In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
A Dish Eaten Cold
He was short, fat and ugly. He smoked, belched and had bad breath. His uniform fitted badly and was stained. He was reputed to have screwed half the female population of the island, and rumour had it, probably wrongly, some of the male part as well. He had attempted to get his leg over with my wife when I was fighting for democracy, Queen and Country in Brunei, but she had persuaded me that she could deal with it, and her assurances had probably saved my career. I devoutly loathed the man, but he was my CO.
My office was next to his, and every so often he would call out to me, requesting my presence in front of his desk. None of these visits was ever pleasant, and some were downright stormy. I had learned what to expect by how he summoned me. “Ben” was the normal forerunner to unpleasantness. “Flight Lieutenant” was a ratchet or three up the scale, while ‘Flight Lieutenant Matier’ heralded the Third World War.
It was a bright, sunny but oppressive morning in Penang State, Malaysia, a sure sign that the seasonal monsoon would dump its vindictive burden upon the expectant earth in the middle of the afternoon. I was in my own office brooding gloomily on my last meeting with Squadron Leader Crowland. There was a quiet tap on the open door, accompanied by a polite cough.
“Morning, boss.” Corporal Rick Stalwart essayed a passable imitation of a salute.
“Hi, Rick. Come in.”
Stalwart removed his cap and entered the office, slumping into a chair.
“I was just wondering, boss, if you would like to come out on the Vice Patrol tonight?”
“That’s a great idea, Rick. Sometimes a bunch of whores are better company than is available around here.”
So about nine in the evening, Stalwart, Corporal Trevor Brompton and I went off around the whorehouses of Georgetown in our Land Rover. The military mind has long recognised that young soldiers, sailors and airmen have excessive energy which they wish to expend in female company. These activities will take place whether or not the Military approves, so, it makes sense to control them. Following the logic of this, there were brothels which were either ‘in bounds’ or ‘out of bounds’. The difference was that the girls ‘in bounds’ had been medically vetted by Air Force doctors. Girls in ‘out of bounds’ premises had not had this pleasure.
We had visited several such establishments without success, when we stopped outside our last port of call, and were met by Mama San, the madam.
“Morning, Mama.” I touched two fingers to the peak of my cap.
“Morning, master. No Aussie boys here.”
“What about British boys, American boys or Kiwi boys?”
“No European boys.”
“We’ll have a look anyway, Mama.”
The Malaysian Police had a policy, undoubtedly unwritten, that declared that anyone with a coloured face was their responsibility. All the white faces, the Europeans, were subject to military law and were, therefore, our problem.
I pushed open various doors, apologising to a variety of heaving Chinese and Indians, and had almost given up when I came across a Caucasian backside writhing above a small Chinese girl. I didn’t recognise the said backside, but there was something familiar about the back of the head.
“Good morning, sir.”
The squadron leader didn’t look too pleased. “Feck off, Ben.”
For a moment or two I debated whether this was a lawful command, and decided that it was.
“Very good, sir.” I saluted. After all I had been saluting this asshole for over a year now, one more time made little difference.
Outside the brothel, the two corporals waited, a young uniformed airman between them.
“What’s your name, son?”
“LAC O’Nell, sir.”
“Well O’Nell, you’re improperly dressed, out of bounds, and if you visit places like this, your dick will drop off. Piss off back to base or we’ll put you in a cell.”
The lad scampered off and Stalwart looked at me, his eyebrows raised.
“He’s only a boy, Rick, he doesn’t know any better.” There couldn’t be one law for LAC’s and, you know what I mean.
The following morning there was a call from the next office, “Ben.”
“I understand you were on the Vice Patrol last night?”
“Roger that, sir.”
“Negative, sir, a quiet night.”
Some days later, having lunch in the Mess with the squadron leader, he suddenly said, “Oh my God,” and his face disappeared into the Madras curry.
I hauled him out, and beneath the rice and sauce sliding down his face, his skin was turning blue. He was in hospital within ten minutes and was off duty for three months with heart problems.
The station commander decided he needed a squadron leader Provost Officer, and I achieved acting rank. I went to visit the stricken squadron leader, my shoulders gleaming with my two and a half rings. I spoke to the nurse on duty. “Squadron Leader Matier to see Squadron Leader Crowland.” I spoke loudly enough to make certain the man in the bed had heard.
“Morning, Merv. How are you feeling?”
“Not getting your end away a lot in here, are you?” I picked a few of his grapes. They were a little bitter I thought.
“Feck off, Ben.”
“Roger that, Merv.” After all a lawful command is just that, whether given in a brothel or a hospital. As they say, revenge is a dish best eaten cold.
Written by BM