The Open Door

The Soldier and the General: Bill Hawksford

At last the young soldier got an opportunity to drive three star General Carey, the most important man in the vast Catterick garrison complex. He was so proud and couldn’t wait to tell his father, who drove Field Marshall Montgomery in Ireland, when Montgomery was a captain. The position warranted two stripes, a special tunic and peaked hat suitable for this important appointment. He was absolutely delighted driving the General’s limousine and seeing all the soldiers including officers salute the vehicle as he passed. It was particularly gratifying when the General wasn’t inside and he forgot to put the cover over the three red stars on the bumper.

The potential corporal’s duties involved transporting the General between his house and the General Headquarters with an occasional evening social event, but for the most part is was a daily milk run. Each morning the limousine would be positioned correctly outside the house, facing the direction it was going and stopping at a precise location outside the headquarters for the General to inspect the guard while they were presenting arms. In the afternoon the General would exit by the back door of the GHQ where the limousine would be waiting.

One Saturday morning the soldier entered his vehicle and a mighty wind blew the driver’s door out of his hand, severing the check strap and breaking the handle on the rear door. There was 30 minutes before the General was due to go home, so he had to think fast. Returning to the workshop for a replacement handle which they may not have, did not seam like a good idea and realizing that the General would not use that side of the vehicle the rest of the day unless there was an unexpected excursion, he decided that it wasn’t anything to be concerned about and the handle could be replaced over the weekend.

The trip to the General’s house was uneventful and the soldier returned to camp, intending to get the vehicle repaired. However it was a Saturday afternoon and the camp was deserted, with the exception of the guards at the gate. The workshop and the company office were both closed and there was no one in authority to talk to except the guard commander. The soldier was already peeved because the problem was encroaching on his weekend and he decided not to waste any more of his free time. Instead of attempting to find the guard commander, who in turn would have to find someone to open the workshop, he made a note on the back of the drivers worksheet and placed it in the company mail box according to army regulations.

Very few soldiers were aware of the small print on the back of the vehicle worksheet which relieved the driver from responsibility under such circumstances and the only reason this one was aware of it was that his father, an ex Regimental Sergeant Major passed a few words of wisdom on to him when he was called up.

The soldier did not concern himself with the problem of the door handle over the weekend, because as far as he was concerned it was someone else’s responsibility.

He also didn’t think about it on Monday morning when he positioned the limousine outside the General’s house as usual. The General exited the house on time, prompting the soldier to jump out of the vehicle to open the back door and salute. Without thinking the soldier reached for the door handle, which of course wasn’t there. “How do you expect me to get in, through the window?” the General blasted and immediately walked around the other side of the vehicle and let himself in.

The General also had to exit from the wrong side of the limousine at the headquarters; annoying him further and the soldier then parked the vehicle to await the inevitable. Within minutes he received instructions to return to the camp, which he did as he rehearsed his response to the forthcoming third degree. If they say this, I will say that and if they say that, I will say this etc. Anticipating a lynch party on his return, he realized that someone’s head had to roll to satisfy the General’s displeasure.

There was a frenzied group consisting of 2 or 3 officers and between 7 and 10 non commissioned officers waiting to interrogate him as the limousine entered the camp. As soon as he stepped out of the car he was surrounded by the serious looking mob, which demanded to know the story of the infamous door handle. After explaining how the handle was broken on the Saturday, they wanted to know why it had not been fixed and he calmly conveyed his rehearsed explanation about workshop and the company office being closed and no one to report the incident to. He had his fingers crossed that they wouldn’t think about the guard commander! The lynch party then broke up into small groups discussing King’s Rules and Regulations, presumably considering how many they could charge him with. Finally unable to contain himself any longer he blurted out the story of the worksheet at which time every thing went silent.

One of the officers asked a sergeant if the company mailbox had been checked over the weekend and the sergeant immediately sent a corporal to investigate. (It would be enlightening to know how many of these gentlemen it would take to change a light bulb!) The silence continued as the soldier kept his fingers crossed in case the corporal decided to cover for his superiors by losing the worksheet. It was not very likely, but a horrible thought that only occurred to him at the last minute.

There was a sigh of relief however when the corporal came running back with the worksheet in his hand. The soldier made them aware of the small print on the back and emphasized his appropriate notation which should automatically relieved him of responsibility - assuming that everything was conducted according to Hoyle.

Under the circumstances with so many people involved it would have been difficult for the powers that be not to play by the rules. Needless to say the soldier’s promotion was not forthcoming, and of course he lost the questionable prestigious assignment as the General’s driver. However someone must have assumed that he possessed talents more suited to paper work, because his next assignment was in the pay office, filing, stuffing envelopes and writing down numbers.

© Bill Hawksford

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