How to Play the System…. A Parable from Military Annals II

And continuing the parable….

O’Kelly put on a look of sinister sympathy and expressed understanding of the major’s difficulty. Since the major was. so as to speak, in loco parentis, he was presumably empowered to act as an agent of 3 Commando Brigade. If he had no such authority why not get it. A signal to Hong Kong would do the trick.

The major, who had other things to attend to and who was beginning to find the continued presence of O’Kelly nervously unsettling, agreed. He pointed out, though, the realignment of O’Kelly’s role in the Army was  not a subject for the burning up of the wires. He would send a written message. It would be of low priority and might even have to go by sea. The reply might take weeks.

This brought O’Kelly smoothly into the next part of his pitch. He assured the major that he was much more concerned with the principle of the thing than with its mechanics. Now that matters had been set in train, his mind was at rest. The initial move had, however, introduced a certain delicacy into the situation, as the major would, of course, have recognized.

The major hadn’t recognized it. He said so.

O’ Kelly said that the point was that he was now in a sort of military limbo. He’d applied to be RTU’d. Until the application was approved, which according to the major could take weeks, O’Kelly belonged to nobody. He had cut his connections with the Commandos but had not been posted to his parent unit.

In this peculiar state of suspension it would be embarrassing, improver even, for him to continue in the transit camp. Think of the disciplinary complexities alone. If, for example, he put somebody on a charge, and the man disputed his authority to give a lawful order, what was the answer? Was O’Kelly a sergeant, or was he not? He had certainly been one in the Commandos, which he had now left, but he had held no stripes in the regiment he had yet to rejoin.

Discipline was only one problem. Could he continue to use the sergeant’s mess? Was he eligible to be orderly sergeant? Possibilities for confusion were endless. It seemed to him that it would be fairest to everyone, not least the major, if he, O’Kelly, were to be kept on the strength of the transit camp for pay purposes only and otherwise be ordered to keep discreetly out of the way.

If the major was worried about his food and accommodation, he could rest easy. There were friends from his racing days in Ireland living not far away.

Prolonged formal leave was, of course, out of the question, but a condoned displacement would…..

The major, who had been contemplating gloomily the prospect of repetitive interviews with a balefully smiling O’Kelly daily conjuring up fresh legalistic angles about his Commando privileges, felt relief at this suggested situation. The one characteristic he had common with this fellow was a shared view of the undesirability of having him in his transit camp.

O’Kelly enjoyed the next few weeks. His racing friends introduced him to others. Since nobody knew what he was, and he didn’t bother to explain, he moved comfortably among clubs and cocktail parties, rode horses, did some shooting and played golf. He travelled widely, financed by the pay that had accumulated during his long spell in hospital, and which he transferred to rupees by means that would have agitated the exchange control authorities.

He had almost forgotten that he was still in the Army when he was summoned back to the transit camp. His application to be returned to unit, he was personally told by the major, had been approved.

“Your orders are to leave for the nearest battalion of your regiment as soon as possible. The Movements people will find out where it is, and arrange transport. What is your regiment, by the way?” added the major, feeling affable at a problem solved.

“Irish Guards, sir.”

“Oh Christ,” said the major.

“Yes,” said O’Kelly

The Brigade of Guards did not serve east of Suez.

He collected the backpay that had built up for him at the transit camp and went off for several more months of his idyll, no longer claimed by one organisation, unclaimable by another. His turn in a troopship came up at the right time. He disembarked in time for instant demobilization.

Eighteen months later, an informal meeting of the ex-Service Association of Trinity College, Dublin, met to draft representations to the British Ministry of Education on the need to increase ex-servicemen’s grants. Facts were needed. A quick check around the table confirmed that, with one exception, everyone present was being paid £180 per year.

The exception was Peter O’Kelly. His grant was £210. Asked how he had persuaded the Ministry to show this unique generosity, the manipulator of the Commando Group, the Brigade of Guards, and the commanding officer of an Indian transit camp was less than expansive.

“You haven’t a horse to keep,” he explained enigmatically.


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