Me a Favour?" WW2,
eight o'clock one night when we were in the Middle East I am
spine-bashing when the company sergeant-major comes into my tent, and in
a man-to-man kind of tone asks me would I like to do him a favour. Well,
when you are doing favours in the Army it is not a bad thing to be doing
them for sergeant-majors and this one in particular; not so much because
he remembers when you do him a good turn but because he doesn't forget
when you knock him back and it is on such things as this that a
leave-pass or even an extra stripe may sometimes depend.
say in a man-to-man tone: "Sure, Charlie, what's the drill?"
Alec, you know the bunch of reinforcements that came in yesterday? They
came and asked me would I just give them leave for the evening, said
they wanted to go to the movies. They've only landed from Aussie about a
week ago. I suppose you know that no reinforcements are to be given
leave until they've been on the strength of the unit for at least one
month? I didn't want to let them go but they made such a moan that in
the end I wrote out the passes. Well, just now head-quarters rings up
and instructs us to send 'em out tonight with their gear to Ack Section.
know what these wallahs at HQ are like when they decide they want
something done they always want it done in a hurry."
just don't understand," I say sympathetically.
said it! Well, would you get out the thirty-hundredweight and see if you
can pick them up? I know it's a bit rough asking a man to go chasing
after them at this time of night, but you see what a spot I'm in just
through being big-hearted.
the trouble, Charlie, if you don't mind me saying so – you're inclined
to be too easygoing at times and it's not everyone around here
appreciates what you do for them. How will I know these 'reos' [new
there's only nine of them and they're in charge of a corporal who
stutters, by the name of Haggerty."
a big help!" I murmur, with a man-to-man grin.
know, Alec, but I thought if anyone would help me out it would be you. I
might be able to do you a favour one of these days The Old Man would
raise hell if it came out that I'd let these 'reos' have leave contrary
to Standing Orders, and it's not everyone I could trust to keep their
O.K. You can trust me, Chicka. I'll take my mate Robbo with me. He's
I didn't think you'd let me down."
the way, Chicka," I say, pulling on the beetle-crushers, "I
should nearly be due for my third 'dog's leg'."
thing, Al, I was only talking to the Skipper about you the other
says my mate Robbo as we scorch along towards the town, "if this is
the first time since leaving Aussie that these 'reos' have been off the
chain it's a moral we won't find them sitting nice and quiet in the
picture show. They're more likely to be up to their gills in steak and
eggs down at Joe-The-Greek's, or round at the Boomerang Bar."
got something there, Robbo," I say, "I know I wouldn't be
watching Donald-ruddy-Duck if I was in their shoes. Anyway, I'll turn
left here and we'll look in and see if they're at Joe's."
joint is packed with representatives of the United Nations all arguing
the toss about who's been in the war the longest and who's done the most
stoush. We look the place over but no sign of our "reos" and
then, when some of the United Nations turn on a "blue" over
the question of who has the best artillery and start heaving bottles at
one another to back up their arguments, Robbo and I decide to continue
our search somewhere else.
to a joint called the AIhambra where they run a nice dance, with real
high-class hostesses. As far as the "reos" are concerned we do
not have any luck here either, but seeing we are Australians, and not
being quite sure of the nature of our business, the proprietor decides
to play safe and pours us a snort each of cognac out of a bottle he's
got under the counter for emergencies of this kind, and tells us that he
has a cousin who owns a barber shop in Melbourne. He is very pleased
when it turns out that I know his cousin so well, in fact, I tell him, I
get my hair cut at his cousin's shop twice a week and, on the strength
of that, he invites us to have a dance, on the house.
nearly overdoes it by trying to make out he went to school with this
cousin, which is ridiculous on account of the cousin went to school in
Armenia, and I am not sure that Robbo ever went to school anyway. I look
coldly at my mate, and he says hurriedly that it must have been some
is, we are just about old friends of the family when suddenly the
proprietor has to go and ring up the provosts [military
police] because there's a
bit of a blue looks like developing shortly, over in one corner, and it
seems he does not like these disturbances in his place – it is hard to
concentrate when people are throwing chairs about recklessly.
and I do not like provosts even when we are in town on official
business, so we clear out before they arrive.
by the time a couple of hours have passed, Robbo and I have visited just
about all the joints in town without finding the "reos", but
we've met a lot of our mates, got stuck into a game of swy [two-up]
somehow for an hour or so, and, on the whole, had a highly enjoyable and
nearest we have come to finding our men is a stuttering corporal in the
Paris Bar, but unfortunately this corporal does his stuttering in Free
French; anyway his name is not Haggerty but Dubois.
are still one or two places that we haven't looked in but, as Robbo
points out, we are a bit overdue and Chicka might be worrying about us,
and I just have not got the heart to go on with the search under such
conditions. The only thing to do is admit failure, get in the
thirty-hundredweight, and go back to camp, though I am sorry that I have
not succeeded in doing this favour for the C.S.M. But no one can say
that I have not tried.
just goes to show that some people do not know the meaning of the word
gratitude, and do not appreciate it when a man tries to do them a
favour. How was I to know that just after Robbo and I left the camp to
go and search for his reinforcements, the CSM should get stricken with a
bright idea and ring up the picture-show and ask the manager to flash a
slide on the screen telling Corporal Haggerty and the others to report
back to camp at once? And who would have guessed that this Haggerty and
the others would actually be sitting there in the Bijou watching the
show after all?
just goes to show," says my mate Robbo, as we're cleaning up our
gear to go on guard duty the following evening, "it just goes to,
show the kind of people they're letting into the Army these days."
I do not answer. I am thinking about that third stripe. I am thinking
that the Sergeants' Mess seems a long way off. It was too bad of Robbo
to run the thirty-hundredweight into a ditch on the way back.
Coolahan, 2nd AIF from
"AS YOU WERE !" by the AWM