Officers and Men
This afternoon I am alone in camp, apart from some twelve gunners, the guards, a generator attendant, the Orderly Sergeant and a few men on fatigues. It is Wednesday afternoon and Roger and the Sergeant Major are playing cricket with some of the lads, while the others are away swimming. I have just played two games of badminton on our new court marked out on the road below the camp. Last week, I swam in the troop swimming sports and came last in the back stroke. The Battery Captain came last in the next race, so we had a mutual congratulation.
Most of the time now, Roger and I are the only officers in camp and run it together with our Sergeant Major, a kindly man of about forty years, with a good knowledge of men and officers. Our routine daily work is taken up almost entirely in chasing the men and getting them to do the jobs they are supposed to do.
I am on good terms with my batman, our cook corporal and several others and enjoy hearing their ideas. I was touched the other day, when I was told by one of the cooks that he had ten letters to write. It was his twenty-first birthday and he seemed rather forlorn, so I talked with him awhile and he told me about himself and his family. I can imagine the labour ten letters will be for him. Some of these lads take five minutes to spell out a sentence and the effort they put into writing is agonising to watch. From time to time, one or other of the men uses his section officer as a shoulder to weep upon and I am learning the appropriate ‘bedside manner’. I have been hospital visiting several times now and it is often difficult to know what to talk about with a sick gunner, with few interests in life, except Hank Jansen and any comics he can lay his hands on. Even so, I have not failed entirely and manage to leave the man smiling when I depart.
This whole outfit is not unlike a glorified outdoor school. Man-management is the side of army life I enjoy most. Every new soldier presents a challenge. You have to get him on your side before he will do anything for you. Giving orders to men has no real effect, unless they respect the order and are encouraged in carrying it out.
The sergeants are the hardest nuts to crack. They understand very well that they know far more about army life and are more expert with the equipment than a national service subaltern can be. It is vital that the roles of sergeant and subaltern in interaction are appropriate. The sergeant has the clearly defined duty to work the machines and to see that his team, be it on the guns or in the control room, understands the work properly. The officer supplies the orders controlling the use of the apparatus, and on him rests the responsibility for any action. Many young officers either tend to assume the sergeant’s role and tinker about with the machines themselves, while the sergeant stands aside with a know-all look on his face making dark comments to his men; or else they give a few ineffective or ambiguous commands, thus losing control of the sergeant, who interprets the command his way and, thereby, takes over the officer’s role. Like other subalterns, I have had to feel my way and to discover how to exert authority based on accurate knowledge. This is especially important if the sergeant is a little truculent, and many old soldiers are.
The men are easier. In many cases an officer can learn their jobs in a few minutes and carry them out if need be – to set an example. There are exceptions however; the REME mechanics and Radar operators have specialised technical knowledge, which they like to keep to themselves as a personal mystique.
Every Tuesday all the officers assemble at RHQ for the Commanding Officer’s training day. The CO usually gives a forceful lecture, in which we learn to “get our fingers out”, to “start sparking – Gentlemen!” and in which the adjective “bloody” is used as punctuation rather than descriptively. Chris and I squirm with delight at his military clichés but we find him a powerful speaker and a joy to hear. He growls away till some of his audience are almost asleep and then bombards us with the most searching questions. Failure to answer is followed by a freezing silence or a muttered crescendo: “Every bloody subaltern still in his bloody cradle ought to know that – so why don’t you?”
I am in charge of the “Star Classification” system, whereby the men undertake a series of aptitude tests, in order to improve their qualifications through attendance at appropriate courses. In this way, I gain much information about each man. It leads to a certain amount of welfare work on the men’s behalf. Two days ago, I had to write to one of the lads’ elder brother. The family had become worried about him. I said he was well, had volunteered for Korea but would not be sent there because of his defective eyesight, for which he had recently seen a specialist, who had prescribed a new pair of glasses. I hope somebody’s mum is a little happier.
The other evening, the Troop Commander, Roger and I sat down to write the yearly reports on our soldiers. Each one consists of a fairly comprehensive account of a man’s abilities, aptitudes and likely progress. It is intended as a guide to potential employers, when a man has completed National Service and returns to civilian life. There is no mincing matters in these reports for we are as truthful as our collective and personal bias can allow. Naturally, a report tries to bring out the best qualities of a man but sometimes it is difficult to do so. I am inclined to paint a double picture, expressing the man’s bad points but, then, referring to such good or redeeming qualities he may have. Instead of damning or praising a man out of hand we try to achieve a reasonable balance.
We take into consideration: i. personal habits, tidiness etc, ii. sobriety or otherwise, iii. stability and maturity, iv. ability to do jobs of stated categories with or without supervision. As the evening wore on, I was interested to see that, again and again, we were using the same pairs of adjectives to differentiate an individual’s qualities. I made a list of them and tried to see the connection between them and what they might say about our troop, as a group of individuals. In my tabulation, I tried to show what influence these words may have on a job to which a man is suited and which may be within his abilities.
Adjective and Quality Its opposite Relationship to employment
a Enthusiasm Nonchalance Determine effectiveness
Efficiency Inefficiency with which a man will
Reliability Unreliability carry out a task
b Sobriety Hooliganism Determine the functional
Maturity Adolescence character of the man, his
Friendliness Surliness relationship to authority
Security at home Social insecurity and suitability for
c Intelligence Stupidity Determine the social
Technical knowledge Muddle-headed level of occupation; i.e.
Precision of thought whether manual, clerking
General Education Ignorance or technical
d Personal initiative Idleness Determine the ability of a
Dominance Hesitancy man to lead and hence
Ability to influence Easily overruled suitability as NCO,
others Easily influenced foreman or authoritative
by others executive in any form
If a man in enthusiastic, reliable, sober, cooperative, lives in a happy home with a good wife, has a good education, has done well in some technical course and shows an ability to influence others positively, then he scores top marks and the references he will take to a future employer will be impressive. One of our REME men is just such a case. He maintains the Radar sets in action, through all sorts of trials (including the interference of ignorant and muddle-headed officers!) and to do so he works overtime, often till eleven at night, checking voltages, amperages, connections and valves, all with complex wiring diagrams, tricky numerical tables and small meters. He is always cheerful and sends quite half of his limited pay home to his wife each week. He is a real treasure on the site. The other REME men who look after the predictor, gun controls and other electrical equipment are also not far behind him; even if one of them is under weekly inspection for VD.
At the other extreme we have a gunner who is phlegmatic, inefficient, unreliable, irresponsible, undisciplined, socially insecure, disliked by his mates, stupid, ignorant and always in poor company – probably in a brothel, if he has enough character to enter one, or mooching about by himself. He is constantly in detention and forty pounds in debt. All we could do was to hint that in another job he might do better.
Most, of course, are in between these extremes. One gunner is a strong lad from the north of England, with curly black hair, a bit of a gypsy, who avoids trouble by the skin of his teeth. His enthusiasm depends upon the quality of the leadership given by an officer or NCO. He can be resentful and almost disobedient, if handled badly and, being a dominant personality, can influence others towards insubordination. Given clear orders, however, he will do a job well. Wild at times, often disgruntled, he is nonetheless usually sober and clean living but not very bright. He will do a supervised job well but can be unreliable, if he gets resentful. Promotion to Lance Bombadier might make him more responsible and allow him to use his powerful personality effectively.
Then there is one of my welfare cases. Gunner Jimmy Worrel is, undoubtedly, a pretty boy and a number of ladies in Kowloon know it. He is an honest, kindly lad, who visits Chinese families as a guest of their daughters. Always cheery, bright blue eyes always sparkling, mischievous, he has a wicked grin. His mother has not written to him for months, so I wrote a letter to her this week, hoping to stir some buried maternal instinct. The Troop Commander said my letter was a masterpiece of guile and young Jimmy himself was delighted with it. I doubt if any mother could resist the appeal. Yet, little does she know that Jimmy is far from being the lonely boy I made out; he can make friends at a moment’s notice with almost anyone. He is, however, worried about her and I saw puzzled affection in his face as he spoke of her.
I will write anything to get these selfish parents to write to their sons. I know only too well how deserted one can feel, when the hoped-for mail fails to arrive. I am lucky; if there is nothing in one post I am sure there will be something in the next. Jimmy has signed on for three years solely because he says his parents care nothing for him and there was no point in hurrying home. On top of this, some remote uncle writes to him asking for money for his mother. He is already sending seventeen and six a week, so I told him not to send more, until he knows why it is needed.
Our MO considers my Medical Orderly the best in the regiment. He keeps his little medical inspection room spotless, except for a large ginger cat with a kink in his tail, and he treats the men with firmness and confidence. He is a dominant personality who expresses his opinion loudly and aggressively to officers and men alike. He is, therefore, sometimes difficult to manage, especially since, if he were ever to be put on a charge for insubordination, the camp would suffer by his absence. He could easily come out in a resentful revolt and is best either led tactfully or given an order very sharply and suddenly, from as far away as possible. Nonetheless, he is a good judge of character and I doubt whether he would so misjudge the authority of an officer as to go too far. I have heard him come close to swearing at the Sergeant Major but, since he had a lad with a temperature of 104° on his hands that evening, we decided to let it pass.
The story was like this. When the MO was away in Macao for a weekend, one of our gunners took sick. At six thirty Drabble ran in to me, “Sir, come quickly, Jameson has a temperature of 106°!” Certainly the man was lying on his bed smothered in blankets, sweating gallons and very pale and clammy. I rang for an ambulance but then decided to fix up a bed in the three-tonner and take him at once to hospital myself, thus cutting the time by half an hour. We put three mattresses on top of one another, the sick boy on top and trundled out of camp, Drabble and I in the back keeping anxious watch. Drabble, having recovered from his initial panic, was superb, keeping the lad smiling all the way. At hospital, we were commended for our prompt action in driving him to town straight away. Jameson had tonsillitis, but fortunately they did not have to operate and he was soon back with us fit and well.
Drabble ought to be in the RAMC for he is always in and out of the hospitals learning new things. Before coming to Brickhill, he had been a dog handler, a difficult job requiring skill, a strong mind and constant vigilance. The army dogs are often poorly trained and several handlers have been badly mauled by them. Drabble himself was knocked down by a dog in its cage once and it stood over him for two hours before he was rescued.
Our Catering Corps corporal is a fine cook and baker who rules his cookhouse with a rod of iron. My main job as messing officer is to keep him here – since his food is a great factor in maintaining our morale. Away from his job, he is a rather unpredictable man, a fine athlete, a swimmer for the Colony team that beat Singapore recently, a beautiful diver, a fine gymnast and the possessor of a rare physique. When stripped, he looks like an advertisement for Charles Atlas body culture and he knows it. He has thousands of pictures of himself, ‘poses’ they are called in the body culture world, poised on a rock or posturing in various muscular attitudes on diving boards, parallel bars or ropes. He will talk about himself for hours and is moody, subject to depression. He lives an entirely body-oriented life and often seems surprisingly immature. He is kindly, works hard, often in overtime, and is a good disciplinarian when need be. He was in the merchant navy for some years before he joined the army and has been to many far-away places; South America, Buenos Aires which he calls BA, Chile and Easter Island with its strange monoliths. He speaks good Spanish and some Cantonese and claims to know more about the practical enjoyment of sex than any one else in camp. Last night he played with a homosexual in the public gardens below the Governor’s house, and, in the company of another bombadier, enjoyed a ‘knee trembler’ at the back of the Cheero Club with a prostitute, who possessed, in addition to a pretty face, a document signed by a Hong Kong doctor saying she was free from disease. He tells a good story about the Hong Kong ‘queers’ club’, which is not repeatable here.
There may be many outside the army who find such goings-on shocking, but to most of our lads these events are the accepted thing, part of an evening’s pleasure and entirely without shame, embarrassment or vice, simply a ‘bit of a cunt’, as they say, which ranks about equally with a ‘booze-up’ or a ‘western’ film. Our cook admits that he is usually not entirely sober when he lets go like this but, then – “It’s so dull being sober all the time.” As their officers, we exercise a certain amount of tact and tend to ‘look the other way’, but, when we ride back to camp in the truck with them, leaving the Cheero Club near midnight, they love to tell of their evening’s adventures.
Fortunately, their private and military lives seem to be entirely separate and discipline and respect on site seem better now than when I arrived. The Troop Commander knows little of these concerns, indeed, if he knew as much as I do about his men, he’d have a fit. He knows such things go on but the reality of it all never reaches him. He speaks of the men as if they were somehow from another plane, a sort of decadent species, much less important than his beloved machines. The other day, he said to me in a puzzled voice, as if the thought had just struck him and he doubted whether it was a proper one, “Do you think they are happy?” What could I say? I felt like asking him “Are you?”
I was quite touched the other day. When it became known that a new regular lieutenant would be joining the site, one or two people thought that would mean I would be posted elsewhere. The long faces of the two lads brightened when I told them I was not going anywhere. Such expressions are very reassuring because, although I care little for the army, I identify myself with the men rather than with the officers and try to lead by influence rather than by shouting orders. A section officer on this lonely site has to be authoritative but also a bit of a doctor, an impartial friend to each and all and sometimes, perhaps, a kind of priest. The men are so lovably stupid; they let one down one minute and do wonders the next.
I am trying to understand all this. It is true to say that many of the soldiers here have their horizons severely limited by lack of initiative, poor intelligence, social insecurity and little education. They know of little more than their own bodies, the things they touch, pop music, sex and the cosy dark of a cinema, where their personalities merge with the phantoms on the screen. It is dangerous to think these ineptitudes are inherited; they seem an expression of our social system. A major said to me the other day, “Considering Britain’s education system and the sums we spend on projects for the benefit of youth, we really produce very disappointing people. In Malaya, I preferred many of the Malay soldiers to our own. It wasn’t like that in the old days.”
With greater discriminative ability, a man may do what he wishes rather than what the group wishes. He discriminates between friends and can read character in others. This seems to be the beginning of thought and intellect for the whole structure of literature, art, science and the cultured life is based on fine discrimination between objective qualities which produce corresponding feeling in the subjective self. Only some half dozen of our men could sense such fine differences. Very few possess ‘sensibility’, yet this is simply an ability to discriminate.
Every so often we fire our guns in earnest. At Firing Camp the CO turns up to watch, a plane flies slowly to and fro over the sea before us, dragging a sleeve several hundred yards behind it and we attempt to shoot it off. Because we face the open sea, other troops come here to fire our guns, which puts pressure on us to keep them and all the gear in order. Normally something goes wrong. Indeed, this equipment is extraordinarily tricky to keep working just right. The CO fumes and blows his top, Battery commanders, majors, lieutenants and we lesser fry whizz about trying to avoid the larger brickbats, while the sergeants struggle to keep the show on the road.
On the last day of firing camp, our troop redeemed itself. The Troop Commander flung himself on the equipment the evening before and, thanks to his undoubted skills, all the early morning checks went through without trouble. At 11.30 hours prompt, the scheduled time, we put up our first round of ‘check fire’ and found it well within the tolerances allowed. We even had to wait while the target plane came on course. Then away we went, tracker and radar engagements coming one after the other in quick succession. As plotting officer in the control room, it was most exciting to see the little spots on the cathode ray tube of the Electronic Plan Position Indicator chasing along, showing the geographical position of the target, to hear the orders and reports coming through without hitch and, then, a great moment of power, giving the order – ‘fire!’ The gun crews did well, one chap banging the firing plate so hard that he enabled our troop to fire off more ammunition than any other during the whole fortnight. We have since given him a stripe, the restitution of one he lost some six months ago. The sky was neatly spotted with straight lines of puffs of smoke and, at the end of the day, the CO pronounced himself almost pleased.
On two days I performed the duties of Gun Safety Officer. This is a tricky and responsible job, intended to ensure that the guns do not fire directly at the aircraft or at ships on the sea. One has to stand right behind the gun, avoiding the bouncing shell cases after discharge, and peer through the smoke to check that the gun is traversing at the right speed and has not crossed the permissible practice arcs, beyond which one might hit a vessel. What with the continuous explosions and the strain of watching the rapidly moving gun, it is nerve racking. Diffident safety officers hold up the show and receive the wrath of the CO for so doing. I decided to obey a simple rule told to me by a senior subaltern – “When the CO looks your way let go – if you hit a junk, he’ll be delighted.” The CO admitted he was “a bit British” about junks trespassing over the firing range. Once, when we were clearing a misfire at elevation zero and thus aiming at the sea, I really did hesitate because a small steamer had started to enter our range. I appealed to the Chief Safety Officer but the CO intervened. “FIRE!” he yelled. Whoosh – the shell bit the water a hundred yards from the vessel which fairly skidded out of harm’s way.
Once a month, there is an extraordinary function at the regimental mess at Stanley Fort. On Dinner Night all the officers of the regiment tog up in their best blues trousers, white dress shirt with bow tie, starched monkey jacket and dress hat. It’s a magnificent rig and Roger and I feel most frightfully important, as we drive out of camp to an accompaniment of derisory gunner whistles!
The dinner is a sedate and formal affair full of regimental etiquette, toasts to the Queen, guests and other matters. The meal is often disappointing and our mess cook at Brickhill could do better. At the end round comes the port and the cigar box. The cigars are excellent but only a few of us attempt them. Cigar smoking after dinner is pleasing and I choose one carefully. On one occasion, a junior subaltern committed the unthinkable error of fumbling with the port decanter and spilling a spot on the table. The Mess President, a real warthog, gave him an extra day as orderly officer for that. After the meal, there are social ‘games’ to be endured. We throw each other about, balance on beer bottles, play a damaging form of leapfrog and sometimes rugger in our mess kits, acclaimed as the height of revelry. The CO reveals, by a simple test, that lactic acid accumulation overcomes his stomach muscles later than those of anyone else. Well, it’s not so bad, I suppose. There is usually a row of smirking, older officers looking on, clearly dreading being asked or compelled to join in, while they assume an air of smiling sympathy for those who have succumbed. I feel like an ape performing in a zoo. It is left to the subalterns to supply this sport and, suffering fools badly, I felt two such games were enough last time. Chris and I, feeling like anti-social criminals, crept away with a quantity of beer and played billiards. Next time, Chris is bringing his chess set.
Typhoon, August 14th 1953
All yesterday evening, large black clouds meandered across our southern horizon and I went up to sit near the guns and watch the sun set. It was a furnace of glowing gold, deepening to a rich ruby crimson, shooting out purple beams in a magnificent fan across the width of the sky. It was as if the old Japanese flag had come alive. Then, as the purple sky deepened into nightfall, the cloud thickened, rolling in fast from the south east, bringing a night of impenetrable blackness, broken only by our powerful perimeter lights. After nine o’clock, the sky was broken by vivid flashes of sheet lightning, etching the horizon suddenly with the black silhouettes of islands and casting a momentary silver glare upon the sea. Typhoon warning one had been issued and the two green lights on the mast of the Aberdeen police station indicated the possibility of strong winds.
I was orderly officer and, before dark, I checked all gun and radar covers and had the radar paraboloids lowered on the sets. I sat down to read in the mess but, on turning out the guard at midnight, found the signal had changed to red over green. I fetched the typhoon orders and looked up the signal; “Winds increasing – gale force”. Outside, however, the night remained calm, so I went to bed giving orders that I should be called if the signal was to change again.
Soon after one thirty, one of the guards rushed into my room.
“Aberdeen flying red over red, Sir!”
I knew the orders for the final precautions to be taken in the face of an oncoming storm, so I was up in a moment and down the hill to the guardroom. The guard was to collect as many men as might be needed and I told the Guard Commander what to do.
“Remove radar paraboloids. Lock and lash down all guns. Remove the tracker from the Command Post. All vehicles to be parked on the lower road, with their canvas covers removed. Typhoon bars to be fixed on windows and doors. All personnel confined to camp for the duration of the warning.”
The telephone rang.
“Orderly Officer RHQ speaking.”
“Orderly Officer Brickhill here.”
“Typhoon warning number seven just issued. Do all you have to do.”
“Wilco – that all?”
“Yep – and here’s to you!”
The wind had risen considerably and gusts were striking the exposed gun positions with some velocity. The men, as cheerful and as delighted as schoolboys snowballing in a year’s first fall, worked with tremendous good will and humour. We had a frantic ten minutes looking for torches to unscrew the radar paraboloids. Several of us had to climb up on top of the sets, the windiest spot on site, and fiddle with nuts and bolts, not knowing when the next ferocious gust would hurl itself out of the night and perhaps fling us all into the valley below. Our nervousness added zest and amusement to the work. One vehicle with a flat tyre had to be manhandled out of the wind but, at last, everything was stowed away or battened down and we prepared to go to sleep. My radar bombadier came up to me.
“Sir, may I apply for a junk licence?”
“A what, Bombadier?”
“A junk licence, Sir. My hut is shaking so much and, with the camp situated as it is, we thought we might end up in the sea in it. We had better put ourselves right with the authorities afore the morning.”
“But, yes, of course, Bombadier. I’ll refer the matter to the Troop Commander first thing in the morning.”
“It’ll be too late by then, Sir, but I’ll tell the lads. It’ll reassure them.”
“Well done, Bombadier. Oh and, by the way, take some tarpaulins to bed with you. You may need them as sails.”
He replied with a cheery goodnight and was away into the wind and darkness.
In the morning it was blowing hard, with Radio Hong Kong reporting a tropical storm heading up from Pratas Island and due to pass a hundred miles to the south of us. HMS Birmingham put to sea together with an American aircraft carrier and destroyers. The harbour can be dangerous in a typhoon, with ships getting badly beached. About ten o’clock, I joined our tracker crew in the Command Post and, with target indicator, binoculars and tracker telescope, we watched a flank of the storm emerge out of the south east and pass across the face of the Lema island, a great white wall of rain, like a curtain hanging from the clouds. A Vampire, from Kai Tak airport, flew along the edge of the storm plotting its position. Around midday, a wing of the storm hit us, the pouring rain bouncing off the rocks, creating a great mist of flying vapour. We hid indoors awaiting the worst.
At seven in the evening Roger and I collected Wong, the NAAFI manager, and together we set off around the camp, visiting the men in their billets to see everyone was indoors and well and to sell them some cigarettes and other items. It was then that the full force of the typhoon came roaring upon us with a stinging, horizontal rain shooting out of an impenetrably black night. The velocity of the wind increased and we could hear it roaring and pounding the mountain in ferocious gusts. We crept from billet to billet bent double, our legs braced, clutching at the rocky sides of the camp road and clinging to the rails beside the steps going up to the telephone exchange. As we rounded each corner, we were repeatedly blown flat against the rock face beside the path and had to hold on to prevent ourselves being blown over. Wong, a lightly-built, little man, was nearly sent over the side of the hill by one gust but, luckily, grasped a ledge in time.
The telephone exchange is near the Command Post at the highest point of the camp and it took us quite five minutes to struggle up the steps to it. We were fighting to open the door, when a violent blast hit us, whipped the door open and dragged the operator, who was on the inside holding the handle, violently out into the cold air. Having just got out of bed, he was naked and his sudden apparition sent us into peals of laughter. The poor lad crept back hastily between his sheets and promptly purchased fifty cigarettes. By this time, he told us, we had no telephone communication with the outside world and he assumed the lines were down. The wireless had also broken a valve, so we had no news of the progress of the typhoon either. As we left the exchange, another gust swept me clean off my feet and threw me two yards over the ground against the bank. My companions were blown down the steps and had to cling to the rocks at the side for dear life.
In the end we visited everyone; they were quite happy with bottles of beer, their own good company and stacks of cigarettes. As we were leaving the last billet, two of the guards rushed in, followed by a flurry of rain.
“Cables are down – sparks flying everywhere!”
Out we went into the night and groped our way towards the generators. Suddenly, from a twenty foot pylon some thirty feet in front of us, a stream of sparks went crackling out along the wind and another cable fell wriggling on the path before us, while further sparks showered down from the pylon.
We now had to reach the generators and turn them off before somebody was electrocuted; with water everywhere there was considerable danger. The Signals Bombadier, who was with us, rushed off into the blackness ahead and, grabbing a torch from one of the guards, I crept forward, finally sprinting across the danger area with the two guards at my heels. As we arrived at the generators, Roger appeared, having come by another route, and, together, we got the nearly frantic Chinese operator to switch off. At once the camp was plunged into total darkness. We climbed down from the generator site to the path below and, stepping carefully, sorted out the muddle of fallen cables. I went off to the store to collect hurricane lamps and, on the way, found more cables over the road. An hour or two later saw the loose cables cut down and stowed away; lamps taken to each room and myself blown flat on my face, while making my way up the slope to the officers’ mess.
Roger and I had a double brandy apiece, took our dinner and ventured forth towards our rooms. By this time, part of the cookhouse boiler shed had been carried away down the hillside, the Nissen hut of the Radar operators was shaking dangerously, corrugated sheeting from the NAAFI roof had narrowly missed a bombadier’s head, two chimney stacks, innumerable tins and a couple of diesel drums were rolling along the road, my room was two inches deep in water and my bedding soaked. I fixed up a mattress on the floor of Roger’s room and slept there.
Our Chinese in the mess did not enjoy the typhoon – until afterwards. As the wind howled around the mess and we ate supper in the light of a home-made oil lamp, both cook and the waiter Lau Chi Wing said hardly a word. Next morning, however, with the wind dropped – the usual grins and “Jolly good typhoon – eh!” We had a visitor in the mess throughout the storm. A bulbul, a thrush-sized hill bird, had hit the truck on its last trip up the hill. It was very ill at the height of the storm but, like the barometer, it got better as the winds passed.
The men on guard had done a magnificent job under truly alarming conditions. The sight of two of our guards, in overcoats and tin hats, tripping down the slope to the guardroom in the wind, holding hands, amused me immensely. “Well, Sir, we was abaht blown to Aberdeen just now and we’d rather go together than separately!”
Morale among the lads is at its highest on these occasions and, on that account, I only wish they were more frequent. Under alarming and chaotic conditions the indomitable character of the ordinary Britisher appears with humour, high spirits and good cheer. The boys here are tough and good; I only wish there was something better for them to do.
In the morning, we found that a corrugated iron roof from a fair-sized shed, complete with wooden frame, had been lifted by the storm, carried through the air over the crest of the hill between the officers’ mess and the sergeants’ quarters and deposited in one piece some way down the hillside. We were thankful the troop had come through without a casualty.