By Donald Cleggg
The King wants a Daft Laddie
For two years I was a guest of His Majesty King George VI, followed by Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and spent much of my National Service in Korea as a Wireless Operator in the Royal Corps of Signals – an “Operator Wireless and Line BII”, to be exact.
Dot Dot Dash
In this role I was required to read and send Morse Code at 18 words per minute where a ‘word’ in this context was a group of five characters. A BII operator must achieve 25 words per minute, or over two characters per second. Not that Morse code was used all that much – only for sending Secret or Restricted messages to HQ in Seoul or Tokyo. I was never expected to send messages back to friends and family to Rochester or Kielder!
We operators worked a 13 hour night shift, using old acid-battery operated radios called “19 sets”, chock-a-block with valves and covered in dials, knobs and switches – just like Captain Scarlet or Dan Dare would have had. We were housed, initially, in an army truck known affectionately, but obscurely, as a Gin Palace. Our Gin Palace was perched near the top of a hill above the main tented camp, on a broad ledge carved from the hillside.
Because we were on Active Service we had to be in constant readiness to move out in the event of a ‘push’ by the Chinese-backed forces. This readiness also applied to the vehicles, of course, and every morning the driver of the Gin Palace climbed the track to conduct his regular checks of oil, fuel, water and air pressures. The last wheel to be checked was always the spare which stood on its edge tucked into a narrow space between the truck’s cab and the body.
Kick her in the guts - Oops
Each morning the driver rolled the wheel out of its cubbyhole, bounced it on to the ground, then used his foot to kick it flat back to the floor. On this occasion the kick misfired and the wheel set off down the hill towards the camp, accelerating as it went according to the laws of physics.
We all watched in fascination, then horror, as the heavy projectile hurtled onwards, heading for the Field Hospital, directly in its path. It seemed inevitable that the Hospital tent and its occupants would be flattened but, at the very last second, the wheel struck one of the metal stakes securing the tent’s guy ropes and sailed into the air, clearing the tent’s ridge by a mere twelve inches.
It then bounced mightily on the other side, jinked neatly to the right and disappeared into a deep gully by the roadside. Suddenly, everyone came back to life and rushed down to see where it had ended up. In fact, although it had miraculously avoided crashing into the Field Hospital, it had scored a direct hit on the campfire of a group of local Koreans who had been quietly cooking their breakfast and chatting amongst themselves.
Imagine their surprise when their “flied lice” was suddenly splattered across the countryside by a huge, black rotating missile! It took three men the rest of the morning to heave, haul and roll the recalcitrant wheel back to its cage on the Gin Palace and, in the end, it was found it didn’t need inflating after all.