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A Shout From The Attic: Easing The Pangs

...As every blue-blooded Yorkshireman knows, somewhere in the Bible there is an edict stipulating that “The meals of the day thereof shall be four, namely breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, and cursed be he who does not partake!” Not wishing to be accursed, I have made it a life rule to be obedient to the decree. Imagine, if you will, my utter disbelief to discover that after dishing out the tea meal, the cookhouse shut down for the night! No supper! Ever! Argh!...

Ronnie Bray tells how an Army meal deficiency was cunningly remedied.

To read earlier episodes of Ronnie's engaging autobiography please visit
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

When the Army is done properly, it is a very hungry business. Although none of us had worms, we ate as though we did. As has been told, I thoroughly enjoyed Army food, and will brook no complaint of it. It was good, wholesome, mostly tasty, hot, and plentiful. Whilst it is true that the fried eggs anticipated indestructible plastic by several years, anyone with a good set of chompers could chisel their way through them with only a mild degree of difficulty, and they were tasty. The breakfast bacon was sometimes awash with hog fat, crozzled, and appeared –thankfully - to be lifeless, it crunched when bitten, and tasted exactly like bacon should taste.

I was never served a vegetable that could not be identified either by sight, taste, or a combination of both, and never had a meal that didn’t require me to attend the servery for another helping, “Please!” I never had meat that was too tough to chew, especially by the dedicated diner, and so I have never quite grasped what complainers had to complain about. My only cause of complaint about army grub is that it short-changed me to the tune of one meal a day.

As every blue-blooded Yorkshireman knows, somewhere in the Bible there is an edict stipulating that “The meals of the day thereof shall be four, namely breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, and cursed be he who does not partake!” Not wishing to be accursed, I have made it a life rule to be obedient to the decree. Imagine, if you will, my utter disbelief to discover that after dishing out the tea meal, the cookhouse shut down for the night! No supper! Ever! Argh!

Wednesdays were pay days, so Wednesday evening supper could be had at the NAAFI canteen, for a price. The cash would run to Thursday, and occasionally to Friday, but Saturdays to Tuesdays were supperless, desolate, and faminous for those who did not cheat at cards. At Sudbury, after the evening wore on and our tea meal wore off and hunger wore on and after we had reinvented the wheel, taken coals to Newcastle, and made recommendations for a variety of invented and irreverent decorations for soldiers serving and past, we considered our abdomens.

Ambrose Bierce defined the abdomen as the shrine where man pays his most sincere devotions, and we wished to pay homage to our shrines by nine o’clock, but there was a noticeable lack of votive offerings, and so our devotions were thwarted. Yet, as has so often been demonstrated, soldiers are nothing if not resourceful, and we were soldiers.

One of our number, who must remain nameless for two compelling reasons, the first being that I would not want to dredge up his criminal past in case he has abandoned it, and is now an honest man, and the second is that I have completely forgotten who it was! The Nameless One pointed out that although the cookhouse was secured at 7 pm, it was not Windsor Castle, but only a big wooden hut!

We thanked him for the real estate agent talk, then he, seeing that his inference had not taken, due to our essential honesty, further developed his point by declaring that it was not impregnable, and that determined and motivated commandos could easily breach its security and leave it in a condition to be permanently pilfered. We got his drift.

The weak spot in the kitchen complex was a small window at about shoulder height that opened directly into the food storage area. It was, declared our mentor who had already, he said, “cased the joint,” and discovered that it presented no greater difficulty than “a stroll in the park.” By dint of Martian benevolence, our career criminal was on kitchen fatigues the next day, and during peeling, scraping, cutting, slopping, and scouring, he surreptitiously entered the store and unlocked the window latch, laying it on the sill so that to cursory inspection – “Who’s going to break into the cookhouse!” – it appeared securely fastened. The foray was arranged.

You will understand that deprivation of an habitual meal combined with gnawing spasms of hunger drove us to enter the forbidden place and relieve the Army of supernumerary loaves, butter, and seven-pound tins of marmalade and jam. We relieved no more than one tin per night to make our suppers, and by ten o’clock not a crumb of evidence was left to betray the crime. The tins were deposited in the dustbin behind the cookhouse by a roll of designated dumpers.

After the first few forays we were especially observant when visiting the mess hall to see if our nocturnal depredations were causing any obvious shortages. None were evident, and it seemed as if the Army simply took the loss of forty-nine pounds of fruit preserve and fourteen long sandwich loaves, and similar poundage of best butter, in its stride.

We were happy squaddies, having righted a great wrong, and felt secure in the fact that no one seemed to know about the internal transfer of food, as no “Wanted – Dead or Alive” posters went up around the camp, The Army’s team of sniffer-rats were not loosed in barrack rooms to search crevices and cracks for crumbs, and we were not subject to random weight checks to see if anyone was packing on the pounds.

Criminals – except they be stupid – always contrive to defend their actions, and our vindication was that we were feeding deprived and hungry young soldiers who were keeping the Island safe for the population. Who was keeping it safe from us, we did not consider.

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