If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t, paint it!
During my National Service I was stationed with the 28th Royal Artillery Regiment in Gibraltar. At first the posting appeared exciting, or at least interesting – but after two or three weeks the novelty soon wore off.
In 1947 our boredom was to be relieved by a visit from Manny Shinwell MP, the then Minister of Defence. There was a price to be paid for this temporarily relief, however -the ‘bulling-up’ of the whole regimental area. It seemed to us that everything that moved had to be saluted, and anything that didn’t had to be painted. For whose benefit all this was – the great man himself or the ‘top brass’ (of whom there were many) – I have never really been able to work out.
Still, after days of tedious painting, scrubbing and Blanco-ing, the momentous day arrived. On the morning of the visit we all turned out in our best well-ironed khaki drill and were duly inspected along with our gleaming 25-pounder guns. Then my battery was ‘stood down’ and marched away to a distant area of the station.
Carefully secreted behind the NAAFI we rendezvoused with troops from various other regiments, all of whom seemed to be in a similar state of nonplussed bewilderment. The object of the exercise seemed to be avoiding our distinguished visitor at all costs. We were ‘doubled’ from position to position all through the morning and part of the afternoon.
Experience in the Army had taught me not to question orders or the motives behind them, but in later years I have tried to work out what we were doing on that day more than 50 years ago. I have come to the conclusion that firstly we were the ‘scrufF element of our various ‘mobs’, and it was better to keep us out of sight of the ‘great man’. Or could it have been that the ‘top brass’ wanted to prevent the Minister from getting the impression that ‘Gib’ was overmanned, and perhaps putting their ‘cushy billet’ in jeopardy? I can tell you that Mr. Shinwell never saw me, and I never saw him.