I often turn to the books of the Bible . Ecclesiastes often reveals almost the whole of human nature .
The work emphatically proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently "vain", "futile", "empty", "meaningless", "temporary", "transitory", or "fleeting," depending on translation, as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death.
I read this and you perhaps wonder why .
It brings no solace ; despair if anything .
One of the best things about being thought of as a dope or ‘slow ‘ or retarded or whatever you wish , well it’s the knowledge that you can never really do any wrong. You are tolerated by even the most vexatious of men , because I think it makes them consider the potency of their intellect , You become the contrast of all of their personal vanities . You’ve got to be consistent . But once you get into the persona of being considered below par , life becomes sublimely easy.
You have to play it straight all the time . Never let your guard down that was my
Now I’m coming to the end of my career I will soon be able to abandon the whole charade with exquisite delight . Why did I do it .Well I suppose it was to explore this futility of vanity .
I adopted this persona when I joined the Army .
In the Army there are some positions which bring with them certain privileges. The medical corps to me provided the right mix of privilege and toil .An easy life but one with a nobility of purpose and gratifying reward.
After elemental training I gravitated towards thee medical side of things and at the time I went in , well they were sending anyone who was slow or otherwise useless elsewhere into the medical corps.
Well that suited me fine . I wanted to travel over seas and all that and felt my chances of doing so would be substantially higher in the medical corps than say in the Infantry.
Don’t get me wrong . I had no innate attraction for blood and guts and all that but I felt I could fit in somewhere ;.maybe as a driver or something like that,
I knew there were vacancies in the medical corps so I applied and my application , not surprisingly was successful. I was sent of a medical orderlies course but I failed it.
I failed every part of it actually .
There was an essay part which asked you to discuss the dangers of blast injuries. Now , as it happened , I knew quite a deal about the shock wave effect of high velocity missiles and bullets , as distinct from low velocity weaponry , and I knew that this is what they wanted , as they had touched on it in the lectures .
Well I declined to write directly towards the target of the subject , as it were , rather preferring to skirt around the periphery .So I considered the first line of my essay carefully.
- The dangers of blast injury are very serious . They come from the blast . And the blast is what causes danger .-In fact injuries caused by a blast are dangerous. that’s what we have to bear in mind when treating these injuries .. In fact the medical orderlies duty should be to alert his c/o to incoming blast grenades , so that the c/o could put out signs warning the platoon of the dangers.
I remember giving that opening paragraph some considerable thought .I rambled on in that manner for 3 full foolscaps and that was that.
The practical was a bit more challenging ; daunting, I should say really as they had live made up casualties which we had to triage , This entailed that the more grievously injured the more expeditious should be the treatment.
So I managed to have the fellow with the fractured leg among the walking wounded and the fellow with the ankle sprain put in a cardiac ambulance for delivery to intensive care .
The oral was quite charming . They asked me about my management of a woman in labour .
_ well I said I’d put her sitting down- no lying down and make sure that she was comfortable . That’s important. And reassure her . And ask her her name.
The captain was getting quite exasperated and at length he said
- Pte Marshall , If you were attending this unfortunate woman , please God don’t ever let it be my wife - would you not consider contacting or consulting anyone .?
- I certainly would sir .I would , I’m sorry sir I forgot that , I would consult someone
- Who ? Pte Marshall Who would you consult.
- well Sir, to tell you the truth I’d consult anyone at all , Any one would know more about that sort of thing than me .
That about secured my position in the medical corps , although there was a natural understanding that I was not to be put in charge of the welfare of troops.
Pte Marshall (ineffective) , that was me .
That’s how I ended up in the colonels office.
Colonel Corcoran was the Brigade Medical officer .and he needed a batman . Well I sort of fitted the job description because I had no apparent skills whatever ,
So I lit the fire . Took in his post , and made the tea . Washed his car . Made his tea He drank a lot of tea that man .
The stoking of the fire was the biggest part of my job. I lit it in the morning at 0800 hrs sharp and stoked it all day , and generally waited until he roared for me to come in to the office . I occupied a little office over the turf shed , and there I read my Ecclesiastics which I read from behind the comics .One didn’t wish to give the game away
But I was happy there with my simple studies in human ontology .
I was aware that the medical colonel was considered the most treacherous officer in the barracks . He could destroy an officers career in an instant.
He was despised by the junior officers, loathed by his peers, and regarded with a wariness by his superiors.
He was an albino who had arrived at that stage in life when his already white hair went from off blonde to snow white. His face had a vivid hue of pink with shades of blue if exposed to the cold , and the tiny eyes , like those of a mouse were red and angry but mercifully hidden behind the magenta tinted spectacles he wore .
I don’t know if there is a medical condition which ever requires one to wear these glasses or if he choose to wear them to intimidate or even infuriate . It could have been for either reason. He was that kind of man.
Although I was about the same age as the man , he referred to me as his ‘boy’ . never my ‘man ‘ .
Sometimes to vary the theme he would call me Marshall . My name is Leonard , but he never used that appellation.
I had been given various advises when I went to work for Corcoran , but I declined all of them as being either too hideous or monstrous .
It was suggested to me for example always carry a tape recorder when ordered into his office .
There was an incident I recall when a sergeant trying to curry favour with Corcoran , when he was inspecting the billets for a summer camp had found to his despair that he had omitted to repair windows , get the showers attended to , fix up a bed for the GOC etc, The story goes that he excused himself momentarily from the inspection . On his return he excused himself again and asked for permission of the Colonel for a private word.,
Corcoran was evidently as puce as a goldfish at the time
- I’ve taken the liberty sir, of putting a salmon in the boot of your car . The colonel could see the open boot from where he stood and in it lay a parcel wrapped in newspaper.
- very well Walshe .. Very well .. . See ..well .. Yes ..
And so on he goes avoiding the penitent eyes of the sergeant , he turns to the engineer officer and rounds on him evenly .Vexatiously , so they say. But the sergeant was now inured from his wrath.
When he arrives home , Corcoran discovers that there is nothing in the wrapped newspaper.
The sergeant is retiring anyway so he is free from any untoward consequence. The engineer however was in a different position and Corcoran called him in the following and gave him holly about not having the various repairs completed .
The story about the empty parcel had begun to circulate around the barracks , making Corcoran out to be utterly duped . The Colonel had no recourse now to exact his vengeance on the sergeant .
At coffee the following morning he became aware of the whispering campaign concerning the stroke which had been successfully perpetrated against him
He visited the officers bar that night and he became convinced that he was becoming the source of gleeful mirth among the officer corps.
On the following day he paraded the engineer captain .The captain held his ground maintaining that the sergeant was responsible for reporting faults and repair work required for the engineers . He was not prescient he said. I was coming in and out stoking the fire as he was dressing the captain down . But as ever they took no notice of me . I might as well have been a sod of turf .
But I knew at the mention of that word ‘prescient’ that Corcoran would lose it completely. And he did not fail on this occasion.
- take me foe a fool would you !! - he was screaming at him. I mean not roaring which is a little more becoming . No I meant a full fledged scream as would compliment a witch in full ecstasy of venom. Whichever.
He ordered him out of the room and told him he was going to report him to his c/o for insubordination. However ’insubordination ’ per se is quite a subjective thing and reflected more on the reporting officers standing than the subject. Corcoran’s standing with his officer core was low and he knew it .|
However he was wilful in his vengeance , and while the captain may have felt quite safe with regard to the insubordination charge he was foolish to think that Corcoran would leave it at that . He sent for me . He sent me to the officers records for the captains la 30 - this was the captains medical record book . Much hung on the medical category a soldier held . It could determine the outcome of a promotion . There were promotions imminent in the engineering corps. Corcoran downgraded the poor captain’s medical stratus just before the promotion interview and the captain was passed over. He was a popular man but Corcoran knew that in advance of the interview the records were inspected by the president of the board . The board thus found that the captain was ineligible for promotion on account of his medical downgrading ..
The captain was utterly distraught . He appealed the reclassification which had occurred unbeknownst to him. The GOC reluctantly referred the matter to the director of the medical corps . This man was fiercely loyal to his own officers and determined that Corcoran was right on the day. He acceded to a subsequent demand from the officers representative organisation for a medical board to review the medical down grading. The board sat and found that the captain should be upgraded . But this didn’t suggest that Corcoran was wrong on the day. On the day his documents were reviewed by Corcoran and he was below the required standards.
The promotions were filled at this stage and the captain lost out.
That was quite typical of the wrath Corcoran was capable of . He never forgot. He never let a military regulation slip if he could use it to use it to wrong foot an officer.
I don’t quite know why some men are like that , but Corcoran spent all his energy on malice. Even when he was on leave he never let go.
It ‘s all in Ecclesiastics , you see
But now I had heard that his latest nemeses was the GOC. The general himself.
I was driving him back form the shooting range when I heard him talking to his junior officer. They spoke half in Gaelic , but as I said I might as well be a deaf mute. They never even considered that I was an entity to be even concerned about in the smallest way. I had perfected this non entity art to a high degree.
They were hatching a plot to get the general. It went something like this.
There was duty free drink available to the troops overseas . They paid about ¼ of the home prices .
There was an army supply ship going out with supplies, and it was taking back an Armed Patrol Carrier for repairs . The plan was that all the senior officers had ordered their quotas of booze. There was no risk of it being detected as the ordnance corps would ensure that all the hatches would be welded down and inoperable so that the APC couldn’t be inspected by the customs people .
Corcoran himself was in on the act. He had ordered about ten bottles of spirits. Now he would cancel his order. He knew that all the consignments would be individually labelled . The GOC had ordered about 35 bottles of scotch. His name would be on his box , and he would send his driver down to the armoury a couple of days later for his consignment , which would have been reboxed . All was above suspicion. It was a win win situation . Everyone would be happy. It was fool proof.
Utterly fool proof..
But was it?
The troops returned home after their tour of duty in the middle east , and the container ship arrived some days later.
In the ordinary course of events a naval ship would never be inspected by a customs officer other than in a nominal manner. Not so on this occasion . A particularly assiduous customs officer arrived on board , and asked to inspect the manifest. This registered some mild surprise but nothing more All was going well until he came to the APC . Now he wanted to just look inside as a formality he told them. Impossible they told him . It was welded as a matter of security . Perhaps in a few days he could ..
No he insisted . He would much rather do it now and get it done with if they didn’t mind.
Well yes they did mind as a matter of fact. This was a security issue . It could pose as a real and present danger to any unauthorised personnel.
- well they would wait for the authorised personal.
Frantic phone calls went hither and thither . The director of Ordnance was sought . He refused permission to allow the hatches be opened.
Further calls . Then an irate call from the Minister to the chief of staff to get himself to the docked ship instantly . The Chief duly arrived ., humiliated and angry .
He ordered the director of ordnance to have the welders release all the hatches so that the customs officer could inspect the inside .
The hatches were opened . There as the customs officer had been tipped off were all the crates of whiskey and vodka , and all the names of the recipients neatly tagged .
The Chief was not personally involved . He had to call in all his senior officers and ask them to ‘provide material for an explanation. The Chief had a call from the minister expressing his out rage . The outrage rippled out with ever increasing circles of blame . The GOC ‘s name was on a crate containing almost 50 bottles . This was going to be difficult to explain in any circumstances.
He was the most senior officer and his explanation was deemed not credible by an internal investigation. There was insufficient evidence for a court martial , but the GOC was invited to tender his resignation as a mark of honour. In do doing he lost out on a promotion which would have granted him higher rank albeit for a year, and also a severe cut in his expected pension and gratuity. In all it cost the GOC about 100 k.
The customs people were satisfied . They had one head. They didn’t wish relations between themselves army to deteriorate and there was much recipricocity etc.
No further charges were brought against any individual and the boards of investigation quietly concluded their business with an undetermined cause conclusion.
How did it happen . Who was the deep throat.
Roumer abounded for weeks . Whispering campaigns implicated this person and that , but nothing of substance was coming down the grape vine .
The GOC was gone and next time I found driving Corcoran around I looked as sheepish as ever before.
I was driving hinm back fron another inspection . He was obviously treated regally , and he was loquatuius on the way home , So much so that he insisted that thee Medical Officers under his command would drive home with him.
He ws in high spirits . So much so that he made me stop half way home at a lounge bar, they left me in the car and went inside , and then I began thinking .
I was thinking of all the evil this albino doctor who had used all his powers and privileges to go out of his ay to do people down.
Slowly something was hatching in my brain. Didn’t I hear him tell another officer that he had qualified in ‘74 not ‘73, You see this would have given him the edge over the other medical officers ’s going for promotion.
There’s one law I read somewhere which stated that at interview not only do you have to show that you are better than all the rest ut also that the opponents were worse is worse.
Corcoran knew them all on the interview board , this promotion if it were to come to fruition would put him next in line for chief of the medical corps.
There was always a member from the dept of finance on the board, and I thought, I gave this some some considerable thought . But would it be inconvenient fro the board that having promoted Corcoran they had been misled as to his medical seniority,
The interviews were held and Corcoran knew he was home and dry, he even took a bet on himself. I didn’t bet on him .
I will confess that an anonymous phone call to the secretary of the board. He wanted to dismiss it at first , I told him that I was faxing in the information for his attention anyway, this left him in the invidious position of either choosing to explan to the board , or to ignore it.
The faxed copy made it impossible. The faxed copy would also be made available to the press.
Corcoran was charged with a miscreant deed , and yes there was sufficient information for a court martial Corcoran tendered his resignation that afternoon. But it was not accepted by the minister , as was his privilege
He had to remain in service e until a court martial were to determine his position.
This left Corcoran in the invidious position whereby all the juniour officers and he had abused over the years to signal their s=displeasure with him. He was powerless to do them ant harm now , emasculacated , anll but stripped of his rank markings. There was a daily quqe to his office . The man went on sick leave pleading PTTS
He lost his position , was demoted and was fined €2000 .
There was talk that he was going to sue the army for post traumatic stress syndrome but there were so many officers willing to give evidence him citing incidents similar to the one about the engineer captain , and that Corcoran himself would be subjected to these allegations in the box.
The legal letters from Corcoran’s council soon stopped and there was no more about his compensation claim.
Had he suceded mark you , it would have been considerable , but he was I suppose more a coward than a realist . And cowards know when they meet their match .
I was to retire the following month when a vacancy came up in the corps.
But I, who had never even passed the medical orderly’s course, had no presumption even to apply for the appointment .
Then a new officer came in one day to say that the retiring President had within his power the capacity to promote 20 privates soldiers to the rank of corporal in the honorary rank ,before he left office. My name was I assumed would be again passed over . But something else happened now.
There was this other Medical officer who used to come down to us periodically . And he was now sent down to do Corcoran’s duty
I liked him , but he was nearly always in trouble mostly on account of Corcoran. I had seen some of the letters he had written when directed to ’provide material for a report ’ My God ! he had a way with words that challenged the regulations with such an amusing rhetoric that it demanded you to say sometimes ‘ why didn’t I say that ‘ - and many did behind his back .
Well when Corcoran left this man became our c/o for a time . He called me in one morning . He told me all about the Presidential Stripe . Then he asked me about my life in general. Not the military dimensions as much as what I had done , my family , what they all had done and what were my means and whether I had made adequate provisions for my retirement and so on.
I cant describe how it was exactly but when he looked at you there was a softness yet cunning in those eyes .
They , and were still piercingly intelligent looking even though he was clearly quite dissipated looking now He looked a bit dishevelled . But when he looked you in the eye it seemed to go right into your soul . For a moment I almost let my mask slip.
I don’t know why , but if I’d had told him about my persona I don’t think he would’ve been even remotely surprised.
There in that room at that moment I felt both terror and comfort at the same time . I could not look into those even eyes and lie. Yet they went into you in a soothing manner which made me want to talk .
You knew you were in the presence of a formidable intellect. He knew it too , but like me was so used to being underestimated that he didn’t bother challenging or disputing anymore .
There was a weariness to him now .This man had gone into o minefields to save a comrade, and others overseas. But while many thought he deserved the DSM he never got any recognition for his alleged gallantry . He seemed to care less about such distinctions . Frivolous- and irrelevant he seemed to regard them ;worthless trappings of exhalation .
He took a few notes. Then he put the notes aside and asked me ;
- Leonard , If you were to write this script yourself , what would you say about Leonard
There ; twice he had used my Christian name . It quite perplexed me .
We sopke in a general way about me and I thought no more about it until I was called in by the adjutant one morning to tell me that I was being presented with a presidential stripe.
Well I thanked him of course and asked him to convey my appreciation to all those who assisted my application.
Then he told me that the m/o had written rather a unique letter , which was passed unaltered by the new GOC . It went up to records and out of th300 applications they decided to send this letter up to the presidents advisers.
It was on this basis that I was promoted.
The adjutant was a fair man , and wouldn’t accept any thanks himself. He told me I had only one person to thank , and that was the was the HAD ONE PERSON TO THANK AND THAT WAS THE MO,
I never discovered what he put in that letter but I was told it was one of the briefest he ever wrote .
The president said something special to me when he was presenting the medals to the 25 of us,
- you must be a very special man indeed d- he said dical orderlie’s course in the interim and passed it. Much to my surprise I was promoted .
Some years have passed sine=ce all of that . I was eventually commissioned through the ranks , and as I now retire in the rank of captain I wonder about it all .
You meet all sorts in the army . The good and the evil.
Some men are borne to do no good and others wwill strive against their owwn personal disposition to help others.
And I think of the Pharisee who went to the temple to thank God that he was not like other men, and the penitent who knelt at the back and pleaded with God that he was not worthy.
To the general surprise of many , even myself I was accorded two further promotions . Things just seemed to fall my way. No one resented my elevation the thinking being that it was a just reward for the disadvantaged
I haven’t bothered to busy myself with the fall out from the Corcoran saga .
Sometimes fate platys a part in ones destiny,
Corcoran resigned the month after me . He had no golden watch party. No one contributed ,
He is still out there somewhere doing locums .
I presume the doctors who employ him know his record.
In the barracks he is still referred to as roger the rat
That in brief as my memory of Col. Corcoran,
My Bible tells me he will one day become a good man.