ANAVETS Shoulder to Shoulder

May 2013

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By Terence Cottrell M y friend Jack Anthony was a fine soldier, but like Yorick in Hamlet he was "a fellow of infinite jest." He'd been a despatch-rider in his North African 8th Army days when he'd lost the first joint of the little finger of his right hand. The only explanation he ever gave of the event was that it had been a "close shave" and that the Italians had come second. Jack was a Volkswagen "beetle" enthusiast. He drove the "same" car in various transformations for many years. He would change bodies or undercarriages as often and with as little concern as some people change socks. And he often boasted that this mainly fibreglass "eternal machine" was "roll-proof." And after one rambunctious St. David's Day dinner in the Officers' Mess, while driving me home late at night along deserted streets, he had a chance to prove it. Going into a skid at a glassy intersection the bug straddled a frozen snowbank trapping the kerbside wheels. We roared along the kerb until at a point just before a hydro-pole we hit a huge hummock of snow and bounced. The eternal machine rolled all the way over to the left and then fell back squarely on its wheels. Jack calmly restarted the engine. And with a gasp and a bang we went on our way rejoicing. Now to me, that was a close shave. I thought I'd broken my jaw. But Jack had his own ideas about shaves. In the summer of that year, 1967, our regiment was under canvas in bell tents at Rockcliffe on the banks of the Ottawa River. Jack had apparently been lecturing some of his peach-faced young corporals on the soldierly morality and art of shaving every day. At some ungodly hour before first light he disturbed the rest of us by rising early and performing his morning ablutions in the tent with the aid of his regulation issue tin bowl. Most of us assumed that he had some early duty to perform and rolled back in for another hour of blanketed bliss. But as acting Orderly Officer I did have duties and had to get up early. As I left the tent Jack was shaving carefully in the weak light of a swinging bulb. When I returned about an hour later I was astonished to see Jack still clad only in bush-pants and singlet. He stood before his wash-basin, his face covered with lather, fiercely waving a razor at a bemused bunch of bleary-eyed young corporals. A glass of "mouthwash" stood on his up-ended barracks-box beside him, his toothbrush protruding. From this he occasionally took a healthy swig that seemed to do things to his throat. "This, you Yahoos," he said," is how a real soldier shaves. This was how we did it in the desert." And peering into his mirror, which was swinging from the tent pole, he removed all the lather from his face with about five comic-opera swipes of his razor. With his skin glistening like a baby's bum in the early morning sunshine he smiled sweetly at his NCOs and roared: "Now don't let me hear any of you dogsbodies ever say 'I didn't have time to shave!'" But as with the eternal machine, Jack would never give up on a good thing. In June 1969 we were attached to our sister British Army regiment at Maindy Barracks in Cardiff, Wales. He and I were sharing quarters, which overlooked the parade-square. Early one morning Jack, obviously needing a shave, had been bantering with a couple of roving sentries. He showed them a bottle of Canadian Club and said: "When you get off duty, come on up. And bring your corporal." Then he went into our bathroom and shaved. A little later the Welshmen came up. But as they entered Jack covered his face with lather, waved a specially sharpened bayonet at them, and stood in front of the mirror. "Pardon me gentlemen, while I shave," he said, and pointed towards some drinks he'd poured for them. He then "shaved" with the bayonet, carefully wiping the "whiskers" and lather into a towel. Incredibly, this farce was taken seriously by the Welshmen, and through the grapevine we later heard several versions of it, along with yarns about bear-wrestling, porcupine-plucking and skunk ranches that Jack had laid on them. For some time after that around Cardiff, and especially at the pub called "The Heath" just across the street from the barracks, Canadians could do no wrong and were bought drinks on the strength of Jack's yarns. Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him. My friend Jack Anthony was a fellow of infinite jest. It was a privilege to know such a man. Ironically enough he died on St. David's Day, 1 March 1987, twenty years to the day after we'd loopedthe-loop in the eternal machine: A Dewi Sant! as the Welsh say on St. David's day. But it seems to me that the infernal eternal machine may still be going strong somewhere. And someday I hope to take another ride in it. Of course, this time I hope I don't have such a close shave. SHOULDER TO SHOULDER 23

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