© BM 2008
Chapter Seven – Episode 9
Kate Fouchet sat quietly reading, occasionally glancing towards the bed. This was her fourth day at the hospital, and she wondered how long she could keep up the daily visits. It was not as though she was doing any good or achieving anything. She knew that she was not, and the man in the bed knew nothing, not even that she was there. She would have to consider the children, Thomas and Ceinwyn. They were not at school today, as it was Sunday, but tomorrow Peter would be back at work, and Maggie could not go on helping out forever. She put her book down, and went over to the bed.
“What would you tell me to do, Dad?” She asked the question out loud.
She knew what he would have said. “Go home and look after your husband and children. Don’t worry about an old bastard like me.” He was such a stubborn man, her father, a bit like herself, she thought. “ I got it from you, didn’t I, Daddy Darling,” she said softly to herself. How many times had her mother, in one of their frequent arguments, flung at her, “You are just like your father.” It had not helped to soothe Anne when Kate had replied that she considered that to be a compliment.
She returned to her chair, picked up her book and sat down, leaving the book unopened in her lap. Her father was not dead, but he might just as well be. No one could tell her if he would ever recover, and if he did, how badly damaged he would be. It was unthinkable that this man who had always seemed so indestructible could end up in this place with tubes protruding from his motionless body.
When she was a child she had accepted with a childish simplicity that her Dad was a soldier, and that many times he was away in some barely recognisable part of the world, being a soldier. She knew that sometimes he was involved in fighting, but he was her Dad, and nothing could happen to him. She had not been worried even at the start of the Falklands War, until she had seen the television coverage of the Sheffield and the Sir Galahad. Then, partly because she was fourteen and understood better, she had become scared, and was overjoyed when he came home safely.
As she was growing up, she had realised that life could be nasty and brutal, and had shared her mother’s happiness and relief when he had resigned from the Army. He still seemed the same indestructible man who had become a journalist, although, as he tended to spend so much time in Africa, she quickly grew to understand that the Army was not the only dangerous occupation a person could follow. He frequently quoted the number of journalists who were killed each year doing their jobs. And now, here he was, having survived the Army, and Africa, wars and coups, and now he was unable to see or hear or understand or speak. It would seem like disloyalty not to make visits, but she was aware that after a week or two, they would tail off and probably almost stop. Richard, her brother, was overseas on business at the moment, but would be back in a day or two, and would want to come and see his father, but he lived over one hundred and fifty miles away, so he would not be able to visit often. She wondered if Francesca knew, and if she was interested. After all, they had lived together for five years, so there must still be something there. She must know, Kate told herself, the accident had been reported in the national press. He was, after all, one of their own, and since his book, had become quite famous. Perhaps Francesca was not in the country. She wondered if she should try to find her phone number, and let her know.
She glanced up as the door opened. Her mother came in. Kate found it impossible to keep the surprise from her voice.
“Mum, I never expected to see you here.”
“I don’t know how you can say that. I was married to him for nearly thirty years.”
“I’m sorry,” Kate apologised. “That sounded worse than I intended.”
Anne Millar walked to the bed, and studied the still form of her ex husband for several seconds. “How is he?”
Kate walked over to join her mother. “Not good, I’m afraid.”
“Has he made a will? You’d know that kind of thing.”
Kate was taken aback. “How can you ask that? He’s not dead, and you ask a thing like that.”
Anne was unmoved. “You always were your father’s favourite. I suppose he has left everything to you?”
Kate put up her hands. “I’m leaving now. I will come back when you’re gone. There is nothing I want to say to you.”
Anne Millar went over to the bed and sat down. She studied the face of the man in the bed. They had been married a very long time; not that she had enjoyed much of it. They had been divorced for nearly eighteen years, and she couldn’t say that she had enjoyed that much either. Change Alley in Singapore had been such a long, long time ago. Perhaps she should have clung on tighter to the bloody handbag. She had loved this man once, and he had loved her, where did it all go? He had changed so much over the years, always wanting something more, never satisfied. Now he was a stranger, and a stranger for whom she had no feelings.
“Good bye, Alex.” She got up and left.
Kate was standing at the front door of the hospital, smoking a cigarette, when her mother came outside.
“I thought you had given that up?”
“I have. I scrounged this from the porter. I only smoke when I am stressed, and honest to God, mother, you stress me to the absolute bloody limit.”
“Well, I hope your beloved Dad doesn’t catch you smoking. You know what he thinks about it.”
“I would just love him to be here now to tell me off about it.” She began to cry. Her mother watched without speaking.
Finally Anne Millar spoke. “Do you know if that Italian tart has been to see him?”
Kate stopped crying and wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. “I don’t think so, if you mean Francesca. And may I point out to you that she made him happy for five years, which is a damm sight more than you ever managed.”
“And may I point out to you that your father left me, and took up with another woman, and it was not his precious Francesca?”
Kate had control of herself now. “Mother, I will now go and say goodbye to Dad, and then I am going home to Peter and our children. You shouldn’t have come here.” She dropped the cigarette, crushed it with her foot and turned and walked back through the double doors. She did not look back.
Kate and Alex had always been close, first when she was growing up, and then increasingly as she married and had children. She sensed that her mother had always resented this. God, how can you be jealous of your own daughter? Her father tried not to interfere between her and Peter, or with the children, although his generation and way of life made him occasionally somewhat covertly critical. He had always seemed to Kate to have a properly balanced view of life, unlike her mother, about whom all life had to circle, as the planets revolved around the sun. She remembered a stormy time that she and Peter had encountered recently, and in despair she had turned to her father, perhaps for advice, perhaps not, but mostly for someone to listen. He had listened, and did not offer much advice, except to say, “Talk to each other.” He had continued, “Do you love him? Does he love you? If the answers are both ‘Yes’, there isn’t anything you can’t work out.” He had been right. Poor Dad, so good with other people’s lives, so bad with his own.
She nodded to the nurse at the Nurse’s station. “I’m just going to say good bye.”
The young nurse nodded. “Time you went home, dear, you’re looking tired.”
She held her father’s hand, and bent and kissed him. “What happened between you two? You must have loved each other once. What happens to people?”
Alex was scared. It was very close to the day now, and he was really scared. He was not in the least bit sure that he knew this woman any more, and decidedly undecided as to whether he wanted to get married. It had seemed a good idea in Singapore. It suited him to have a girl, and later a fiancée, back in England whom he could use as a shield against the difficult parts of his life between nineteen and twenty-one. Anne had been back out to Singapore twice during the remainder of his posting, and they had been happy in each other’s company. In between her visits he applied himself to his duties and his studies, and had had his reward with promotion to lance corporal. In the last three months he was made acting corporal, although, in Army fashion, he was not paid. In any event he lost his acting rank on the company’s return to Britain.
He enjoyed soldiering, and was good at it. He had become increasingly proficient, and had even started to enjoy his patrols in the jungle. The heat, the smells, the sheer discomfort of it all bothered him less and less, and his only disappointment was there had never been an opportunity to test himself in combat. He had wanted to know how he would perform. He was petrified that he would be so frightened that he would not react properly, as he had been trained. He did not want to be seen as a coward. Still, the opportunity had never presented itself, so he still did not know. The Malayan Emergency was nearly over, many CT’s having been killed or captured, and many more having surrendered. These walked out of the jungle, starving, dirty and emaciated, as more and more parts of the country were declared clean, or ‘White’, as the Government preferred to call it. A few hardened individuals would hang on in the heavily forested hills of the Central Highlands for many years, stealing out in decreasing numbers, and on fewer and fewer occasions to make symbolic raids. Increasingly, Malaya moved closer to independence, and to becoming Malaysia, and the CT’s became a footnote to history. But, now, in 1959, for the British Army it was almost finished, and Alex Millar was deeply disappointed.
On his return home, he had applied for the Parachute Regiment, and had been accepted for aptitude training. He had been sent to ‘P’ Company, where his suitability, health, mental and physical fitness had been tested. He had passed with flying colours, and was selected for full training, after his marriage, and leave. He was unhappy at losing his one hook, but if that was the price, it was a price he would pay, like his youth in Windsor Park, Belfast, six and out.
The Army was not the problem. There might be difficulties ahead, but he was certain he could handle anything that came his way. No, what really worried him was his domestic situation, of which he knew he was no longer in control. Everything seemed so settled. Anne’s father had taken his retirement from the RAF, and had bought a Wolseley 1500 and a house in Morden, in South London. The church had been booked, the reception arranged, the guests invited, and Anne had chosen a wedding dress. The Army had agreed to his getting married, and his leave was all settled. His mother had insisted that Anne be instructed in the Roman Catholic Church, and after some reluctance, she had agreed. The whole thing was out of his control. All sorts of other people had taken over, and he seemed quite incidental to the whole affair.
Nick Eliot had summed it up very well when he and his friends from Singapore were farewelling him. “Listen, mate. All you have to do is turn up, say yes, be nice to her family and make her pregnant. You are there to make up the numbers. In fact, if you forget to go, they will probably get half way through the bloody ceremony before they notice you are missing.”
It did not sound like a very attractive proposition, and what he thought had been a matter between Anne and himself had suddenly become public property. Matters were not improved when he went with her to see the priest for her instructions into the Roman Catholic Church. He listened, appalled, to much of what the Irish priest had to say, especially the teaching on birth control. He heard Anne agreeing to things that she did not believe in, and would not do. He did not agree with them either, but kept quiet, nodding politely whenever the priest looked to him for agreement. His old antagonism to the clergy came flooding back, and he wondered if his lip actually curled, because it certainly felt as if it did. Each time they left the church he resolved never to go back, but Anne calmed him. “It’s all right. Let’s get this over and then get on with our lives. This is not important.”
She was right, of course, and more sensible than he was, but still he seethed. A much bigger problem had loomed onto Alex’s horizon. He did not know if he loved this woman that he was about to marry in just over a week. What could he do? Did everyone feel this way before marriage? Who could he talk to? Certainly not Bob East. His own father? He would not understand, and in any case he was miles away in Belfast, and there was no phone. He rang his mother now and then at set times when she expected his call to a neighbour’s house. She would tell him not to be stupid, but to get on with it. There was no one. His friends in the Army were all miles away in Yorkshire, and most had a very different idea of what marriage was to his own. So he staggered on, lonely and frightened.
He turned up at the appointed time, with Nick, his best man, and was duly married according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Anne looked quite beautiful, and he began to feel very much better about life. They signed the register, and posed for the requisite photographs. He did not enjoy the reception. There seemed to be an awful lot of folks he did not know drinking an awful lot of alcohol. He sat in a corner of the Church Hall with Nick at about eleven in the evening. He was drunk.
“Nick, mate, what have I done?”
Nick had drunk considerably more than Alex, but he was in better shape due to his many hours of practice in Singapore. “Alex, my old mate. Let me tell you a few things. First, you are a fucking good bloke for a fucking Irishman. All right, for a fucking Ulsterman. Second, you are also a good soldier, better than me. Better than any of us, in fact. Third, one day you are going to be an officer. No, don’t fucking argue with your Uncle Nick. You will be, and you will be a good one. In fact, if I am still in the stupid Army I will be proud to serve under you, as long as you don’t expect me to call you ‘sir’. Because if you do, mate, I will inform your pals in the Officers Mess that Private Nick fucking Eliot had to provide you with French letters when you visited the toms in a Singapore whore house.”
Alex was grinning by now, in a particularly inane way “What are on about, you wanker? Is there a point to all of this?”
“There is a point, my old son, and if you keep quiet long enough, I will explain. First, you are a fucking good “
“Nick, we have done all those.”
“Oh, yes, so we have. Seriously, mate, when it comes to women you haven’t got a clue. That’s my final point. Anne is a nice girl. You make sure you treat her well. I just don’t know if she is the girl for you. You want to go somewhere in life. I think she will be happy with where she is. You may, one day, my old mate, have a problem there.”
He hugged his friend and staggered off for another beer.
There was no honeymoon, as they could not afford it, and they moved in with Anne’s parents in Morden, and Molly was delighted to have her only child living with her again for a while. It was a pleasant house in a pleasant neighbourhood, but both would have preferred their own place. However, as Bob East pointed out to him, he still had to complete his para training, and see if he was accepted. After that, either way, passed or failed, he would have a better idea of where he was posted, and could hopefully apply for married quarters. It all made sense to Alex, and in any case he did not have enough money to argue for other arrangements.
Bob loaned them the Wolseley, and Alex had much pleasure in demonstrating his driving skills to his new wife, who allowed herself to be impressed. They drove into London once or twice, but found more enjoyment in visiting the coast, and Brighton was their particular favourite. They were happy together, and Alex’s doubts of the last few weeks seemed to have been misplaced. Anne alarmed him, and hurt his feelings, by confessing that she, too, had had grave doubts about getting married, and had to be persuaded by her mother only two days before the ceremony not to call everything off. He wondered why she had not shared her feelings with him before, but, on the other hand, he had not confided in her either.
Too quickly, it seemed, it was all over, and on a wet Sunday evening, he reported to Aldershot to start his parachute training. The training was good, and he was even allowed every other weekend off, so he could catch the train into London, and take the Tube to Morden. The much anticipated part of their training was, as might be expected, the actual jumping out of aeroplanes, but they had much ground to travel before they were allowed anywhere near an aircraft. First all the trainees had to be fit, capable of drilling to the RSM’s satisfaction and then to undergo endless running, falling and rolling exercises, followed by leaping out of a platform about twenty feet above the ground. This seemed simple, but certainly demonstrated the importance of falling correctly, and rolling after impact. The final stage was jumping from baskets suspended below tethered balloons, floating at a height of around six hundred feet above the Aldershot Barracks. This, too, was safely negotiated by most of the trainees, although many reported a weakness in the knees, and strange movements of the bowels.
Finally, the big day arrived, and all twenty-six potential paratroopers paraded for duty and kit inspection, and climbed into two Army Bedford 30 cwt trucks. They were taken to Brize Norton RAF station, and there, from the comparative comfort of the Air Force Beverleys, they at last faced the prospect of jumping out of an aircraft. All the RAF men they met, air or ground crew, shared a common article of faith. It was that one never jumped out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft, and anyone who did should be queuing up in medical section.
About three days into their stay at Brize, they were ready for their first jump. They were going solo, and most of the trainees realised that no matter how many jumps they made from towers, or tethered balloons, this was to be the real thing. Their chief instructor was a grey haired warrant officer, aged about forty five who wore the ribbon of the Military Medal, Jim, or more commonly ‘Paddy’ Morrisey. The warrant officer was something of a legend in the Regiment, and had jumped into Arnhem at the end of the war. His MM had been awarded for bravery in the fighting at the bridge over the Rhine, where he had been wounded and captured. Most of his charges were aware that Paddy’s only son had been killed two years previously fighting in Malaya. He was a much feared, and much loved man. He was due to retire within the next three months, and had over seven hundred jumps to his credit.
They filed into the aircraft, and took their seats, with their backs to the fuselage, facing each other, twenty-six petrified eyes facing twenty-six other petrified eyes. The engines fired, coughed, and settled into a smooth running, ever increasing pitch. The plane thundered against the restraints of the brakes, which were then released, and she rumbled down the runway, gathering speed, like a heavy and ungainly duck, waddling to achieve sufficient speed for take off. The undercarriage lifted, and heart stoppingly, crashed back onto the tarmac before finally lifting, and becoming airborne. The pilot banked the aircraft to the right and began his slow search for altitude. The warrant officer undid his belts and moved back through the plane checking and adjusting their kit. He moved among them, smiling, joking, laughing, threatening, but always encouraging them. As he checked, and was satisfied with, the checking of each man’s equipment, he gave the order to “Hook up.” With much snapping of stainless steel clips they did so, pulling hard on the belt to ensure it had caught. The ritual of pre jump preparation gave them a chance to do something to settle their nerves, and to stop their hands from shaking.
Alex was certain that he would never be able to move. The sweat trickled unpleasantly from his armpits to his ribcage, rolling in minute rivulets of ice cold water to his waistline. The aircraft took about fifteen minutes to reach the required altitude of 12,000 feet.
“Stand up!” The order crackled like a gunshot in the cramped belly of the aircraft as they all obeyed.
“Face the rear!” The two columns of thirteen men turned left and right as appropriate.
Paddy stood at the rear of the aircraft with his back to the opening. “Go!” the warrant officer slapped the shoulders of the men on either side of him. “Go! Go!”
Alex muttered a prayer. “Sweet Jesus, help me.”
Alex shuffled further forward, closer to the rear door.
He was falling, falling, falling, his eyes closed, his bowels working furiously, and then he heard a loud crack above his head, and felt a massive tug on his shoulders, which jerked his head back painfully. His training reasserted itself, and he quickly fumbled the necessary adjustments. He twisted in his straps, which caused his legs to swing alarmingly, until he made suitable compensation with his arms. There was the Beverley, several miles to the north and beginning its slow descent to Brize. The English countryside was spread out all around and below him, and he tried to pick out Oxford and failed.
The sheer pleasure of parachuting took over, and he watched, as his mates floated like fairies on a Christmas tree all around him, experiencing a whole range of emotions from absolute terror to utter joy. This, he told himself, is magnificent. The sheer peace was something he had not even dreamt of experiencing before. It was not silent, as he had imagined it would be, with the wind whistling through his supporting cords and, above him, the chute cracked healthily. He had never known anything so peaceful, so fulfilling. Well that was wrong, there was one other feeling, and he had weekend leave coming up.
And so, in due course, Alex Millar became a paratrooper, and entitled to wear the famous red beret. After the training he was posted back to Aldershot, and eventually he and Anne were able to leave her parents’ home, and move into married quarters. Aldershot was an unremarkable town, owing its existence to the British Army in all of its manifestations, and the Army was both loved and loathed by the local population. It was loved, or perhaps tolerated, because it brought jobs and money to the town, and it was loathed because its young men brought excessive drinking and fighting. Saturday night in the town centre of Aldershot was not a good place for the faint hearted, on many occasions. This was especially true when various different regiments decided to resolve their rivalries in the High Street. The Royal Military Police, the Redcaps, acquired a deserved reputation for quick responses and toughness. In the unlikely event that the RMP couldn’t handle things, they always had their civilian brothers to back them up.
Alex was different to most of the other ‘paras’, in that he was married, and fighting on Saturday night was not a sport he wanted to play. He remained a good soldier and a loyal if frequently unthinking husband. Anne took several jobs in the town, at different times, and seemed happy enough with her life, although Alex suspected, correctly, that she was simply waiting for the time when they could afford to have a baby. They spent their holidays either in London, with her parents, or in Belfast with his. His father and Bob East always loaned them a car, on these visits, and life passed happily enough. Alex continued to play football in the winter, and cricket in the summer. The Army gave him the opportunity to extend his sporting interests to other areas, and he took up Rugby and road walking. His wife was a reluctant witness to these sporting activities in the early days of their marriage, and even became an excellent scorer at cricket, but gradually lost any interest that she might once have had.
And so the years slipped by, marked by events like overseas exercises, and promotions. He became a lance corporal in 1960, and a full corporal the following year. In 1963 he was promoted sergeant, and their son was born. In all this time he remained at Aldershot. Just after the birth of Richard, they were posted to Germany to be with the British Army of the Rhine. Once again the years ticked by in rapid succession, each one looking very much like the last, and the one before that.
In the spring of 1966, Sergeant Alex Millar was recommended by the Parachute Regiment for interview, as being of potential officer material, and was sent off to Westbury in Wiltshire to be assessed by the Army Selection Panel. This august body agreed with the Regiment, and approved the recommendation.
In May of 1966 Sergeant Millar was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, with acting rank of Lieutenant, with immediate effect, and the family, came back to the United Kingdom. He was 28 years of age, pretty close to the cut off point for commissioning from the ranks if a soldier wanted a lifetime’s career. They had been married now for some seven years, and their relationship was steady if not spectacular. Richard was three, and, apart from the usual ailments of childhood, was growing up as a pleasant and normal little boy. Anne was glad to be back in Britain, never having taken to service life in Germany. She was also pleased to be close to her parents, and moved back in with them, for an unknown period, while Alex went off to do his officer training
Alex Millar experienced a mixture of emotions with the move back to UK. He appreciated that it was a necessary prerequisite to his commission, and that was something he had wanted since those early days in Singapore. Another part of him was apprehensive, concerned about his own ability to make it as an officer. He had now been in the Army for ten years, was a senior NCO of three years standing, and was recognised as a hard but fair supervisor, and a very good soldier. He had status, and he liked it. These were, in his own mind, facts, and he did not want to throw away being a first rate NCO to run the risk of being a second rate officer. He knew that he would be regarded by some of the officers, but more importantly, by some of the soldiers, as not being a ‘proper’ officer.
He also acknowledged to himself, if to no one else, that he doubted if he would succeed, and he knew that he could not go back to being Sergeant Millar, if he failed at being Lieutenant Millar. He knew that his own father would not understand any of his doubts, and he did not even discuss them with him. His father said little, but Alex knew that he was very proud of his son, even if he had no time for the institutions his son served. In theory, Bob East should have been a substitute father, for situations like this. He was not. He had been a senior NCO, and had never wanted to be anything else. Like a number of senior NCOs of the old school, Bob despised officers, and from having been proud of Alex as a sergeant, he was dismissive of him as an officer.
Likewise, Anne was disinterested in the Army, or in her husband’s career. She was becoming increasingly, and vocally, critical of service life, and was putting forward the idea that Alex should be looking for civilian employment. She had told him that if he was to be posted overseas again, he could go by himself. She was also anxious to have her own home, something with which Alex agreed. As he pointed out to her, it was not the concept he had any difficulty with, but finding the financial means to implement that concept. He told her that in three, or four years, he would be a captain, and at that time would be earning enough to get a mortgage. Anne remained unconvinced.
He sensed her feelings to have another child, and she put these feelings into words, especially when they were arguing, as they were starting to do more and more frequently. Again, he had no problems with a second child either, but not just yet. He advanced all the usual arguments; they could not afford it; they did not own their own home; his career was just taking off; etc. Nothing made any difference. Men can never understand that they think differently from women, and what seems logical to a man makes no impression on a woman. In her own mind, she had concentrated all her frustrations with life on the Army. If he was not in the Army, he could have a ‘proper’ job, and they could have a ‘normal’ life. All of Anne’s frustrations, with which he sympathised, were beginning to make her ill, or at least, to satisfy Anne that she was ill. She began to develop all kinds of symptoms of a variety of diseases and ailments, which were in her own mind, fatal. Thank God, none ever was, but this did not stop her the next time.
It was a deeply troubled Lieutenant Millar who reported to OCS at Mons Officer Cadet School at Aldershot. He spent six months at this establishment, which had been set up to train men commissioned from the ranks, like himself, and younger men from schools and universities who were taking up short service commissions. He very quickly found that his ten years service was of immense help to him as the training progressed. He did not need to ask why things were done in a certain way, or why they were done at all. He knew. He was a soldier and much of what was expected was second nature. His ‘Para’s’ wings earned him additional kudos, especially with the direct entries. He settled down very quickly, and began to enjoy the new challenge.
About half way through the course, he, and the others, were all required to fill out a posting preference form, in which their wishes for employment, post course, were sought. This surprised Alex, as he had never contemplated going anywhere but back to the ‘Paras.’ He dutifully completed the form, placing the Parachute Regiment as number one, and, after some thought, the Green Howards as number two. He could think of no other regiment, or corps, that he wanted to be part of, and could not complete number three. He was prepared to leave it blank, but his instructor advised its completion.
“If you do not fill in that section, someone may think you are indecisive.”
“But I am” Alex protested.
“Nevertheless, my advice is to complete the bloody thing. Put something so outlandish that no one will ever consider it.”
“What do you think they would say if I put down the Medical Corps?”
“Don’t be so bloody silly.”
“Is that you saying that or the selection board?”
“Both of us. Put something sensible.”
Alex had had a drink in the Sergeant’s Mess a couple of nights earlier with his old friend, Donal, his sparring partner in their training days. Donal was now a senior NCO in the Military Police. Accordingly, Lt Millar put the RMP as his third choice. It was a decision that would come back to haunt him.
Alex passed out third in a class of eighteen, and was very pleased with himself. He was less pleased when he was interviewed by the OCS Colonel.
“Well done, Millar, very well done. Third place is a remarkable achievement, considering the quality of this intake.” The Colonel looked up and smiled.
“Thank you, sir.” A dutiful reply.
“Now, I suppose you are anxious to know where you are going?” He looked up again, and smiled once more.
“Very anxious, sir.”
“Well, I am sorry, but we can’t send you back to the ‘Paras’, as they are up to strength for officers, and the Green Howards are out too. There may be some reorganisation there, and we are not posting officers at present. So,” he looked up a third time, and smiled broadly. “You will be delighted to know that you have got your third choice, the Royal Military Police. I did not think for one second, Lieutenant Millar, you had a yen to be a copper. However, I wish you the very best of luck in your future career in the Army.”
The Colonel stood up, and shook the young officer warmly by the hand.
Alex grinned fixedly. “Thank you sir.” He thought to himself “Why the hell did I not put the Chaplains’ Branch? Mum would have been pleased.” She saluted and executed a crisp about turn.
As he left the CO’s office, he thought “Bloody Army, bloody typical.”
According, after a month’s leave, spent mostly in Morden, Alex wended his way to Chichester, to take up an appointment as adjutant to the Military Police Training School. Just before Christmas, he obtained married quarters, and Anne and Richard move in. He was left with the impression that she had done so reluctantly, and would have preferred to stay with her mother in Morden. Despite this, they both settled into a fairly easy and pleasant way of life, with frequent trips back to Bob and Molly’s, but less frequent ones to Belfast. The move into married quarters was not without a certain amount of drama. On moving in, it was not long before they both discovered that the house was infested by cockroaches. Neither of them had seen these ancient insects before, but guessed fairly quickly what they were. Their antiquity did little to endear them to either Anne or Alex, and both were anxious about the potential danger they posed to Richard.
They spent a lot of time killing cockroaches, which were naturally anxious to avoid such a fate. The insects scuttled here and there all over the house and it was not possible to open a cupboard or drawer without this telltale scuttling noise. Anne had had enough.
“See the bloody housing officer about these bastard things.”
“I will, I will.”
He did, but the housing officer, a supercilious captain, dismissed the possibility of cockroaches. “The quarter was checked and fumigated before you moved in. It was fine then.”
“Well, it isn’t fine now.”
“Very well, I’ll have one of my people check it again.”
After a week of chasing cockroaches, and waiting for their quarter to be checked, Anne lost patience. She collected three fat, living cockroaches in a large matchbox, and marched off to the Housing Section. Captain Williams was at his desk when she entered without ceremony.
“Mrs Millar, how good to see you. I…….”
“Never mind the pleasantries, Captain Williams. According to you, there are no cockroaches in our quarter. What do you call these little bastards, then?”
She opened the matchbox and tipped them out on his desk, where they immediately scuttled off in all directions. Subsequently, the married quarter was fumigated, and the cockroaches disappeared. For the remainder of their stay at Chichester, Captain Simon Williams was unable to do enough for Lieutenant Millar, and in particular, for Mrs Millar.
After a year as the Adjutant, Alex became an instructor in the school, a position he came, increasingly to enjoy. It was a position he was to hold for almost two years, at which time he was promoted captain. While his Army career was progressing smoothly, his marriage was not. Anne’s dislike of the Army had turned to loathing. She wanted their own home, in which she could live without the fear of being posted every two or three years, with all the attendant disruption to family life that such events involved. Financially, they were in a position to think about buying a home, but he knew that it would be better to wait until his time at the RMP Depot was up, and he had some idea of where he would be going next. During the late autumn of 1969, Captain Millar learned of his fate in an interview with his CO.
“Captain Millar, sit down, please. Cigarette?” The CO offered one to Alex, who declined.
“You are right, of course, I wish I didn’t use the bloody things.” He paused while he lit the cigarette, and inhaled a lungful. “As you know, better than I, I’m certain, your time here is almost up, and you must be thinking about your next job?” He looked up enquiringly at Alex.
“Yes, sir, it has crossed my mind.”
“Well, we have here a very interesting request, and you seem to fill the bill.”
“Well, sir, I really would like to be a soldier again, with the Paras, if at all possible.”
“Yes, I’m sure you would, Captain Millar. Unfortunately in this life, we do not always get what we want.”
“Now, this is not a mandatory posting, but it is one for which you are qualified, and you could find it very interesting. As you probably know, the British Services do a number of officer exchanges with other Allied forces. For example, with the Americans, with various Commonwealth forces, and even the French from time to time. It is normally for two, or two and a half, sometimes three years, and this time the Aussies are sending a Provost officer on exchange, starting next month. We are requested to supply one Provost captain. Are you interested?”
Alex was interested. “Very much, sir.”
“Good, now here is something else which is right up your street. By the way, are you current with your jumping?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve never let that lapse. Why?”
“Well, this really has me beaten, but the Australian Provost Marshal wants a para. As you know, the RMP has its own para element, but the Aussies do not. He seems to think there may be occasions when a Provost officer may be required to jump into some where in a hurry, like Vietnam, for instance. Still interested?”
“Very much, sir. I would really like to do some jumping again.”
“All right, then. Go and talk to your wife, and let me know by Monday, so I can send this chap a signal.”
On the following Monday, with Anne’s enthusiastic support, he accepted the posting.
Kate Fouchet arrived home, tired and dispirited. She turned the key in the lock of the front door, and was immediately charged by her two small children, Ceinwyn, six and Thomas, eight. “Mummy, Mummy.” She was simultaneously assailed by their tales of the day, what they had done with Daddy, and the dozens of questions that only small children have the imagination to design. They hugged her legs, and hindered her progress into the room. Peter took them by the hands and led them into the living room. “Come on, kids, let your mother into the house before you pester her.”
“Drink, darling? Tea, coffee, glass of wine, or something to eat?”
“Tea, please, and the chance to sit down for a few minutes.”
She had her tea, while Peter readied the children, and bundled them off to bed. He sat down beside her, kissed her and took her hand. “Would you like to tell me about it?”
She would, and she did. “Do you know,” she said, “my mother was at the hospital this afternoon. I don’t know what she wanted, but she couldn’t have stayed for more than ten minutes. I really do not know why, in God’s name, she went there. They were divorced nine years before she would allow Richard or I to give Dad her address. You know something else, Peter? Those two must have loved each other at one time. Must have been a very long time ago, because I don’t remember it.”
He hugged her, and got up. “I’ll do the dishes.” As he reached the door of the room he turned and said, “Well, anyway, something good came out of it.”
She raised her eyebrows, quizzically, “Oh, yes, what was that?”
“You, my darling, you. My little Aussie.”