact details, except that he had been killed by a S-Mine while out on patrol.
It seemed strage when I, on hearing the news of his death, thought of him berating me, out of his concern for my safety, for volunteering for a risky mission. After all I'd been through it was good old Ted who wouldn't be going home.
It was in '42 after I had volunteered for a mission, I had almost forgotten about it, when I had news that my volunteering had caught up with me.I was packing my gear to go and join the newly formed R.S.R. in Palestine when he came to me. At first I thought he was angry but as he spoke I saw that it was out of concern for me that he was so disturbed.
'Why do you want to do a silly thing like that?' he asked me.'You could refuse to go' he urged me. That was true I could refuse, as so many others did, but I wanted to see some action. Little did I know where that 'action' would take me or for that matter what would happen to me and all that my seeking some 'action' would entail.
'You don't have to go Rosie' I can still hear him saying it even now. Of course he was right, I didn't have to go, I was now an operator on GL (Radar) I had a cushy number and would not have been transferred as he and the others were. But at that time neither of us was to know that. So my memory of Ted was of his red face (for being ginger his face was always sun burnt) being even redder as he told me off for being 'a bloody fool'. How strange the twists that life and death play, good old Ted playing it safe, and who could blame him? Certainly not I and not you if I have any say in it. Ted paid the ultimate price while fate dealt kinder with me albeit my foolhardiness in seeking out 'action'.
Ted was a good mate, I'll always remember his bright red face and his ready smile but there was a time when Ted did not smile and his face was ashen, let me see now that must have been about June or July 1942.His face was very far from its usual red, in fact he was very pale in deed as he stubbornly out faced our Sergeant Harry Pearl.
I have mentioned elsewhere the shocks that many recieved when they left home and joined the services; some were leaving home for the first time. Possibly the biggest shock they recieved was that they were expected to clean the toilets! In an established camp there was usually an offical sanitary odererly, maybe someone not A1. A Base Walla. So no matter what Unit came into camp the sanitary oderly's job was already allocated.
But when the units went into the 'field' there had to be sanitary orderlies allocated. Those who did this job found it a 'cushy' number. You would be excused all parades and after a quick polish round the toilets and ablutions your time was your own. However some units couldn't find anyone willing to take this job on permanately so they had to detail it on a Daily Fatigues Parade basis.
As we moved around a lot there were no permarment facilities where ever we stoped so we had to make our own. If we were to stay for more than a night or two some permarment arrangements had to be devised and these had to pass the medical officers inspection. It seemed that at every site we stopped at there was always something different and we had some weird and wonderful set-ups.
After travelling from Basra in Iraq(latley so much in the news)via Baghdad and Palestine we arrived at a place called El Shatt in June or July '42. Our gun sites were placed just a few hundred yards east of the southern end of the Suez Canal. It was there that we were to meet the latest design in toilets! This design consisted of two halves of the regulation petrol tin. The tins were about ten inches square and eighteen inches deep, they were slit in half down the middle from top to bottom. However the bottom was not cut through and this allowed the two halves to be bent back thus making two connecting trays. There were about six of these set up side by side with a plank set over them. The plank had holes cut in it and was suitably set above the tins. The idea was that liquid went in the front and solids at the back. The theory was that this kept the solids dry and cut down on the smell! The liquid matter would also over the course of time dry out.
This wonderful contraption was set about a hundred yards into the desert and by the way, there were no canvas screens! By now we had become quite inured by our lack of privacy while performing our toilet necessities! In fact this 'office of the day' was quite a communial and even a social affair. The only thing missing being the Daily Mirror! All was well in theory.
Alas for theories that Just Don't Work Out but that story will be told latter.
The tins had to be emptied every so often, the way it was devised to do this was to dig a hole, the contents of the tins tipped in hole and petrol poured over and the whole contents set alight. This job would be allocated and the lucky person? Whose job it was would often come back from the experience with wonderful tales of what had been seen in the tins!!- All would swear it wasn't theirs!! This was all done in fun and might be thought of as a high spot? in the day!!
However the fun stoped when it was Ted's Turn!!
It was the Orderly Sergant's job to detail who would do what fatigues around the camp, after the first parade the order to 'fall out' would be given and all those not having a permarment job would gather around the Orderly Sergeant. In this 'falling out' was your chance, if you wanted to skive off, hoping that the Orderly Sergant wouldn't notice you weren't there.
Unfortunatly this was the day Harry Pearl was Orderly Sergant. Now Harry was a nice chap (or so I was told!)but I could see that he was a very complicated character. For instance he put up with the nick-name 'Eggy'. This name was based on his own 'sovereign' remedy for stomach up-sets which was half-a-dozen hard-boiled eggs (it takes all sorts! Still try it some time it might work!). Harry walked, (as did many sergants) a very narrow line between being a 'hard case' (perhapes it was all those eggs?) and being one of the lads. Of course it must be said that to go from being one of your work mates in civvy life, to a strict disciplinarian, as was the case, because of us all being territorial soldiers was very difficult as I'm sure you will understand. However with Harry, dispite his feigned old pals act I could see that there was something of a vicious streak in Harry, this manifested it's self in his habit of giving jobs that should, by rights be shared on a rota system, to the same bloke every time, there fore daring the unfortunate to complain or protest. Another thing he'd do was to give a job that he knew the bloke did not like in a way that almost challenged him to refuse.This time as his eyes roved round those who stood in front of him they alighted on Ted and with an almost imperceptible gleam of malice Harry awarded? Ted the job of sanitary oderly for the day.
Now why should Ted not do this onerous duty? I hear you ask, and I will agree that it would seem only right that all should take a turn but Ted was the least like a sanitary orderly I ever met. A big red faced Welsh man, almost you'd say cut out for the mines, but no, his mother far too genteel for that for her son would have none of it. Instead this big burly Welsh man had been at the age of leaving school sent as a grocers assistant in the local Co-op. His mother had not allowed him to become Territorial as we were but it was Hore-Belisha who had accomplished Ted's enlistment and his mother could not stand against that.
Ted was not sanitary orderly material and when Harry picked him you might say he picked a 'right one' and astonishingly enough for us all as well as Harry, the unheard of was spoken because Ted ashen faced as it may be stood his ground, looking Harry straight in the eye and with a deathly hush fallen upon us all Ted said in just one word what so many of us had at times wanted to say, had longed to say but had not dared, Ted said 'No'.
'No' that was what he said. Not, 'Oh Harry not me - get some one else' in a half joking half apologetic voice. Not even a tacit agreement and then a later bargan with a mate to trade goods or duties at a later date if only the onerous duty could be done by someone else. We were all mates, we all tried to give each other a hand out of trouble, none of us wanted to see any in trouble. That was the way we were, it was a comradship born of difficulties and danger.
'No' there it was, he'd said it, he'd refused a direct order in war time. In peace it was bad enough in war-time you could be shot for it. How would his dainty little Mum at home in Swansea feel about that? 'No' a point blank refusal. We all knew how squeamish Ted was we'd laughed all but good naturedly when one night in Palestine, on finding a centipede in his bed he had sat up all night, refusing to go to sleep. A point blank refusal of an order in war time, the great hulking lad that he was, just could not face even the thought of the job, let alone the smell!
'No' he would not do it. There was no larking about and that he should refuse, here in front of all the lads!
As Harry blinked and took this direct assault on his authority on board there was a whispering of what was to happen as all knew that Harry could not, would not take this direct challenge to his authority in any other, than a serious manner. It was like watching two steam engines heading for each other full throttle towards each other on the same track. There was now no larking about between us and him. No joking about that comes from familiarity and a measure of mutual respect. This was serious, give in and lose face, lose authority, lose his postion as head above those who were really equals or take Ted before the C.O. This could lead to a court matial maybe a firing squad, hatred for Harry from all his old mates and infamy from all who heard the tale. Harry was caught in his game as he took a large involuntary gulp of air I could see him cursing himself for all the times had had used his position to almost, at times, mock those under him. And now he was to pay for it, in making the decision that Ted's life and Harry's future respect and honour, as a senior rank hung upon.
All these thoughts rushed through Harry's mind he really did not want trouble, he did not want courts marshall but it was almost with a shudder that Harry looked at Ted and could see that Ted wasn't thinking any of these thoughts. Ted was just being himself pig headed and obstinate, he wasn't trying to force Harry's hand, he wasn't trying to score points over the sergant it was just that he was refusing point blank to do a job he was too squeamish to carry out. I could see that Harry was almost sorry for Ted and his refusal and the consequences that could be in store for him because of it.
Slowly as we all realised what was happening in front of us we all began to shuffle away, our eyes dropped from the faces of the two protagonists, we did not want to witness this. We did not want to watch two basically decent, nice blokes smash in to each other with a force that we know would result in serious if not unreparable damage.These two men even dispite the differences in their ranks were friends, friends now turned to adversaries in a vastly unequal confrontation.
They glared at each other for what seemed an eternity, Ted's face had now turned brick red, his head hung down as he turned it from side to side and in his slow deep Welsh accents he repeated the words 'Nooooo I'll not do it!
This just could not go on! But what to do! How to break the dead lock between them!
Pushing Ted to one side I stepped forward 'I'll do it Harry' I said 'its my turn'.
Harry looked at me. Harry stocky, fair haired, his intense blue eyes now hard and unyeilding even in the face of all that this situation meant for him and Ted. I could see his mouth draw into a tight line, his nostrils flared and went white where they joined his face. I'd seen these signs before. He paused for a second. I, unblinking stared right back. For a brief moment I realised he knew I was lying, it just wasn't my turn. If I had blinked .....
But slowly the anger left him, I could see it ebb away in his eyes, I could see his shoulders relax, I could see the sigh before it escaped his lips and I watched realisation dawn on him. I was offering a way out for him, a way out but at what a price. He and we knew that what had passed in those few brief moments would effect all our relationships from now on. Ted's stubborness had called the shots, it was not Ted's squeamishness that was put on trial but rather Harry's way of handling authority. I and those lads who were still deeply envolved in what was going on were Harry's closest, we were HIS gun team and without a word of complaint or disobedience from us all had obeyed Harry's orders but now we all knew that things could never be the same again. Harry had lost us no matter what happened now the ack-ack team that had formed in 1939 were now looking at him. We all now knew that we were no longer subject to his authority even if he did have three stripes and we had none and even though Harry had a job to do things could never be the same again it had all gone too far for that.
I repeated my lie 'its my turn Harry'
'All right!' he said just about getting the words out. 'Get on with it then' and with his face burning he turned and walked away.
It was as if a rubber band had been drawn tight but instead of snapping it was now easing off. Everyone draw a deep sigh of relief. The lads went about their duties and there was never a word said about it again.
However that wasn't the end of Ted and me and Harry Pearl. Harry did not forget and Ted and I were to have a couple more run ins with him. We were to cross swords with Harry again because even though the worst had been averted Harry had paid a price, and now he wanted his revenge.
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