« Fur Coat And Va-Va-Voom! | Main | Chapter 42 »

A Shout From The Attic: Is Ellesmere Burning?

...Being out all night on guard duty imposed obligations on the inhabitants of our hut to seize and deliver all combustible items from whatever source, quickly, quietly, and secretively. It is only from the benefit of fifty and more years that I recognise that we were set to guard the camp, but were actually doing more damage than unlawful trespassers were likely to have done...

Ronnie Bray recalls how a group of young soldiers at a training camp coped with a long hard winter.

To read earlier episodes of Ronnie's entertaining autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

Winter was hard. Our intake arrived at Ellesmere Park, home of the REMEís Vehicle Mechanic Training Battalion, in September 1952, got under way in October, and lasted until mid-February. The winter was one of the coldest I had known, and the barracks were wooden huts with only a round coke stove for heating. Heating supplies were one 2-gallon bucket of coke per hut per day. This was not enough to maintain adequate heat during the evening. Our solution to this problem was primitive but effective.

During the course of that winter we burned most of the wooden objects in the camp. Whether it was tied down or not we broke it up into pieces small enough to fit into the stove. We had the warmest hut in the camp, and as the temperature increased, the perimeter fences diminished.

Being out all night on guard duty imposed obligations on the inhabitants of our hut to seize and deliver all combustible items from whatever source, quickly, quietly, and secretively. It is only from the benefit of fifty and more years that I recognise that we were set to guard the camp, but were actually doing more damage than unlawful trespassers were likely to have done.

The root cause of our perfidy is the root of all insurrection: dissatisfaction with the rules and the rulers. The cause of our dissatisfaction was a too cold winter and a too stingy supply of fuel to counter Jack Frostís chilling ministry in the place that was, for the time being, our home. It is true that it was not much of a home, but it was the only home we had and as the Army was unwilling to help us, we helped ourselves.

That none of us came down with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning we understood to mean that a kindly Providence smiled on our appropriatory endeavours and affirmed to us that God not only helps those who help themselves, but that He also tempers the wind to the shorn lambs, and our evenings became cheery and warm, like the companionship of the odd assortment of boys and men that chance had thrown together in order to forge an invincible army that could not only defend the nation, and secure its interests in battlefields abroad, but at the same time could diminish the combustible real estate of the nations premier arm of the armed forces as carefully and efficiently as any gang of saboteurs could have disintegrated the fabric of the buildings and barriers that surrounded the military, and under the very noses of the guards to boot.

I have also come to understand that we feared the Army and its non-commissioned officers far more than we feared God. It is the norm for human beings to fear only those things which deliver their logical consequences up fully and at once. The reason people smoke, drink to excess, and make nuisances of themselves, is because punishment for these activities is always delayed.

That is the reason we sometimes choose not to let Godís voice through our conscience deter us from acts that we know are wrong, but for which the reckoning is some way off in the distant future. If smokers took one drag of a cancer stick and fell to earth stricken with bronchial carcinoma or cor pulmonale, there would be few smokers. If one sip of the hard stuff, or two pints of the soft stuff immediately cobbled the liver and brought almost instantaneous death, there would be no drinking except by the foolhardy and idiots.

When a high voltage electricity line announces that it is carrying 500,000 volts, there are few volunteers to touch it. But most consequences come slowly and often appear not to be coming at all. So it was with our burning of Ellesmere. Had we burned everything we did burn all in one massive conflagration, then the smouldering ruins, and the range of destruction would be remarkable.

However, burning it piecemeal made it appear to the casual observer that everything was just as it always had been, and none the wiser except some cheerfully warmed squaddies who rejoiced in their warm secret.

I played my felonious part in making our hut at Ellesmere warm in the chilly grip of one of the worst winters I have known. Whether Providence will exact a severe price for that at some future time when balancing the books of my life remains to be seen.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.