This story came to me from a WW2 US patient who was in Frenchay after the Ardennes offensive, I think. Many years later we retraced his steps.
The Hospital ward in Bristol, England was full of some moaning some laughter and much activity. My name plate read simply Byrne and that of my buddy read, Hawkes. I called Hawkes' attention to the article I had just read: from Desiderius Erasmus, in his essay "In praise of folly". written in 1509, the quote goes: "It is folly alone that stays the fugue of youth and beats off the louring of old age".
On the previous day we had been looking for some kind of reassurance for our plan, and this was it. We pressed on to the office of the American Red Cross, dutifully dressed in our orange hospital-issue pyjamas. I thought we had given a very convincing story of our need for a loan of 10 pounds; I had guessed wrong. After all, we were wounded G.I.s. , had not been paid in four months and needed some walking around money. Hawkes dramatically showed the stitches in his leg and I was taking off my shirt to further our patriotism to the unsympathetic clerk. Her touching reply was. "The limit on emergency pay is 10 shillings apiece, and we will deduct it from your back pay".
We hobbled out of Miss Legree's office, more determined than ever to culminate our preconceived plan.
Our ward janitor was a displaced person from Poland and was waiting out the war in Bristol doing odd jobs. For two packs of our cigarette ration, we were clothed in soiled wrinkled, discarded army fatigue uniforms. We did, in fact, look like displaced Persons. So far so good, but we were still two miles from Bristol.
We slithered through shrubbery to the coach road, put out our thumbs and found a true patriot. We rode in the back of an open, horse-driven, cart for two miles to downtown Bristol. Every bounce of the cart over the cobblestone concourse stretched our sewn up bodies to the threshold.
We arrived in the heart of downtown Bristol and with a hearty "Cheerio" to the driver, spied our next objective, the Mauritania pub.
A grand old edifice with a wide staircase, high oak columns and a welcome look, greeted us, The stairs could be a problem, hut slowly with both bands gripping the thick hand rail, we again accomplished our mission. We looked into the homely interior and, with sighs of relief, we planted our battered hulks into the plush chairs. The room large and occupied by service people from many places, but none clothed like us.
We didn't know how long our luck would hold out and were happy to see our pretty barmaid. "Been a long time, I see".
We quaffed down the two pints and finally could give a relaxed sigh of relief. Due to our generosity to the friendly barmaid we had only shillings enough left for a glass apiece which she brought hastily. The hearty British ale was doing its task mellowing us with a false sense of courage.
We were now running out of luck. The M.P.s. were looking suspiciously in our direction. Mr. Hawkes suggested, "Shall we adjourn to the officer's club?", interlocking arms for mutual support, I stood straight, even overly straight. Hawkes, using his stiff right leg as an outrigger, we hobbled toward our objective. Across the hall, through the swinging doors put us in Officers' Country. Our new strategy, concocted in our hazy minds. was to find someone from our units.
The room was crowded with officers standing, sitting. smoking and drinking We scanned the area hoping to find anyone with either of our division insignias. "Pardon me, sir", I breathed on a major, "Anyone here from the 29th or the 2nd divisions?" He backed away a bit, "Yes I've seen the 2nd, but it's so crowded I couldn't tell you where." The enemy, M.P.'s., were coming through the swinging doors a little behind us. We advanced toward the bar, still hoping for rescue.
From the opposite end of the bar came a loud feminine voice, "What the hell do you clowns think you are doing?" It was the melodious voice of our ward nurse, Capt. Rodgers. She & Lt. Bancroft were enjoying their day off. We hurried to their side, not any too soon, as our aggressors approached and clamped their heavy hands on our shoulders. They requested I.D.'s. Capt. Rodgers turned revealing her silver bars and nurse's insignia. "I'll take care of this Sgt., you are dismissed", she ordered.
We stood attentively with heads bowed and accepted her chastisement. When she was through, my buddy Hawkes, in a true British accent queried, "My good ladies, could you direct us to a proper tailor we're in need of something in olive drab, preferably gaberdine". "Sit down you idiots", was her prompt reply, adding "are you sure you don't also have head injuries?".
"Capt. could you please request Lt. Bancroft not to tickle my feet when bathing me." I added.
The stern looks turned to smiles and we had a joyous afternoon. drinking scotch and sodas, listening to American songs on the jukebox and complimenting the nurses on their choice of companions. As all good things must come to an end, so did this. "Up & at 'em boys. you're going home" ordered the Capt., fearing we might not be mobile. We, all four, locked arms: our Florence Nightingales on the flanks as we crossed the grand ballroom and headed for the staircase. Hawkes & I, anesthetized by now, felt no pain: I congratulated the nurses for the healing miracle. Hawkes halted the phalanx and asked if anyone would like to dance.
We were urged forward and down the staircase to our hospital bus.
When we arrived at our ward, the lights had just gone out and our comrades were bedded down, We triumphantly marched toward our bunks through the jeers of the rabble such as : "Boy, are you guys in shit". "There's a search party out looking for two Polacks". "The Doc was here to take out your stitches".
Before we groped for our beds Hawkes cautioned, "Ignore the peasants, old man, splendid day, we must do it again sometime".
My costume slid to the floor in a pile. I settled my stitches into the snugness of the bed. Pleasant thoughts of the day started to race through my fuzzy mind and I couldn't even remember the words of Desiderius Erasmus which inspired us to our Folly.
Hugh C Byrne
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