By the middle of winter, life at Brickhill had become a matter of routine and, with better opportunities for enjoying my free time with Yannang and other Chinese friends, the army life ceased to pall and the gun site became the centre of a small world, in which I officiated like a minister.
The weeks passed easily; two or three training practices every seven days; educational and training courses; occasional inspections and sudden cathartic visits from the CO. A second firing camp was held in which the troop excelled all others and, together with a good record during a three day scheme, we were satisfied that we were probably the best trained and most operational troop in the colony. The Battery Commander was pleased and directives from regimental headquarters became fewer. Whether we were in fact the best was really irrelevant; we considered ourselves so, without snobbery, and the result was an extraordinarily high morale.
The men were remarkably free: after work hours they went climbing on the cliffs, reading in their bunkers, doing gymnastics on an apparatus created by the cook corporal, or, again under his expert tuition, practising weightlifting. Most evenings we had a bathing parade, greatly enjoyed by officers and men alike. The only difference in the water being that, statistically speaking, the officers were less likely to be pushed off the raft in the bay than the men were.
Out of working hours, the Troop Commander, whose technical brilliance was the chief cause of our military success, was rarely with us. Our regular army subaltern was a good disciplinarian but young enough to appreciate the national service’s attitudes of his two brother officers. In off-duty hours the camp became a sort of Butlin’s for soldiers. Saluting still existed, of course, as did the hierarchy of rank but it had become a matter of tacit agreement rather than of discipline. Everyone knew everyone else so well that any ‘bullshit’ would have amounted to farce. Nonetheless, any troublemakers were bounced severely and our guard mounting parades continued to be strict, amounting to an evening ritual linked to the setting of the sun. The long shadows of the men moved across the little parade ground, the stiff figure of the inspecting officer sliding between them, a plump sergeant trundling behind.
A kind of mutual respect had grown up among national servicemen of whatever rank and we formed the majority on site. The camp very much acquired a national service atmosphere, slack in off hours but enthusiastic and hard-working at other times, with many of the men expressing a moving loyalty to the gunsite. Regular soldiers, with the exception of one or two older sergeants, played in with us and the result was a strangely happy collection of men, none of whom could have said exactly why they were so contented.
We had our family troubles, of course, but, in general, things went well. I felt contented among good friends and came to appreciate our isolated mountain life, where I could both direct and serve others even apart from military duties. This surreal army atmosphere was only occasionally troubled by the intrusion of some pompous, high-ranking officer.
One week I had to take a reading and comprehension test for those men with no educational qualifications. I got them to read a simple passage from some story, firstly to themselves and then aloud to me. I would take the book and ask them to tell me in their own words what they had read. This was one way of grading the men for a new educational scheme being introduced in the colony.
I was amazed and shocked by the showing of most of my gunners. A few of the gun numbers could not read at all, some could pick out only the shortest and simplest words, others could read but not pronounce and, again, a few could read but failed to understand what they had read. This was an eye-opener for me because all these men talked with ease, made sense of their lives and appeared moderately intelligent. In fact they were illiterate. We set to work sending them on schemes to provide them with a basic education.
Gunner Barry had been my senior generator attendant for weeks. I wanted to promote him to Lance Bombadier for he was a useful person who could do well. For a long time he was reluctant. “Well, ah must think it over,” he would say. Finally, I broached the subject directly saying that I had mentioned the matter to the Troop Commander. We were standing by the generators, looking down the precipitous valley to the grey rocks of the shore.
“Ye know, Sir,” said Barry, “Ah don’t think ah’ll take it. Ye see Sir – it’s like this. If ah become an NCO then ah’m no longer one of the boys. Ye’ got to be in with your muckers in the army, Sir. Muck in with the boys, that’s wot ah say. Ye can’t do nowt else. ’Ave a drink at the NAAFI, a bit o’ cunt in town, but ye mun do it with yer pals, Sir. Nah, if ah became a bluddy NCO ah’d be different – Sir – not one of ’em. It’s awright for them as likes it but not for the likes of me. No Sir, thank yer very much, Ah’ll stay with me muckers!”
And he did. I, too, had lived in a barrack room and could appreciate this intense desire for solidarity with his friends but I realised that the origins of his decision lay deeper in his history, in his northern working-class origins, the distrust of ‘they’, the authorities, a fear of becoming one of ‘them’ cutting him off from ‘us’. He was neither a dominant nor an aggressive individual but he was both efficient and assertive. I wondered if desire, dominance and aggression were needed to break the bonds of ‘usness’.
For some reason Barry and Trill, the other generator attendant, took a great fancy to me and would frequently ask me to “Cum an ’av a drink with the boys, Sir.” I knew that there was a point at which familiarity became destructive of respect, so the situation here was a tricky one. I found a solution in the fact that when I was duty officer it was possible to ‘drink with the boys’ in the NAAFI in uniform, when the others were relaxing in mufti. This meant two things, firstly the wearing of uniform emphasised the necessary rank distinction and the fact that one was on duty meant that one could not touch more than a pint or so. This was well understood by the soldiers’ extraordinary instinct for the correct social relationship required by an officer in a particular mood. One evening, however, Barry and Trill came up to the officers’ mess with a bottle of beer and a mug for me. Fortunately, I was alone.
“Ave a drink with us, Sir,” said Barry. “It’s all on Trill here – ye see it’s me bluddy twenty-first fucking birthday!”
“Barry,” I said, closing the door of the mess gently behind me, “congratulations and many happy returns!”
“Hep – and many ’appy returnsch!” added Trill.
We sat on the steps outside the mess and they poured me out my beer. Barry was not so very drunk but the beer had loosened his tongue.
“’Ere’s to you, Sir!” he said, “Our best bluddy officer.”
We drank and I toasted his birthday. Barry leaned forward confidentially.
“Ye know, Sir, the trouble with you is y’re too fucking eddicated. What’s the use of bluddy eddication if it stops ye mucking in with the boys. All you eddicated chaps’re the same, always thinking or reading books, talk, talk. Don’t ye ever ’ave a girl, Sir, go on the booze ’an get proppa sozzled. That’s our life an it’s a good un – it keeps yer well cleaned out. When ye with the lads ye can ’ave some proppa fun. On yer life, Sir, ye can!”
I told him a little about books and reading but he was not impressed.
“Tell ye wot, Sir. When it’s yer birthday, jest ye let Trill ’ere an me know an we’ll take ye on a booze and show ye up Gobblers. Clean ye out it would, Sir, proppa like. Come in with the boys and we’ll give ye a good time. Jest ye let us know, Sir!”
I returned to the mess thinking there was a lot of sense in Barry’s philosophy. I felt they were right, that I was missing something. But what to do?
At the backside of the city of Victoria there is a narrow gully containing a stream that tumbles down steeply into the city from the upper levels. Alongside the brook, a path climbs out of town winding between thick bushes. To the gunners the place was known as ‘Gobblers’ Gulch’. Here they would repair on Saturday evenings in search of a ‘popsy’ for a ‘knee trembler’ in the bushes. Often going in groups and having found a willing girl, they would disappear with her among the bushes among the rocks near the stream. Tossing up for first go, they would carry out rites proper to the occasion. They had a superstition that the chap who was ‘first in’ never got VD, whereas the second fellow, should there be any such risk, usually ‘caught a dose’. Occasionally, by way of a change, they would seek a ‘brown arser’ instead but this was usually referred to with bated breath, not because it merited disapproval, but because it was a rarer and more perversely exciting procedure.
One evening Roger and I walked ‘up Gobblers’ to see what we could. All we noticed was a group of figures some way off the path and a couple of mincing girls, who made eyes at us as we passed. At the top, however, where the ‘Gulch’ comes out on to a residential road, we met several of our gunners about to come down.
“Ah ha – good evening, Sirs,” they chorused with ribald amusement. “Having a good time?”
We gave them of our best repartee and went on.
It was extraordinary how popular we were in camp next day. “Had a good time last night, Sir?” “Saw you up Gobblers, Sir, was she a good ’un?” and so on. The camp approved strongly of what was evidently seen as a demonstration of normal virility by its officers. It seems that British soldiers believe all officers to be impotent, chinless wonders. Our supposed exploit bore useful fruit.
I once asked our cook Corporal the meaning of ‘Gobbler’.
“Well, Sir, you know, it’s what happens when you have a six and nine.”
After a little encouragement I understood.
“Of course you can’t do that in the Gulch, Sir. You have to get her to take you to her room for that.”
Gunner Collinson was a very nice boy. He played tombola in the NAAFI all Saturday and was never drunk. He was also saving a lot of money every week. One pay parade he said to me,
“Sir, may I draw out my savings next week?”
“No reason why not, Collinson, but what do you want it for?”
“Well, you see, Sir, I shall be going back to Blighty soon so I thought I might get a few presents for the folks.”
Next week Collinson duly disappeared into Hong Kong with some three hundred dollars in his pockets. The story did not emerge until later when the camp was agog with it and Collinson a hero. Wearing his best suit he had strolled nonchalantly into the grandest of Kowloon hotels, a most impressive building, functioning as the air line terminal and the centre of a social order normally well beyond Collinson’s reach. Entering one of the bars he had a drink and waited for what he had been told would happen. A svelte Chinese waiter approached him.
“Are you waiting for anyone, Sir?” he asked.
“Well, not exactly, I was just wondering–”
“Of course, Sir. Well, there are British, American and French planes in this evening. I dare say one of the hostesses might like to oblige – er – for the usual consideration.”
“Naturally – perhaps you might like to arrange it for me.”
“No problem, Sir – and which nationality was it?”
“Ah – French, of course,” said Gunner Collinson.
“Room 291, Sir. In half an hour. I’ll let you know when you may go up.”
So it was that Gunner Collinson slept with a charming French air hostess in the most famous of Hong Kong hotels. Asked what it was like he would smile dreamily and say “Sir – It was lovely.” A penniless but happy man.
We had limited transport and on Saturday afternoons a single three-tonner was used as recreation transport, taking officers and men alike down to the city. At midnight, everyone reported back to the truck for the journey home. It was a fantastic if disgraceful sight. Across the great car park of the services’ Cheero Club, groups of sozzled gunners would appear, some singing at the tops of their voices, some supporting a vomiting companion, and others more exhausted, “shagged to the wide”.
Greetings would be effusive and officers avoided but, as there was only one seat next to the driver, it was frequently necessary for one of us subalterns to board the truck behind. We were usually greeted with cheers, Christian names and long-winded tales of the evening’s exploits. Off went the truck swaying out of town, two or more men vomiting over the tailboard, “spewing the ring”. Loud singing echoed along the shuttered streets, pavement popsies receiving piercing whistles and catcalls.
Occasionally a man became aggressive and was surrounded by his fellows, the more sober gathering around the officer, isolating him from the more drunken individuals. A sergeant or NCO was usually present to keep a semblance of order.
One day there was a serious row in camp. One of the more temperamental bombadiers, who had been under some stress, threw down his jacket on being given an order. It was a refusal to obey – an ‘I’ll soldier no more’ incident. He was marched off at once to the guardroom where he spluttered apologies to every officer who approached him. The difficulty was twofold. Apart from this incident, he had a good record and, in spite of his temperament, he was a jewel of a character. His case was tried at the Battery Commander’s orders with the Troop Commander and me as witnesses. The Bombadier apologised profusely, confessed his attachment to the site, to his friends. It was the happiest time he had had in the army, he said. He couldn’t bear to leave it. To the surprise of us all, he began to weep like a child. The embarrassed Sergeant Major marched him out and we adjourned to allow him time to recover. The BC looked at us and asked for our opinions. We were indeed loathe to let him leave the camp since his usefulness lay not only with his efficiency but with his good influence on the men. In addition, although we were shy to admit it, we had been affected by his protestations of affection for the site and his life there.
He was marched in once more. Apologies again; “Dunno what came over me, Sir. Blubbering like a baby.” The BC then launched into a merciless dissection of his character, delivered with a savage iciness, yet with the air of a rather disillusioned father rather than that of an Officer Commanding. The analysis was accurate and I respected the BC’s performance. According to the Manual of Military Law, the man ought to have received an unpleasant sentence and reduction to the ranks. The BC decided to give him a second chance and, after dire warnings, his case was dismissed. The BC told us all to forget it.
On another occasion, I was nearly stuck through with a bayonet. It was an unpleasant Saturday evening with all other officers and sergeants out of camp. I was Duty Officer and only a single senior bombadier remained as Guard Commander. At Guard Mounting Parade this bombadier behaved rather strangely and I realised he had been drinking: yet he was coherent and mounted the guard without error. On the parade, however, one man, whose rifle was poorly cleaned, was ordered to parade before me some time later for further inspection.
He was brought to me by a very junior lance bombadier. The rifle had not been touched. I was launching into a torrent of corrective abuse when, to my discomfort, I noticed the man draw his bayonet from his belt and conceal it behind his trouser leg. I knew this man well from the patrol, a trusty old soldier. I altered my tone and enquired whether he was all right. I then saw he was swaying on his feet and quite drunk. He made a slight movement with the bayonet, which was at once seized by the lance bombadier and wrestled from him. Without further ado, I had the man under close arrest and locked up in the guardroom.
The disciplinary problem posed by this event was not simple. First, if it came out that my guard commander had also been drinking then both he and I would have been in serious trouble; he, for not having controlled a member of his guard, and I, for not having dismissed him before the parade on a charge of being under the influence.
I called the Guard Commander up to the mess and, seeing his thoughts were still cloudy, treated him to a strong, black coffee. I decided not to mention his ‘state’ and he was soon ‘right enough’. I decided to charge the potential bayonet sticker with drinking on guard duty rather than threatening an officer, thus avoiding an awkward enquiry. In any case, I liked this man and did not want to see him before a court martial. I was later to find out that he was, in fact, a developing alcoholic and that little could be done for him. He asked to see me and apologised profusely, being at great pains to make things up generally. I advised the TC to transfer him to another troop as soon as possible.
And then there was the outing of Gunner Mulberry. He was my favourite Gorbals’ ‘die-hard’ straight from the Glasgow slum. Mulberry rarely left camp, preferring to save his cash and get quietly sozzled in the NAAFI. Whenever he did venture forth, the whole camp held its breath.
One evening the whisper went round, “Mulberry’s going to town!” and everybody anticipated the inevitable sequel. Mulberry’s mind did not run particularly on women; he preferred rickshaws. He and his mucker, McTavish, would drink a bottle of Scotch together and, with some extra beery fortification, they would hire a rickshaw and set off on a wild carousal, singing and roaring through the streets. Suddenly they would stop and, amid mighty oaths, drive the unfortunate coolie into an arcade. McTavish would then grasp the shafts of the vehicle and off they would go again weaving dangerously in and out of the traffic with a lordly Mulberry in the back waving a bottle. Always it ended up the same way, a free fight on the highway, bruised policemen and a locking up in jail. Around one in the morning the sleepy Duty Officer would take the call and get ready to prepare some defence for the morning’s magistrates court.
Unsurprisingly, the British ‘tommy’ is not popular among the ordinary Chinese of the colony. Some men leave camps on a Saturday with the deliberate intention of causing trouble in the streets, assaulting stall vendors, rickshaw coolies and the like. One of my gunners reckons that well over half the men in camp go out with prostitutes, some of them as frequently as possible, prices varying from a ten dollar fuck in a shantytown to large expenditure in hotels. There are, in addition, numbers of small boys willing to oblige at ten cents a go; talent is nowhere lacking.
Chinese, generally, have standards of behaviour as strict or stricter than ours. Under normal conditions, only a girl of low moral repute will act as a prostitute but, today, under conditions of extreme economic need, many have taken to the profession and this is not severely condemned. Indeed, some of the girls are very kind to the men and exercise a good influence on them. There is an underlying need for love and ‘Suzie Wong’ relationships of charm and delight sometimes develop. The provision of Prophylactic Aid centres for the armed services in the city keeps the incidence of venereal diseases quite low. The men prefer to use these rather than contraceptives which are generally considered a spoil sport.
I have heard a British ‘tommy’ walk up to a coolie shouting “Out of my way you yellow-livered, slant-eyed, bastard!” If I had not been in a car which started off across a traffic crossing at that moment, I would have had the military police on to him. The average Chinese are slight in build and naturally quiet, normally not seeking trouble. The men tend to exploit this. It would do them good to come up against more redoubtable adversaries, as they would elsewhere in the world.
The troublemakers are part of a British social problem. They come usually from the toughest deprived areas of urban Britain, the Black Country, Liverpool, Glasgow. It is these men who set up incidents that create bad feeling. Although they enjoy their disorderly nights out, most of the men are peaceful enough. The soldier is in surroundings quite unnatural to him; some of them would be problem adolescents at home let alone here. Talkers and bad mouthers in camp have an insidious effect. Bad barrack-room influences lead decent men into trouble, even when it is only to ‘see what it’s like’. Those who behave with decorum may become objects of barrack-room ridicule. Sometimes they invent plausible stories to cover themselves.
In China, a soldier is traditionally the lowest of the low and the behaviour of British troops comes up to expectations. Even so, men often expressed a real liking for the Chinese. Those who hated the “yellow bastards” were in a minority. In general, the men know through experience much more about the Chinese than do the officers to whom, isolated in their clubs, their existence was an irrelevance. Some soldiers, who had established relations with Chinese families, were full of admiration for them and there was an occasional marriage. Men who crossed these social barriers were usually quiet, thoughtful types who had picked up a smattering of the language and developed real friendships.
My batman, for example, was an expert on the life of the junk people in Aberdeen, the boat people who roam the seas around Hong Kong. Gunner Hughes was one of twins who became friendly with the brothers Lai who were our washhouse cleaners in camp. They invited him to their home in Aberdeen, where he made friends with a school master and a police constable and where he sat in on English classes trying to learn Cantonese in reverse. Gradually, he began to spend all his time with his new-found friends, walking down to Aberdeen alone as soon as the day’s work was done. He learnt many things, Chinese carpentry and fishing techniques, but spent most of his time with a family talking with them. I met him once at a Cantonese opera in Aberdeen and noted how totally he was accepted by the folk of the township. Some of the men said he had a mistress there, a story he found it useful not to deny, but I do not think he had. He had simply entered another world and was happy in it. Hughes was a quiet person with little education but perfect manners. The Troop Commander said he had “gone native”.
One day, when he had been laying out my ‘blues’ for a Guard Mounting Parade, Hughes asked me if he could borrow my copy of Arthur Waley’s translations of Chinese poems. Next day, a gunner told me, with awe in his voice, that Hughes had spent the whole evening reading it and was copying some of the poems into a notebook. I talked to Hughes and found that his interest was a very spontaneous one; he could not say why he liked a poem. Certain of them struck him as revealing something and these he would copy down laboriously.
Hughes told me he would be heartbroken when he had to leave Hong Kong and his Chinese friends. He seemed to have fitted entirely into the nearest equivalent of his own “class” within Chinese small-town life: neither he nor his friends knew much about the intellectual culture of the Chinese; his friendships were practical, down to earth; he enjoyed folk tales, odd customs, the Chinese atmosphere. It spoke somewhere to his soul.
To test the operational quality of the colony’s air defences we had a three day exercise, manning the radars and guns continuously day and night. British and American planes flew sorties over the colony during the day and, at night, a Sunderland flying boat cruised around in order that we might practise engagements upon it.
We organised the troop into a series of watches but, whenever there was an “alarm”, everyone had to double on to the equipment. We were fully manned in between thirty seconds to a minute. At dawn and dusk, we ran local defence schemes, manning the trenches around our perimeter and sending out small patrols which tried to infiltrate the camp. On one occasion, Hughes and I got through the barbed wire by crawling up a drain and succeeded in ‘blowing up’ both generators and ammunition. We had crawled some thirty yards in darkness up a very steep slope taking at least a quarter of an hour. Everyone was startled as our ‘fire crackers’ went off loudly in the half light of dawn.
Morale was exceptionally high. There was some grumbling but it was good-natured and, what with our little games of sabotage and the occasional air raid, interest was well sustained. Although we only had a total of eight hours sleep, divided into four periods of two hours each, it was a surprisingly happy time.
It took a scheme like this for me to realise what a self-dependent unit we were. At night we were surrounded by the dark hills and sea, giving us a lonesome feel that seemed to reach the men. Each one had a clear-cut job to do; operating the radar; manning telephones; laying the guns; spotting aircraft; looking out for saboteurs. Everyone did well and the apathy so common on a bad day was absent.
Humour and good leadership sustained our work. The Troop Commander was absent, so our regular subaltern provided the military knowledge and experience which Roger and I lacked. We treated the whole thing as a game and, by enjoying humorous situations with the men, creating laughter and smiles and by teasing those who were fed up or fatigued, an atmosphere of comradeship spread through the troop. We all felt responsible to one another. This feeling of togetherness within isolation is difficult to define. In spite of sleeplessness everyone seemed “chuffed”.
The 107 set began to buzz. The telephonist, at the AAOR board in our control room, adjusted his headset. The wireless crackled, “Peter Ricksha Peter Ricksha Peter Ricksha. 12345, 54321. Able Baker Charlie Dog Easy Fox. Broadcast Broadcast.” The voice droned monotonously into the control room. As Duty Officer, I turned the knobs, adjusted frequency and waited.
“Hallo all sites Jig. Hallo all sites Jig. Message. Duty Officer to phone. Officer to phone. Acknowledge. Jig 1? Roger. Jig 2? Roger. Jig 3? Roger...”
One by one the gun sites acknowledged and the duty officers listened in. One by one they repeated the message back. Our telephonist giggled at the calculatedly blasé voices of the officers, contrasting sharply with the brisk tones of the control set operator. One site was asked to “read back” – there was a pause. Regimental Control sounded irritated.
“Jig 6 Jig 6 read back message now.” A long pause then a hesitant gunner voice came on, “Wait one!” There was a spluttered exclamation from control. Our telephonist giggled. Jig 6 had dropped a bollock. There was no Duty Officer there. Ha Ha.
“Jig 6. Jig 6. Repeat back last message.”
“Jig 6. Duty Officer here.” A voice thick with sleep. “Send your message.”
The message was sent. Another pause “Say again!” Laughter rang out in our control room, everyone was wide awake now. Finally Jig 6 got the message and the set went silent.
Alive, humming with sensation, the silent night brooded around us, the wireless buzzing, yet mute without voices. Over the hills lay the telephone lines like spiders’ webs, the operators waiting for the next alarm. The radar paraboloid spun round and round, reflections flickering. Inside, on the screen, lay a neat picture of land and sea for some fifty miles about us. Our invisible beam was tickling the masts of junks some twenty miles offshore and fondling the shapes of islands. The Radar Telephonist in the Control Room was plotting the junk positions on a board. I watched him. At last the picture was complete. “Red – go to bearing,” I ordered. The radar stilled, the telephonist snoozed. Yet the air was vibrant with a kind of humming, radars, predictor, wireless, wires a hundredfold quivering with life, uneasy tension.
I strolled outside, climbed the steps to the command post and leaned on a wall facing the sea. With the moon riding high, swift silver-tinted clouds cast patterns on the wrinkled sea. Distant islands rose steeply from the waters, black mounds seeming to move up and out of their settings. Moth-winged junks, shrouded in the dim twilight of the moon, sat barely moving on the water, silhouettes dark against the night-grey sea. The morning fleet was moving seawards silently, not even a fisherman’s voice. Sometimes a sheen of moonlight ran in a crescendo of wind patterns across the waves, a faint sound of waters washing the feet of the cliffs below.
Moon and space tell strange stories and my drowsy mind could neither think nor criticise. Here was a crystal moment, the great view, the dark, portentous hills, the shrouded sea, the secretive movement of the junks. In timelessness I gazed at the sea, gathering shreds of light to see more clearly the shapes of islands, hills and bays, the butterfly shapes of boats. I neither knew nor cared who those men may have been. Their presence was enough. Maybe they would be there always, sailing towards the horizon. Perhaps they had been there even before I had come.
I returned to the control room. No one had moved. Suddenly a great clatter on the telephone. I grabbed the receiver.
“Jig 4 Duty Officer.”
“Jig 4 stand by – operations operations!”
I crossed the room, pulled down the alarm bell switch and checked my watch. The sound of running boots, shadows of men crossing the door between me and the sky, fifty-five seconds. Not bad. The lines were tested.
“Red. How do you hear me?”
“Radar lines loud and clear, Sir!”
“All guns loud and clear.”
“Roger all guns.”
Bombadier Wilson was operating the radar set, a gentlemanly type, precise with a scientist’s vision, a draughtsman and photographer, my senior operator and a reliable NCO. He had just set the range selection switch to maximum and we were scanning out beyond the Lema Islands across Lantao and were picking up clutter from the Communist islands off the mouth of the Pearl River. To the north, we peered over the mountains into Chinese airspace. A few junks appeared off to the south, the specks of light remaining on the screen a few seconds after the strobe had passed, repeating the echoes returning along the axis of the beam.
Reducing range, we had a closer look around Hong Kong. Suddenly a bright spot appeared, elevation about five degrees, couldn’t be a ship. Wilson flicked over the switches, master control to ‘locate’ and brought the range step on to the target. He locked on, the dials started swinging around, range and angle steady but the bearing dial turning steadily, a crossing target.
“Red following, bearing 50 at 6 angle 5.”
“Red track.” This from the control room.
“Red on target.”
The target disappeared in clutter and we lost it. Yet there it was. The Sunderland was off from the sea and flying out for us. Later we picked him up again, tracking him well out to sea. He seemed off course for he flew straight over the Lema Islands which are communist. Locating him again at 34,000 yards we tracked him into the harbour area. Things were going very well.
I returned to my room for two hours of precious time off the set. It was five in the morning and at 7.30 a.m. I was again on duty. I slept like a dead dog.
After ‘stand down’, the NCOs found all their beds neatly laid out on the roadway, turned down for immediate occupation. Somebody had decided that not all sabotage should be imaginary. I suspected the REME mechanics but didn’t say anything.