Celtic Illumination, part 174, Name, rank and number.
For some reason our behaviour at Decci was quite ridiculous and often veered towards the extremely dangerous. I of course would never participate in the shenanigans but would casually observe. I’m not sure why this alcohol fuelled madness occurred but it seemed to be standard behaviour for Decci. I do remember one detachment when Squadron Leader Keith Mac Burney was in charge. We had quite an evening in the German club enjoying schnapps and beer. Decci could be a dangerous place so we tended to move around in groups, when we remembered. Most of the squadron set off for the accommodation block.
Unlike RAF stations with their manicured grassed areas, it appeared that the Italians couldn’t care less what their units looked like, which is why Decci probably resembled a scrapyard, on a good day. Many of the lowest ranks in the Italian forces would have been conscripts so would be given mostly guard duties or simple manual tasks. The building behind our accommodation housed a bank, which was guarded, permanently, by two armed conscripts. The unit was criss-crossed with a series of bondoo ditches. These were about three foot deep and three foot wide and were to clear the area of heavy rain during storms; they were also our biggest obstacle in getting back to your pit. The grass, weeds, bushes and occasional piles of rubbish were a good three feet high.
Quite often chaps would appear with cuts and bruises having fallen in to a bondoo ditch the previous evening on their way back from some club. Sometimes the guys would spend the night there. Part of the fun was to actually get into a bondoo ditch, sneak up on the bank guards and shout at them or throw things at them. These guys were so nervous that they would more than often fire a couple of warning shots. So with about twenty of us in a bondoo ditch, we were popping up like targets at a fun fair, while the guards showed how inaccurate their marksmanship could be.
It was quite a giggle and when we arrived back at our accommodation block we noticed that the RAF police had left their mini outside the block. As most squadrons were boisterous, some bright spark thought that if they positioned the RAF police office in the RAF accommodation block, it might calm the troops down. Dave Magee was master of ceremonies that evening. The mini was lifted and set into an alcove so that on three sides there were only inches to spare. If anyone wanted to get it out they would have needed a fork lift truck or twenty drunken squadron members.
As you may imagine our spirits were quite high, and I’m not talking schnapps here, we all fell into one room, these were four, or six, man rooms, someone produced half a dozen crates of beer. I remember I was sitting on a window sill watching. I was probably holding a bottle of beer, pretending that I was drinking, for appearances you understand. Dave Magee was holding court. He was sitting on a sink, which decided to come off the wall. I’m not saying that Dave was a big fellow, well; he was, but as he is a dear friend I would have to say the accident was probably because of poor Italian craftsmanship. I can remember Dave turning and looking at the two streams of water that were now gushing freely into the room.
What we were not aware of was that the Italian military police had reacted to the shooting and had, eventually, come out to investigate. I think their ‘modus operandi’ was to give it five minutes, think about it, give it another few minutes and then react, probably hoping that whoever was being shot at had gone. These guys gave the area a thorough search, which means they probably looked about a bit, in the dark, and then hearing the commotion at our block wandered over.
They probably thought that wearing a police uniform gave them some authority, so noticing the mini parked as it was, came on it to investigate the commotion. Dave was next to the main door of the room which swung open and showed us the two Italian policemen. They saw us and the room which was filling up quite nicely I have to say. Perhaps sensing that they were on a sticky wicket, they reacted very cleverly, or as Italian military policemen do. They drew their weapons. Now none of us lacked bravery but we knew that Italian military policemen were rather casual with how they dispensed justice, or their version of it. Dave was handcuffed and led away.
I managed to get the troops to believe that their best course of action was to block the broken pipes, stop the water flow and clear up a bit, I would get Dave out of the guardroom. I went over to the officer’s mess and luckily found Squadron Leader Mac Burney outside, by the swimming pool. I could see that some of the aircrew had been a tish boisterous as an irate Italian, presumably from the golf club, was wanting to know why one of his golf buggies was in the swimming pool, imitating a submarine. It was quite common when on the rip in the golf club to take a golf buggy for a spin rather than attempt to walk back to your accommodation, I mean look at the dangers of walking.
Keith told me to get the squadron warrant officer, Slim, and come back with both of us in uniform, as he hoped the golf buggy incident would be sorted by then. I got my uniform on and met up with Slim. Keith had sorted out the golf buggy, well told the aircrew to get it out of the swimming pool and was dressed in his uniform so the three of us set of for the guardroom. Like most military units the guard room was by the main gate. It was somewhere we all knew well, not because we were always getting locked up in the cells but because one of the things you simply had to witness, when at Decci, was the lowering of the flags in the evening.
All units at Decci would have their national flag hoisted at the main gate. In the evening the Italian guard would lower each flag while that nation’s national anthem would be played. This was Decci so please don’t expect a military band. In the guardroom was a record player. They played each national anthem on well-worn records, sometimes getting the wrong tune, and sending it out over the PA system, scratches and all. There was no sharp pomp and ceremony but in their own very lackadaisical way they tried.
As we approached the guardroom we wondered how to present ourselves. Should Keith march Slim and myself, or should Slim march me and Keith could….. Sod it, we thought, it was dark. We ploughed in to the guardroom and as the Italian officer in charge seemed now to be saluting everything that moved we reciprocated, giving the event a sort of Monty Python feel. I could see that all three of us were a bit squiffy and wondered how Keith was going to handle this. I had explained to Keith what had happened, well; I lied my arse off and had explained that poor little Dave Magee was completely innocent of whatever charges the pesky Italians would make up against him.
I couldn’t believe it when Keith smiled at the Italian officer, pulled out a bottle of Scotch and asked if he could have his man back, please. Dave was immediately released and we make a hasty retreat. We walked, as quickly as we could, away from the guard room into the darkness and eventually, when we felt far enough away to be safe, began to laugh about it. Slim wanted to know if they would come around the following day looking for Dave. Keith didn’t think so, but Dave said it didn’t matter if they did, for he had given them the wrong name anyway, he said his name was Pat Magroin. Dave had been wearing a fake name patch, which we all did on most detachments.