Those who read about, and some who write about today’s fighting in the Middle East probably have little idea what it is like. For those fighting, armed conflict consists of long periods of boredom interspersed with short periods of intense activity, danger, noise, death and casualties. Nowhere is this better described than by Bombardier Spike Milligan in the account of his military service in WW2. Milligan later became a founding member of the Goon Show, a BBC radio program, and precursor to the Monty Python skits.
In fun, he once described Prince Charles as “a groveling little bastard,” and then said “I suppose a knighthood is out of the question.” A statue to Milligan was unveiled in Finchley North London in September 2014, and there are plaques to him in Australia and New Zealand.
In the periods of boredom, soldiers think up numerous ways to be entertained from eating, sleeping and whoring to arranging theatrical skits and concerts. Jokes and repartee stretch from the banal to the brilliant and Milligan’s books on wartime service illustrate what life for a soldier is like.
One example is 1940 when he was part of a crew of a large gun mounted on a railcar in southern England near the coast. Since they were mobile, one Friday night, when nothing much was happening, the crew decided to fire up the engine and drive the train plus gun into Brighton where the pubs were open and they could enjoy some liquid entertainment. Fortunately, Gerry did not invade that night and the crew managed to return the train to its depot before dawn.
For those who want military history from the soldier’s not the general’s or military historian’s view, I suggest the following by Spike Milligan:
Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall
Monty: His Part in my Victory
Mussolini: His Part in my Downfall
Where have All the Bullets Gone?
All are available in paperback and probably the public library.
For those interested in humour, my choices include:
George Carlin (see his Euphemisms on YouTube)
Bill Cosby (perhaps an unfortunate choice)
The Goon Show