Cartoon of service man
The Unique Sense
by Alfred Lincoln

One thing that seems to change but little in Service life is the service man's unique sense of humour. This becomes evident to most of us from the first few days after we join. It is a rare sailor who as an ordinary seaman was not sent on some mission such as being told to go to the Engineer's office for a Long Weight, and after a series of frustrating delays being told by the engineer to back whence he came and ask if he had now waited long enough. Many an Army recruit has been dispatched to Stores to requisition 1,000 yards of Firing Line, and not a few fledgling airmen have been pointed to a fence, given a bucket of whitewash and instructed to whitewash the Last Post. But the really classical japes seem to happen more or less by accident.

This the story of one which did happen that way. It is a true story. Only the actual place, time and names of the participants have been omitted to protect the guilty.

In a certain place in western Canada, just prior to the Second World War there was an artillery unit encamped at the base of a small hill. Being artillery, they were accustomed to starting their day not with a bugle, but with a reduced charge from a blank round fired by a gun sited at the crest of the hill. The duty of firing the gun was rotated among several members of the unit. The gunner of the day was supposed to arise in the pre-dawn chill, dress properly and march in correct military manner up the hill to the gun. Here he would open the breech, check the barrel for any obstructions, insert the blank cartridge, close the breech and stand at attention until the correct moment to pull the firing lanyard.

Usually all went like clockwork, all that is but for one individual who habitually stayed in his sack until the last minute, then would run up the hill still pulling up his trousers, yank open the breech, and without any vestige of checking the barrel would slap in the cartridge, slam the breech shut and be just in time to fire the gun.

Now all military men, and just possibly artillerymen a shade more than others, will consistently gripe about the necessity of carrying out their duties in a proper military manner. But let one of their number fail to do his job correctly and the omission is instantly noted, and he is in great danger of being cast by his compatriots into the outer darkness. The antics of our hero had not gone unobserved by his colleagues, and two or three of them conspired to buck him up, properly.

It was not too difficult to scrounge some extra cordite, and after dark on the evening before he was next due to fire the gun, they crept up the hill and inserted a goodly additional charge in the gun-barrel just ahead of the cartridge chamber. The idea was that the resultant roar would probably lift the miscreant out of his half-buttoned pants, if indeed it did not cause other side-effects humorous to all but the owner of said article of clothing.

But quite unbeknown to the group, another and equally ingenious ring of conspirators was at work. The latter had wired together a mass of scrap iron and old time-cans, which in the hours before dawn they quietly carried up the hill and inserted at arm's length down the muzzle of the gun. The idea was that the bundle would be ejected a few feet by the charge and go rolling and clanging down the hill, to the utter consternation of the victim.

Came the dawn.

From the signal-gun came also an ear-splitting report and blinding flash, followed by the banshee scream of a mass of scrap iron and haywire as it flew through the early-morning air and took the top clean out of the sergeant-major's tent, which immediately collapsed upon its astounded occupant.

We draw a merciful curtain over subsequent events. It is true that servicemen have a unique sense of humour. But it is also true that sergeants-major who have their tents shot from over them have no sense of humour at all.

From the Sentinel

Send comments and questions to Randy Vickers

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