By Les Hooper
WRVS at work Waterloo
He sighed and silently cursed. Why tonight? He glanced towards Pauline, who was folding the children’s clothes on the settee. She wore a long housecoat, which hid her slim figure. She recognised the look on his face and shrugged with quiet resignation. Perhaps her idea of an evening in hadn’t quite tallied with his. The house was small, with plain army furniture but the atmosphere of cosy friendliness made it a haven for Doug. He smiled ruefully and she smiled back with a teasing glint in her brown eyes. She always knew what he was thinking. He pushed the pleasantries from his mind.
He was the kingpin of the Special Investigation Branch, the British Army’s CID, based in the historic town of Celle in Northern Germany and in charge of criminal enquiries in the district. He forecast stormy seas ahead. The Women’s Royal Voluntary Service was formed in 1938 to help in wartime and has also been involved in army welfare ever since. They invented Meals on Wheels and are fondly remembered for serving tea and biscuits in the London blitz of World War II while bombs rained down on top of them. They became “Royal” in 1966. On this December night in the 60s, the welfare was staggering, as Doug soon discovered.
The army is awash with class, the biggest gap existing between officers and common soldiers. WRVS being a protected species, Doug, a warrant officer, rang his captain to tell him about the complaint. George Middleton resented being disturbed on a cold winter’s night and grumbled that he had no intention of abandoning the diverting comforts of a warm bed for some damned tart who couldn’t keep her legs crossed. The case was Doug’s baby and he would have to nurse it.
Bloody toerag, Doug muttered. Middleton held a diploma in chauvinism from Sty University. He reluctantly shrugged into an overcoat and kissed Pauline goodbye. She held him briefly as a promise of future joy. No string of legmen existed in the SIB. You stood or fell by your own deeds and there were no lifebelts to grab hold of. He slung his briefcase on the front passenger seat of his gleaming white Opel Rekord and climbed in. He flicked a piece of stray cotton from the dashboard and twisted the ignition key. Christ, it was cold! The bottom must have dropped out of the thermometer. The engine spluttered in the benumbing temperature before roaring into life. An old soldiers’ chant came to him: “Serves you right, you shouldn’t have joined.” He sniggered. The trip to Fallingbostel took over an hour on the frost-covered roads. He met no other cars. The branches of trees alongside sagged heavy with snow, which also formed steep drifts on both sides of the highway. The mud and slush left by a slight thaw during daylight were freezing hardAt the ——— Regiment’s guardroom he met the duty officer, young plummy Giles Bradshaw, a junior lieutenant with ginger hair poking out untidily from beneath his uniform cap and no chin. A rich toff with saddle-bowed legs, he gazed at Doug in awe, as if he had just stepped off a spacecraft from Mars.
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthral me, shall never be free,
nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
John Donne 1572 – 1631
Like most Gentiles, he had no distinct idea of SIB work. To him they were a bunch of wastrels, who floundered around in mufti, upsetting officers and soldiers alike and flaunting army regulations willy-nilly, ploughing their own furrows without hindrance. He had no inkling of the pressures of the job. The never-ending questioning of witnesses and offenders. Sorting the wheat from the chaff. Trying to decide who was lying and who was truthful. Fruitless searching for evidence you knew wasn’t forthcoming. Being constantly obstructed by blockheads who would like to kick your backside. Working all hours God sent. Spending lonely and boring sojourns waiting for things to happen that never did. Having beautiful children you only saw when they were asleep. Struggling to keep a marriage afloat. Having so many enquiries on your plate, you floundered in paperwork. On top of it all, clueless bosses who thought you should gallop even faster whenever they cracked a whip.
Despite all the drawbacks, he wouldn’t swop jobs, even with Lord Nuffield, the richest man in England. Doug smiled to himself . . . or would he?
He had a private bet with himself that Lieutenant Bradshaw saved stamps, drank lager and lime and holidayed in Lyme Regis. He wasn’t the Pathe News either. He knew nothing, other than the victim was presently in the medical centre. He pointed out the building on the other side of the large square. A fatigue party had cleared the snow and it lay in dirty heaps around the edges. Doug tucked his briefcase under his arm and strolled over.
The woman lay on a bed like a film star on a casting couch. She had been forensically probed by the regimental medical officer, Captain Oswald Butcher. A pair of muddy shoes lay on the floor. She posed with ankles crossed and one hand behind her head, as if expecting to be photographed by Cecil Beaton. Doug buttonholed the medic for a quick word. He wore a blue shirt and regimental tie, sports jacket and flannels. He had a hooked nose and a smooth, guiless face. He looked as if he was just out of short trousers.
Captain Butcher casually explained that she had had sexual intercourse earlier on, but it was certainly not a new experience for her and she showed no abrasions that he could match to a physical onslaught. He struck Doug that examining a raped woman had upset his cotton wool world. Lancing blistered feet and dishing out No.9 pills was the summit of his ambition. He was anxious to return to his gin and tonic in the mess.
Already seeds of doubt began to fertilise in Doug’s mind. The doctor’s lethargic manner and the woman’s overly relaxed attitude niggled him. He suspected that something fishy was going on and he needed to tread carefully. For instance, instinct told him that the doctor knew more than he was prepared to divulge. He thought of Middleton, snug under his duvet 25 miles down the road. Crafty swine!
The woman lounging on the bed looking like the cat that had stolen the cream was Lady Pamela Fanshaw-Jones, the second daughter of Sir Isacc and Lady Margaret, a well-known family of the horsey set on the Cheshire-Welsh border. She was 28 years old and had joined the WRVS 18 months before, following a bust-up with a boyfriend. Doug thought it strange that her grandiose parents hadn’t married her off when she was younger.The case had more holes than pumpkin hit by a shotgun. Lady Pamela should be able to shed some light on the mystery. It was time to grasp the nettle. From somewhere in the distance floated the tinny notes of a bugler sounding the Last Post. He grimaced. The regiment was pulling on its nightshirt; he saw hours of graft ahead.
Extracting information from Lady Pamela was like digging a spoon in a jar of honey. While explaining what had happened she remained as steady as a rock andshowed no signs of ditress, considering the ordeal she had suffered. Doug admired her sang-froid. Her blue eyes washed over him, shining as if she was enjoying herself.
She didn’t tally with a widely held description of a WRVS stalwart: that of tweeds and lisle stockings, grey hair in a tight bun and middle-aged wrinkles. She had a slim figure and wore a well-filled blue uniform with a calf-length skirt and tan nylons. She looked tailored by Dior. Shapely legs and unblemished skin, which glowed with a hidden sentiment, gave further lie to the supposed dowdiness of her organisation. Her clear features danced with humour as she spoke in an even, quiet voice, well articulated with a slight, hardly noticeable lisp. One thing Doug knew for certain . . . she didn’t eat peas off a knife.
She had spent most of the evening working in the canteen. At the end of her shift a young trooper, whom she did not know, asked her for lift in her Renault runabout to his barrack block some distance away. She agreed and when on the way he suggested they go for a drive. Again she agreed.
Doug kept quiet, but why did she even contemplate going out in the middle of a frosty night with a complete stranger?
After a short trip into the bare countryside, the trooper suggested she stop the car so they could take a walk in the snow. Yet again she concurred, but on getting out stumbled into a snow drift up to her armpits. The stuff was six-feet deep in places and in the clearer patches countless tank tracks had scarred and mutilated the earth like giant bulldozers run amok. They were alone in the middle of a tank training area, which looked more like a moon landscape after a blizzard than a picturesque stretch of Luneburg Heath. It was not a suitable place for a lady to take a stroll so she told the eager young lecher that he could jump into the nearest lake as far as she was concerned, she was returning to camp.
Doug smiled to himself. The nearest lake would be difficult to jump into, seeing as it would be covered with a thick layer of ice.
On hearing this, the lad turned nasty. He had lured her to that remote spot for one purpose only and he did not intend to be thwarted. By the time she realised his scheme it was too late. He grabbed her and dragged her bodily through the snow to a small copse nearby, where he raped her. The temperature of around 30 degrees below freezing point failed to blunt his desire. Doug could not help but secretly admire the unknown soldier’s fortitude, although, listening to her tale, it stuck in his mind that her clothing was neither torn nor stained.
Having squeezed what he could from Lady Pamela, Doug later, when the first tinge of daylight spread across the barren land, drove out to the scene. He braked on a narrow track by a small straggly bush, flattened by wind and snow. A trio of pigeons fluttered high in the steel blue sky. He squinted at his watch. It was 7.40. Weak sunshine reflected from the white drifts. Several metres ahead, a stoat in a smart white ermine winter coat scurried across the crusted surface in a hungry search for a vole breakfast.
He shivered in the raw air. Even in the shallow areas the snow came up to his knees. Two sets of deep footprints led from the place where the car had stopped to the coppice where she was raped. The blanket of snow muffled noise, bringing an unfamiliar stillness to the countryside. Winter silence is uncanny as Arctic explorers knew. Even the birds were quiet. He stumbled along the track. The snow-laden trees of the thicket cast harsh shadows across the pure whiteness. Only the occasional crackle of a frozen branch disturbed the peace. No drag trails were apparent and no signs of a struggle, such as crushed snow or broken twigs, helped him decide in which direction lay the answer he needed.
He unstrapped his Rolleiflex and took a few shots of the human tracks and the area in general before he returned to the barracks. The photos would add substance to his report, even if they never saw the pages of Picture Post.
He harboured a suspicion that Sherlock Holmes would have fingered the rapist pronto, after Conan Doyle had scattered a few clues around that only his protégé could decode. Doug had to flush him out the hard way. Saying that, it was a fairly simple task, following a clear description from the strangely calm Lady Pamela.
When unearthed, Donald Ferguson was a good-looking youngster of 19, six feet tall, with dark, wavy hair and brown eyes. A small jagged scar above his left eyebrow was a dead giveaway. Doug hauled him out of bed for questioning. He never batted an eyelid. He put his hands up and admitted that he had had sexual intercourse with Pam the previous evening, but swore it had been with her utter consent.
When he finished, Doug gave him a searching look. He looked more like a film extra than a sex predator. Not that the latter bore a tattoo on their foreheads declaring their proclivity. He warned, ‘You wouldn’t try pulling the wool over my eyes, would you?’
Ferguson’s bottom lip was trembling. ‘Honest, sir, I never . . . er . . . raped her.’ He was on the brink of tears.
Doug recalled the undisturbed scene at the tank training ground and, trying not to sound facetious, asked, ‘Wasn’t it rather chilly on the snow?’
Ferguson regained some composure and said without humour, ‘She carries a groundsheet in her car. There wasn’t so much snow in the trees.’
Doug scratched his head. His dilemma? Who was telling porkies—an English lady of top breeding or a lowly trooper from the dockyards of Hartlepool? There are always two sides to a coin. At that stage it could be heads or tails, although he had a good idea which. He should’ve joined the navy, he told himself, then he would feel comfortable all at sea.
A chat with the regiment’s second-in-command, Major The Honourable Henry Dymow, DSO, made him sit up and take notice. He was a squat, wide-shouldered man with a fiery moustache and a deep purple face expensively nurtured through punishing untold bottles of claret. His black hair was tinted grey above his ears. On the cluttered desk before him stood a silver ashtray the size of a cartwheel surmounted by a prancing horse. The acrid smell of cigarette smoke hovered in the air. Historic colour prints of dashing cavalry officers decorated the office walls. Behind him stood the stiff figure of a sergeant major, Tom Hinchcliffe, a wax-works dummy with a face like a dumpling, eyes like raisins and a blank expression. You could slice bread with the creases in his trousers. Doug told the major what he had been doing for most of the night and almost fell over at his reaction.
He twirled his moustache and guffawed, sounding like an whinnying stallion. ‘God, man,’ he cried, ‘that woman has been poked by half the regiment.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Not all at the same time, mind you.’ He guffawed even louder. ‘Even the adjutant’s horse has given her one.’ His crimson face deepened as he split his sides at his own humour. Hinchcliffe’s mouth moved in almost a grin. ‘No wonder her old man crossed her out of his will,’ the major continued. The points of his moustache quivered like antennas in a gale. ‘Well, she’s burned her effin’ boats now.’ It sounded as if he thought the case was fait accompli. Like cannon fire he loosed off a few more ribald comments that made no secret of his contempt for the wretched lady, finishing off with, ‘Shakespeare had the words for her . . .’ His brow furrowed as he dug into his brain. ‘Bugger! Ah . . . Be thou as chaste as ice . . . ‘ He smirked. ‘ . . . thou shalt not escape calumny.’ His lips tightened. ‘Hamlet,’ he explained. ‘Which means she’s for the stocks.’ Through the office windows came the nerve-wrenching squeal and clatter of tank tracks.
When the major finally ran out of expletives, he flopped back in his leather chair and set fire to a cigarette from a gold lighter. He puffed and inhaled and balanced the cigarette on the edge of the equine ashtray. He blew out smoke like a steam train and reached a decision. Snatching a riding crop from the untidy desk, he smacked it into his palm in a gesture of finality. Perhaps he imagined he was whipping Lady Pamela’s well-handled rear. ‘It’s all yours, Mr. Innes,’ he bellowed. ‘I wish you luck. God . . . ’ Another laugh bellied up. Doug decided to extricate himself from the major’s presence. The officer had nothing new to tell him. He wanted to get on. Now he could glimpse light at the end of the tunnel he was eager to wrap things up. He bid the major farewell and turned to leave. The scene in the office could have been taken straight from a comic opera. In civvy street the major would be called an eccentric freak or weirdo. In the cavalry no one dubbed him bizarre. To him the whole affair was one big laugh.
The sergeant major escorted him to the door where he suddenly woke up. His small piggy eyes became animated as he growled, ‘That bloody whore should’ve been kicked out on her big, fat arse a long time ago.’
Doug was surprised by the man’s anger and thought sardonically that nothing bubbles so well as an unbiased opinion. The part of Lady Pamela’s anatomy the sergeant major mentioned was neither big nor fat. Doug viewed it as one of her finest features. The sergeant major was probably in the half of the regiment that was still in the queue for a slice of her cake. It entered Doug’s mind that perhaps she was a devotee of hippie culture. The thought tickled him.
‘The major’s always yapping on about this Shakespeare bloke,’ growled the sergeant major when they were out of earshot. He frowned. ‘Who is he, when he’s at home?’
‘People quote him to impress us ignoramuses, Tom,’ Doug said, grinning and giving the sergeant major a consoling pat on the back.
Tom sniffed. ‘Typical,’ he muttered as he closed the door behind them. His life was restricted to shiny buttons, polished boots and marching feet.
On the far side of the vehicle park two crewmen were busy sweeping snow off a giant Centurion tank with yard brooms. He idly wondered if they had ever been trapped in Lady Pamela’s web. A group of mechanics were yelling and laughing as they pelted each other with snowballs. A sergeant strode out of the huge workshops building nearby and chased the men back to work with good humour.
The pieces of the puzzle were now slotting into place. The doctor knew about the woman’s wanton behaviour, which explained his Pontius Pilate act. Her clothing looked as if it had just arrived fresh from the laundry. The virgin snow around the copse was clearly at odds with her account. The major’s pithy and bawdy remarks buzzed around Doug’s brain. What the hell! He had no intention of chasing cars. He knew the answers he would get from the soldiers. Nymphomaniacs can be well bred. And, as Doug’s detective experience had taught him, they can be raped, too. There were still lemons in the one-armed bandit, but he felt he was near the jackpot.
For the final pull of the lever he invited Lady Pamela for another face-to-face chat, only this time he got down to the nitty-gritty. He was thrusting his hand in the fire, for she was officer-class and a protest by her to senior officers could give him third degree burns. Army brass believe only what they want to believe.
He pointed out that her story of rape held less water than a leaky bucket and added, ‘I’m not calling you a liar, but what I’ve discovered suggests that you may be short-changing me.’
‘Are you going to give me a hard time?’ she asked lightly, as if she attached little or no importance to his statement.
Doug shook his head and replied, ‘I forgot to bring the thumbscrews.’
She looked disappointed and offered a weak smile, which Doug returned with a long, hard gaze. To his relief he had no need to resort to grilling her. The smile drained away. Argument was futile. Her ample bosom heaved and her words gushed out in a swift stream. No bluster. No tears. Her accusation had been as false as her eyelashes. Without prompting she confessed to lying and followed this by regaling him with graphic descriptions of impassioned adventures with other soldiers, liberally spiced with the F-word. Her rude, often crude, candour almost knocked him for six. She didn’t learn that language at Rodean. People caught out in a lie usually try bluffing. Not her. She could just as easily have been reciting a prayer.
Doug sensed despair as the enormity of her swaggering sank in. After all, she was not an empty-headed teenager, but a mature woman. ‘You are a silly girl,’ he interrupted with splendid understatement. She smelt vaguely of perfume. Expensive stuff. Chanel No. 5, Doug decided. It was the only brand he knew. She studied him with narrowed eyes. ‘Now you’re patronising me.’ She sounded piqued.
‘Perhaps,’ he replied without hesitation, ‘but you’re still a silly girl.’ He spoke like an agony aunt.
Her blue eyes shimmered and she relaxed. She gazed at him wistfully. ‘I can’t help it,’ she sighed, sounding no more apologetic than if she had sneezed in a library. A scant smear of mascara blotted her ivory cheek. There was a long pause before she said in a sultry voice, ‘You’re a nice looking man—for a policeman.’ Her small nose wrinkled. ‘Sort of Cary Grant like.’
A couple of choice retorts leaped into Doug’s mind, but he said firmly, ‘For you, my dear, the music has stopped.’
Cary Grant, eh? He raised his eyes to the ceiling. He was moderately good-looking in a warped sort of way. Pauline reckoned his teeth were too big, but she loved him anyway. What kind of back-handed compliment was that? But Cary Grant! He couldn’t resist a small smile.
A subtle change swept over Lady Pamela. Perhaps she misinterpreted his smile. Her eyes were shining like fiery diamonds. She swivelled round in her chair and the navy blue skirt rode up her smooth nylon-clad thighs. Finally she gave him a long, lingering look beneath lowered eyelids while a seductive smile eased along her full, red lips. ‘Are you feeling sorry for me?’ she mouthed slowly in her best aristocratic timbre, the lisp even more pronounced. The sparkle in her eyes said she was intent on making mischief . . . or was there a more intimate motive flicking around inside her brunette head? Although in the thick of it, she seemed to accept her awkward position no more seriously than the crackpot major. Doug could understand him easier than Lady Pamela.
Blimey, he thought, this girl has a one-track mind. Warning bells were deafening and he fled from the room with as much dignity as he could muster. He heard her mocking laugh behind him. Once free of her clutches, he felt washed out. It had been a long day. She’d been in paradise among 500 virile young men with their tongues hanging out. Being buried up to her pretty neck in mire bothered her less than if she had been caught skimping on the marge when serving tea and wads. He had to admit that he felt some allure from her. He shrugged off the impression; it was not the sort of thing expected of a top detective. He grinned and admonished himself for being a pompous ass.
As he tidied up the enquiry’s loose ends late in the day, he wondered whether anyone would believe it. His head swam with woolly thoughts. He laughed and came to his senses. His stomach gurgled like a blocked drain and he realised he hadn’t eaten for almost 18 hours. The cloak of night was shrinking the horizon. Tiredness dragged his feet and he looked forward to getting home. He brightened. Pauline would be there to cheer him up. Not for the first time he thought himself lucky to have such a beautiful wife, who suffered his tantrums and working absences without rancour. Must be love. Would Lady Pamela ever find true love? he wondered. Briefly, no longer than the blink of an eyelid, he felt sorry for her. Also irritation, for she kept trespassing upon his sensibilities.
He gazed at his car with approaching horror. When he left home last evening it had looked like a showroom model. He ran a finger along the side, leaving a clean line in the muck splashed on the paintwork. The windscreen was thick with grime except for the area squeegeed by the wipers. Lumps of half-frozen slush had built up under the wheel arches. He would take it to the car wash first thing tomorrow. He covered the icy road back to Celle in something of a stupor. He hardly noticed the biting wind as it whipped across the North German plain all the way from the Russian steppes.
He parked the dirt-streaked car in the short driveway, took one last look at it, shuddered and unlocked his front door. Pauline greeted him with a long kiss. He almost fell asleep in her arms. She was wearing red silk pyjamas and had probably cooked dinner in them. Never one for convention, Pauline. Their two young children had already gone to bed. He feasted on the gentle sway of her breasts as she moved.
‘Christ, what a day!’ he murmured.
Her lips formed a moue. ‘Something upset you, darling?’ She thought for a moment before enlightenment dawned and her lips curled into a teasing smile. ‘Don’t tell me . . . the car’s filthy again!’
He snorted. ‘Very funny.’ Instantly overcome by guilt he brushed the back of his hand down her smooth cheek. ‘Sorry . . . no, just a haughty woman who thinks she can wind young soldiers around her little finger.’ He paused. ‘Trouble is, she does . . . or did.’
He dribbled mint sauce over his lamb chops and told her all about Lady Pamela and her army of lovers. When he finished he said bitterly, ‘She believes that because she’s on speaking terms with Princess Margaret, everyone must dance to her tune. She should wear a bloody tiara.’
Pauline’s brow creased thoughtfully and she exclaimed, ‘200 men . . . Lucky bitch!’
‘What?’ Doug roared as he hit the roof.
‘Sssh! Not so loud. You’ll wake the kids.’
Doug caught the half smile on her lips and his face fell. ‘I walked straight into that, didn’t I?’
‘You’re tired, dear. Would you like some apple pie?’
After the meal he patted his distended stomach and announced, ‘Lovely! Bed is calling. I’m shattered.’
Her deep brown eyes caressed him and she said with exaggerated melancholy, ‘That’s a pity, darling.’
He raised one eyebrow and reached for her. ‘In that case we’ll have to do something about it.’ She laughed, dodged him, and he chased her up the stairs.
Later Pauline lay curled up alongside him, holding him close. She whispered, ‘You’re a cantankerous bastard sometimes.’ Suddenly she was sixteen again and they were skimming pebbles on Brighton beach. ‘But I love you to bits.’
Her answer was the sound of steady breathing. She looked at Doug. He was sound asleep. She smiled. Men! She pulled the covers up over his shoulders and snuggled down.
Lady Pamela didn’t get the comeuppance that, in Doug’s view, she richly deserved. She was saved by the high social pecking order in which her family prevailed. Her sole punishment was being drummed out of the WRVS and sent home. The only tears she shed were for regrets at leaving behind 500 available men. A tale spread that on her arrival all the eligible bachelors quickly scampered into hiding, for her promiscuous lifestyle was popular knowledge in the small Cheshire village. Doug chuckled when he guessed what the honourable major would say when he heard about it.
The ——— Regiment wasted no time in settling poor Trooper Ferguson’s hash. It packed him off back to England the very next day, having informed him that his services were no longer required.
This may seem harsh, considering the lad had only plucked a prize that many colleagues had willingly snatched. But he could also count himself lucky. Had Doug not kept his nose to the ground like a bloodhound and Lady Pamela had maintained her complaint of rape, he may well have faced a court martial and spent years behind bars. The army caste system would have accepted her word without question against his.
The outcome was not unexpected. Crack cavalry regiments like to play their cards close to their chests and avoid betting on low hands. They are a law unto themselves, live in their own little worlds and are extremely proud of their magnificent history, even the shambles at *Balaklava in 1854. They are more untouchable than Eliot Ness.
Besides which, the whole affair fomented the ——— Regiment’s inbred sense of humour and caused more merriment than shame.
The most important question of all was never answered—why did Lady Pamela make the false accusation? Everyone had a theory but the person who knew the real reason ended up running a classy call-girl trade in Chester. She certainly helped the sixties swing.
Doug never managed to wrap his mind round the libidinous behaviour of a such a well bred debutante. She had everything a woman could ask for and threw it all down the drain because she couldn’t stop dropping her knickers like a girl with raging hormones peering in Burton’s menswear window. The loony major’s words kept haunting him: ‘250 men and a horse.’ Apocryphal, of course, but still his mind boggled.
Rape is seldom what it claims to be.
Fallingbostel medical centre Inside the medical centre The tank training ground
*The charge of the light brigade.
|It is a myth is that women falsely cry rape. No doubt this has occurred, but it is rare. Records show that is more likely that women will not report a rape that occurred. Anon|