Music is unrivalled in its ability to grab emotions by the scruff and drag them from the past into the present.
Sometimes the memories are blissful. And thus it was last week when I heard on the radio a snatch from that old favourite ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’
Scroll back now to the mid-50s when I was a squaddie and our company clerk was Cpl Mayes, better known as ‘Happy’, a doleful booze artist whose frequent appearances in the bar was always celebrated by a massed choir singing ‘Happy Mayes is hissed again.’ Which he invariably was.
Now, Happy’s sworn enemy was the regimental sergeant major, who had won Military Medals in North Africa and another in Italy and who almost certainly enjoyed throttling people with his bare hands. He and Happy were incompatible to say the least, but what saved Happy was his efficiency.
Anyway, one enchanted Christmas Eve with the RSM and half the regiment on leave Happy drove his ancient Mercedes on to the RSM’s sacred square and set fire to it.
As a crime this was on par with an archbishop breaking wind violently at a coronation. Under normal circumstances the RSM would have ordered a firing squad and joined it in person.
Everybody was scared stiff of the RSM, including the Field Marshal commanding the British Army of the Rhine. Our adjutant, who was acting CO in the Colonel’s absence, overcame his paralysis of fear and personally supervised a clean-up operation to restore the parade ground’s previous perfection.
The wreckage of the car was removed and the fire-damaged patch resurfaced, and all by Boxing Day. It was an impressive operation, even by the standards of the Royal Engineers. I reckon this was the only time in the history of the British Army that a regimental establishment collaborated in concealing a crime from the RSM.
The usual drill was for the RSM to reveal crime to the regimental establishment.
There remained the punishment of Happy Mayes. No-one could think of one. Eventually Happy was examined by the Medical Officer and excused duties for seven days. Not that he would have been able to function in any less than that period anyway.
The sequel was pure irony. In fact, the RSM never did return to the regiment. He was transferred to a training regiment in the UK and given a new batch of squaddies to terrorise.