I was telling you, or rather, not telling you what kind of fun I used to have on trains. I then brought to your notice the case of Lt Dand MacNeill, who as punishment for missing his plane, is detailed to command a troop train to Jerusalem….. and this is in those years after the Second World War’s end when colonial …well I won’t take too much of your time….. It will suffice to say it was 1946-47.
In the previous, I just detailed how Dand happens to be sent to command the train, what feedback he gets and that he reaches in search of his charge. Now read on…..
~~~~ The platform was jammed all along its narrow length; my cargo looked like the United nations. There were Arab Legion in their red-checked head-cloths, leaning on their rifles and saying nothing to anybody, A.T.S. giggling in little groups and going into peals of laughter at the attempts of one of them to make an Egyptian tea-seller understand that she didn’t take milk; service wives and families on the seats, the women wearing that glassy look of worn-out boredom and the children scattering about and bumping and shrieking; a platoon of long bronzed Australians, bush-hatted and talking through their noses, worried-looking majors and red-faced, phlegmatic corporals, at least one brigadier, red-tabbed, trying to look as though he was thinking of something important and was unaware of the children who were playing tig around him; unidentified semi-military civilians of the king you get round bases – correspondents, civil servants, welfare and entertainment organisers; dragomans sweeping majestically ahead of their porters and barking strange Arabic words. Hurrying among them, swearing pathetically, was a fat little man with R.T.O. on his sleeve and enormous khaki shorts on his withers; he seized on me and shouted above the noise of people and escaping steam.
“Stone me! You MacNeill? What a blasted mess! You’ve got the short straw, you have. Fourteen service families, Gawd knows how many kida, but they’re all in the manifest. A.T.S. an’ all. I said we shouldn’t have it, ought to be eighty per cent troops on any troop train, but you might as well as talk to the wind that dried your first shirt.” He shoved another sheaf of papers at me. “You can cope, anyway. Just don’t let any of ’em off before Jerusalem, that’s all. There’s at least two deserters under escort, but they’re in the van handcuffed. It’s the civvies you’ve got to watch for; they don’t like taking orders. If any of ’em get uppity, threaten to shoot ’em, or better still threaten to drop ’em off in a nice stretch of desert – there’s plenty. Damn my skin, I’ misting up again!” He removed his spectacles from his pug nose, wiped them on a service hankie, and replaced them; he was running sweat down his plump red cheeks. “Now then, there’s a padre who’s worried about the A.T.S., God knows why, but he knows his own mind best, I dare say; keep an eye on the Aussies, but you know about them. And don’t let the wog who’s driving stop except at stations – that’s important. If he tries, don’t threaten to shoot him, just tell him he’ll lose his pension. An’ remember, you’re the boss; to hell with ranks, they don’t count on a train. You’re the skipper, got it?”
The loudspeaker boomed overhead.
“Attention, please, attention. Will Captain Tanner please go to platform seven, plat-form sev-en. Captain Tanner, please.”
“All right, all right,” said the little man, savagely. “I can only be one place at a time, can’t I? Where was I? Oh, yes, you’ve got a second-in-command, over there.” He pointed to a figure, standing alone near the engine. “One of your crowd,” he added, looking at my tartan shoulder-flash….. (I’ll skip this portion).
To be continued…..