Flight’ did not mince his words after we dumped dinner

THE cookhouse flight-sergeant stared wildly around in disbelief. You ve thrown the dinners away? he said in a strangled voice. All the mince? Why? What for? It was clearly a first in his lengthy RAF career. Certainly so in ours, which was only in its

THE cookhouse flight-sergeant stared wildly around in disbelief.

"You've thrown the dinners away?" he said in a strangled voice. All the mince? "Why? What for?"

It was clearly a first in his lengthy RAF career. Certainly so in ours, which was only in its fourth week of National Service, 1951.

Denim-clad, we were on "fatigues". Not through any default, but as part of the rota system for such duty.


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Billet-mates Peter, Clive and me had been assigned that morning to the cookhouse.

There, the same flight-sergeant acted like he'd enough worries without us.

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Calling over a ginger-haired corporal, he told him to find us something useful to do.

We were led to a small windowless room stacked with pans, canteens, dixies, and knee-high cauldrons.

In a Scottish accent with undisguised pleasure the corporal said: "I want this lot shining bright by 1200 hours. OK?"

Clive asked: "What, all of it, corporal?"

"Yes, every single bit there is, airman. Why?"

"There's rather a lot, that's all, corporal," said Clive.

"Better get on with it then, hadn't you?" smirked the corporal nastily.

Right now, Corporal Berk, as we'd named him, was about to be dropped on from a very great height. We knew it. He knew it.

A bemused Flight' was about to do it.

Peter firmly answered: "We were following orders."

"What orders? Whose?" gritted Flight'.

"The corporal told us to have it all shining brightly by 1200 hours, flight-sergeant," said Peter.

Flight' replied weakly, almost as if by saying it he could bring them back. "But not the mince dinners?"

"We were told every single bit there was, and assumed the corporal meant that, flight-sergeant," said Peter.

"But how could you throw good mince away, unquestioned?" said an anguished Flight'.

"When we found this sludge in four of the cauldrons, we tried to reach the corporal to check with him, but were told he was in the Naafi.

"With the 1200 deadline, we couldn't wait.

"We discussed it and concluded nothing that was still wanted would be left in here among dirty utensils, and open to flies and rodents.

"So we tipped it down the central drain in the courtyard outside, with the tap running to sluice it away.

"We'd just finished buffing the empty cauldrons when the corporal returned. Then you came in," said Peter.

It was as succinct a resume as any brief might produce.

"You concluded, did you?" said Flight', in a voice heavy with menace.

This was aimed at the hapless corporal, of whom he demanded: "So, they acted on your orders, these sprogs, McGillicuddy?"

Clive just managed to turn laughter into a coughing fit on hearing Berk's real name.

"Then you skived off to the Naafi and left the decisions to them?" continued Flight'.

Berk said he'd only gone to the Naafi because both cookhouse toilets were occupied.

He looked like he badly needed to make a return visit.

"Go and tell Sgt Haskin to lay on more pie and chips for lunchtime," he rapped at Berk.

"How much more?" bleated the unnerved corporal.

"He'll know when you say you ordered his mince to be dumped.

"Now, go," snorted Flight'.

Berk fled.

"Christ," muttered Flight' as he turned to us.

Then, brightening up a bit, he smiled.

"Haskin will barbecue his balls when he hears about the mince," he said.

"Made a fair job of it here, otherwise."

"We worked out a system, like in a factory, flight-sergeant," Peter explained proudly.

"Flight'll do, lad.

"So, what were you three up to in Civvy Street?" he asked.

Peter was in an Ipswich architect's office, Clive and me respectively Luton News and Recorder.

"And I get McGillicuddy," sighed Flight'.

"My compliments to IC fatigues, and tell them to send you three anywhere but my cookhouse, from now on."

We went on our merry way, happy that Berk was in the cart.

But the last laugh was not long ours.

Later, for the afternoon's fatigues, we got the ablutions and latrines!

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