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A Little Light Relief

Open Season Sign

Parents have a tendency to worry about their offspring and particularly if they are involved in operational flying so letters home were often intended to pacify them. However, young men full of testosterone often find recreations that are as likely to be somewhat boisterous. When two squadrons in forced inactivity become competitive those recreations can become progressively more warlike. A letter home:-

"Before coming here we had a squadron war with another squadron who were twice as many as we. It all started with six of us going to their mess on invite and when we left, the O.C. stole the mascot that had been in the squadron since it was formed.

We drove off in our 15cwt with them swearing vengeance. Half a mile down the road I suggested a new scheme which was voted on at once and we went back. I dropped off first and then walked calmly through their mess, meanwhile the O.C. turned the truck round and the boys put the tailboard down. They crowded out of the mess to see what was going on, I pushed through them from the back and picked the front one in my arms, carrying him to the trunk and jumping on backwards. The two flight commanders grabbed a couple of legs each and hoisted us both on board. The O.C. had already started up so we had to haul the two flt: comms: on board by force as they were already running too fast to find the extra jump. It all went off like a bank robbery. The poor captive could only repeat a few awful words over and over and over.

We knew that a counter attack must come and we found to our horror that all of the other officers were away on a liberty run and our camp was miles from anywhere.

Six of us with a captive and nowhere to lock him up, expecting his squadron to come to the rescue. They left him with me and split up very well, frightening the attackers with a threat to steal their transport so they left us alone for the night.

The trouble was that I had to keep this type quiet and each of his yells for help ended in a faint gurgle. In fact our chaps kept on coming back and telling me not to be so rough and to see if he was still conscious etc: but I was determined to throttle him rather than let the others down and lying on the floor in the pitch blackness made things difficult. He was in a sorry way but we revived him with whisky.

The next day he tried to steal our truck at dawn but I was awake, went through a window completely naked and just landed on the running board. We returned him in triumph.

Matters rested for a few days and then their O.C. threw out a challenge."

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The trophy was a magnificently mounted wooden dumbbell that was ceremoniously presented to any pilot guilty of notably crass flying. It remained in his name until another pilot was stupid enough to earn it. I have no idea of how or where it ended it's life. The kidnap succeeded solely because of the element of surprise. I had come in through the door at the back of the mess and all attention was on our 15cwt truck. They probably thought that we were about to return the dumbbell. It was fortunate that although most of the chaps who had piled out of the mess had a drink in their hands there was one in the very front, about my size who had his hands in his pockets. I put my arms around him, trapping his hands in his pockets and rendering him helpless.

They had left me to keep him quiet during the inevitable counter attack. Saying that he was 'my baby'. He was no wrestler and I had him in a neck lock. Our camp was virtually empty. The O.C. and the others were no match for the three truckloads that had arrived bent on vengeance. As soon as the 'attackers' had gone into the darkness they created a hullabaloo in their rear. Since they felt ambushed they rushed back to their vehicles and so back to their own camp for the night. The letter continues:-

"We accepted; several of our Indian officers dressed up as bearers and on a given signal, put the lights out and drenched everyone at dinner with water. Some people lost their tempers and fired and a state of mechanical warfare developed on a no moon night. The only casualty was a full grown pig confirmed but the body was left behind in the excitement. Later we returned to patch up relations but they closed the door on the O.C. & two Indian officers to beat them up but another chap and I got in through a window before it was closed and a very serious fight followed. Much damage was done to person and to property. Yours truly was hardly scratched. We stopped it as soon as possible and went home.

Their O.C. had them all on the carpet the next day for lack of sportsmanship, made them pay for the damage, and stopped their leave!"

The whole thing was planned with precision. "Our" Indians were perfectly dressed as bearers. They went into the bearers quarters just before dinner and explained that there was a special guest that night and for that night only his servants were to serve. Just outside the door to the mess was a master switch that held all of the fuses etc: for that part of the building. We were waiting in the shadows with the 'get away' lorry. Since we had heard that their O.C. was not in that night a similar story was given to the diners. There was a heart stopping moment when the 'bearer' who was standing by the light switch was spoken to by an officer who was just entering. We could not hear the words but there was a raised voice and a pointed finger.

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The 'bearer' bowed low, placed his palms together and vanished in the indicated direction, only to return to his place. It was plain that things were not going well with the new bearers. They seemed so clumsy with the soup etc: When complaints were becoming unbearable the code "Pani Sahib?" (Water Sir?) was given. As soon as the 'head bearer' picked up a water jug the others did the same and as one man they drenched the unfortunate diners, the lights went out, the bearers tipped over the trestle tables and escaped through the open door to the lorry.

The letter mentions shots being fired. When that happened we knew that something must have gone wrong. To some members of the other squadron it seemed that they were facing a revolt by the bearers and several of them drew their revolvers and fired into the night. The plan had been to tip over all of the beds in the sleeping quarters etc: etc: but there was no way of telling our members detailed not to carry this out. They had started as soon as the lights in the mess went out some distance away. In the following confusion trucks were careering all over the countryside and this is when the pig was killed. There were few trucks following us because we had taken the liberty of removing the rotor arms. These had been placed in a sack with a large label "ROTOR ARMS" that was left in the mess.

Cartoon depicting the 'tale'
Reproduced with the kind permission of Elaine.M.Williams 2000

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We gathered at the appointed spot and held a council of war, deciding that our first object would be to recover the pig. We found it and chucked it into the back of a lorry. In the back of that lorry was F/O Dogar, a devout Muslim and a damned good type. I just caught a glimpse of the fear in his eyes as he cowered back afraid that he might be spattered by the blood. The pig was soon to give birth. It was a horrible moment. We went back to our mess and changed lorries.

Things had not gone exactly to plan. We felt that their O.C. had not made plain to all of his staff that he had declared "open season" and agreed to go back and explain. As mentioned in the letter home they let in a few officers, slammed the door and started to beat them up. I and one other officer climbed through an open window to shorten the odds and there was much 'rough housing' before peace was declared. No broken bones but it was a near miracle that no one was shot. Nevertheless we felt that they were unfairly punished. True, they seemed to have been poor sports but we felt that the ultimate blame lay elsewhere.

This degree of hooliganism was not common but when young men have been bound by tribal loyalties and have time on their hands it is bound to break out. One only has to watch a Rugby match where thirty men have been all but killing one another for an hour and a half shake hands at the end to understand; at least, a little. The chap whom I nearly strangled met me in a bar a few days later. He bought me a drink and I apologised for being so rough on him, he answered "You had to, I'd have done the same thing'. 'Just watch your back that's all". He was a good type. Never saw him again.

We played hard and often drank too much but I would not take a drink at all if I knew that I was down for ops or a long flight the following day and there were many with the same philosophy. It was just not worth it. Sneh did not drink at all! Neither did I when we were together and it is interesting to note that when I returned from leave there could be quite a time before I joined in.

 

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Edward Sparkes 1998-2002