There was an unexpected surprise after lunch when a neighbour and good friend stopped in for tea, Ron Charmers. Ron is a friend of Papa’s who has both the gift of the gab and loves to tell stories about the war in England. During World War 2, Ron was a telecommunications specialist in the British Army and during his service time was stationed in Glasgow, Scotland and in North Africa. Ron has many stories about the war and will even show you a bullet hole in his leg if you ask nicely.
In one particular story, Ron explained that while in North Africa the troops would be on the desert for day after blistering day and upon the first sight of water men would rip their clothes off and jump in. On one particular occasion, his troop had been in the desert for a particularly long time and when they saw the ocean immediately jumped in. However, this time it was an area known for its brutal undertow. Immediately as men jumped in they were pulled out to sea and couldn’t get back because most were average swimmers. Those who were on the shore tried to save them by throwing camouflage netting; a few were saved but at the end of the day ten were lost to the currents.
In another story, Ron was in Glasgow, Scotland on New Years 1941. There was a popular New Year’s Eve tradition in the UK from this era: you door to door and give people a lump of coal; in return you will get a drink.
So, Ron and a buddy went to the coal yard in Glasgow and found a massive chunk of coal and put it in a large sack. They then proceeded to walk from house to house and once outside would smash the coal on the curb to break off a small piece. They then knocked on a door, handed over a piece of coal, got a drink, exited the back door, and proceeded to the next house. This continued for much of the evening and in the end both men were quite smashed.
Early in the evening they were told by their sergeant that they weren’t allowed out after midnight. But, of course, as the drinks passed so did the hours and by midnight a large number of soldiers were still out an about in Glasgow. Eventually the latecomers needed to cross the river to get back to camp without getting caught. Earlier in the evening soldiers used a rope system to get across the river; this was their means of getting back until their sergeant discovered their trick and started to catch people as they crossed the river via rope.
To avoid the sergeant, Ron and his friend went down the river, stripped their clothes off, folded and tied them in military style, and threw the bundles across to the other side of the river. The two then swam across the river and were unable to find their bundles because it was so dark. They groped around in bramble bushes for a long time before finding their clothes, putting them on, and running back to the barracks. Ron made it into bed just before the sergeant showed up to do a head count.
In the morning when Ron woke up he discovered that his body was covered in oil from the river, cuts from the brambles, and he had his friend’s clothing on which were way too big. His friend was wearing his small uniform!