Redbridge heritage: Christmas dinner with my prisoners

Redbridge historian John Barfoot

Redbridge historian John Barfoot - Credit: Archant

During my National Service in the armed forces, I spent a Christmas Day on duty. Memorable? It was for me!

Christmas morning 1949 I was locked in the guardroom of an infantry regiment stationed in Trieste.

The good news was as regimental police, I would be relieved at 1800 hours by the oncoming guard.

Among the fixtures and fittings signed for on taking over the guard room were two live bodies, both awaiting court martials.

The battalion had been stationed in Vienna the previous autumn; the city also occupied by American, French and Russian troops.

Military and Viennese police were always present when the Palais de Dance turned out on pay night.As regimental police we had to collect the men of our own battalion if merry, before the MPs could arrest them.

When our regimental police section were short handed, I had to call for a volunteer from defaulters on staff parade, to accompany me in the back of a three ton lorry, to ensure nobody fell out on the way back to barracks.

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The chance of a lay-in the next morning always produced a volunteer.

I was pleased to have Jock as a volunteer in the back of the lorry on several trips, as Jock was a large lad and well capable of handling anyone worse for drink when he was sober.

One of the two men I had signed for Christmas Day was an arms store man accused of the murder of Jock in Trieste. The other had been accused of attacking a woman in Vienna.

I had been in the line-up for the woman to identify a soldier from the battalion who had attacked her the night before.

Confronting the culprit, she kicked and punched him before the Austrian police were able to restrain her.

When Christmas dinner arrived from the cookhouse, I let them out of their cells to have their meal with me in the guard room.

Having no festive drink or crackers to pull made it memorable.