12 January 2003

RAF Compton Bassett 3 Two Tales

OldEric says :-) The camp was divided I think, into three wings or areas. Or was it four wings? Each Sunday morning a ceremonial parade would be held on the parade ground. The members of each wing by rote would be required to provide the airmen for the parade. When our weekend turn came round to hold the parade, forty-eight hour weekend leave was cancelled. On Sunday morning we were required to assemble outside the administration offices at 9.30am where we were marshalled into required order and inspected prior to moving off to the parade ground. At a guess the number of airmen on our wing would number 200 to 300. Or do I exaggerate the number?

No one liked the parade. It meant bring dressing up in our freshly pressed and ironed uniforms, badges cleaned, boots shone up and a haircut if too long. It cost half a day of our usual leisure time. To make sure everyone from the wing was present for the parade the NCOs went to look through the huts and especially the ablution blocks for reluctant airmen. To take a roll call of everyone was not really feasible due to the length of time required and so the NCOs relied on the flushing out enough reluctant personnel from the wing area. They knew many airmen wagged the parade and as long as they got a good number to hold the parade they had to be satisfied.

I like the others detested the Sunday parade and I found a way to avoid the parade. Instead of trying to avoid the parade by hiding or skulking in the ablutions I found a simple answer was to go across to one of the other wings at the other side of camp. About 9.00am I would get my towel, wind it round my waist under my shirt, put my soap in my pocket and a put a novel inside my battle dress top and away I would trot to the on weekend leave wing on the other side of camp, mostly empty of airmen. I then used to go into a selected ablution block and have the longest bath in history and then come out all wrinkly. I would spend my time in the bath reading my novel and topping up the chilled bath water with hot from time to time. Sometimes I would doze off and more than once end up with a wet book.

Some time after the finish of the parade I would return to our wing, go to our ablution block, divest myself of my towel and book and return to our hut. I never told anyone of my devious method of avoiding the parade and as far as I know no one cottoned on. I'm sure others had their own methods and probably did the same as I, but I never met anyone I recognized from our wing on the other side of the camp. I think it really was once more, a show of independence in this very regulated society we lived in.

To be caught doing something like this earned punishment usually in the form of fatigues during off duty hours. This could take the form of general cleaning up, cookhouse duties, office duties or similar. The worst and most common punishment was the cookhouse. These jobs were always the dirty jobs the cooks did not like doing.... pots and greasy pans, floor cleaning until the floors shone, cleaning down.... if your uniform got stained that was your problem.

The most feared cookhouse job was being sent to the mess of "Mad Mary" which if I remember rightly served the officers. Mad Mary was a Flight Sergeant in overall charge and her domain which was by repute a place of perfection. Mad Mary always had plenty of jobs waiting for punished airmen. Doling out the fatigues Mad Mary expected no less than perfection on completion of the jobs. Any unfortunate airman turning in a job less than Mary's high standard not only had to redo his work, he also had to suffer Mad Mary's tirade. Mad Mary would shout, she would bellow, she would scream, she could be heard at the other side of the camp on her "good" days. Her language was blue; swear words and profanity came by the torrent and the poor recipient shrivelled on the spot. Those who did fatigues under Mad Mary and did their chores to Mary's approval say they always finished with a first class meal cooked to perfection by one of her staff.

The members of the mess treated Mad Mary with kid gloves and an unfortunate officer who crossed Mary was not above receiving a mouthful of profanity followed by, sir. It was said that Mad Mary was up for a posting to another camp and the reluctant Commanding Officer had the job of informing Mary of her posting to which she is said to have growled "over my *? *&@? * Dead body, sir. Tell them to stick it up their ******* a***, sir." and walked out. It was said no one from HQ was brave enough to try and enforce the posting and the posting was quietly dropped to the relief of all.

I never had the misfortune to meet Mad Mary, I had heard her tirades and can only repeat what was told by others over a quiet beer or cuppa. It was a fact though she could swear and was a very fearsome lady.

1 comment:

Jack Cullen said...

I did have the pleasure of meeting Mad Mary while doing my 'weekend camp duties' in the cookhouse and I can't say I was impressed - more amused, though a bit embarrassed for the WAAFs who had to endure her cruel and vitriolic torrent. However, I must admit to cowardice in the face of fire when one day we were banging a football off the back of the cookhouse and Mad Mary came running out waving her arms and swearing like a pack of troopers. We ran like hares.
Did anyone know anthing about Flight Sergeant Ireland? A man I greatly admired for his strict and fair dealing.
Jack Cullen