Lest We Forget, Army Footy
Mild mannered H was wounded out the Desert Rats in 1942. His tank was shot out from under him three times and the last time saw him and his two badly singed, extremely loyal corporals sent back to Bovington to a training posting.
Colour Sergeant H and his two corporals became instructors at the tank school. Daisy, his wife was very pleased with his new assignment after weathering the extreme contradictions between his bland letters from North Africa complaining about the boredom and newspaper and news reel reports expounding about great battles in the desert sands.
Sports was a great source of diversion and morale and H, more in view of his medals and rank than his limited county level football skills was appointed as captain of the Armoured Corps Training Depot footy team. All recruits to the Armoured Corp with any previous footy experience were sent to H’s section.
Recruits would arrive at the train platform in civilian clothes to be met by one of H’s corporals and taken by lorry to the camp. One induction, H noticed that several professional players were on the incoming roster. Seriously good players. By now, the games had grown into a league with nearby Army and RAF bases and crowds of several thousand men were the norm.
Curiosity got the better of H and he went down see his new stars arrive. The train pulled up and men piled out onto the platform. H recognised a dozen of the men as professional footballers. They joked casually with each other as they waited for the corporal to form them up.
H, being aware that such things as calling roll for recruits was corporal’s business and not his job, took a back step and let matters proceed. Dawson, one of H’s desert corporals, was a tank man and cared nothing for sports. But he, like the equally vicious corporal Collins owed his life to easy going H and so realized that this football nonsense was important only because it made H happy.
Dawson called the men to order.
‘Sound off as I call your name…’ and so Dawson called the roll, tolerating with grinding teeth, the men’s relaxed mood and joking, confident attitude.
Until it happened.
‘White, John, J, ?...’
‘Here Corp, my friends call me “Chalky”, you can call me “Chalky”,’ said the smiling, friendly young man.
H heard it and silently cringed … and knowing Dawson, and the Army and that these men would be training to kill in a most horrible way, men very much like themselves, decided to walk away from the platform and let corporals be corporals and recruits be recruits…
Dawson, twitched at White’s offer of bonhomie and said nothing as he placed his pencil on his clipboard and the clipboard on the platform. He walked calmly over to the smiling White, in line with the other recruits and punched him in the mouth.
White hit the deck in between several of his teeth and rolled around groaning and holding his broken face.
Dawson returned to his clipboard, straightened his uniform and regained his composure…
Addressing the now shocked, silent and terrified recruits, Dawson located his place on the roll and said in a loud and level voice;
‘Does anyone else have any pet nicknames I should know about? … No? … I shall continue then….’
In the silent lorry, on the way back to camp, H asked Dawson ‘How do they look?’
‘Best we’ve seen, yet.’
And they were.
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