Presumably, as a morale booster, a genius at Whitehall thought it would be a ‘terrific idea’ for the HG to mount guard at Buck H, unaware what the poor devils would suffer at the delicate hands of the Guards’ Drill Sergeants. An edict was read out at parades. I assumed it was an honour for the HG while paying homage to His Majesty, KG6. They wanted the platoon to provide men six foot in height -‘volunteers’. Skipper made us fall in, put us through arms drill, finally picking those he thought would disgrace us least – I was one.
We reported to Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk each evening for two hours, training in the art of guarding, that involved stamping the feet at every opportunity until the Achilles tendons ached, carrying a rifle at the ‘slope’ and marching back and forth – doing everything old Skip had taught us but with ‘snap’. ‘Put a snap in it, lad’, was the cry. There was a S’nt Mayhah, not a sergeant major, dress cap placed parallel to the ground, black peak flat on his face so he had to hold his head back to see where he was going, and a device under his left arm, called a ‘pace stick’. To assess the level of detail these guys entered into, the S’nt Mayhah invariably held this pace stick parallel to the ground, with the point held between the first finger and thumb of the left hand, with the remainder of his fingers extended, his right hand loosely closed with thumb extended on top and the arm raised to shoulder level on alternate strides. Someone in our platoon wondered who had time to wind them all up before we arrived.
The S’nt Mayhah had a voice like thunder and I assume, abused his own sergeants to impress upon us civilians the yawning gap there was between a soldier and a Home Guard. That we were held in complete contempt was patent on arrival, and as the S’nt Mayhah probably had additional duties in consequence didn’t help our cause. One other odd, peculiar particular was the Officer-In-Charge. Dressed like the S’nt Mayhah but with a Sam Brown across his chest, his hat with the flattened brim, he marched back and forth, parallel to the Birdcage Walk railings, swagger stick like the pace stick, under his arm, precisely held, but he looked neither to left nor right, he ignored what was going on beside him, of which he was in charge, and just stamped his feet as he turned round at each precise end of a the exact course of pacing. Periodically a sergeant or the S’nt Mayhah would stand in his path, sufficiently far along the track so he could put on the breaks and stamp to a halt. They would salute one another for the umpteenth time, both shout something unintelligible as if a field apart, salute yet again, stamp a few times, part company and the officer would start his pacing again like an automaton.
It was June and the weather was wildly hot, I had only a singlet under my battledress tunic, a great mistake. For hours on end, night after night, we sloped arms and ordered arms and we tried to ‘put a snap in it’, but achieving that was almost impossible towards the end of the evening because our collar bones were sore with the repeated battering they received from the rifles as we obeyed instructions, shouted in our ear, strength five, ‘don’t put it down, slap it down’. We had done a full day’s work already, we were being abused as if we were raw recruits and this our chosen profession. Resentment reigned large. My friend Farrer was becoming as miserable and bolshie as I was . The crunch came on a Saturday. Now, not only my collarbone, broken years before, but the skin was so sore I could barely take the rubbing of the uniform on it. At ‘Shoulder arms’, I tried to find a spot on which to lay the rifle, it took time. A sergeant, taller than I, and a great deal stronger, standing immediately behind me, watching me as I started to lay the rifle down tentatively, hit the rifle on the barrel when it was about six inches from my shoulder, so that it literally crashed down on all the pain – “I told you to smack it down not lay it down”, he bellowed in my ear. For a moment I was staggered both by the pain and the brutality. One minute they were implying we were no-hopers, the next we were treated as if fully trained but malingering. I took the rifle off my shoulder and turned to the sergeant and explained rather tersely that I was a civilian trying my best but as my best was not good enough I was resigning from his care. After all these years I have no idea what I really said. I walked sedately off the parade ground. Whether the automaton saw me is unlikely, whether he cared is a definite negative. none of our platoon were at the Gates of Buckingham Palace in June when the Press pictures were taken.. Probably we were all dismissed and Guardsmen were dressed in our awful uniforms and out there, pretending – serve ’em right!