WITHOUT looking at newsprint
columns. I knew instinctively that the grand old moniker of A Morris
(family motto, In Vino Veritas) had, yet again, been scandalously omitted
from the honours’ list. There was only one thing to do and I did it.
"What’s this?" asked the man behind the counter at the place that deals
with dignified protests. "It’s a pair of British Army shorts, long," I
said, "a treasured souvenir of the days when I was a quartermaster
sergeant in the Royal Army Mobile Stationery Corps (The Penpushers From
Hell), which I had hoped to have included in some TV Militaria Antiques’
Road Show as an example of imperial outpost clothing, combining sartorial
chic and battlefield pragmatism.
"I’m not bitter, just a little
hurt," I said. "I do not use the words of Shakespeare’s Duke of Gloster,
‘... great promotions are daily given to ennoble those that scarce some
two days since were worth a noble’, but I believe that the lists lack
people of what is known as the old school, who stood alone in 1940 and
took all that the sabre-scarred, spike-helmeted crews of German bombers
could throw at them, endured incessant radio bombardments of the song,
Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, and steadfastly faced the
inconvenience of being called up and subject, not only to the anti-social
activities of the enemy, but also to good order and military discipline."
"Just let me get that down," said the man, scribbling furiously. I added:
"These people - myself included - should get gongs the size of the one
beaten by that muscular chap on screens for film distributors, J Arthur
Rank, for merely living in Britain during times of triumph and disaster
and especially now that the nation, in my essentially biased view, is
going to Hell at high speed in a hand-cart."
I WENT on: "If I can speak as
a non-gong-holder, the state of our armed forces - what’s left of them -
makes me uneasy. The Royal Navy, in which Noel Coward and John Mills
served so notably on film during the Second World War, seems to be burning
its boats and going soft, ordering off Commander David Axon from his
frigate, HMS Somerset, at Gibraltar to return home and helm an office desk
because of complaints by some ship’s company members about his alleged
intimidatory style and verbal bullying. Six Royal Marine instructors are
to be court- martialled for swearing at and bullying recruits at the
Lympstone, Devon, Commando training centre, pushing them out of bed in the
middle of the night and intimidating them in physical tests during the
notoriously tough course, and Wing Commander Nigel Gorman of Number One
Parachute School, RAF, has been recalled from a Special Forces mission in
America amid similar claims.
"Now, I don’t want to compare
my essentially peaceful Army life among the ramparts of paper-clips,
carbon paper and indents for field service shoe-horns and
battlefield-ready (officers only) toenail clippers, but these incidents
make me worried about our modern complaints’ help-line forces."
him: "What would a sensitive, junior officer have made of the
scriptwritten words of Charles Laughton’s Captain Bligh aboard HMS Bounty,
‘A seaman’s a seaman, a captain’s a captain and a midshipman’s the lowest
form of animal life in the British Navy.’ Would he have fallen into a
faint or a fit? Nowadays, he might lodge an equal opportunities’
complaint, accuse the captain of humiliating behaviour or, like some Army
recruits, phone their mums to seek a discharge because NCOs shouted and
swore at them.
"Shiver my timbers, I, like most Army rookies, was
shouted and sworn at by very rude NCOs and officers and subjected to
humiliating name-calling, the least offensive being "b****y Morris" when
among the last to complete assault courses. I quickly realised that
swearing was the only language the Army understood, that shouting was
endemic and, in naval barracks, heard officers and ratings swearing like
pirates’ parrots. I was screamed at in kindergarten, bellowed at and
belted at school, yelled at by sub-editors and barked at by outraged
readers claiming I was up some wrong opinionative tree.
commands, often, alas, peppered with profanity, go with the tough,
discipline-rich, armed forces’ terrain. Bullying and verbal and physical
brutality should be stamped out, but so should politically correct
I rested my case, opened it and produced an Army
bandolier of trench-quality toothpicks to be handed in as a protest when I
will, doubtless, be unhonoured next year. "Fast track that info to the
appropriate department," I said.
"You should get a medal for
making such a sacrifice," said the man. I agreed, and, feeling as if I had
been given a gong, I beat it.