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A Shout From The Attic: As You Like It

...the worst that happened to me was the bomb thrown over the perimeter wire when I was on night patrol inside the Dhekelia workshop. The fact that the bomb failed to detonate merely added to my conviction that I was immortal. Ah, the dreams of youth!...

Ronnie Bray recalls serving in the British Army in Cyprus during troubled times.

When the Cyprus Emergency began, life on the island changed in many respects. Some Greek Cypriots engaged in open and covert warfare against the invaders. I had battles on two fronts as I continued my friendships with the many Cypriot friends I had made, which was a concern for some of the Enosis supporters among them, and did receive a direct warning on one occasion, and, at the same time, did my best to escape the maledictions of my inner enemy, my hostile company commander B--.

Apart from the warning delivered through clenched teeth in a taverna, the worst that happened to me was the bomb thrown over the perimeter wire when I was on night patrol inside the Dhekelia workshop. The fact that the bomb failed to detonate merely added to my conviction that I was immortal. Ah, the dreams of youth!

Minor depredations in the war of attrition against the British forces included stealing items of military equipment and destroying them. A military motorcycle was stolen and discovered down the well of a farmer suspected of selling produce to the army. The recovered bike had been reduced to its component parts before being thrust down the well, and the journey down the shaft did it as much good as did the journey out of the well. It was a mess.

B--, whose main personal characteristic seemed to me to be a narcissistic disdain for anyone who was not him, decided to test my powers of restoration and my skill as a mechanic. I received a commandment through his right hand man, the transport sergeant, who was also an antibrayite, that the Great Man commissioned me to put the bike back together again.

All who saw the tangle of mutilated parts could see at once that all the kingís horses and all the king's men, could not pout it together again. However, this queenís man was set to the task.

First, I surveyed the damaged bits and pieces. The wheels were buckled, the frame bent, the tank dented, and the engine and its external controls severely damaged. It was obvious to a fool that it was beyond repair and the kindest course would have been to let it rust in the well or to give it a decent burial. However, B-- had spoken, and action was required.

And, not to upset the ginger haired angular faced hero of the Malayan war, I went to work. I co-opted a sturdy crate against which I stood the warped frame, then sat the tank on the top, and leaned the front and rear wheels against the frame before balancing smaller items that had been dislodged by strategy or accident in the guerrilla operation. The further away from the mock up I got, the more convincing it became.

I entered the transport office and pointed the bike out to the sergeant, explaining, ďThatís the best I or anyone can do with it.Ē He seemed surprised to see the bike on the hard standing, and marched out to take a closer look. Unlike the bomb lobbed over the fence, the sergeant actually exploded, but there was nothing he could do apart from fume. Both he and B-- knew they had set me an impossible task and that they had been bested in their efforts to have me try only to fail. Game set and match? Not quite.

B--'s pale eyes glared more icily from under his ginger eyebrows, every time he saw me, but he was too grand to take me on mano y mano, so he had his sergeant do the prodding. In answer to the uncomfortable prodding, I took most of the company transport off the road and logged every item of maintenance that the drivers should have done but had not, mainly very minor things. When twenty of the companyís thirty lorries were tagged off the road, things eased and I put them back on the road.

B--, never one to be outdone, had me sent to the REME workshops at the old tannery in Larnaca to be tested for my trade skills. That shows that he did have some estimation of my worth as a mechanic. What he didnít know was that the REME didnít expect much from third class mechanics such as I was, and that what I did know was almost right on track.

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