Sun, 22 Sep 2019
Dick Reckless was one quarter German on his mother's side and spoke the language fluently. His mother had forced it on him as a child in the hope that being bi-lingual would help him in his career. Translators were always needed and there were numerous business opportunities for trade between the two great nations. He spent numerous summers there, at his aunt and uncles in the black forest, so was fluent, albeit with an unfashionable schwarzwald accent.
However, the War ended his mother's hopes for his career as a great, multilingual, world-dealing businessman. Suddenly his background, and his second language, became a liability. Naively he volunteered to serve his country and even more naively he confessed to speaking German, thinking his language skills would be of use to the British army. Not only was his German-speaking never used, he was abused as a potential spy throughout his training and into the front line, made to do every horrific job both imaginable and unimaginable. His life at training camp was particularly harsh, his sergeant, a former bank clerk called Babble who had never served in the front line, humiliated him at every tern and barely let him sleep, so many were the extra duties imposed on him.
What he was supposed to be spying on, who knows, was he reporting to German high command about the foul state of our latrines, the cold, tasteless state of the food that is slopped up for us every night, or just on the empty nothingness that is sitting around waiting to be killed?
He had no problem with his fellow tommies though, and offered to teach us key German phrases, something we all keenly accepted. We realised that we could, any one of us, be faced with a situation where a few words of German could save our lives, or prevent us having to shoot someone close-up. He gave secret lessons which most of us gladly attended, to learn the German expressions for "Hands up," "put down your weapons," and "I surrender". Some went further and learnt to be as fluent as possible, realising that a translator would always be useful.
Dick was equally helpful to the new troops. Most of us cared the first few times new troops arrived, we'd help teach them to fit their gas mask in pitch dark, how to clear their riffle of Flanders mud (which is unlike any other mud in the known universe), the best places to seek cover, how to recognise the sounds of different bombs, the million and one things we'd learned since coming here that nobody have ever thought or known to teach us. But when you've seen so many newbies die anyway you loose enthusiasm, you no longer think you can make a difference. Not Dick, he was there for every new man, like he was mother to the whole platoon.
In short, everyone loved Dick, except the ones that mattered, those in charge. Then a new Sergeant arrived, none other than Babble, told he was no longer needed in the training camps and sent to the front line. He continued to abuse Dick, only the orders he flew at him this time around we either dangerous, pointless or pointlessly dangerous.
Dick decided to have his revenge.
By this time everyone in the platoon spoke some German, a few of us were reasonably fluent. We set the joke up a few days in advance by making references to seeing the Sergeant sleepwalking. Altogether a dozen or of us mentioned it to him over a period of a week, by which time the Sergeant was convinced that his sleepwalking was a fact, which he attributed to front line nerves.
A few of us had captured German helmets and even a couple of German uniforms and our ruse was to convince Babble that he'd sleep-walked into the German camp, by a group of us talking loudly in German around him. Babble would recognise Dick's voice, so it was Wilson and Compton who led the conversation, neither of whom Babbage had much contact with and both now spoke fluent German. Myself and Mulligan wore the uniforms and stood close enough to him for them to be clearly visible in the moonlight. In the doorway stood Allen and Smithy wearing German helmets, Compton and Wilson sat on bunks either side of Babble conversing loudly and clearly in German, with each of us taking terms to interject with a German expressions we had learnt for the occasion. Mine translated as "My sausage dog used to the same thing."
We hadn't given much thought to what Babble's reaction would be. We'd taken the precaution of emptying his gun and hiding his bayonet, but beyond that we hadn't given thought. We assumed he'd be confused for a few seconds before realising that there was no way he could ever have walked to the German side, let alone to have crept into bed there unnoticed. Frankly, we were expecting a bollocking, but it would be worth it.
We were most surprised then, when he didn't react. We were sure he was awake, we had made sure of that, but he made as if he was still asleep.
He's not rising to the bait, we all thought. Didn't want to give us the pleasure of acknowledging our joke, though doubtless we would all get a bollocking in the morning.
We assumed he'd seen through our ruse and had returned to our beds disappointed, but in fact he really had believed he had sleepwalked into the German camp and fallen asleep. He had waited until we had all gone quiet and had snuck out, trying to return to the British side. His body had been found the next morning, riddle with bullets.
Dick had well and truly got his revenge.