Potential Officer Cadets Course
In charge of us 20 or so POC’s (and a parallel POC course) were mainly a captain and sergeant. (The sergeant, incidentally, sounded so authentic in shouting orders on parade that he was featured, from the back, drilling a unit in the 1960 film Tunes of Glory, starring Alec Guinness and John Mills.)
There was also a straight-backed, very posh-talking lieutenant usually holding a cane – pretentiously I thought – and a sergeant major, both of whom had little or no involvement with us.
Among fellow POC’s was a clique of six arrogant young men, whom I assumed from their accents and attitudes to be former public schoolboys. It emerged from what they said and future events that they despised the working classes. Unfortunately, they were to exert too much influence on most others on our course.
There was also a professional jazz trumpeter who had regularly sat in with the then famous Ken Colyer traditional jazz band. He and I pulled up after he heard me whistling tunes like Savoy that I knew from listening to my great favourite Ella Fitzgerald. “I like what you’re whistling,” he said.
He began practising his trumpet occasionally in the billet, and of course the clique protested, while I defended him. He had to continue what was for a professional musician necessary regular practising in a cupboard with the door closed.
Among us, too, was a likeable trainee stockbroker, and a very nervous young plumber, totally unsuited to military life, who I assumed must have had certificates qualifying him for the course. Farrington and Tomkins apart there was an assortment of young men I assumed to be former grammar school students.
Once, well into the course, all my fellow POC’s “sent me to Coventry” – refused to speak to me – influenced, I did not doubt, by the clique. (By this time my friend the trumpeter was no longer among us, for whatever reason I don’t recall.)
Reason for the silent treatment?
Part of the training was to take turns leading the others as they did some tasks. One evening I was ordered to ensure they tidied up our billet before possible inspection. The clique ignored my orders to tidy up and others followed their bad example. Eventually, frustrated and increasingly angry, I said that if they didn’t cooperate, I felt I would have no choice than to report them to the sergeant.
Oh! Sound and fury! The clique portrayed me as a traitor and said that as punishment I should be sent to Coventry. The others agreed, including Farrington, who by then was supposed to be my friend.
I brought the silent treatment to an end soon after.
Sitting together in the canteen I turned to the clique and said that what annoyed me was each of them always successfully put strong pressure on everyone else to obey them when they were leading. Yet they were lax in responding to orders when the rest of us were designated to lead – putting us at risk of poor reports. I said it was my angry frustration about such lack of team spirit that made me threaten to report to the sergeant.
As the clique considered this, little smiles of recognition for what I’d said gradually appeared – and from then on everyone resumed speaking to me.