Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A Close Shave

As outlined in last month’s article, having left Old Park Farm and joined The War Department Security Police, I found myself at The Royal Army Veterinary Corps base at Melton Mowbray in Leicstershire. There were a few civilians, like myself,and quite lot of soldiers from various army regiments all of us there to be taught the army's methods of dog handling. Civilians and soldiers were all billeted together in pretty basic army huts which were fairly standard for the time. However, they were warm, dry and clean so things could have been worse. Being civilians, and not soldiers, meant that those of us within the group did not have to conform to quite a lot of military day to day requirements which included cleaning. This was all done by the soldiers together with a lot of marching and other forms of army discipline. In short we had a better time of it than our army mates.

It was here that I met a young soldier who had the same Christian name as myself and was located in the next bed to me. Our hut was arranged a bit like a hospital ward, open plan, with beds down each side of the room. Derek was on the same course as me and we got on quite well. When he was not engaged in his, extra course, army duties we would go down into the town of Melton Mowbray and sample the ample supply of local brews. It seemed to me that almost every other building in the town was a pub / inn. I have no idea if the same situation prevails today as so many of our pubs have been closed down. The abundance of so many pubs caused me to seek to find out why. There really were a huge number of them within a comparatively small market town. The answer, as to why, was not that surprising when I found it.

Melton being in the heart of The Shires and, in former times, the centre for many of the fashionable foxhunts of the day. This meant foxhunters had travelled from London and other cities, with their horses, to experience the pleasures of the chase which the area had to offer. They came largely by rail and in great numbers, hence, pubs and inns were required in large numbers to accommodate and feed the hunters, their horses and servants. Mystery solved.

So it was, there then existed, so many super old pubs to be discovered and ales sampled. It was during one such evening visit that my new pal Derek asked if I did any fishing. I confirmed that I did only to be asked if I fancied doing a bit in the local river which ran through the fields of the army camp. Tackle, Derek told me, was no problem as knowing there was a river at the base he had brought his with him and there rods and reels etc. to equip us both. Apart from the dog training which took place at the camp there was also a large number of army horses which were used for training the army’s mounted soldiers and to teach theirs vets. This, in turn, meant that the army had a large amount of land at the base much of which was in the form of paddocks and fields. All very well kept and down to grass. It was through these grassy areas that the river of Derek’s attention flowed. As far as I can establish from google maps, the river in question was probably the River Eye, although the River Wreake runs close by.

In any event the following tale represents the nearest I have ever been, in a long life, to getting into serious trouble with the law. Having brought up the subject of fishing and confirmed the availability of tackle, Derek suggested a fishing trip the following evening as soon as our duties for the day were complete. I asked, as an aside, if we were ok to fish the river and was assured, emphatically, that we were the whole area belonging to the army and available to all military personal for their leisure and enjoyment. Not only that but,he had learned, within its depths the said river contained some fine specimens of many course varieties of fish, not least, some big pike.

The following afternoon as soon as we were able we made our way down to the river. There we found a large weir pool surrounded by rushes and the look of a very good spot to get started. Both of us decided to go for the pike and, therefore, we set up our with large spinners and began our assault. It wasn’t long before we had our first fish, a nice jack pike of about three or four pounds and one which Derek assured me the camp cooks would happily cook for us. The fish was dispatched and laid out upon the bank behind us. In the space of the next hour or so a further four fish fell to our lures. All were dispatched and place together. By now it was probably about six thirty in the evening and things were going rather well. Where we were located on the river bank there was a road off to our right and several hundred yards away. Far enough for us not to take any notice of it. Quite out of the blue one of us noted the presence of a large man heading in our direction in an unmistakeably determined manner. The said gent was dressed in what can reasonably be described as water bailiffs clothing. Having got within about two hundred from where Derek and I sat he began to address us in a most ungentlemanly manner. His language was both threatening and foul. Questioning, in words I cannot repeat here, what on earth we thought we were doing and suggesting things about our parenthood and issuing the most dire warnings as to our life’s prospects.

Not stopping to draw breath, it was obvious, the man was getting angrier the nearer he came to us. Realising we were in a bit of bother, to put it mildly, I turned to Derek and with as much authority as I could muster told him to keep his mouth shut and leave the talking to me.

It is the case, and I don’t know why, but I have always been able to mimic voices and accents with a reasonably convincing degree of accuracy. As the bailiff, (for he was indeed the bailiff), got closer his disposition was not improving and we were clearly in the unenviable position of being well and truly on his wrong side. When he got close enough to hear me without the need for me to shout I addressed him in my most surprised manner and in my best American accent. I asked if there was a problem. At this point he spotted the five pike, all dead, and lined up on the bank. I actually thought he was going to explode. His facial colour seemed to go rapidly between deep red and a very white shade of pale. Which, quite coincidentally, was strange as the song at the top of the charts was Procol Harems,(?) Whiter Shade of Pale!! Not that this had anything to do with our predicament. However, I could see very little hope of getting out of this situation with any dignity and with our reputations in tact.

I continued by asking if this was his creek in my best phoney American. He then told us the river was the water of the local angling club and he clearly knew we were not members. To this I replied that, "back home" it was the norm that we could just go and fish where ever we wished. Well, we were made very aware, with more language, that we jolly well, couldn’t do so here. He then began to question me as to whom we were and where we came from. Derek had kept quiet, and thank God, continued to do so. I continued in my American drawl and told the bailiff we were from the army camp and were on a course training ambush dogs for Vietnam. I followed this up with the revelation that we were due to be dropped, (parachuted ), into "Nam", together with our dogs in two day’s time. We had no idea we had done anything wrong and were just taking the chance of a little relaxation before our mission. This was a game changer, beyond all belief, the bailiff changed. He began talking to me in a much more friendly attitude and explained the finer points of English fishing rules. He also pointed out to me that we were, in fact, fishing out of season. Oh my God, what a mess!

However, the moment had passed, the bailiff began to sympathise with us telling us Vietnam was the last place on earth he would want to go to. He said we had better clear off. I asked what we should do with the fish and he actually said we could do what we bloody liked with them, they were no good to him. I thanked him profusely, we gathered up the fished and beat a hasty retreat. The man, I never found out who he was, wished us well and asked that we didn’t repeat our visit to his river. I often wish I could have found out whom he was but at the time it was too much of a risk to ask around, after all we had pulled off a major con and were very lucky to have got away with it. The pike were cooked in the cook house and enjoyed by quite a few of the boys at the camp.

The truth of the matter is any deception has to have a good basis of truth surrounding it to succeed. In this case there were dogs being trained at Melton for service in Vietnam with the Americans .It can be assumed the locals were aware of this. They were being trained for a number of tasks including ambush dogs. One of the problems the Americans encountered was that of ambush in the jungle. An ambush dog was trained to stop and drop to the ground upon detecting persons in the surrounding jungle. The dogs were worked either on a long lead or loose well in front of the patrol they were protecting. In this way they alerted their handlers and saved many lives from surprise attack.

Although complete fabrication my story together with the false accent, clearly had enough credibility to save the day. Derek and I did not return to the river.

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