20 Court Martial & AWOL

I’m on a charge of striking a superior officer

Jewish Private   I had been in a graded battalion because I only had one good eye and also because my Father was never naturalised.  Graded battalions were attached to various infantry regiments.  I went into the Glosters,  then I was transferred to the Wiltshire Regiment, back to the Glosters, from there into the Green Howards and I finally ended up in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps.  Not only was I fed up with all this shunting around but I was also frustrated at the pettiness of army life and quite honestly, I wanted to get out of the army.  I wanted to get away.

I was eventually sent to a Selection centre.  They had people from all over – from different units – for various reasons, medical, psychological, whatever.  They were sent to the Selection Centre to be sorted out and sent to more suitable units.  This was at Aberystwyth.  It was a great big unit, based on the town, with teams of psychiatrists to sort all these oddballs out.

My papers didn’t arrive with me.  They got lost, somehow.  So instead of doing the usual fourteen days of routine inspections, testings, and then being finally posted, I was there for twenty-eight days, by which time I was thoroughly pissed off.  Incidentally, about 35 to 40% of people passing through this centre were given their tickets.  They were just useless.

I was in a genuinely serious nervous condition.  In fact I was being given luminol. (1 )   At the same time, which was an expression of the same thing, I had developed piles.  This was around Christmas.  Having been told not to go sick or else I’d be charged with malingering, I asked for an interview with the Commanding Officer, and I got it.  I explained the predicament.  I want to go sick, but if I do I’m told I’ll be charged with malingering.  He arranged immediately for a special sick report to be made out.  I was told to report to the Medical Centre.

“Oh these bloody people are all the same” – so I could tell straight away he was anti-semitic

When I arrived there, there was a lance corporal – a medical orderly – and he had this little bit of paper in his hand, which was the special sick report.  I waited for the Doctor to arrive.  It was Boxing Day.  I’d been down in the dumps for a couple of days and the blokes had persuaded me to come to this bloody Christmas do.  I had probably eaten too much and the piles really came on.  I was bleeding and I was in a nervous state.  The Medical Officer on duty happened to be one of the psychiatrists who I understand, though I’m not sure, was filling in for someone else.  He came into the room and during a short conversation between him and the medical orderly I heard him say something like (because on every form there is your religion) “Oh these bloody people are all the same” – so I could tell straight away he was anti-semitic.  He turned to me and started to abuse me.  “I know you buggers, I’ll have you on a charge”, and all this.  I said “Hadn’t you better examine me before you start making all these accusations?”  He said “Yes!  I will! – Get undressed!”  And as I turned he shoved me in the back.  Well, I turned ’round and all hell was let loose.  I really went for him.

I finished up on the floor, with one bloke kneeling on my  neck, one on each of my limbs.  I’m stretched out, practically unconscious.  They even started to interrogate me, but then they decided to sit me on a chair and give me a cigarette.  They let me go, so I went for him again.  Well, that was it.  They calmed me down.  They gave me treatment for my piles, so there was no question of having been a malingerer.  That bit was dropped completely.  Next morning I’m for Company Orders – I’m on a charge of striking a superior officer.  I explained all the circumstances and they said “If your allegations are true it’s still no defence.  You complain about the misbehaviour of your superiors, you don’t strike them.”

I was charged and remanded in custody, pending a court martial, because it was a court martial charge.  I was kept in close arrest, the term being close arrest, not custody.  I was marched through the town three times a day under escort, for my meals to the cookhouse.  I had to parade every day for Company Orders, for 24 hour remands.  This went on for six weeks.  I was visited by a rabbi towards the end, who half suggested to me that if I would agree to a report to the effect that I wasn’t responsible for my actions, that I might make an easy case of it.  I said “If anybody wants to say that, they’re welcome to, but don’t expect me to agree with them.”

They sent me to see a psychiatrist.  I managed, on the way back under escort, to find out the contents of the report – which is a normal thing in the army.  You very seldom travel with documents relating to yourself that you don’t try somehow to find out the contents, which I did do.  In fact I objected to the use of the psychiatrist’s report because in all the answers to the questions, set by the convenors of the court martial, there were traps.  Like “Will this man suffer from, or benefit from punishment?”  And he said “Neither.”  And things like “How would you regard his mental state?”  And he would say “He’s a very stubborn man.  Will not be bested in an argument.”  All that sort of thing, so I wouldn’t stand a bloody chance.

This carried on for six weeks before the court martial convened because I kept refusing to have any representation.  I wanted to conduct the defence myself.  Then I discovered, through the Regimental Police Sergeant, that there was an officer in the unit who was a solicitor, and he had done some good court martials.  When I asked for him to represent me the Commandant nearly went bloody mad – “You can’t have him!  You’re not holding up this unit’s work, just to suit yourself.  You’re not running this show.”  And then he reverted to pleading with me that in my best interests I should have an officer to defend me.

Eventually they parked a bloke on me, who worked on the defence that I couldn’t get out of the charge – which I knew – and that my reaction of being pushed was one of a trained soldier – to react to violence in a violent way.  In the event I was found guilty and I was sentenced to six months.

Even the RSM of the unit wished me luck

At Aberystwyth, amongst the Regimental Police, there was one bloke who was very regimental, but the actual Regimental Police Sergeant and most of the blokes who were lance corporals or privates were very good, very sympathetic, treated me very well.  Matter of fact, on the way away, going to the Detention Barracks at Chorley, they sort of said goodbye to me, even the RSM wished me luck, and all the rest of them.  You see, once a bloke had got into trouble and providing you hadn’t done something despicable in their eyes and you defended yourself from somebody who had struck you, that was OK.  By this time some of them were a bit pleased – this was my impression – I was challenging the authority in all ways.  I’d contacted the local press, from my detention cell, I got in touch with the British Legion local branch, I tried to get publicity for it, and I did.  The whole case was reported in the South Wales Echo.  A lot of the blokes were pleased to find someone standing up to authority, who wouldn’t give in.  There were a lot there who didn’t like the Commanding Officer.  As I say, they were very good to me.  In fact, the escort, the Corporal and a Private from another unit in the command, who escorted me from Aberystwyth to Chorley did me a favour.  I’d written some letters previously that I wanted to beat the censor on – not to have them seen, that I wanted to post.  I was contemplating how to post them – passing them to a civilian on the way, if we pulled in somewhere for a cup of tea at a station, or just dropping them on the train somewhere, hoping somebody would pick them up and post them.  But I took a chance and told the Corporal.  He said “We’re not looking.”  So when we got near a post box I stuck them in.

My troubles really started when I got to the detention barracks in Chorley

Immediately I came across a Staff Sergeant on the section, on the first morning I was there, who looked at my charge sheet, where it said “Striking a superior officer.”  I was the only prisoner in the jail on such a charge.  The first thing this bloke said, on reading it, was  “Six months?  You should have got two years!”  I thought:  I’m well away with this bloke.  I immediately dived across the room, and I was grabbed and held.  I made a bit of an altercation – but that did what I wanted it to do – it got me in front of the Commandant of the detention barracks.  I explained the situation to him.  I said “The two of us can’t live in the same room.  You either put me on a different section or you take him away.”  He wasn’t a stupid man.  In the event they put me in a different section, and they noted, not for the first time, that I had been a tailor, and would I like to work in the tailors shop?  That got me through my detention in relative comfort.  Nevertheless, it was no picnic, particularly the trauma of reception and search and bathing and all the incidents that occurred.

The vast majority of cases in detention, when I was in, were what they called “non-reporters”

These were youngsters who, nine times out of ten, were illiterates – people who couldn’t either read or write – they couldn’t read their notices for call-up.  They were really backward, nervous young people.  When they were caught they had to do a short period – three months or less, I believe, before they entered the service.  The others would be people who were absent without leave, or longer than a certain period, otherwise it would be dealt with by confinement to barracks.  They were a large proportion.

Fusilier   The problem of absenteeism and desertion was so great that one of the best known slogans of the war was “You Can’t Spell Victory with an Absentee”.  To combat it they had special squads of military police and civilian police who were used in an attempt to round up men and women on the run.  In Glasgow they raided places like St Vincent Street, where there was a mobile coffee stall.  Quite regular the squads would raid such places in an attempt to pick up deserters.  Sometimes this meant quite innocent people – disabled people, wounded people, people on leave – were picked up and taken into custody to be checked.  If the Gestapo came to Britain there certainly would have been lots of candidates amongst some of the civilian cops that I met.

You never deserted without taking all your kit, and looking smart.  That was the system

I used to travel up and down the country regular for nothing.  You took your rifle and bayonet, your gas mask and your helmet.  You walked into a station.  You knew most of the time M.Ps would stop you and you wouldnae get on the platform with the ticket inspector.  So the secret was to take the bull by the horns.  Walk up to the MP and say “I’m Fusilier Morrison.  I’m with an escort.  Did you see a Corporal here in the same regiment as me go onto the train?”  And they would say “I’m no so sure, Jock.  He might have went on.  Away in and look.”  You walked in and climbed onto the train.  You’d say the same thing to the ticket inspector.  Once you were on the train, that was it.

When ever the inspector came round you said the same thing.  “We’re in an escort and the Corporal went away ahead.  We thought he was on the train but we cannae find him anywhere.  He must have gone on a train before.”  He’d say “You’re on an escort.  Fair enough.  What’s your name, anyway?”  Take your name.  And that was it, and if you were really brass necked, just tell them you were absent – bluntly.  “I’m going back to my unit.”  “Where’s your unit?”  “My unit’s in such and such a place.”  “O.K., that’s fair enough.”  And that was you.  Another one was, if you met an ATS, go into the toilet with her and when he came around, and came to the door, let her pass her ticket out underneath.  In they days they werenae as permissive in their thinking as they are today.  These were the ways we travelled all over the place.  (2) 

Jewish Private  Besides those who were in Chorley because of absent without leave, there was a strange category of people who had trained as paratroopers, but when it came to it, wouldn’t jump.  They were given 84 days as a standing thing, if they continued to refuse to jump after their training period.  The most interesting group for me were the conscientious objectors.  They were kept separate from us by the authorities.  They didn’t mix with us in the Association Rooms.  These were a large sort of room with three brick walls and one side would have a wire mesh front, and the patrol would patrol outside the wire.  There were also, of course, the isolation and punishment cells.

Thirty or forty of us would be in one of these Association Rooms but the opportunities for chats were not as you might think.  You were kept so busy doing things – your bed board were scrubbed twice a day.  They were as white as driven snow, but you still scrubbed them in the morning and in the evening.  You were constantly employed on cell tasks.  Your bog was a couple of pails in the corner, during closed periods.

When lights out came we had one Staff Sergeant who was constantly screaming his head off about “If I’ve got to stay up all night, you buggers aint going to sleep either.”  He didn’t like night duty.  We used to call him “Nosebag” because what this bastard would do, after lights out, say about half past eight, nine-ish (that’s if you’ve been privileged that evening to get your cocoa, and don’t forget, these were all young boys who were doing very heavy military training and were on a very severe diet – they were constantly hungry) – what he used to do, after lights out he used to listen and if he heard the slightest sound he’d switch the lights on.

“Right, everybody out, out of your beds!  Equipment on!  Full service marching order!”  All equipment was in little pieces, and shined and blancoed to the last degree, and then, to cap it all, he’d say “Right, gas masks on.”  That’s why we called him nosebag.  All this would take an hour to do.  He’d be around at three or four in the morning, and he’d say “Right, go to bed.”  You’ve then got to get all the bloody equipment off, and set out in a particular way for the morning set-up, on your bed, for inspection.  By the time you get all this done and ready, the bleeding bugle’s gone and it’s time to get up.

We used to put fights on for him because organising a smoke was a very difficult thing to do

On the other hand, we managed to exploit some of the eccentricities of some of the guards, in a very interesting way.  There was an old soldier, a Staff Sergeant, who’d done a lot of time in India.  He had three of these Association Rooms to patrol.  We used to laugh our heads off with him.  He used to boast about his prowess as a soldier.  He’d give us a detailed explanation of a heliograph – we pretended we didn’t know what he was talking about.  He’d explain how he’d catch the sunlight and signal back, and what he did to these natives, and all the rest of it.  One of his foibles was his ability to slope arms, up his back!   Which is unbelievable.  Incredible.  While one group was getting him at it, trying to show them how to do this, this relieved the other two cells so that they could organise a smoke.

This is a highly organised thing.  There was another character – loved a fight.  He’d do anything to provoke blokes to fight, ‘cos he loved watching a fight.  He was a sadist, no question about it.  So we used to put on fights for him because organising a smoke was a very difficult thing to do.

We had bunk beds – one up, one down.  We used to sling a blanket down one side, not the side facing the wire, and the procedure was as follows:  whoever had the tobacco, say a Woodbine, would break it into three.  That meant three cigarettes, provided you had the toilet paper to roll them.  Then you had to find a bloke who’s got a tinder, which was the way of getting a light.  Second-timers and people like that used to come in with flints that you bedded in a piece of wood.  Then, with an old razor blade and a cellulose handle of a toothbrush you’d scrape off some of the cellulose and you’d spark it and get enough glow to puff up quickly.  The other problem was that smoke would appear around the lights – so it means less than four people can’t have a smoke, often more.  You’ve got to have one with the tobacco, one with the shit paper, one whose bunk it’s on, and one or two blokes to fan around the lights.  All this was organised, but the problem was, how to get rid of the screw?  Once you got him sloping arms backwards, or you put on a fight, you had fifteen to twenty minutes to have a smoke.

I was in detention just after the Chatham manslaughter charge, in which two Staff Sergeants were sentenced and dismissed, for beating up a prisoner who had TB and killing him in the process

As a result there’d been a big switch round in staff and a new system of so-called “checks”.  (3)  One of the inmates at Chorley was a bloke who had escaped from Poland at the beginning of the war, and when he arrived here in England he volunteered.  He was in his middle-forties.  He was one of those people who had two left legs and two left arms – he just could not drill.  He was the constant butt in his unit – he was in the Pioneer Corps.  He was an intelligent, educated man.  He could speak English.  After a while life became impossible for him – he was the butt for everybody’s whatsisname.  Not only that, physically he couldn’t do a damn thing, and he’s suffering.  So he deserted from the Pioneer Corps and he got caught and court martialed.  He finished up in detention.

Course, here he was at an even bigger disadvantage.  Here there was no escaping at all.  They tried to persevere but there was no way they were going to teach him to slope arms, keep in step, whatever.  He just couldn’t do it.  So they gave him a job in the industrial part, which was to clean the baking tins and billy cans that had come back from field kitchens.  That means they were black, and I mean black – thick and crusted with burnt fat.  You had to bring them up with brick dust.  That was the only cleaning material that existed in these places.  He was in a hut kind of place which was near where I was working in the tailoring workshop.  This was a flat roofed outbuilding to the main buildings.  It was an old mill, this place in Chorley.

On the other side of this flat roofed building was a tower with a couple of hosepipes hanging down.  Instead of ascertaining whether these hoses were fixed at the top, or just hanging to dry, he decided to escape one day.  He climbed on the roof, grabbed the hosepipe and fell to the ground.  The hosepipe was simply hanging to dry.  Before anyone had any chance to see if he’d broken any bones – it wasn’t any great height – they pounced on him and they beat the shit out of him.

They were beating him all the way to the cells

An old boy who’d been on the sewing machine with me, who’d landed in the chokey for something he’d done, and another young bloke, were either side of the Pole’s cell.  They heard him being beaten up, crying and screaming, and this was the time, as I say, just after the Chatham manslaughter charge.  There was a new system in operation that meant that the inmates of the detention camp were paraded – I think it was every Friday morning – one day a week.  A Major or Field Officer would come from the surrounding command.

You’d all be paraded there, and a statement would be read out, something like “Anybody wishing to complain, double out now.”  Well, no one ever did!  Who was going to stick their neck out and complain!  But on this occasion this old boy and the young feller were so outraged by the way this bloke got beaten up that they decided to complain.  They doubled out and complained.

Of course, normal thing – “There will be a Court of Inquiry, blah, blah, blah.”  Unknown to them, though, the authorities got hold of the Pole and told him “Don’t make too much fuss and you’ll get your ticket after the Court of Inquiry.”  By this time he was medically and mentally unacceptable to the army.  When the Court of Inquiry came he said no one hit him!  And these poor two sods were on a charge of making false accusations.

This is the nature of the organisation.  This is the system that keeps everybody in order.  There is no way in which you can defeat them without drawing to yourself the direst consequences.

A lot of my troubles came about almost naturally when I met the same attitudes in the British Army as I had been learning about in fascism

Fusilier   Some of my worst experiences were in India.  A small group of us – privates and a Corporal – had been in a hill station and we all decided to go back to camp a day early and visit a place called Muttra.  We’d been there before.  It was a brothel.  I didnae want to go back and neither did some of the others.  It was old hat to us, but some did, particularly the Corporal. We got to the foot of the hills and because of a landslide the train was late.  Another train turned up and the NCO was determined to get to his brothel.

The train that came was an old tumbledown shackle thing that the Indians used to use – betel nut spit all over the floor.  The Corporal saw the RTO – the Transport Officer.  He says to him “Can I get a compartment cleared out for the lads, because we want to take this train.”  I said to the Transport Officer, a Sergeant “We’re not due back until a certain time.  If we catch the morning train we’ll be back in time.  Is that OK?”  He said “Yes.”

“Well, we’re refusing to take this train.  We want to take the next one.  Besides, we don’t fancy going into these compartments with all the betel nut and all the rest of it.”  But the Corporal was determined.  They held the train up.  There was seven of us who refused.  The Corporal gets the rations and puts them on the train with the help of some privates who decided to go.  Then he says to us “I’m asking you once: are you going to follow the rations?”  That’s one of the things that makes it an order – you’re supposed to go where the rations go.

“Are you following the rations?”  “No.”  “Two:  Are you going to follow the rations?”  “No.”  “Three: are you going to follow the rations?”  We were a wee bit hesitant.  He’d told us he was going to give us three chances.  We gave an explanation why we werenae going to go – to keep as evidence.  “Are you going to follow the rations?”  “No.”  That’s it.  They went on the train.  The train pulled away.  We went to the RTO, got our passes signed, saying why we had done it, and that if we get in on time we wouldn’t be classed as absent.

As luck may have it, we were late.  The train was late and we reported ten minutes after our passes were up.  The Corporal, apparently, hadnae got to his brothel, which meant he got back to the camp in Delhi early.  He was annoyed, so he put in a charge against us.  As soon as we came into the camp we were put into the guardroom.  Taken out in the morning, charged and put in front of the Company Commander.  The Sergeant Major who marches us in said “Where is your evidence?  Where are your passes?”  Foolishly, we handed them over, and they disappeared.

The Company Commander got our explanation, and without any further chance to explain, he told us that he was giving us seven days CB for being late – absent without leave.  (4)    We refused the punishment.  We asked to see the Commanding Officer, which we were entitled to do.  He asked us if we were prepared to accept his punishment.  We said “No.”  We were remanded for Court Martial, the charge now being “Inciting Mutiny” against me, being the oldest soldier.  I had led the other six young soldiers into refusing to obey an order.

I lay in prison for seven months, along with everybody else – without even being tried!  The padre came up regular (this is where I took a dislike to padres) and pleaded with me to give in.  Mind you, if I’d accepted seven days CB I’d have been out.  They were all saying “Give in” and making threats about never seeing our mothers again, but the principle was more important to us, and we stuck it out.

In between that time we seen things that I’d never hope to see again

We were in a compound that was surrounded by barbed wire.  At that time the First Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers had the biggest police force that I’ve seen in a unit I’ve been in.  The reason for that was as follows.  Delhi Cantonment – the camp we were in – had what they called an invisible perimeter.  The Indians used to herd their cattle around it, and sometimes into it.  From time to time the cattle would stray onto our Cantonment.  The Battalion HQ Quarter-Master Sergeant Major had a notice put up in every dining room in the camp, informing all fusiliers, which we were, that if they found these animals straying into our property it was our duty to bring them to the Quarter-Master’s stores, or to the battalion cookhouse for slaughter.  Right.  That is the situation.

When I was imprisoned in this compound I discovered that the police acted as rustlers.  They used to go outside and force the cattle in, under the authority of the Sergeant Major who was in charge of the police.  They’d collect the money for the cattle they’d rustled, and then when the cowman came looking for his cattle, into the perimeter, they whipped him into prison.  They stripped him of everything – looted all his stuff, gave him nothing, and left him there.  They wouldn’t give him a place to shit.  They done that with us too, by the way.  They done this until the poor wee guy was crying to get out – and I mean grovelling – to get out.

And then they would form themselves into a gauntlet, with their truncheons and sticks, and the man would have to run through the rank.  The rank was never under twenty and sometimes nearer thirty men.  He’d run down, getting slaughtered – slaughtered – as he went out.

Sketch:  Walter Morrison

Sketch: Walter Morrison

With us, we’d get sent out with the prisoners who had already been tried, to what they called the maidan.  It’s an open space, and the police, or whoever was in charge of you, would sit under a tree.  It was like an American chain-gang.  They used to have us cutting grass with the edge of a shovel in the height of the sun, when the Indians and everybody else were kipping it up from two o’ clock to four o’ clock.  That’s what they had us doing.  I’ve seen men with the skin literally raised off their back, and the blood’s running out of them, the blood caked up and dried.

You’ve probably heard the tales of picking the sand up, bits of sand up – that’s true – and guys sadistically standing over you.  Wouldnae even give you a drink.  Men collapsing and the guy coming along with a bucket of water and throwing it over them and dragging them in, and throwing them in a cell.  That’s a fact.  There’s no shenanigan about that.  That all happened.  They done it to me.

In the meantime my hair had grown fairly long, and the Sergeant Major decided that I was to get a haircut.  I always stuck by the rules, as I seen them.  It was only when they pushed that wee bit from the other side that I started to kick and I really kicked.  “Get a haircut.”  So I decided to get the first haircut.  They took me out of my cell.  It was an Indian.  He cut my hair.  Made quite a nice job of my hair, and that was it.

The Sergeant Major came along in the morning and said “Right, turn around Morrison, let’s see the back.”  Turned ’round – I was always regimental – everything was done military style, in drill.   “Oh, that’s nae use.  You’ll need to get more off.”  Anger creeping in.  Following morning, out again.  More off.  Without dragging the story out, it took about three days, maybe four days until I was only left with one tuft of hair on the top of my head.  One bit.  My patience is getting tried.  “That’s the end of it”, I said to myself.  I asked the Orderly Officer who came ’round the cells at night “Sir, do you think I need a haircut?”  “No.”  It was obvious I didnae.  “The Sergeant Major has said I’ve got to have a haircut.”  “In that case Morrison, if that’s what Sergeant Major says, you’ve got to get it.  Get that man out for another haircut.”  The Corporals know me and they say “The barber will not be around till tomorrow.”  Sympathy was beginning to grow up, with certain people.  The Officer says “Have him out for a haircut tomorrow.”

“What do I do now Walter?”  That’s what I said to myself.  “What do I do now?”

I searched around the cell.  I was in a cell about nine feet long and roughly about my arms width, with a wooden bed and a pail.  That was me.  I’d done a big drawing of myself on the wall, and I used to box it, shadow-box it, to keep myself fit, and to let them see there was no mug in the cell.  I happened to see on top of the cell doors, which were iron railings, an iron bar attached to the railings with screws, and on top of that was sharp rusty spikes.  Besides the cell doors were storm doors that came in to keep the sandstorms from blowing in.  When the police went off at night the military guard came on and I says to the guy “Will you shut my storm door?”

He closed the storm door and I unscrewed this iron bar and managed to get it off, which meant I was left with a gladiator-type weapon which I managed to hide.  First thing in the morning the Orderly Officer comes around again, to inspect the guard, and he comes ’round the cells to take anybody who wants to go on the sick.  I had it all planned out.  I asked to go and see the Medical Officer, which to me seemed the logical step because I was not only wanting to ask him about my hair being any shorter, but I was now being affected mentally, and I couldnae see any other way that I could have this brought out into the open.  If anything happened I wanted references back.  They took me over.

I says “Sir, I’m here to see you about my hair.”  There was a notice up in the battalion that because of the sun you’d only to get your hair cut to a certain length.  “The situation’s this, sir – I’ve been told to get another haircut.”  “If Sergeant Major says so, you’ve got to get it done.”  That’s one thing about the army – you can be the biggest villain under the sun and they just throw their  weight behind each other.  “Well, sir, if anybody comes into my cell to take me out to get another bit of hair cut off, I’ll kill them on the spot.  The reason I’ve come to you, sir, is that I’m hoping you’ll take it seriously, because if I do, then you being a medical man, you should understand people’s minds, and you’ll be held responsible.  I’m telling you – it’s going to happen.”  I went on about how I’ve been trained by the army to fight for what I think is right: that I knew how to kill people, and this seemed like a time I was going to have to do it.

Christ!  They were shitting themselves.  I had a name that if I said it, they knew I would do it.  They took me back to my cell.  Now by this time – you take it from me – the place was buzzing – “Hear Morrison’s doing this.”  “Hear Morrison’s doing that.”  Everybody in the unit knew.  It’s getting nearer and nearer for the barber to come.  Talk about High Noon!  High Noon was nothing on it.  I’m sitting there with this iron bar, getting worried and worried and worried.  I’m saying to myself “What if it’s big Jimmy that comes in?  What if it’s so and so?  I’ll have to kill them.”  Take it from me – it was there to be done.  The first person that would have come in my cell would have copped it.

Would you believe my cell door wasnae opened for – och – I was going to say seven days – I cannae remember the thing, because everything became such a “Where am I? – What have I done?” that I don’t remember.  But it wasnae that day, and it wasnae the next day, and all the food was fed through the bars to me.  The piss was running over the top of my bucket and they wouldnae let me out for a shit, but I never had another piece of hair taken off my head.

The lesson from that was, for me – Oh Christ, I don’t want to be in that position again, because I would have killed some poor bugger.  That’s what turned me to pacifism, actually.

After months and months of sitting in jail we were finally taken before the Commanding Officer

We were waiting on confirmation of the Brigadier’s report on the Court Martial.  Everybody seen me getting sent away for a good long time.  The padre came round asking, would he say a prayer for me?  The seven of us were taken up in front of the Commanding Officer and marched in.  Everybody was in front of me, then I was taken in.  I was given one hundred and fifty six days detention, as I was picked out as the ringleader.  The rest of them got, we’ll say, in the region of twenty eight days field punishment.  We’re marched out.  And then: “Prisoners and escort – caps on!”  We put our caps back on.  I said “What’s on now?”  “Quick march!”  Back in again.  The Commanding Officer: “In the case of Private Morrison, blah, blah, blah, although you have been given such and such, blah, blah, blah, the Brigadier has failed to confirm the sentence, and you will be released immediately.”  Same for all of us.  So we won, in a roundabout way.  I was released, given some leave and all my back-pay.

That night I went to the garrison theatre to see a film.  There was a big searchlight shining into the place where we all stood queuing, waiting to get into the pictures.  Big lines of all the lads, and the padre comes up on his bicycle.  He comes up to me.  “Morrison, can I speak to you.”  “Yes, what is it?”  “I want to congratulate you on your release and on your stand.”  “Away to fuck, you of little faith.  I don’t need your help, or anybody else’s.”  And all the boys are going “Whe-heyy!”  How can you have faith in people like that?  They talk about a guy called Jesus that’s no prepared to surrender certain things and yet, when it comes to the crunch, they’re pleading with me to give in.

1.    A sedative used particularly in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

2.   Similar strategies on trains are accurately described by “Coxey” (Richard Attenborough) in Private’s Progress, Boulting Brothers, 1956.

3.   1943 news cuttings from The Times, and listed on Godfrey Dyke’s website, at the bottom of his entry.  Click Here.

30 APRIL 1943

JUNE 26 1943

4.   CB = Confined to Barracks.

This entry was posted in Britain, Second World War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s