Excerpt from “The Soldier Who Never Grew Up” by NX3698 Ken Clift D.C.M.

The book is dedicated to Corporal Harry B. “Black Wog” Searl and Corporal L.N. “Tiny” Dunbar, who both rest in the Allied War Cemetery, Greece.

The book is dedicated to Corporal Harry B. “Black Wog” Searl and Corporal L.N. “Tiny” Dunbar, who both rest in the Allied War Cemetery, Greece.

Away to the north, we sighted the dust of a Bren carrier coming from the coast and as Brens can chew a sig. line to ribbons, I ordered the line truck to cut the carrier off before it got near our line. So we turned post haste toward the offending cloud of dust. I was still standing on the running board of the truck as it came to a halt in front of the carrier – both vehicles now stationary.
“Hold it,” I yelled.
“What’s the matter, choom?” A Tommy sergeant, fat and red, wearing a beret, stood up.
“You’re going straight for my sig. line,” I indicated the direction of our cable. “Any further south and you’ll chew it up. Better take a map reference to avoid it if you’re doing recce around here.”
A Tommy Major, tall, hatchet-faced and obviously a Regular, was a passenger in the carrier. He had a hard look at me noting no badge of rank.
“I’m Major ——-, Brigade Major, 16th British Brigade, and I’m not usually given orders by privates.”
“Never too late to learn, mate.” I heard ‘Butta’ chuckle.
“I’m giving you one now.” The Major was red with rage and gestured his fat Sgt. driver to continue.
“Hold it,” I yelled again. I now had a colt .45 in my fist.
“If you go over my line, I’ll fire and I’m not a bad shot with this either.”
The Major almost had a fit. “My God, Sig. are you serious?”
“Yep.”
“What’s your name and number?”
“Clift’s my name – ‘J’ Section. You won’t need my number.”
“You’ll hear more of this.”
“OK mate, but just keep off my line.”
I had forgotten the incident until about midnight when the Black Wog shook me awake in my slit trench. “Kenny, the O.Pip’s out of communication. The Brig. and the Brigade Major want you and ‘Butta’ to fix it as soon as.”
“I can’t think what’s the matter – there has been no shelling and it was OK when we bedded down.” I awakened ‘Butta’.
“Could be an Itie patrol cut it,” said Harry. “Be careful, anyhow.”
We checked weapons, grabbed a ¼ mile drum of Don 3 cable and moved along the line. The desert was quiet except for an occasional rumble of a truck, carrier, or tank over on the road to the north.
We had gone about 700 yards, passed two of our peg points, when a tiny glow of a shaded torch could be seen and as we went cautiously forward, we saw two figures in the gloom – the fat Pommy sergeant and the Brigade Major assiduously using a pair of wire cutters on about 200 yards of our precious Don 3 cable which was wound around the tracks of their bloody carrier. I was completely and utterly enraged. “You dumb pair of Tommy half-wits. Why in the name of Christ didn’t you take the map references as I told you to this afternoon? I ought to bloody well shoot you; men’s lives could be hanging on these communications,” I yelled.
The Major was breathing hard with anger and embarrassment. “You can’t talk to the Major like that,” piped the sergeant.
“Can’t I? I’ll do more than that if you come back over my line. Piss off north while we repair this.”
“I’ll have you court-martialled for this, Sig. I’ll see your Brig. first thing.”
“OK by me. I think our Brig. Will cut your throat if he knows you busted the line – anyway, you’re not in my Army.” ‘Butta’ chimed in like the cheeky little bastard he is, “No wonder you blokes bollixed up things at Dunkirk,” thus further enraging the big British Brass as he faded into the desert night.
We made the repair and tested it with our field telephone. Contacted both O.P.s and Harry who was now sitting in a tent erected for the Brigade Major and so back to our slit trenches and more sleep.
I was wakened a little after dawn by Captain Stewart, our O.C. He still looked ill and absolutely buggered. “What the Hell has been going on out there? There’s a Tommy Brigade Major insisting to the Brig. that you be court-martialled – insolence, threats, Christ knows what not. You’d better wake up and I’ll have Cpl. Searl and Cpl. Dunbar escort you to the tent,” shaking his head as he walked away. I gave Tiny and Harry the sordid details as I washed my face with a cloth and water bottle and smartened myself up. Nothing surprised them anymore, but I could see that they were worried for me.
Ian Campbell, the Brigade Major, was looking at a map on a folding table as I walked in flanked by Harry and Tiny.
“Good morning, sir.” He looked up, “Morning, Chappie, I’ve had a very disturbing complaint re you from my counterpart in the 16th British. He wants you court-martialled. Do you know anything about it?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Did you threaten to shoot him?” “Yessir.”
“Did you use bad language?” “Yessir.”
“Did you use the words ‘Dunkirk’ and ‘bollixed’?”
“Yessir.” That was Butta’s expression, but only because I hadn’t thought of it. Anyway, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
“My God, Chappie,” he stared at me. “This fellow wants you locked in a Military Prison and the key thrown away. Suppose you tell me your version of the doings.”
I told him precisely what happened.
“Mm. I suppose an apology would get you off the hook.”
I looked straight at him. “I’m sorry, sir, on principle, I can’t oblige. If any apologies are forthcoming, it should be from him. He busted OUR line.”
“All right,” he said, “I’ll be the diplomat in this case. You can leave the explanation to the Brig. and Captain Stewart in my hands. You may go, but please, Chappie, be a little less drastic in the future.”
I turned with Harry and Tiny, both grinning slightly.
“Oh, Chappie.”
“Sir,” I turned back to him. He was smiling.
“When the rough edges are knocked off, we might make a soldier of you yet!”

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Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

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