When I was in Aden I was involved in an incident which I have to tell you about. It was at our camp and I was resting in our billet on my bed on my own trying to play an accordion which belonged to one of my mates. Ian was from Kelso a rugby player from the borders of Scotland, a very good one at that. After being demobbed from National Service Ian was later to became a policeman/detective in the London Police Force, “The Met”.
The Dobie Waller which was a common name for the local Arabian chap who did our laundry. He came into our room and asked me what I had done with his bike, I was slightly puzzled and surprised about his comments as all I had done that afternoon was to lay on the bed in my billet trying to get some sort of tune out of this instrument. I had never played the accordion in my life before and I wasn’t finding it easy, to say that I was confused with my Arab friend was at least an understatement, and what I had told him and the MP’s was the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
We were on the third floor of the billet at the top of the building, I was possibly to my knowledge the only person in the building when suddenly this “Dobbie Waller” walks into my room and has the audacity to accuse me of pinching or moving his bike. I replied to him by saying that I had never seen his bike and that it was nothing to do with me, so you can get lost. What I think that might have happened was that he would have left his bike unattended in the billet and that one of the other soldiers may well have moved it, hidden it for a laugh or something like that.
Next thing I know is that this Dobie Waller is back but this time he’s brought a Military Policeman with him. I knew this MP, he was an Irishman whose name was Paddy, “it had to be Paddy”. He asked me where the bike was, obviously I didn’t know that it had been moved so what could I say. I gave him the same answer as before only this time I threatened him and “Paddy” that I would throw the two of them off the landing “metaphorically” speaking! “You know what I mean Harry” , Paddy and the Dobie Waller disappeared very quickly, this made me think that the incident was over and that was the end of this trivial business.
This was not to be, sadly next thing Paddy appears with a few more MPs, and this time when they came into the room the atmosphere seemed quite different, it had changed, they said that they were going to arrest me. I was totally flabbergasted, gob-smacked, they then told me to get dressed as I’m going to “JAIL”.
I refused their order point blank, I thought why should I when all I had done was to try and play the borrowed accordion. Eventually and after some huffing and puffing I got dressed, but only in my PE shorts and vest. They frogmarched me double-time marching, all the way to Jail. On our way to my incarceration we happened to pass the parade ground where the battalion adjutant was practising some military manoeuvres on horse-back, he was also in charge of the battalion football team so he knew me.
On my way to Jail our group had to be reduced down to a slow march when they signalled to me to give the adjutant an “eyes right”, the salute was returned but he immediately recognised me. They soon had the group back to marching in double-time. Once in prison and all alone in my cell I heard the phone ringing in the office. fortunately for me it was the the adjutant. He ordered the MPs to release White straight away.
I was pleased but because of his call I had to make an instant decision, it was either fourteen days confined to barracks or a court martial, the ultimate military action. What should I do, what punishment should I take. Obviously to me and being as I hadn’t seen or moved the Dobbie Wallers bike, I unfortunately could only chose the latter.
I know that most of the lads would have taken the fourteen days confined to barracks, it would have been much easier for me. As far as the court martial was concerned, it meant that I had to attend Jail in full-military dress every four hours kit-bag and all. It took ten days for the court martial to take place, fourteen days confined to barracks would’ve been a dawdle, most of the lads would’ve taken that but I couldn’t just imagine the hassle with the other.
When the court martial took place the Sargent Major double-timed me into court and I was put in front of the Battalions Commanding Officer Colonel Robert Thorburn. He asked me about the Dobbie Wallers bicycle, also what did I think should happen. I told him my story as it had been, I told him that I’d never seen the Dobbie Wallers bike and that the MPs and the company commander should be reprimanded and spoken to in my presence. Also that all of my documents were to be free of any charges against my name.
To my surprise my request was granted. Some time later I was approached by my company commander who told me in no uncertain terms that I had better be on my best behaviour in the future, as he was going to keep his eye on me. As far as I was concerned I hadn’t taken the Dobbie Wallers bike and that I was just going to carry on as before.
On reflection maybe fourteen days confined to barracks would’ve been enough for most of the lads but it wasn’t for me “Tam The Bam” had been true to himself again. I’ve never regretted my decision, I didn’t take the Dobbie Wallers bike and there by hangs a tale I was true to myself.