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Safe Conduct

by Michael Crossling


Every month when I visit my local pharmacist to pick up a supply of prescription drugs I am obliged to either sit or stand next to the dispensing counter that features a large display of condoms. The display is usually stocked with 27 varieties of what used to come in one package only. The present-day packages of these Protection For The Use Ofs defy imagination and bear no resemblance to the plain packages that were made available to members of the British armed forces in Germany during the 1950s.

In the latter part of that decade, my unit, 1st The Royal Dragoons, was stationed approximately 100 kilometres southeast of Hamburg at a place called Wesendorf. I was a young lance-corporal at the time and whenever any of us in the unit wanted to leave camp or barracks on a pass–whether in uniform or civvies–we had to visit the guardroom for inspection and registration. At all times there was a large box of Protection For The Use Ofs located within easy and free reach. Those of a bragging and macho nature would take a double handful and wave them in the air for all to see. The shrinking violet types would take just one or two and then discreetly shove them into their pocket.

However, it needs to be stated that our use of the condom went well beyond the manufacturer’s intended use, and this partly explains why some guys walked away from the guardroom with pockets loaded.

One such practical use was tied to our use of armoured vehicles for training schemes and border patrols. Many of the vehicles were manned by inexperienced drivers who would get into some pretty bad accidents. For that and other reasons we kept an abundant supply of morphine tubes for use as painkillers.

The tubes–complete with needle and cap–were scattered in all kinds of places, especially in tool boxes, ammunition storage fittings and map cases. The problem was they got dirty fast and had to be thrown out because even an inexperienced young soldier knew it was not a good idea to jab a dirty needle into a buddy needing medical help. The answer was to drop the morphine tube into a Protection For The Use Of and then tie up the end. This was a simple step that kept the tube clean and greatly reduced the number of resupply requests to the medics.

The Protection For The Use Ofs were also used to protect our weapons from rain and dirt. Indeed, one pulled tightly over and down the muzzle of a rifle would reduce the time you’d normally spend cleaning the weapon. And if fitted correctly, a Protection For The Use Of would be hard to see at night by the ever-patrolling orderly officer. You could also use a condom to cover the muzzle and just about all the chambers of a revolver. This again would cut down on the cleaning time. If put on to a revolver after evening guard inspection, a Protection For The Use Of would remain unnoticed in your holster for the rest of guard duty.

It wasn’t until I did train guard duty from Helmstedt to Berlin that I got caught misusing a Protection For The Use Of. I remember it was a cold wintery night and the train was being stopped frequently by the Russians. This was really annoying because the Russians kept demanding to see everybody’s identification papers.

My job during these long delays was to stand at an open door and allow no one to pass. In my best bulled-up battledress, I stood at ease with a rifle, face to face with my Russian counterpart who would be standing outside the train on the station platform armed with a fully belt-loaded machine-gun. I was not to move a muscle or crack a smile on pain of court martial.

What the young Russian didn’t know was that my .303 rifle wasn’t loaded, and that the bandolier of ammunition across my shoulders was sealed and couldn’t be opened without direct orders from the train major who was many cars away.

As the long winter night grew stormier, snow blew in through the open door at every stop. Not wanting to get snow down my rifle barrel, I quietly slipped a Protection For The Use Of over the muzzle.

Many stops later–almost to Berlin–the train major arrived and while squeezing past me in the corridor, noticed the Protection For The Use Of over the muzzle. Without hesitation he gave me a good dressing down, and finished by saying every Allied soldier must do his part by showing the Russians that we were “smart, tough and prepared for them.”

The matter would have ended there if I hadn’t snapped back: “Yes sir, but I hear the Russians have women soldiers!” This, indeed, was a lesson in how not to influence an officer while winning extra guard duty.

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