Saturday, June 20, 2015

High jinks in World War II Britain

I'm greatly enjoying William R. Dunn's classic book 'Fighter Pilot:  The First American Ace of World War II'.  He had a remarkable career, enlisting as an infantryman in a Canadian regiment immediately after the outbreak of World War II, going to Britain to fight in France, making it back to Britain, transferring to the Royal Air Force and flying with the first Eagle Squadron, then transferring to the USAF, where he led his fighter group's first mission on the morning of D-Day.  When post-war bureaucracy ended his career as an officer he refused to go quietly, instead re-enlisting as a tech sergeant and rising to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.  He went to Vietnam in that capacity, serving honorably in yet another war.  He seems to have been one hell of a guy.  (He died in 1995.)

Two episodes in Britain while he was recovering from serious injuries after being shot down had me laughing like mad.  Both took place at a rehabilitation hospital, where patients were allowed to go into town once they'd been medically cleared.

One noontime ... we got a little bent out of shape and consequently missed our lunch.  Of course, when the bar closed at 1 p.m., we were starved.  A couple of guys got a cab, went to a seafood shop where they bought several buckets of boiled lobsters, and brought them up to Johnny's and my room for a feast.  Johnny, by this time, had passed out and was lying on his bed, snoring softly.

We found the lobsters rather difficult to get out of their shells, and we didn't have anything to crack the shells.  One of our brighter boys unbuttoned Johnny's shirt, laid the lobster on Johnny's [full body] thick chest cast, took off his shoe and gave the lobster a mighty whack.  It worked, so Johnny's cast became our anvil.  No, the cast didn't break, luckily, but you can imagine the fishy smell of the lobster juice that ran down inside it.

The broken shells and other trash were tossed into the wastebasket.  After a bit the wastebasket was full and someone decided to empty it out the window.  About this same time a titled lady was officially visiting the hospital, escorted by our gallant hospital commander.  Standing below our second-story window and viewing the delightful formal gardens from the terrace, they were suddenly showered with bits and pieces of defunct lobsters!

The hospital commander arrived with a thunderous roar in our peaceful midst, pieces of lobster clinging to his hair, his handlebar mustache, and his uniform.  The roaring continued unabated for a very long time.  Our names were taken by the orderly officer, and we were all confined to quarters until further notice.  Johnny's odorous condition was immediately noted.  He was hauled off by a squad of orderlies, his stinky cast sawed off, his body cleansed, and a new cast put on him, through all of which he continued to snore softly in a gentle drunken stupor.  We weren't in an acceptable condition to apologize to the titled lady, and it might not have been wise anyway;  I understand she really flamed after the "lobsters from heaven" incident.

. . .

One time Johnny, Timmy, and I decided to go to a downtown pub for the evening.  We had an Aussie friend ... who had crashed and broken his pelvis in a couple of places.  He wore a cast from his waist that extended down each leg, and he navigated with elbow crutches.  He wanted to go with us, but since he couldn't bend in the middle to sit down on a bus seat, we put him in the rear baggage compartment where he could lean, standing upright, against the side of the bus.  So off we merrily went to town.

When we arrived at the hotel pub of our choice, we all streamed out of the bus, almost forgetting our Aussie friend, who was yelling at the top of his voice, "Get me out of here, you bastards!"  We trundled him into the bar and securely propped him up in a corner where he could lean, with some degree of safety, against both the wall and the bar counter.  By closing time he was resting comfortably, with his lower half standing straight up in its cast and his upper half flat on the bar, both sections being full of gin and bitters.

After great exertions, we reloaded him into the bus baggage compartment and headed for home.  He was so quiet back there that we completely forgot him.  The next morning the garage manager called the hospital orderly officer for an ambulance to come to the bus depot and pick up our Aussie friend, who, he said, was mumbling something about causing serious injury to a couple of Englishmen and an American.

Sounds like his recuperation period was more hazardous than his injury!  I highly recommend the book.  It's a great read.


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