A “Mention” and Malaria

Reports had come in from brigade headquarters that sentries had been fired on from the rear and that all villages in the vicinity of our area were to be searched for arms and the interpreter was to question the villagers.

There was only one village anywhere near our camp and that was a couple of miles further back in the hills. The job of carrying out the search was allocated to the scouts so we set out and proceeded to the village.

Tommo [the company’s translator] called the leading men of the village together and told them we were going to search the houses for arms. The Turkish members of the community made a great fuss about the soldiers entering their harems but when they tried to resist they were held at bayonet point whilst the search was carried out. Tommo assured then that none of their women would be touched or hurt in any way and the scout officer told the men that they must on no account interfere with the women. Actually, the women and girls were so veiled and smothered in their all concealing black gowns that they lost all semblance of femininity, added to which they stank to high heaven so that they had nothing to fear from the Tommies, although most of us had not seen a woman for a couple of years. We took an astounding collection of old fashioned pistols, murderous looking swords and knives of all shapes and sizes and a number of antiquated guns, some about five feet long with rusty mechanism, but most ornately decorated with mother-of-pearl, silver and semi-precious stones. If any Turk with vicious intentions had fired one of them, I’m sure he would have blown his own head off. I often wondered what became of those ‘arms’.

When we were off duty we sometimes indulged in a bit of boxing, inspired no doubt by the fact that quite a number of our old regulars were quite good boxers. I was having a go one day with ‘Lanky Lancs’, who was over six foot tall and weighed about twelve stone; so, at five foot, six inches and nine stone, I was giving quite a bit away but I was the only one he would put the gloves on with so I used to do my best to oblige. I always got a beating and a bleeding nose, trying to get past the two line-props he called arms. When I did get inside them I used to pound his torso as quick and as hard as I could and he usually had to retreat, not because I had hurt him but because he was doubling up with laughter.

I was in the middle of a bout with Lanky this particular time when two officers went by and one of them called out “Congratulations on your ‘Mention’ Corporal” The other one called out “Well done Corporal.” I saluted by standing to attention; I still had the boxing gloves on. Then I called back “Thank you Sir.” To Lanky I said, “What are they on about?” When I saw my officer he also congratulated me, saying it had that day appeared in Battalion Orders that I had been ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’.

I wondered what I had done that needed to be ‘mentioned’. As a boy I had read many adventure books where the hero, usually an officer, was ‘mentioned’ for performing some gallant deed. I didn’t feel very gallant and I was certainly no hero; I was always scared stiff in action so I was not very elated, but Bill and the other members of the scout platoon seemed quite pleased that this small honour had come to a member of their section.

Several days later I was well out towards Johnnies territory when I was suddenly taken ill. It was a very hot day and I called on the patrol to take a rest, but, before I could get down, the sun went blue and I fell to the ground unconscious. I didn’t remember anything for several days and when I came to I was ninety kilometres away from the Struma and lying delirious on a stretcher in a large marquee hospital. Burning hot with fever, I was struggling to get outside the tent, where I fancied there was a lovely waterfall with a clear pool and water-lilies and I knew I just had to get my face in the water. An orderly came to me and I asked him about the water-fall. He didn’t seem to know much about water-falls but he gave me a small tot of something very nasty and I faded away.