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No. 9 Mess’s Soldier

No. 9 Mess’s Soldier

By  “Naval Veteran”

January 1928

“SCALDINGS!” shouted the cook of No. 17 mess as, with a kettle of pea-soup in one hand and a tin dish of salt pork balanced on the other, he came rushing from the galley only to find the gangway blocked by a crowd of seven fellers whom Pincher Martin-from the recesses of the mess- was inviting to have “three shies a penny at the only gear swaddie in Andrew.”

Hanging from the mess shelf was one of the mess’s tin dishes on which Pincher had drawn the rough outline of a soldier’s head and decorated its upper lip with the carefully clipped off moustache of Shiner Green.

Just as the fun was at its height Shiner walked into the mess, clean shaven, his arms full of clothes that the crusher, who had mustered his bag, had kindly marked “alter”, so he was fairly under the truck and good for a weep, and staring him in the fact was his Iate moustache decorating the tin dish. But the crowd had vanished, likewise Pincher; so Shiner, muttering to himself-“no chum, he’d punch his bloomin’ head if he took the rise out of him”-settled down to a lump of navy pork and a basing of pea-doo.

The mess traps had been cleared away and the bugler boy had been trying to blow his trumpet out straight, when Pincher re-appeared in the mess with a look of sublime innocence on his face, and turning to Shiner said “Hello, raggie! Well, I like the cut of your figure-head now you’ve rigged in your lower booms-look more like a matloe and less like a Port Mahon soldier.”

Just at this moment the cook planked the fanny on the table, proclaimed half out of seven, and commenced to serve out the tots.

“Not shaky ones to-day” said Pincher, “cos we wants to drink the ‘ealf of ‘Shiner, the sailor.’”

“Talking of soldiers,” chimed in the caterer, “reminds me about a time when I was homeward bound in the old ‘Skyrocket’. Just before we left the Cape, the Joss and Number One come buzzing round the mess-deck, taking notes and asking questions about ‘how many here in this mess’ and ‘how many men in that’ and ‘are there any spare ’ammick billets down here?’ Of course, we all wondered what was up, but we didn’t have long to wait, as next day about twenty swaddies came off.

“It appears that the head soldier bloke on shore had kidded the skipper to give a passage to his time-expired and invalids.

“Well, these twenty swaddies and a sargint lines up on the quarter deck, and there being no spare mess for them, the Joss suggested that they should be distributed round the mess-deck, so the Buffer piped caterers of messes fall in, and the served the soldiers out like mess tubs- one to each mess. My mess got one with seven badges.

“We left Simon’s Bay that night and next morning run into a gale of wind, and the old ‘Skyrocket’ began to kick up her heels and make things lively.

“Of course, having been used to that sort of thing for just over three years, we didn’t take much notice, and at 12 a.m. ambled down to our salt cow, and began to look round for the bubbly. Just then the cook planks down the fanny, and says-‘half out of ten. Who’s the extra tot for?’

“We thought at first that he had got half-a-pint to windward of the ‘pusser’ when I thought about our soldier; then we discovered that he hadn’t showed up for any scran.

“P’raps he don’t like rum,’ said Nutty Jones, the cook. ‘I’ll go and give him a look up.’ So he jumped up the fore-hatch, and there, coiled up on the gratings over the galley was the whole regiment, sargint and all, properly ‘ors de comeback.’

“Quite natural for a soldier,” says Pincher.

“Well, it kept blowing hard all that day and the next, and what with swinging off on the lee braces, and making things taut, we forgot all about our soldier till next dinner time, when Joss bore in sight.

“Where’s your soldier, No. 9?” he shouted, “Up in the scuppers,” says one in the mess.

“Who’s cook?” says the Joss, taking out his book and pencil. “Me master,” says I, for I was in the rook that day.

“Then I’ll hold you responsible for him for the next twenty-four hours. He was served out to your mess, and you have got to turn him over to me safe and sound when we get to Pompey, and don’t you go and forget it.”

“Well, I told the cooking chum to serve up the bubbly, and then went on a voyage of discovery for the lost swaddie. When I got on deck I found a lot more looking for their soldiers, and cursing the War Office, and soldiers in general, and specially barmy skippers as give time-expired men trips home in men-o’-fight.

“ ’Owever, by-‘n-by we discovers ’em coiled up by the fore-bitts, and as she was taking a sea in over the weather-bow about every minute, we didn’t waste time to sort them out, but just parluckled them down the main hatch one after another.

“‘There’s ours,’ sings out the caterer, who’d come to help me look after our mess’s lost property. ‘I can tell him by his seven badges’ So we hooked him out from underneath all the others, and the stood him up against one of the lower-deck stanchions.

“He was a natty thing to look at. He was as wet and as limp as a swab, and his head gear had been carried away.

“We carried him into the mess, and asked him if he’d like some rum, but as he didn’t answer, we necked his half-pint, and then started to put him a bit ship-shape.

“We took off all his duds, wiped him down, and then rigged him up in some old ones. The caterer put his own jumper on him with a killick on it, so as to know him again, but that didn’t matter, because my serge pants only came down to his knees, and being cut big at the bottom, he, with his big soldiers’ boots and short socks sticking out, looked just like a bloke rigged up for a pantomime.

“After we had properly rigged him, we put him in a grass ’ammick, where we thought he’d be safe for a day or two; and as it was my afternoon watch below, I caulked off to catch the bird, and forgot all about him.

“At one bell in the next morning watch we started scrubbing decks as was our custom, and after giving her the usual rub down in the dark, we started to wash down. Somehow, the scuppers under the sponson gun platform seemed choked up, so the captain of the top sent a youngster for a chain-hook to clear ’em.

“When the chain-hook came, one of the fellows made a jab at the scuppers, and got strung up into something soft and pulled it out, and then found he was hooked on the stern sheets of a stray soldier.

“‘Bring a glim,’ said the skipper of the top; ’praps there’s some more,’ and sure enuf we could see something else coiled up in the waterways. After groping about we got hooked on, and out we hauled it.

“‘Well, I’m damned,’ says the skipper, ‘if it ain’t a sea-sick matloe, with his trousers trimmed off to the knee.’

“You ’old hard,” says I, ‘that’s our blooming mess’s soldier got adrift again, and them trousers were trimmed off to fit your ’umble.’

“ ‘You’d better take him down to the pothecary,’ says the skipper, ‘unless you wants to have him on your stop chit’; and after what the Joss said about holding me responsible, I began to have visions of 10A; so me and another foretopman volunteered to hump him down to the sick-bay.

“Just as we got him to the top of the hatch, the ship gave a list to port, and I remember slipping and making a grab at nothing and getting it. When I woke up I had my head parcelled and served, and something thumping about inside like the Duke’s ‘old steam ’bus.’

“Well, I laid up in the sick bay till we got to Pompey, and before the soldier left, he came and saw me, and told me how kind I was to fall down the hatch first, so as he could fall on top, and not get hurt.”

The caterer reached out his hand for the basin, and after oiling his neck, said: The briny ain’t no place for soldiers, unless the bring their muvvers with ’em; and besides, they waste bubbly when they try to drink it, ’cos their ’staches mop it up.”

Shiner was studying his clean-shaven reflection in a full-basin when Pincher Martin leaned over him and said: “Thank Gawd, raggie, yours has gone; there it is, stuck on the dish; ’eave the damned thing out the port.”

“Clea-r-r-r-r-r up the decks,” warbled the boatswain’s mate, and Pincher disappeared to get a quiet draw.



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