Friday, August 01, 2008

Monday 18th December 1939

In charge of my first guard tonight. Went home at 2:15p.m, cleaned-up, and reported to BHQ at dusk – 4:30p.m. All went well at the guard inspection ceremony (I hadn’t any idea of the procedure, but remembered “Eyes left” and a butt salute as we marched past the orderly officer). Down to the Mill, a bleak building near the station, by lorry. The old guard was already lined up, in the darkness. We fell-in opposite. I’d been told that the old guard commander took the initiative in orders until a certain point in the ceremony had been reached.
“Old guard ‘shun!” came Sergeant Stephen’s voice.
“New guard ‘shun!” I snarled.
“Old guard present arms!”
“New guard present arms!”
This was easy! We all sloped arms and then, “Nothing unusual has occurred since I took over this guard!” cried Sergeant Stephens. An ominous silence followed.

I guessed that this was the point at which I took the initiative. But what should I do? The silence deepened. “Oh bugger it,” I thought, “I’ll wait till someone tells me!” The orderly sergeant came behind me; whispered. “First two reliefs step forward!” I ordered.

After sentries were posted and both guards stood at ease, I followed Sergeant Stephens into the whitewashed, bare guardroom. Lantern-lit, oil-stove warmed.
He handed over the articles appertaining. I was supposed to check but he and the orderly sergeant both assured me it was “all right”. So after we’d presented arms and the old guard had marched off, I found we’d only a half store full of fuel oil; no blank guard report sheets; and the cups had been left unwashed.

We made ourselves as snug as possible; put boards on the floor so that our blankets were clear of the concrete. I sent the “stick-boy” – a smart ex-militiaman – out to buy some oil. Actually he managed to “wangle” half a gallon, which was better still.

The evening was uneventful. Tea and supper was brought to us. The men were fairly decent and helped me with guard-room discipline. All the same I look forward to the time when I’ll be an experienced guard commander and can enforce my own ideas of discipline.

The orderly officer came early – at 11:20p.m. – and we turned fairly quickly. I ballsed-up the show though. I had the men standing at ease until the officer dismissed us. And then I dismissed them from the order arms position! One of them pointed out that both these things were hardly customary, when we had returned to the guard room.

I then “kipped down” quite comfortably on a form (boots on, of course) with five blankets. Roused each time the reliefs went out (they changed themselves) but otherwise slept well until seven o’clock.


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