First World War

The recruiting sergeant used a bicycle to get around. He was quite undistinguished in appearance – there was nothing of a martial swagger about him. When he entered a street, the whole street was immediately agog. Every eye was focused on him to see where he would alight. Everyone was curious to learn who was to be called upon to serve his king and his country.

One fine morning the sergeant arrived in our street. He was wheeling his bicycle and looking left and right, obviously in search of some house. Mary Tom was standing at the door of her cottage. “Where does Johnny A. live around here?” Mary stared at him blankly, stupidly for a moment and then with an air of primal innocence blandly replied: “I really couldn’t say, sir”. (Johnny A. lived directly opposite). I happened to be in the line of fire. He repeated his question. “In here”, said I pointing. In my mind’s eye I can still see Mary Tom shaking a fist at me. I realised at once that I had committed a heinous crime. I was overwhelmed by a sense of guilt. I had sold the pass – delivered poor Johnny A. over to his enemies. I fled homeward in a flood of tears.

But the Johnny A’s of this world are not so easily cast down. He was a harem-scarum, happy-go-lucky, couldn’t care less kind of character who dearly loved the ruby gleam on a pint of Guinness. He was at this time nearer fifty than forty. Although he had no quarrel with the Kaiser, Johnny honoured his part of the bargain and went off a’ soldiering. And in due course he came home on furlough and lo-and-behold for all the world to see he had acquired a stripe, an indubitable, unmistakeable stripe. He was Lance Corporal Johnny A.

There was a malicious story going the rounds that when Johnny’s leave was up and his wife was leaving him off at the railway station her last words to him were “Goodbye now, Johnnie dear. And don’t forget to be good to the privates!”

Paddy Halpin SHS 1973