Friday, 28 December 2012
The adjutant at my new posting in Germany scratched his head when he read the charge sheet.
“I am a very bewildered officer,” he admitted. “You don’t look violent.”
I could see his point. Wearing ammunition boots, which have thick soles, I am still only 5ft 7 ins tall and in the kilt I look like a chubby reading lamp.
Yet according to the charge sheet I had assaulted six military policemen in the town square in Thetford causing actual bodily harm.
I explained I was just a bystander whilst the square heaved with angry Glaswegians hitting everything in sight including a pillar box mistaken for a red capped military policeman.
“Given the choice,” I said, “who would you arrest?”
He quite saw my point but said his hands were tied. It was a court martial offence. But he advised me not to make a fuss and plead guilty.
“They will see that it’s a trumped up charge and admonish you,” he told me.
I can honestly say that is the last time in the sixty-three years that followed I have taken any notice of good advice.
The court martial board didn’t see there was anything amiss. They awarded me 56 days in No. 3 Military Corrective Establishment in Bielefeld and there I was with a “Staff”, as the warders were known, looking up my backside for smuggled cigarettes.
The 56 days passed pleasantly enough and then I was back in Bad Oenhausen, making for the railway station intending to desert. It being plain the army and I were not made for each other. And that was the second time I heard the Voice From God. This time it was even louder. It came from a Scots Guards Garrison RSM “Jock” Graham who glittered fifty yards away at the end of the street.
Because of the army habit of speaking without spaces between the words I had no idea what he was saying but he did not give the impression he thought I was an asset to the Highland Division. I did catch his offer to rip the red hackle out of my tam-o’-shanter, stick it up my arse and make me hop up and down like a bloody rooster. And I fled through the first door I came to.
And that is how I became a newspaper reporter. The office I found myself in was the HQ of Army Public Relations and when a very amiable company sergeant major asked me what I wanted I said: “A job.”
“Have you any experience of newspapers?”
As it happened, I had. In civilian life I was an apprentice compositor on the Evening Chronicle. I started to explain but I got no further than “Evening Chronicle...” before he jumped up and grabbed my hand.
“A real reporter! Kenneth will be delighted. Come and meet him…”
Kenneth proved to be the commanding officer. I had moved into another world where officers were called by their first name. Tobe fair Kenneth was no warrior.He had the air of one,no stranger to cosmetics. I later learned he had transferred to a cavalry regiment because they wore black berets which brought out the blue of his eyes
It only took two sentences to welcome me into the unit and then he said: “Just cut along to the QM stores and draw your three stripes. Then Paddy will take you to the sergeants’ mess…”
“A sergeant?” I said, and he got quite huffy.
“You cannot expect to be an officer straight away.”
There were revolving doors at the entrance to the sergeants’ mess but they didn’t revolve half as quickly as the Garrison RSM standing at the bar downing his dram.
Before I could speak, Paddy introduced me.
“SERGEANT Skidmore???” blustered Graham. “SERGEANT Skidmore? It took me three years to make lance corporal.”
After a pleasant luncheon Kenneth gave me my first job. It was the biggest story I have covered from that day to this.
It was the Berlin Airlift.
A BOOK TO START THE NEW YEAR
Evan Morgan's story is told in a book that is as good as any to swap for gift vouchers: " Aspects of Evan: The Last Viscount Tredegar " is by Monty Dart and William Cross. It’s a sometimes bewildering scrapbook but, like a rich plum pudding, filled with gold nuggets.
He had a pet parrot that bit both Goering and H.G. Wells. Tredegar shocked his way through Eton, Oxford, Rome, North Africa, Bali, Canada and America. The Bright Young Things of London’s Café Royal Society toasted him in aphorisms. Ogling dowagers indulged him whilst his straight-laced huntin, shootin a’ fishin family, with Royal vestiges, was shaken by his escapades. In the Great War he dodged rat-infested trenches on account of a weak chest. Claiming he was renouncing pleasure and his birthright, he turned to mysticism and Roman Catholicism, studying at Beda College, Rome, whilst acting as a Papal Chamberlain at the Vatican.
Evan attracted iconic women and saw off two wives. He transformed the austere family pile of Tredegar House in South Wales for rave weekend parties and black magic rituals. Effeminate footmen in powdered wigs received houseguests from Hollywood stars to the Satanist Aleister Crowley.
Cross has a fine sense of timing. His last book, a biography of Almira, the Countess of Caernarvon, came out when “Downton” was creating TV audience records. The story of the Hon. Evan, an extremely well-connected toff and a tart, has irresistible echoes of Savile.
This controversial book unravels Evan’s chequered life and tells of his amusing court martial in 1943 for offences against pigeons. Evan was in charge of MI 14, the loft of carrier pigeons dropped by parachute into war-torn Europe. His offence was to compromise the birds’ security by showing visiting girl guides the canisters which were attached to their legs in a room hung with maps of pigeon droppings on Occupied Europe. The book contains a verbatim note of the proceedings which is the funniest prose I have read this year. When Evan finally snuffed it in 1949 it was in disgrace. Naturally his terrified (mostly royal) cousins ensured a massive cover up (indeed along lines as wicked and seedy as Savile and Mountbatten.)
His degenerate life can be measured by the number of posthumous love claims the Tredegar Estate received from those bedded by him. He had the last laugh on all, including the monks of Buckfast Abbey whom he persuaded to give him burial space in their private chapel. He endeared himself to fellow Welshman Lloyd George, who adored Evan’s rakishness, by pretending to admire his mistress, later wife, Frances Stevenson, and so secured a job at No. 10. He rocked more boats than a tsunami: he could never be discreet or silent, or, alas, happy. Aspects of Evan is just a start at unravelling the sad but depraved life of the incomparable Evan. William Cross now plans a follow- up volume next year entitled Not Behind Lace Curtains.
Things are much different now, though one could wish for more literate policemen.
The recent row between the police diplomatic (?) corps and government minister Mitchell establishes a new law of language in which the ultimate obscenity is acceptable whereas to call a man a ‘pleb’ is beyond forgiveness.
Personally I am proud to be a plebeian.
(Latin, plebs) Member of the general citizenry, as opposed to the Patrician, in the ancient Roman Republic. Plebeians were originally excluded from the Senate and from all public offices except military Tribune and they were forbidden to marry patricians. Seeking to acquire equal rights, they carried on a campaign called Conflict of the Orders, developing a separate political organization and seceding in protest from the state at least five times. The campaign ceased when a plebeian dictator (appointed 287 BC) made measures passed in the plebeian assembly binding on the whole community.
Englishman Alun Morgan woke up after suffering a severe stroke speaking fluent Welsh despite having never been to the country for 70 years. That is more than many natural Welsh speakers can claim. The Welsh taught in schools and spoken on Radio Cymru bears little resemblance to the language spoken on the hearth. By law, brochures are printed in both English and Welsh. I wrote a story about a Citizens Advice Bureau in predominantly Welsh-speaking Bangor where the English version of a brochure had to be constantly replaced whereas the official Welsh version, which hardly anyone could understand, remained stubbornly on the shelf. My old pal the Moelfre (Anglesey) lifeboat cox was reproved on Radio Cymru for using the ‘wrong Welsh word’ during an interview. Welsh was Dick Evans’ first language.