by Philip Purser
Episode Number: 24
Director: Bob Hird
|Philip Ashton||Keith Drinkel|
|Jack Hazard||Maurice Roëves|
|Private Boakes||Jeffrey Shankley|
|Private Stone||Robert Booth|
|Lance Corporal Hattersley||James Hazeldine|
|Major Steele||Paul Chapman|
|Sergeant Malone||Donald Webster|
|A Royal Engineers Officer||John Rolfe|
|QMSI Briggs||Jonathan Adams|
|Private Fuller||Ralph Watson|
|Second Lieutenant Perkins||James Woolley|
|Company C Post||Corporal Philip Ashton orders his section of three privates to stand down from their machine-gun emplacement, informing Private Stone that he is to report to company office, possibly to receive his posting. |
In company office, Major Steele learns by telephone that his men are the only British troops, anywhere in the world, who are in contact with the enemy at this moment.
Philip reports to Sergeant Malone, who instructs him to get his kit together and be ready for the duty truck to transport him to a course at rear headquarters.
The major explains that it is a ten-day course in mine warfare, for which Corporal Ashton will become an acting sergeant—at no extra pay, of course.
He adds that this is a school organised by the Royal Engineers, primarily for their own men but also accepting a few infantrymen.
Major Steele tells Philip that Pioneer Sergeant Jack Hazard will be going along as well, and Sergeant Malone laughs in recalling this colourful character of the ranks.
Though the major calls Hazard a good soldier, the sergeant warns Philip that "He'll talk the hind legs off a camel and have the rest for dinner."
|The Duty Truck||Acting Sergeant Ashton and Private Stone are riding to battalion, en route to postings at the rear, away from enemy lines. |
When Philip mentions that they are stopping to pick up Jack Hazard, Stone too says he remembers him well—and none too fondly.
At battalion, the two men hop out of the truck to stretch their legs, and the private begins to tell Philip about the pioneer sergeant.
Hazard, says Stone, talked his way into promotions, taking more credit for his accomplishments than was his due.
When he got into a scrap, resulting in the violent death of some poor squady, the army transferred him to the pioneer platoon to calm him down.
Philip is told, in no uncertain terms, that this Hazard fancies himself as some sort of dashing hero.
Hazard finally arrives at battalion and jumps into the rear of the truck with Philip and Stone.
The private says he is headed for dental school and civvie street, and Hazard contends that he would do the same if he had a mind to it.
Then Hazard offers the pair a smoke—some small cigars from the Afrika Korps—before proceeding to sing "Lili Marlene" in German.
He professes to admire the German army: "Better songs, better smokes, better rations, a bloody sight better gear."
Comparing them to the British army, Hazard says that eight of the fifteen trucks at headquarters are jacked up on bricks because there are no tires.
Philip freely admits that mines give him the creeps, but Hazard declares, "They're all right, if you know what to do with them."
When Stone recalls, graphically, that he once saw a mine explosion lay out a soldier's guts for inspection, Hazard reacts angrily, berating the private for seeking a cushy, "fireproof" posting.
Later, the truck stalls, and while it is being worked on, Philip climbs into the rear to chat with Hazard for a few minutes.
Hazard cannot help noticing that Philip's leg is sore, and Philip explains that it is an old wound from his days in Spain.
Philip recounts that he fought for the republicans, but Hazard brands them "the Reds," indicating that he probably would have sided with Generalissimo Franco.
Finally, the truck's engine is running again, and the journey is resumed.
|R. E. Billet Tent||At the Royal Engineers camp, Philip and Hazard move into their new lodgings—a spacious tent which, as infantry "guests," they have to themselves. |
Hazard persists in praising the provisions and organisational skills of the German army until Philip, a bit annoyed, advises him to go and join a Panzer division.
Lying on their cots, Hazard asks Philip what he did on civvie street, and Philip replies that he translated cables in a telegraph office, and before that he was studying.
Hazard says, "Don't tell me—Oxford," and Philip is genuinely astounded until Hazard adds, "One Oxford chap can always tell another, you know."
But then Hazard goes on to explain that his father was a porter there and sometimes would take little Jack along with him.
After singing a couple lines of "Lili Marlene," Hazard tells Philip that the song is about a patriotic Fräulein who gives her favours to the troops—for free.
The Germans even have field brothels, he adds with an air of admiration.
Lying on his cot, Hazard idly looks over his "homework," a manual called Mines and Mine Warfare.
Aloud, he reads the opening poetical epigraph, at first with amusement but then with a growing respect for the words—and finally a chilling fear.
|R. E. Training Grounds||The next day, Philip, Hazard, and a platoon of Royal Engineers troops learn how to detect land mines, how to mark the anti-tank variety, and how to disarm the anti-personnel types. |
The prodders are followed in sequence by the magnetic mine detector (if available), then the NCO, and finally—at a safe distance—the unit's leading vehicle.
Using a slab of TNT as an explosively compelling illustration, the R. E. officer then instructs the trainees in how to detonate a mine from the refuge of a fifty-yard buffer zone.
When Philip and Hazard are given their turn to prod, Hazard makes light of the experience and is reprimanded by Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor Briggs.
Philip discovers evidence of an anti-tank mine, so he marks it, as instructed.
Hazard is watching him, as if hypnotised, until the sergeant tells him to turn around and always prod facing the enemy.
Sarcastically, Hazard repeats the rule, "Prod facing the enemy—Q, Sir, Mr. Briggs."
|R. E. Mess Tent||The men listen to radio reports, mostly of military setbacks, causing Philip to concede, "The bastards are winning." |
Over a bottle of beer, Hazard loudly ridicules the native servant, but Philip cautions him to quit trying to stir things up all the time.
Hazard even shows disrespect for his own sergeant instructor, Mr. Briggs, and Philip is visibly distressed by this sort of insolent behaviour.
|R. E. Training Grounds||The next day’s classes include QSMI Briggs's description of a common German anti-personnel device, the dreaded S-mine, which kills anyone within twenty-five yards of detonation. |
Most of the commonly-encountered land mines have a four-second delay, which, if heard, gives the troops that long to flee from the impending explosion.
The German SMIZ-35 igniter has the characteristic three prongs that are difficult to see in grass, scrub, or loose sand.
In training, Hazard comes face-to-face with a dummy mine, but his hand is shaking so badly in fright that he cannot replace the safety bob.
Sergeant Briggs witnesses his inability and begins castigating him in front of the other men—that is, until Philip distracts him by asking a question of his own.
|R. E. Billet Tent||In the shower, Hazard confides to Philip that he hates a land mine because it is nothing but a box in the ground: it kills you, but you can't hurt it. |
He begins to tell Philip about his father but then stops, claiming that he is superstitious.
Hazard says that his wife's mother reads hands, and once she "saw" a premonition of his violent death.
Later, Philip is lying on his bed, reading a World War I novel, Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington, and Hazard recalls that it has some racy parts.
He shows Philip a photograph of his wife—whose Romany name is Mahaila—and Philip is impressed by her beauty.
She has gypsy blood, Hazard explains, whereupon Philip informs him that his revered Germans would brutalise her just like they do the Jews because she too is non-Aryan.
Hazard wishes his wife were here now, which leads him to suggest that they go looking for a young camp girl.
Suddenly, Hazard becomes deadly serious, wondering what he would think about during the four seconds after he stepped on an S-mine.
He answers his own question, telling Philip that he would think about all the girls he has ever had.
Hazard leaves, and Philip goes to sleep, only to wake up and discover that Hazard has a girl in his bed.
He offers her to Philip, who shouts at him to send her away.
Hazard pays the girl, Mina, more than she deserves and cautions Philip not to moralise to him like the vestal virgin he is.
Incensed, Philip accuses him of being nothing but a big show—whether it be women or war, always needing an audience, someone to lead the applause—and then Philip begins clapping derisively.
Philip tells Hazard that he reminds him of his brother, contending that he is not jealous of David but does feel sorry for him.
He advises Hazard to stop trying to impress everybody, but Hazard clearly is unreceptive to this constructive criticism, no matter how well intended it may be.
However, the moment Philip mentions the topic of mines, he has Hazard's complete attention.
Philip confesses that he feels scared of mines, too, but then he accuses Hazard of hiding his own fright because it does not conform to his dashing image.
When Philip happens to mention the possibility of getting one's "parts" blown off, Hazard confides that his only talent is to show the judies a good time, adding in his own defence, "You've got it all wrong. You don't know the half of it."
|Company C Post||Back with his own unit, Philip reports to Sergeant Malone, who informs him that the colonel wants him and Hazard to run a training program under the aegis of battalion. |
Moreover, Ashton can keep his stripes as leader of the platoon because Malone will be serving at company level while the sergeant major remains in hospital.
Malone explains that Jack Hazard's father was Regimental Sergeant-Major of Second Battalion and that he was killed on the bombing range when a petrified recruit "dropped the bloody thing," and the RSM tried to pick it up.
Now Philip knows what it was that Hazard was keeping back and why he is so irrational about—and even haunted by—the thought of mines.
|No Man's Land||On patrol in a desolate stretch controlled by neither side of combatants, Philip orders his driver to halt the LRDG patrol car, and the three men in the back make small-talk, including a discussion of scrumpy cider. |
Through his binoculars, Philip spots something moving in the distance, so they venture forward to investigate.
It turns out to be a tracked carrier, driven by none other than Jack Hazard, who is showing the desert to a newly arrived pioneer officer, Second Lieutenant Perkins.
Philip explains to Hazard that his patrol is on burial detail—in keeping with the Articles of War—trying to locate a dead body in a wadi near some abandoned German half-track.
Hazard suggests that they join forces, so Philip hops into the carrier, leaving Lance Corporal Hattersley in charge of the patrol car.
En route, Philip tells Hazard that he was sorry to hear the sad fate of his father, the RSM.
When the lieutenant asks Hazard if this is No Man's Land, Hazard tells him yes, that between here and the free French there is nothing but fifty miles of minefields.
Philip spots a likely bit of scrub, so the carrier drives toward it, leaving the other vehicle behind to watch for German patrols or airplanes.
The carrier comes to a stop, and the three men—Ashton, Hazard, and Perkins—climb out to explore the area, as ordered.
Hazard nervously asks Philip if they are near any minefields, and Philip responds, with an ironic laugh, "Well, not according to this, anyway," referring to his highly fallible map.
Philip walks between two small sand dunes and comes across a makeshift German grave marker.
There is also a German half-track in a near-by gully, so surely the body they were ordered to find already has been buried at this site.
Recklessly, Hazard runs toward the German vehicle, and the others follow behind.
Hazard admires the half-track from a distance and then rushes forward to have a closer look, keeping in mind the possibility of stripping some parts for later use or perhaps securing some souvenirs.
Meanwhile, Philip cautions Lieutenant Perkins to be very careful, as the Germans may have booby-trapped the area when they returned to bury their fallen comrade.
Climbing aboard the vehicle, Hazard is disappointed to see that it already has been stripped of all reusable parts.
He starts to come back down but is shocked to discover that the Germans have wired the vehicle and its environs, so there is no safe place to step.
Philip tries to encourage him down, telling him which foot to place where, and Hazard now sees the mines' three-pronged igniters.
"Oh, Christ!" he screams. "They've planted them all around me!"
Philip remains calm, instructing Hazard to turn slowly and step into his own footmarks.
When Hazard finally makes it back to relative safety, the lieutenant steps forward to congratulate him, and, in so doing, trips the fuse of a German S-mine.
Philip hears the characteristic click and yells, "Down!"
The three men dive for cover, and the mine detonates behind them.
Hearing the blast, the other men—those in the patrol car—drive nearer to investigate.
"This must be our lucky day," says Philip, as the trio dust the sand off their uniforms.
While Lieutenant Perkins is apologising to Philip—"I'm afraid that was my fault. I'm most frightfully sorry"—Hazard runs headlong toward the minefield.
He sprays the area with machine-gun fire, detonating four of the mines with a look of contempt on his face.
"Feel better now?" asks Philip, and Hazard gleefully answers, "Yeh. Yeh, I do."
When Hazard and Perkins climb back into the carrier, Hazard tells Philip, "And thanks, mate. I'll tell her she owes it all to you."
Hazard drives the carrier away, and Philip hops back into the patrol car.
Both vehicles can be seen going their separate ways before disappearing into the desert-flat horizon.
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