In the army, there is a strange and somewhat inexplicable bonding between troops and officers. Sometimes jokes and pranks are played out to build bonhomie, particularly between troops and younger officers. Taken in the right spirit, this leads to a better connect between them. Lt Gen (retd) Harwant Singh writes.punjab Updated: Aug 24, 2013 09:17 IST
In the army, there is a strange and somewhat inexplicable bonding between troops and officers. Sometimes jokes and pranks are played out to build bonhomie, particularly between troops and younger officers. Taken in the right spirit, this leads to a better connect between them.
We were camping at the Naraingarh Ranges for our annual field firing and two of our four water trucks were 'off road'. This had resulted in a considerable shortage in supply of water in the camp. While former prime minister Winston Churchill was addicted to large doses of brandy, this tank, named after him and with which we were equipped, had a weakness for high-octane petrol in large quantities. As such, there was always enough petrol going around.
As a young officer, Randy was officiating commander of the Sikh squadron. The troops had complained to him about the shortage of water and also briefed him on how this shortage was being overcome. So one evening in the officers' mess, Randy conveyed the complaint of his troops regarding water shortage to the second-in-command of the regiment. He also told him how this shortage was being met (as explained by his troops). Randy told him that the shortage of water was so acute that his troops were washing their faces and even gargling with petrol! "They even have to use petrol to clean themselves in the toilet," he added.
The second-in-command had a hearty laugh. He was a veteran of the Second World War and had seen action in the desert of North Africa. He narrated an incident from the war. A young British officer, straight from the academy, was posted to the Sikh squadron of his regiment and was placed as the fifth member of a tank crew. As the crew gathered around a stove for the evening tea, a crew member dished out a spoon full of tea leaves to each person. Soon everyone swallowed the tea leaves and this newly inducted officer was told to do the same, which he did. Then two spoons full of sugar were distributed and dutifully gulped down by everyone, including the young officer. After this, boiling hot water was handed out in mugs, which they all slowly drank and so did the young officer. Then a crew member explained to the officer that during war, one has to drink tea in this manner. This prank was perhaps the Sikh soldiers' way to integrate the British officer into their team!
The second-in-command then told Randy that he should get to know his troops better and not be so gullible.