THE SOLDIER AND THE GENERAL
At last Billy got his foot on the military career ladder as the chauffeur to Three-Star General Carey, the most exalted man in the vast Catterick army garrison complex. Billy was so proud and couldnít wait to tell his father, who drove Field Marshall Montgomery in Ireland, when Montgomery was only a captain. The chauffeurís position warranted two stripes, a special tunic and a peaked cap, suitable for this important appointment. He was absolutely delighted driving the generalís limousine and seeing all the soldiers including officersí solute the vehicle as he passed. It was particularly gratifying when the general wasnít inside and he forgot to put the cover over the three red stars on the bumper.
The potential corporalís duties involved transporting the general between his house and the General Headquarters with an occasional evening social event, but for the most part it was a daily milk run. Each morning the limousine would be positioned correctly outside the house, facing the direction it was going and stopping at a precise location outside the headquarters for the general to inspect the guard while they were presenting arms. In the afternoon the general would exit by the back door of the GHQ where the limousine would be waiting.
One Saturday morning Billy entered his vehicle and a mighty wind blew the driverís door out of his hand, severing the check strap and breaking the handle on the rear door. Only 30 minutes remained before the general was due to go home, so he had to think fast. Returning to the workshop in that short amount of time for a replacement handle which they may not have, did not appear wise. Realizing that the general would not use that side of the vehicle the rest of the day unless there was an unexpected excursion, Billy decided that it wasnít anything to be concerned about and the handle could be replaced over the weekend.
The trip to the generalís house was uneventful and Billy returned to camp, intending to get the vehicle repaired. However it was a Saturday afternoon and the camp was completely deserted, with the exception of the guards at the gate. The workshop and the company office were both closed and there was no one in authority to talk to except the guard commander. Billy was already peeved, because the problem was encroaching on his weekend and he decided not to waste any more of his free time. Instead of attempting to find the guard commander, who in turn would have to find someone to open the workshop, he made a note on the back of the drivers worksheet and placed it in the company mail box according to army regulations.
Very few soldiers were aware of the small print on the back of the vehicle worksheet which relieved the driver from responsibility under such circumstances and the only reason Billy was aware of it was that his father, an ex-Regimental Sergeant Major passed a few words of wisdom on to him when he was called up.
Billy didnít concern himself with the problem of the door handle over the weekend, because as far as he was concerned it was someone elseís obligation.
He also completely forgot about it on Monday morning when he positioned the limousine outside the generalís residence as usual. The general exited the house on time, prompting Billy to jump out of the vehicle to open the back door and salute. Without thinking Billy reached for the door handle, which of course wasnít there. "How do you expect me to get in, through the window?" the general blasted and immediately walked around the other side of the vehicle and let himself in, leaving Billy standing there nonplused.
The general also had to exit from the wrong side of the limousine at the headquarters, annoying him even further. Billy parked the vehicle and awaited the inevitable. Within minutes he received instructions to return to the camp, which he did as he rehearsed his response to the anticipated third degree. If they say this, I will say that and if they say that, I will say this etc. Obviously someoneís head had to roll to satisfy the generalís displeasure and Billy expected the lynch party on his return.
They did not disappoint him, because there was a frenzied group of 2 or 3 officers and numerous non-commissioned officers waiting to interrogate him as the limousine entered the camp. As soon as he stepped out of the car he was surrounded by the serious looking mob, which demanded to know the story of the infamous door handle. After explaining how the handle was broken on the Saturday, they wanted to know why it had not been fixed and he calmly conveyed his rehearsed explanation about workshop and the company office being closed with no one to report the incident to. He had his fingers crossed that they wouldnít think about the guard commander! The lynch mob then broke up into small groups discussing Kings Rules and Regulations, presumably considering how many of them they could charge him with. Finally unable to contain himself any longer he blurted out the story of the worksheet to the dumfounded group, which immediately went into deep silence.
One of the officers asked a sergeant if the company mailbox had been checked over the weekend and the embarrassed looking sergeant immediately dispatched a corporal to investigate. Billy enjoyed observing the military hierarchy in action and wondered how many of them it would take to change a light bulb! The uncomfortable silence continued as Billy kept his fingers crossed in case the corporal decided to cover for his superiors by losing the worksheet. A horrible thought that only occurred to him at the last minute!
There was a sigh of relief however when the corporal came running back with the worksheet in his hand. Billy made them aware of the small print on the back and emphasized his appropriate notation, automatically relieving him of responsibility Ė Assuming everything was conducted according to Hoyle. Under the circumstances with so many people involved it would be unlikely if they didnít play by the rules.
Knowing that the intended whipping boy was out of their grasp, the posture of the head-hunters noticeably changed from aggressive to passive as they adopted a restrained demeanour. Finally the frustrated authoritarian figures dismissed their prey and disbanded quietly mumbling to each other. Billy felt like Jack the giant killer!
Subsequently he was advised that his position as the generalís driver was terminated. Billy was tempted to inquire if that effected his potential promotion to corporal, but he didnít think they would appreciate the humour. All was not lost however and when one door closes another one opens, as his old mum used to say. As a result of the worksheet fiasco, someone obviously assumed that Billyís talents were more in keeping with documentation. And instead of a latrine assignment as expected the amazed soldier found himself in the pay office, filing papers, stuffing envelopes and writing down numbers. He was now a white-collar worker in a khaki shirt and dedicated to make it a success!!
THE SOLDIER AND THE PAY OFFICE
Copyright © Bill Hawksford.
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