After training in Bedfordshire and Somerset the young soldier was posted to Yorkshire, where he served at various locations before arriving at Catterick Camp in 1947. Catterick camp was actually a garrison and the largest military settlement in Europe, covering 23,500 acres and a particularly large railway station in nearby Richmond catered to the thousands of soldiers coming and going. It was a sprawling array of army units situated in the Yorkshire countryside, which included a movie house, a theater and a number of dance halls. Everything at the soldiers RASC camp was very formal and regimented and probably influenced by the location of the General Headquarters GHQ which was on the other side of the road. The atmosphere in the garrison was dull and depressing with hordes of bodies in kaki uniforms saluting everything that moved and whitewashing everything that didn’t.
It was a regimental hell and the devil appeared in the form of a Company Sergeant Major CSM called Paddy. - Not affectionately and not to his Face. Paddy was a flaming red haired wild Irishman of average build, but what he lacked in stature was more than compensated for by the volume and projection of his voice. Paddy’s was endowed with a voice equal to any loudspeaker system of the day, with penetrating power strong enough to shatter a brick wall at 100 paces. Paddy’s only apparent redeeming feature was that his voice preceded him wherever he went, affording his subordinates the opportunity to hide.
Paddy would order privates around at will with choice words such as: “That
man there, stand to attention when I’m talking to you, what do you think
you’re on - your daddy’s yacht? Get a hair cut, you horrible man”.
And off he would go to his next victim.
“Where do you think you are going in those dirty boots”, he would shout at another poor Private. “Stand upright when I’m talking, you dozy man. I want to see my face in your boots the next time, you sad looking soldier”. “Do that button up, you untidy man,” he would bellow to someone else as he made his way around the camp. “ I’ll have your guts for garters if you don’t straighten up”. Report to my bed at 6pm - would be the ultimate humiliation in the presence of others.
Frequently Paddy and his NCO entourage would burst into the billets like shock troops in the morning. The noise was deafening and particularly offensive to those not yet coming to terms with commencing the military day. The purpose of this intrusion was known as inspection and probably had something to do with the durability of the beds and lockers, because Paddy would go around banging them violently with his stick. He was perhaps a man of fine tastes who was interested in the smoothness of the tops of doors and window ledges, evidenced by the fact that he would slide his index finger over the surfaces with an expression of satisfaction on his face.
Paddy was not an easy person to describe with words that would do him justice,
but a few starting with “O” come to mind: Objectionable, obstreperous,
obtrusive and obtuse. Obsequious he was not!
Although the young soldier managed to avoid Paddy and was never personally accosted by him, his dislike for the red haired Irishman who barked like a dog with a brogue, increased with the passing of time. Day in and day out he could hear the screaming and hollering, which felt like someone had installed a bowling alley in his brain and was beginning to take its toll. Eventually not too many days passed by without the soldier considering that the world would be a better place without the Gaelic motor mouth with a badge resembling scrambled eggs on his sleeve.
At the height of the young soldier’s discontent, he was ordered to clean Paddy’s office and was maneuvering dust around the floor with a witches broom when he heard the approaching sounds of Paddy’s annunciation in the distance - probably 3 miles away. It was the usual screeching of, walk smartly you horrible soldier, you untidy man, you’ll be in the guard house before your feet touch the ground, at the double etc, etc, which broadcast the advanced notice of Paddy’s arrival. In all fairness to this Irish paragon of military virtue it must be said that he was consistent. His voice reached a crescendo outside the office as the tension rose and the soldier bolstered him self for the worst.
Nothing could have prepared the soldier for the following scene when Paddy entered the office, removed his hat, sat down on his chair and with his feet up on the desk proceeded to drink a cup of tea. Instead of the normal screaming, shouting, barking and bellowing, there were jokes and laughter. Everyone was relaxed and at ease and the office was a fun place. The soldier couldn’t believe the character transformation.
Ireland would probably be proud of the way Paddy covered the British troops with the proverbial wool and defied physics by motivating soldiers into perpetual motion. Contrary to the popular belief that Paddy was a disciple of Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins IRA sent to destroy the morale of the British army, he was actually a normal human being and his belligerence was just an act to exercise his power of authority. It was the way of the British army at the time and probably always will be. The soldier never lost his distaste for the vocal pyrotechnics, but he no longer disliked the man and thoughts of the Paddy’s demise no longer entered my head.