This was yet another novel. I think I got the idea from reading Spike Milligan's war memoirs, in combination with Hawkeye Pearce's still from M*A*S*H, and the fact that Homebrew was making a comeback. I was at university at the time of writing, that much I do know, although the precise date escapes me.
Privates Archie "The Still" Prestwick and "Flat" Eric Colvin stared blearily at their new surroundings. It was a prison cell.
Two days earlier, Archie's concoction of local grapes, barley and apples, with added yeast and sugar, had matured through the still. Two hours later, the pair of them had been arrested on charges of being drunk and disorderly, theft of a dispatch rider's motorcycle, drunk in charge of said motorcycle, improperly dressed on parade, improperly equipped, insulting a superior officer (three of them), and five separate counts of insubordination. Also added to the list after a brief but futile attempt at escape were attempting to resist arrest, assaulting a superior officer, six counts of assaulting a Military Policeman, failing to recognise the gate sentry's authority, one count each of unrinating over an MP and vomiting over an MP, and a further ten counts of insubordination (including two of gross insubordination). At Court Martial next day they were still pissed, and before the trial started had added another four charges of assaulting an MP, and three more of gross insubordination when the Colonel arrived.
They were both given two years in the cooler, with pay suspended until release. In the event of the war being over before then, they would be released and given summary dishonourable discharges.
They were still pissed. The MPs had found the still and confiscated it. They took a sample to a local apothecary. After examining it carefully, distilling it and igniting it (destroying half his workshop), the old Arab had declared it nearly 3000% proof. The MPs put the still in the back of a Bren carrier and drove it to a spot in the desert within two miles of German territory, and only a few yards from the wreck of a German plane that had been shot down the week before.
And now Archie the Still and Flat Eric were trying to work out exactly what that noise was that they could hear through the walls of their cell, that sounded like thunder.
The door burst open and a detatchment of MPs rushed in, handcuffed the two prisoners and led them to the back of a 3 ton truck.
"Was' goin' on?" managed Eric.
"Germans're advancing, fast. We're relocating," replied one MP.
"None of your business. You personally are going to a nice big stone prison in Tobruk, where you're going to spend the next two years."
"Oh good," slurred Archie. "I could do with a holiday."
The truck drove off last in a convoy of similar vehicles, the others carrying supplies and surplus ammunition. The rest of the regiment would be following in Bren carriers and Humbers a few hours later, hopefully before the panzers got there.
Ten minutes later, the German shellfire had caught up with the convoy. The explosions rocked the truck carrying Archie and Eric.
"Tha' lightnin's's's's gettin' pretty close," Eric remarked.
"It in't lightnin'," growled an MP, "it's bloody Kraut shells."
"Oh. Tha's why there's no rain."
A shell landed thunderously close and Eric tried to throw himself flat. Archie swayed for a moment or two then vomited on him.
"For Chirst's sake!" yelled an MP, and turned Archie to face over the backboard.
Eric tried to get up. "You bastar'! You puked on me!" He staggered to his feet and swung a punch at Archie, just as another shell landed close. Very close. So close, in fact, that the truck swerved, pitching the two out of the truck and into a dried up wadi by the roadside. The MPs looked on in horror as another shell landed just behind them, appearing to obliterate their prisoners. When the dust settled, those in the truck could see no sign of the two that had recently vacated it.
"Poor bastards," muttered one of them. Then they went back to sheltering their own heads.
When the convoy reached Tobruk early next morning, the Sergeant of the MPs dutifully reported the two prisoners "missing, presumed dead" before throwing a pair of Royal Engineers out of their billet so that he might have it.
When the panzers eventually passed the spot where Archie and Eric were dozing in the wadi, it was three hours after the convoy reached Tobruk.
Thirteen hours later, it started to rain. The wadi began to fill with water, and it was this that finally woke the two British soldiers sleeping off the biggest drink ever in an African wadi, fourteen miles behind the German front line.
© Brian Wakeling