Celtic Illumination, part 77, Whispering grass.
The Corporals weren’t all that bad. I suppose they were just old and tired. There was a rule that we were not allowed to socialise with a higher rank in our rooms. I am not sure why this rule was in place, but as homosexuality was severely frowned on in the armed services I don’t think it had anything to do with perversions but more to do with trying to establish some sort of difference between the ranks.
My cousin was captain of the county Armagh football team in Ireland and they were in the all-Ireland Gaelic football final playing against county Dublin. Larry Power, an Irish air traffic Corporal, was from county Dublin, well; Dublin town itself, so we were swapping insults on a regular basis. Another Irish Corporal came out of the woodwork and would join Larry and myself in the mess, or pub, slagging each other off, in a good natured way, about the upcoming game of football. The other Irish Corporal was a policeman, but as he was a Dublin man too, we befriended him anyway.
I was sharing a room with another fellow and we had a television set. It was agreed that the two Irish Corporals and myself would get together on the Sunday afternoon and, as we could pick up RTE television from Dublin, we would watch the match. We each bought a case of beer and the two Corporals also brought a bottle of whiskey each. I don’t know who won the match but the next morning all three of us were looking for that fecking gorilla.
As usual I was late for work but realised that if I simply put on my uniform and ran to work I would not be late. So I did. I was put in charge of the low flying cell. Impressed? I thought you would be. The low flying cell was a desk at the far end of the radar room. You would put on a headset sit and listen. Any aircraft entering the low flying system in Wales would ask permission to enter the system and you would record the call signs, entry point, time of entry and proposed height and speed of the aircraft. You duty was to control the number of low flying aircraft in the system and answer the telephone to angry Welsh farmers who didn’t like the jets scaring their sheep.
That morning most pilots, low flying in Wales, had the background rumble of someone snoring their head off, if they tried to enter the low level system, as I was fast asleep in the darkened radar room. At lunch time I managed to get some food inside me but was called into the admin office to be told by the admin sergeant, who had his serious head on, that the Station Warrant Officer wanted me.
To be summoned to the SWO’s office was indeed a heart stopping moment. I had no idea why he would want to see me but walked over to his office in station headquarters, watched by all in air traffic control, who were taking bets if I would come out alive. I was still quite light headed, so to speak, and was marched in and brought to attention in front of the SWO’s desk by his pet sergeant.
There are a few things you should know about Station Warrant Officers. They are the most senior airman, or woman, on the camp. They are in charge of discipline and of course all the old marching, standing still and shouting out numbers routines. The SWO will address you from anywhere up to five hundred yards away, as their voices can reach at least three hundred decibels. Not a problem if you are five hundred yards away, but if only five yards away, then you are what is known as being within the spittle zone. If the SWO has halitosis, you now know what the Americans are talking about when they mention napalm.
“I’ve just carried out a snap inspection of your accommodation!” he barked at me.
I remained silent and waited for whatever he was going to say for honestly you didn’t mess with the SWO. I deduced that his voice was mild, at only about fifty decibels; thankfully I was well outside the spittle zone.
“I estimate that three crates of beer and one bottle of whisky were consumed in your room yesterday.”
I was so glad that one empty bottle of whisky must have rolled under a bed.
“So, who else was in your room laddie?”
As it was an offence to have an NCO in your room, and I had two, I decided it would be better to be disciplined for having an untidy room than entertaining NCO’s
“No one sir,” I answered, as they say, lying through my back teeth,
“So!” said the SWO, as his pet sergeant circled me and tried to affect me with his laser eyes. As the SWO was beasting me, the sergeant remained quiet, I knew it would be a different affair when we got out of the SWO’s office for this sergeant was the same fellow who was screaming at me while I was on all fours flossing the white lines outside the guardroom.
“So you are telling me that you drank all this yourself, yesterday?” asked the SWO.
“No sir,” I said, again lying through my back teeth. “I drank it over a period of a month or so.” I was too hung over to calculate how many cans, or drinks, a day that would have been so I was taking chance. You can try to work it out if you want. That would be three times twenty four cans of beer and a bottle of whiskey with twenty six shots in it and not counting the empty bottle under the bed.
“You’re a liar!” hissed the SWO. “For I was in your room on Friday and there were no cans or bottles!”
I couldn’t be sure if he was now lying through his back teeth, but this was the SWO and he would have already decided what was going to happen to me.
“I’m going to see the station medical officer about you me boy,” yelled the SWO. “You’re a fecking alcoholic. We’ll have to get you dried out. March him out sergeant!”
His pet sergeant took over and the screaming continued until I was outside station headquarters being told just how horrible a little man I was, and that I could now march myself back to work. You could see people in the distance change direction or get back into vehicles; no one came within twenty feet of a beasting. I marched away from station headquarters with the pet sergeant still yelling left, right, left, right, swing your arms airman, get your chin up, put some effort into it laddie!! I could see the line of people in the greenhouse at air traffic control watching and laughing, with binoculars if you don’t mind. As I neared air traffic control I began to relax a bit and changed from the rigid tick tock of a marching person to the more human and socially acceptable stroll-along method of walking.
Ahead of me I could see the SWO’s man, another Irishman, Louis Henry, who was in charge of opening doors for the SWO, and also in charge of the bedding store. Louis was a good fellow and he came over to me. He was smiling and grabbed me by the arms to stop.
“Well done,” he said. “The SWO thinks you’re a fecking star.”
“Are you joking?” I asked. “Did you not hear the beasting I just got and, he’s going to report me to the medics as an alcoholic?”
“No he’s not,” laughed Louis. “He knew who was in your room all along and was impressed that you wouldn’t grass. He thinks you’re a fecking star, because you wouldn’t even snitch to the SWO.”