An Extract from Fred's Book, "The Distant Drum"

Field Punishment Number One. A couple of weeks after the armistice...

I left Cayeux on November 21st, and after breaking the train journey at Noyelles for a few hours, reached Harfleur the following afternoon. I reported at the Guards Base Depot and took up my quarters in the tent lines Nothing of note occurred during the next two days. I drew a new outfit in replacement of my kit "lost in action" and learned that we - the casualties returned from hospital - were to rejoin our respective Battalions very shortly.

On the 25th however I had the surprise of my life I was sent for by the Regimental Sergeant-Major and placed under arrest!

The reason was that - being in a rather fed-up frame of mind, due to having learned that Leave was being granted from the Base only after fifteen months' service abroad and that I was consequently out of the running - I had written a very disgruntled letter home, in which I had imprudently alluded to reports that no celebration of the Armistice had been allowed in the Guards Base Depot (on the contrary, it was said that troops had been confined to camp on that day) and I had also referred very scathingly to the militaristic regulations of "this Grenadier-ridden hole".

No doubt I was to blame for giving way to my bad temper and especially foolish to have expressed my grouses in a letter which was bound to be censored; after all, my Leave was probably only delayed until I rejoined the Battalion. That the Base Depot was a "militaristic .... hole" was, in my opinion, only too true. The worst types, both of officers and non-coms seemed to gravitate to permanent employment there: the atmosphere in the service units was entirely different - but it was silly to say so openly. My letter had been passed to the RSM, himself a Grenadier, who was on of those fat, uneducated bullies who in such places often achieved promotion by no other apparent merit beyond a raucous voice and a blustering manner. It was well known that "he had it in for" all Coldstreamers, and was cordially hated by everyone who came to the Depot. When I reported to him, he was livid with fury and raged at me in terms impossible to reproduce while I stood rigidly at attention. In the end I was informed that I was under open arrest and was ordered to appear at "CO's orders" next morning.

When I was marched into the Orderly room under escort, at the usual break-neck speed and to the accompaniment of shouting NCOs, the charge was read and the CO asked if I had anything to say in my own defence; but I had scarcely opened my mouth before the Sergeant-Major shouted "Silence!" The CO then said, "Will you accept my sentence, or do you wish to appeal to a Court Martial?" I did not believe that a Court Martial, in which I was allowed to state my case, would have convicted me; for what, after all, had I done? - repeated, in a private letter, what was the common talk of the Depot, and made some ill-tempered and and possibly unjustified remarks about the Camp. I had revealed no military secrets, which was the ostensible reason for the censorship. My real offence, I think, was that I had been disrespectful to a great brother-regiment, and in this I freely admit I was wrong; RSM - and Colonel - were not typical representatives of the Grenadier Guards.

But to carry the matter further would have meant, probably, of several weeks, and I was confident of getting my Leave as soon as I rejoined the Battalion; so I thought the quickest and simplest way was to accept the CO's sentence, and said so. I was hardly prepared, however, for the severity of the penalty imposed (in relation to my"crime") - seven days' No 1 Field Punishment, the most rigorous sentence for a minor offence in the Army Code, and which in the ordinary way included the notorious "crucifixion" (being tied to the wheel of a gun-carriage in public for several hours each day). However, I had accepted the sentence in advance, so there was nothing to be said.


As things turned out, I did not have to undergo the full rigours of my sentence after all, for next day all Coldstream "details" in the Depot were sent to their respective units at the front, defaulters included. Although nominally under close arrest, I travelled with the rest of the detachment exactly the same as any of the others; the Corporal in charge of the cattle-truck was responsible for my safe custody, but he was a decent sort and allowed me just as much liberty as anyone, so long as he was satisfied from time to time that I was still there.

[Fred served the remainder of his seven days in Solesmes with the others, and although nominally in close confinement was, with the other defaulters, allowed into town after dark and had just some fatigues to perform in the day; as he says "We considered we were serving our sentences in a very cushy manner".

See also A Night in the Trenches

............ False Armistice

........... Fred Gets Wounded Again

............On Smoking, Drinking and Fear

............Over The Top