Arthur

January 18, 2012


As a captain in both organizations Arthur fulfilled everyman’s concept of a member of the Salvation Army more than he did that of the Regular Army. He was small, slight with wispy white hair, rosy red cheeks and a sweet genial disposition. He believed the best of people and was frequently deceived by the soldiers under his command. His bearing was neither military nor striking and he had little time for the requirements of “good order and military discipline”. He lacked the ability to intimidate, which is the forte of all disciplinarians.

Arthur was the bane of those who did conform to the accepted stereotype of the British military authoritarian. Jimmy King, our sergeant major, was one and he demanded unstinting conformity with all rules and all regulations.

CSM King was rehearsing an honour guard in arms drill in preparation for a visit by a senior VIP of our Corps. The group was being put through its paces on a small parade ground just inside the main gate. From the corner of his eye the Sergeant-Major saw a Landrover pull up at the gate, and knowing that it must be transporting an Officer, he used the opportunity to exercise the troops in the Present, the recognized salute with arms to officers of high rank.

He gave the order.

The Present completed, he spun on his heel, crashed his left foot into the position of attention and threw up his right hand in salute as his left cut away smartly from the pace stick under his arm.

Arthur, who was the vehicle’s passenger, was quietly knitting a sock, as a donation for his other organisation. He saw the Present Arms, recognized it for what it was, but could not return the salute, since both hands were otherwise occupied. He did what he assumed was the next best thing. He waved his knitting at the sergeant major.

At that moment the vehicle took off and continued towards the HQ. This was indeed fortunate because in that instant Jimmy King went ballistic. He threw his pace stick across the square, slung his hat in the opposite direction and, choleric-red with rage, screamed,
“He waved his f*****g knitting at me!”

One of Arthur’s duties was Deputy Fire Officer and as such he was responsible for the efficiency of the fire-fighting force to the Second in Command, Major Geoffrey Bartels. The 2IC, tall, dark, mustachioed and somewhat fiercesome, reminiscent of the British Raj era, also experienced the “swimming in marsh-mallow” side effect of dealings with Arthur.

One morning the Major told Arthur that they would hold a fire drill in the Vehicle Maintenance Area at 14.00 hours that afternoon. No one was to be told about it since the reaction to the alarm should be spontaneous. Arthur, however, like many men who are unsure of themselves, and of their subordinates, could not resist warning the members of the maintenance team.

At 14.00 hours the Major’s vehicle swept into the designated area, which was singularly deserted, and he and Arthur alighted. Arthur was carrying an old oil drum containing cotton waste soaked in oil and petrol. The drum was strategically placed under the rear end of an ambulance undergoing spray painting. The Major took out his stop watch, Arthur opened his box of matches, Bartels pointed theatrically at Arthur, and stabbed the button on the stop watch as Arthur struck his match.

Simultaneously, with the ignition of the sulphur head, the double doors of the ambulance burst open and three soldiers, each armed with a fire extinguisher, leapt forward and deluged the match with foam. Arthur, holding the drooping still-smoking match and covered from the waist down in white, bubbly effervescent foam looked sheepishly at Bartels, who said in a voice filled with cold disdain, “Point zero five seconds. Arthur, I refuse to believe they have not been forewarned.”

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