A Close Shave

April 7, 2012


I joined the British Army at the tender age of fifteen, knowing little or nothing about the big, bad world around me. I was soon to learn of the contradictions that abounded, especially in the ordered life of a would-be soldier. One was the way in which discipline was administered and order maintained, not by the presence but by the elimination of justice from the judicial system that governed the day to day existence of the private soldier.

I had been in the Army not more than a week and was present on muster parade when the Company Commander, a Major Underwood, stopped in front of me and asked, rather abruptly, I naively thought,
“Did you shave this morning, Boy?” (Boy was not used in a derogatory fashion but was the official form of address for a Boy Soldier.)
“I don’t shave yet. I’m only fifteen, Sir” I replied, knowing that if there was any hair on my face it was similar to the fuzz on a peach.
“You will shave every day in future. This is disgusting having the effrontery to come on parade unshaven. Take his name. I want this boy charged, Sergeant Major. Company Commanding Orders, 0900hrs.”
“Sah!” barked the sergeant-major and I launched on my first criminal offence in the Army.

After the parade, I was ordered to go to the NAAFI and purchase shaving gear, which cost seven shillings and sixpence; exactly half of my weekly wage of fifteen shillings.

I then reported to the Orderly Room for Orders, where the sergeant major told me to remove my cap and belt. I stood at ease behind another boy soldier who was my escort, presumably to prevent any violent explosion by me while in the CO’s office. We banged our feet to attention and were marched in rapid quick time to be brought to a halt in front of the major’s desk. We turned on command to face the major and for the first time I saw it was Major Underwood.

The charge was read out and I was asked how I pleaded. In my innocence, I thought I was being given a genuine opportunity to state my case and pleaded not guilty, launching into my version of events.

“Silence, Boy,” the major said,” I was there. Sergeant Major, your evidence.”
“Sah, Boy Davidson reported for parade unshaven in a slovenly manner and was ordered to be charged, Sah!”
“You will find that this kind of untidiness, and attempting to lie about it, will not be tolerated. Do you accept my punishment?” Knowing that I was on a hiding to nothing, I acquiesced.
“Seven days confined to barracks. March out, Sergeant Major!”
We turned smartly to our right and fairly whistled out the door.

It troubled me for ages how you could be reported for a misdemeanour by the very person who would determine your guilt and sentence you to whatever punishment he deemed fit. I had had this in my relationship with my father; I was in the Army to avoid it. I honestly didn’t expect that type of justice to be universally endemic in my life. I was soon to learn there were many other aspects of the smoke and mirrors system of justice in the Army.

This was to be so, in the case of the agnostic Brussels sprouts, during my period of Confined to Barracks (CB) or “jankers” as it was known by the miscreants who had to perform it.

3 Responses to “A Close Shave”


  1. Agnostic Brussels sprouts. What a hook! I can’t wait!


  2. Ooooh — agnostic brussel sprouts!

  3. Robert Davidson Says:

    I hope that is an “Oooooh!” of approval, Kathy.


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