Cowardice (Or Self-Preservation) in the Face of the Enemy

November 24, 2011

In the bright morning sun three hundred boy soldiers halted in front of the unit armoury. From the head of the parade the sergeant major marched smartly to a position midway left of the column, turned sharply to face the troops and gave the order to advance into line. The platoon sergeants marched smartly to their new positions in front of each platoon. The CSM then gave the command to order arms and handed the parade over to the platoon sergeants.

Dismissed, the boys formed up into a long single file and shuffled forward to hand the weapons over the counter to the unit armourer. Rifles handed in, the boys made their way, some singly, others in groups, to the billets where they changed into denims prior to going to the cookhouse for the midday meal. The majority, with the ravenous appetites of growing males, ran to get near the front of the queue.

They had to do this if they wanted a full three course meal. The cookhouse staff never seemed to know how many diners there would be and always erred on the side of less as opposed to plenty. Often the soup would run out or the custard would dry up before all the boys were fed. On some days, such as Sundays, when two choices, such as meat and fish, were available, the choice only extended to the first thirty in line. The less desirable choice was all that was available for the rest.

Not all the boys however, handed their weapons in and after a tally the armourer announced to the Sergeant Major that one weapon was missing. According to the booking out records this was registered to Boy Monami.

Monami was an enlistment from the Channel Islands. He was dark and his face was devoted to the full time cultivation of acne. He had a timid demeanour and pronounced stoop both of which caused him to be the butt of cruel adolescent practical jokes and derision. He suffered dreadfully from homesickness and was the victim of the endemic harassment, closely akin to bullying, that prevailed among the teenage boys. A quick investigation by the sergeant major revealed that Monami had last been seen walking, not towards the cookhouse, but towards the woods that surrounded the barrack area. He had also been on the ranges recently where he had access to ammunition

Only a few boys had been served lunch as a group of Boy NCOs swept into the dining room area and ordered everyone to fall in outside. With much muttering and bitching everyone joined their platoon formations. Here they were told by the sergeant major that Monami had absconded with a rifle. This was unconscionable. The weapon and Monami must be brought back. The whole formation was turned into line and marched off in the direction of the woods.

At the edge of the woods the battalion was formed up into single line abreast and given the order to advance, much in the way that ghillies and beaters in the Highlands would, to raise game. The annoyance at having missed the midday meal gradually dissipated as the boys began to enjoy the brightness of the day and laughed and joked among themselves.

After several minutes the trees began to thin out and the terrain changed to a combination of sand, brush and heather that the boys knew as “the tank tracks”. The extended line emerged from the tree line and advanced across the moor land. By this time the purpose of the exercise had diminished in the minds of the majority of the boys and completely disappeared from the minds of those who were giddier than the average teenager. They advanced in desultory fashion, beating at the bushes with twigs and sticks in a halfhearted manner, and none really cared if Monami showed or not — or so they thought!

Suddenly with a blood curdling shriek Monami leapt from hiding some thirty to forty yards in front of the search party. Continuing to screech he worked the bolt of the purloined .303 Lee Enfield, threw it up to his shoulder and aimed in the general direction of the other boys.

Never in the history of the RAOC Boys School had the coordination in the execution of a military drill movement been so precise and simultaneous. With a concerted “Oooh!” three hundred boys literally leapt into the air, spun round one hundred and eighty degrees and took to their heels with Promethean strides towards the barrack blocks.

The lone demented Monami spurred them on from behind with crazy banshee wails.

Eventually, one of the permanent staff instructors opened an upstairs window and called down to Monami who was prowling the area between the blocks. He asked if Monami was hungry and if he was would he be prepared to turn the weapon over in return for a meal and amnesty.

Monami, who was not the top of his class as a negotiator, agreed a little too promptly. He was quickly surrounded by a group of adult instructors who took the weapon, reneged on the amnesty part, and Monami, his brief moment of glory extinguished, was marched in double time to the guardroom where he was put in custody until the following Monday. On orders that morning he was sentenced to fourteen days confinement with a compulsory discharge from Army service to follow.

Looking back I’m sure he would have preferred not have been incarcerated, but to be discharged, freed from harassment and returned to his home island at the tax payer’s expense, must have been bliss for young Monami.

3 Responses to “Cowardice (Or Self-Preservation) in the Face of the Enemy”

  1. I hadn’t even known there were boy soldiers in Britain before you started posting these great articles. Tom Browns’ Schooldays…but with guns!

  2. Gary Dennett Says:

    I wonder if Monami went home and joined a terrorist group now that he had been properly trained. I guess only Robert knows.

  3. Robert Davidson Says:

    Gary, that’s not too shabby and would make a neat plotline for a novel. Nice one!

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