Celtic Illumination, part 240, The wrath of grapes.
Barry, the new chairman, and myself quickly became friends. He was an animal of the highest order and he was the only person I had ever met who had been through a court martial. In fact he had been through three. Barry told me that he was once stationed at Saint Athens in South Welsh Wales. He liked his beer did Barry, and dabbled in the world of darts. An Irish darts team, from the Republic of Ireland, were passing through, on their way back to Ireland, when Barry came across them. They were not on the Saint Athan base they were in the local town. Barry enjoyed their company so much he joined in with them and ended up in the Republic. It took him two weeks to sober up and realise that he was absent without leave, in the Republic of Ireland.
He got back and was faced with a court martial. Barry then let me into a secret. Normally when you were charged, you went through the usual process of marching in and listening, to make sure that the correct details were read out. At the end of the disciplinary proceedings the presiding officer would say, “Do you wish to accept my punishment, or do you wish to elect for a trial by a district court martial?” First of all there is no need to ask how I know those lines so well, but having heard them so often, it’s hard trying to forget them. I think most people in the forces were afraid of a court martial, no one actually knew what they were; well, everyone knew they were pretty serious and that afterwards you usually ended up in Colchester military prison, polishing the inside of dustbins, after you had emptied them and washed them.
Every time the station routine orders came out the first thing you would check is postings to see if you were off somewhere nice, or if any of your friends were. Next you would read the list of court martials for that month, most of which would have been connected in with drunk driving, and you would of course want to see if you knew anyone on the list. So at the end of the standard ‘charge’ disciplinary proceedings when you were asked if you would accept the presiding officers punishment or go for a court martial most people would immediately accept whatever punishment was coming their way. Barry explained to me that this was wrong, it was all a game. What you had to do was ask for the court martial. You may think that the accused would be the person most against proceedings moving into court martial territory but in fact it would be the presiding officer who would not want the court martial.
First of all it would show that he hadn’t handled the charge properly and secondly he would have to now get all the senior officers on camp to attend. Important people wasting important hours, we can’t be having that now can we? So Barry warned me that if I ever faced disciplinary action again, to ask for the court martial and the whole process would crumble around me. It was interesting and deliciously dangerous, who knew if I would ever get to try it out? There was no way I would ever be in trouble again. I, along with my career, was on the way up, in fact one day reading orders I noticed that the guy in charge of Flight Planning had been posted. I immediately volunteered to take over the Flight Planning department. It would mean that I could finally get away from air traffic and Joe Pearson.
I was accepted for Flight Planning which was quite an important position. First of all you ran the Flight Planning department, no problem. My second duty was being the deputy in charge of station operations, but I now had to prepare the Station Commanders brief every morning at seven o clock. I always knew that the best place to get noticed was sitting next to the big boys and I certainly was doing that now. There were one or two idiots in station operations. O C Operations was fresh in his post and was a nice fellow; the Squadron Leader was an honorary good ol boy. He was only interested in shooting things and had converted a rough area of scrub land, on the edge of the airfield, and was breeding pheasants which he, along with O C Operations would slaughter when the birds were ready.
So as you can imagine the focus of station operations was on the breeding of pheasants rather than those noisy aircraft things. One of the operations officers was a great fellow and the other was an arse, a navigator who couldn’t fly. One day we came in and he was bubbling with enthusiasm. “Look! Look!” He would squeal at anyone who came into operations. “Look what my wife bought me for Christmas!” “A shotgun?” “Oh no, she bought me a left handed shotgun.” The gun would then be taken out of its leather cover and displayed to all and sundry before being put back in. Strange how his lifelong passion for shooting things was only now coming to the fore. The Wing Commander came in and was walking across the operations floor. “Sir! Sir!” says the air operations arse. “Look what my wife bought me for Christmas!”
The Wing Commander had a beautifully dry sense of humour so he looked at the gun and said. “Oh how nice, she bought you a shotgun cover.” The arse heard me laugh and the look he gave me could have taken down a charging rhino at fifty paces, but the Wing Commander, as they say, had left the building. From that moment on the air operations arse was after me and would go out of his way trying to make life difficult for me, always trying to show me that he was so important and posh. It was one morning, after a long night in the Families Club, that I came in to Flight Planning about forty minutes late for work. He was waiting for me, bouncing about the place, whining that he had to sit in with the Station Commanders briefing that morning and it wasn’t good enough.
Now; you know what it’s like when you’ve got a hangover and a total arse rabbiting on at you. Yes; that’s right, you tend to react, so I didn’t over react, I simply turned around and told him to shut up and feck away off. I wish I had remembered Steve Underhill’s wonderful saying which is, ‘Why don’t you feck off, and when you get there, why don’t you feck off again!” The arse of an operations officer ran away which I thought was standard practise for him. But he returned demanding that I give him my identity card so that he could make sure the details he entered on my charge sheet were correct. At this point I was more concerned with my hangover and couldn’t have cared less what he was doing.
Rumour control now took over and people were wondering what the outcome of the charge would be, for it was quite rare for someone in my position to be charged, normally I would be the person issuing the charge. The day that the charge was to be heard came about. The Wing Commander was away on leave so the Squadron Leader would be chairing the proceedings. There was no need for the usual briefing before the charge, but Joe Pearson felt that he should go through it anyway. I think he was enjoying himself. In we marched and once again, when we lined up in front of the Squadron Leader, I checked to my left and to my right, working out which one of my escorts I would punch first, if things started going wrong.
I didn’t even listen for any mistakes as the Squadron Leader ran through the details. It was all very perfunctory until he came to the end of proceedings. “Do you wish to accept my punishment or do you wish to elect for a trial by district court martial?” I was standing to attention so couldn’t cross my fingers but I hoped to high heaven that Barry had been telling me the truth. “I want a court martial,” I said. Joe Pearson looked as if fifty thousand volts had gone through his head. “Clear the court room,” said the Squadron Leader, who then pointed to a chair and indicted that I should sit down. Once we were alone he apologised for having to take me through such a pantomime, but I really shouldn’t go around telling officers to feck away off. I explained that I was very tired and normally wouldn’t act like I had done
“Tell you what,” said the Squadron Leader. “We’ll bring everyone back in. I’ll ask you again, and if you say ‘I accept your punishment,’ I’ll admonish you. How’s about that?” Everyone was called back in and we took up our positions. The Squadron Leader asked and I took his admonishment, which of course is no more than a very light slap on the wrist. The first thing I had to do was get to a telephone and ring Barry. I couldn’t believe his advice had worked. If only I had known at the beginning of my career, what I now knew, but how many times have people said that?