Meeting the new OC

“We had a new company commander: Major Mervyn Davies from the Welch Regiment, with his own batman. I had not seen the company commander when his batman came to me and said: ‘Major Davies would like a mug of tea.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘Officers’ tea is served at the officers’ mess.’

‘That’s what the corporal told me.’

He left to return a few minutes later. ‘The company commander wishes to see you.’

For a change, I was correctly wearing my badges of rank. I marched into the company office and saluted this rather severe young man, who stood and towered above me. ‘What’s this about I can’t have a miserable mug of tea?’

‘That is quite right, Sir. Officers’ rations are at the mess. We pride ourselves on being the best fed company in the battalion. We are able to do this only because the rations are used strictly at mealtimes and only as part of the meal.’

‘What about the cooks and the sergeant major?,’ Davies asked.

‘I promised Corporal Sadler that, if he maintained his standard and reputation, all rations would be inviolate.’

Davies was not happy with the cooks and with me. I could tell that he did not think I looked like a soldier, let alone a senior NCO. That evening, Jim excelled himself and produced roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast and boiled potatoes, cabbage and thick brown gravy. This was followed by a slice of baked jam roll with a sweet sauce. Davies watched Jim serving the repast in his usual serious manner. I think he was convinced that his men’s food was equal to, if not better, than that served at the officers’ mess.

The officers’ mess reputation suffered when statistics proved that hepatitis, which filled our hospitals, was most prevalent among officers and least so among front line troops. It was discovered that hygiene must be the cause. Officers’ eating utensils were improperly cleaned and shared. Front-line troops ate with their own utensils or fingers. Drink was discounted as a cause when it was discovered that senior NCOs were almost free of the complaint. As Davies and I became more familiar, we began to respect each other and this turned to us actually becoming friends.

Another incident occurred with rations. It was discovered that the compo packs held as emergency rations had been broached and sweets and cigarettes stolen. I followed a trail of wrappings to one man’s bed and discovered evidence that he was the culprit. The commanding officer was furious as he knew that our company was well-fed. He remanded the rifleman for Field General Court Martial. I had to go with the sentry, who was with me when I arrested the miscreant, to give evidence in what was a strong case. I did not reckon to have to face a professional barrister as defending lawyer. He told the court that I should have called the regimental police. He also stated that I had not given a proper warning and many other points. I left the court feeling lucky that I had escaped punishment myself. The soldier was acquitted and sent back to base. I probably saved his life by charging him. He never returned to the London Irish Rifles and dangerous front-line duties. I thought how unlucky I was at court martials. The absentees I gave evidence in mitigation for received long sentences but criminals had got off.”


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