Celtic Illumination, part 172, Rugby, like war, but without the killing.
It was quite strange living and working next to the army. It seemed bizarre that the people I used to throw stones at back home were now living next door to me. And a married soldier actually did live next door to me with his family. We didn’t meet often; in fact we hardly ever met. The flats were so well designed and constructed that normally you wouldn’t hear anything from those above, below or beside you. However one night, fast asleep in bed, I woke with a start. I thought I had heard a knock at our front door. I waited and listened. There certainly was someone at our front door and they were not knocking it, they were kicking it. I leapt out of bed, pulled on a pair of trousers and as I walked into our hallway saw the front door come in off its hinges and land at my feet.
Standing there was a pongo in his underpants. Remember, anywhere the army goes, the pong goes. The opposite door opened and a couple of soldiers came out and retrieved the drunk squaddie. A moment or two later the occupant of the flat, my neighbour, came out, inspected the damage, apologised and assured me that it would be repaired first thing in the morning. The drunk squaddie was bursting for a pee and as the bathroom, in the flat with the party, was engaged had gone outside to relieve himself. He chose the wrong door on his return and thought his fellow revellers were playing a joke on him by locking him out.
In fact I felt sorry for some of the pongos, the engineers in particular. I remember driving to work, it was midsummer, wonderfully hot and as I drove around the perimeter track, from the domestic site to our squadron dispersal, I came across a company of engineers who were on exercise. These guys were dressed from top to toe in NBC gear, gas masks and guns. They were also completing a runway repair exercise. If you ever come across a serious military airfield, not a training airfield, you might see piles of stones and rolls of metal matting lying alongside the runway. Should a runway be attacked and find itself covered with bomb craters these guys were responsible for repairing the runway and allowing the aircraft to continue operating from that base.
Like ourselves they had time limits and strict routines to adhere to. I actually felt sorry for them as they beavered away in the raging sunshine while racing their massive earth moving vehicles around trying to hit their specified targets. Basically they would scrape out a crater, fill it with aggregate, compact and level it and then cover with these huge metal mats that were firmly secured to the ground. They estimated that a medium size crater, of about twenty odd meters width could be repaired within two hours.
In fact I wasn’t the only person who had noticed the engineers beavering away that day. Slim, the squadron warrant officer had seen them too, but he had had an idea, that’s why he was the warrant officer. I can remember much later in the day having a coffee in the crew room and seeing two huge earth moving vehicles trundling along our taxiway. I wasn’t worried in the least that the pongos were invading our dispersal as Slim was hanging off the front vehicles pointing to the rear of one of our HAS’s.
The two vehicles disappeared behind the HAS and we had a rough idea as to what was happening as trees were disappearing. Twenty minutes later the two vehicles drove away and Slim came in to inform us all that he had just cleared an area, behind a HAS, that could now be used for squadron barbeques. I understand a couple of crates of beer were involved in that exchange. They were good sports. And like us sport was a big part of army life. There were two brothers, the Pococks. Dereck played both rugby and football while his brother only played football. The pair of them actually played for the army and were very good sportsmen. Derek was completely mental too.
We had just endured a game of rugby and were already celebrating in the changing rooms; by the way, celebrating does not necessarily mean that we had been victorious. I remember Derek slipped and reached out to catch a sink to steady himself. The sink came off the wall and Derek sliced his arm open. He wanted to finish his beer before being taken to the medics despite the fact that there was a healthy amount of blood squirting from his arm. He came straight back to the club house after being stitched up and continued to drink himself into a stupor.
We always had a half a dozen rugby games against army teams in Germany and I never liked playing against them. I don’t know why but they always seemed to wear black and for some reason I was quite apprehensive about that colour. It may have had something to do with the thuggish priests who kicked me from pillar to post claiming it to be a traditional education, I don’t know, it may have been. There was always the joke that the army bods retained their rank on the playing field whereas for us there was no rank on the sports pitch.
During a game against an army side you would see someone shout, “Me sir! Pass me the ball sir!” and fifteen RAF lads would now know who to clobber. We were lucky that most chinless, and probably spineless, officers were in air traffic control; but the army was riddled with chinless wonders all commissioned because of their school, or their father. Given the opportunity an identified army officer would have been given an extra dig or two and although we may not have left them with their very own duelling scar we certainly tried to leave them with less teeth than they had arrived with.
One fine day we were playing away at Bracht. Bracht were the Rhine army rugby champions and fielded one hell of a side. There would be no officer bashing that day as every effort would be needed to hold them to a draw. They were dressed in black and I was so thankful that I had been nominated as a substitute for that day’s game. I don’t know why I was a sub that day but I was glad that I wasn’t on the pitch as it was a blistering game and very, very, physical.
A scrum occurred just in front of us and we could almost feel the effort the chaps were putting in to it when the referee stopped the scrum. He thought he had seen some foul play and as the players stood we could now see that he was correct, foul play had indeed occurred. John Roe, an animal of a man, was playing at the number eight position, leading the pack of forwards. His nose was, well; a mess. It’s hard to describe what had happened to it or what it looked like, but it looked as if it had exploded.
“Get Paddy Morris on here now!” shouted John Roe, as he realised he was leaving the match. “He’ll sort these army bastards out!” Now pongos may not be the brightest of sparks, but they certainly are not deaf, so I gingerly stepped on to the field of play, hoping none of the army players would notice me, and took my place as the new number eight. It was a difficult match and I cannot remember who won. Given the statistic’s I think it would probably be fair to say that the Bracht chaps won, but the following week I was reading a write up about that match and read that after the John Roe incident, it appeared that fifteen army chaps spent the remainder of the match trying to catch and kill some fellow called Paddy Morris while fourteen RAF chaps tried to score a try.