Redcaps on Patrol
It pays to think before you speak
By Roy Oswick
Being a Military Policeman in Cyprus during the time when the island was subject to the EOKA campaign was at times quite scary but at the same time exciting. Most of us were National Servicemen as were the majority of the other troops that formed the British Army in those days. Following only a very short Basic Training period National Servicemen were allocated to whichever arm of the Army they were thought to be best suited. The selection process was to say the least, casual and it therefore transpired that many National Servicemen were allocated to Regiments for which they were less than best suited. Those who were destined to serve as Military Policemen were no less subject to this indiscriminate selection process than others and it is fair to say that there were a number of cases where, in different circumstances, some who were destined to spend their National Service in upholding the Law, would have been actively involved in breaking it.
This was certainly the case with regard to one of my colleagues. In order to protect the innocent I shall call him Harry. Harry and I had been in the same training Squad prior to posting to Cyprus and we were well known to one another. Harry originated from the East End of London, an area not unfamiliar to me as this was the birthplace of my father and we had visited the area many, many times as children.
Harry’s family were well known in the Forest Gate area of London and they were closely associated to the Richardson’s and the Krays families. The majority of Harry’s family had served time at Her Majesty’s pleasure and had his criminal career not been interrupted by National Service it is without doubt that Harry would eventually also have done so.
Harry had tried very hard throughout his Military Police training to get himself transferred to another regiment and he had confided in me that if the rest of his family and friends ever found out that he was a Military Policeman he would be seen as a traitor and would, at best be ostracised and at worst might even be physically attacked. Harry therefore fully intended to use any situation to encourage the Army to admit that it had made a dreadful mistake in appointing him to the Royal Military Police, and to remove him from that position as soon as possible.
Although determined in this resolve Harry was not stupid and never did anything that was criminal or that would result in him spending time in a Military Prison, what he would do was to attempt to match his wits against what he saw as THE SYSTEM, and to beat the system, or at the very least frustrate it, wherever possible.
As I have said Harry was very quick witted and never at a loss for an answer and this was a constant annoyance to Senior NCO’S who were unused to having orders or instructions questioned or their authority threatened. Consequently Harry was ever on the receiving end of criticism and the consequences of his actions often earned him either extra duties or being allocated to the sometimes boring and seemingly pointless duties that we were at times called upon to perform and these included Car Parking duties at functions either hosted by or attended by Very Senior Officers from all three Services and also High Ranking Civil Servants from Government offices and Embassies.
For these duties we were always required to wear Best Number One Dress. This uniform was made from a very heavy serge material that was particularly uncomfortable in warm weather.
This story relates to one such duty that Harry and I and several others were detailed to perform. It was early August so still very warm and prior to taking up our duties we were Subject to minute inspection by the NCO in charge. On this occasion it was a recently promoted Sgt and this was his first “NCO IN CHARGE DUTY”, he was therefore required to carry out the inspection but, he was doing so with the RSM overseeing things and was therefore desperate to impress. He began the inspection and issued a number of minor criticisms until he finally came to Harry.
Harry could never look good in uniform and always looked as if he had got dressed in the dark and was wearing somebody else’s clothes. Never actually scruffy but a bit like an unmade bed, clean but untidy. The sight of Harry on parade clearly gave the new Sgt an unexpected opportunity to impress the RSM with his ability to find fault which he did at length with Harry. Nothing was right about Harry’s appearance, Boots not highly polished, Brasses too dull. Creases not sharp enough. White belt not white enough and so it went on almost it seemed unendingly whilst the remainder of the parade waited for him to finish and dismiss us, Throughout the tirade of abuse Harry remained straight faced and unmoved. Eventually the Sgt took a pace back and raising his pace stick. Pointed it at Harry’s chest and said in an exasperated tone “YOU ARE A DISGRACE. There is a piece of dog crap on the end of this stick”
Harry quick as a flash Broke ranks glanced down at the end of the stick that was now prodding his chest and said in a loud parade ground voice, “NOTHING ON MY END SERGEANT” The whole parade burst into uncontrollable laughter and even the RSM had to turn away.
Harry did eventually get his way and was transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.