And so it might well be, when I think of all I owe him. It is possible, as he says, that he became more amenable to discipline at Feldkirch than at Stonyhurst, but a newsaper that he founded and edited had a brief career because it lived up to its motto, "Fear not, and put it in print. On the whole he enjoyed his year in Austria. He did not learn much German, because the score or so of English and Irish boys at the school got together and were as insular as their own countries; but he played football and went tobogganing and walked among the mountains and had real beer to drink and joined the school band, in which, being a hefty youth, he had to play a big brass bass instrument called the bombardon, which sounded "like a hippopotamus doing a step dance.
Leaving in the summer of , he stopped at Paris on his way home. His godfather and grand-uncle, Michael Conan, who lived in Paris and whose name he had acquired at the font, wished to see him. Doyle had indulged in a rollicking farewell supper with a few other youths at Strasbourg, and had exactly twopence left when he got to Paris. He did not fancy the prospect of driving to the avenue Wagram and asking his uncle to pay for the cab, so left his luggage at the station and tramped.
It was a sweltering August day and by the time the Arc de Triomphe came in sight he was exhausted. On seeing another pedestrian buying a penny drink from a man who carried a tin on his back, he halved his capital and did the same; and though the drink turned out to be liquorice and water it helped him on his way.
After spending a few "penurious weeks" with his "dear old volcanic" uncle, he returned home, with nothing of value to show for his schooling except the encouraging valediction of a Stonyhurst master, who had called him up on the last day of term and addressed him thus: "Doyle, I have known you now for seven years, and I know you thoroughly. I am going to say something which you will remember in after-life. Doyle, you will never come to any good. He returned to poverty in Edinburgh. Another boy and another girl had arrived while Arthur had been laboriously wasting his time, and one more girl was on the way.
Though his eldest sister was sending home her salary as a governess from Portugal, and two other sisters were shortly to follow suit, the domestic prospect was bleak, and the question arose: what was to be done with Arthur? A lesser woman might have insisted that he should begin to earn money at once, and Arthur's physique would have suggested a steady salary in the coal-heaving or furniture-removing line, but his mother was ambitious and took a longer view. It seemed that Greek and Latin were about to justify the time he had spent on them, and jubilation reigned in the Doyle household, but on applying for the money he was told that there had been a clerical error, the Grierson bursary being open only to arts students.
He naturally assumed that he would be granted the next-best possible prize for medical students, but was informed that "the candidate to whom it was allotted has already drawn the money. Entering the University in October , he commenced the "long weary grind at botany, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and a whole list of compulsory subjects, many of which have a very indirect bearing upon the art of curing.
He gradually collected a small library of his own, each volume of which stood for a sacrificed lunch. Every day, on the way to his classes, he gazed into one of those fascinating second-hand bookshops which no one with literary leanings can pass without a pause or a pang. Outside the door was a large tub crammed with tattered volumes at threepence apiece. Now threepence was the precise sum that Doyle was able to spend on his midday sandwich and glass of beer, so he had to choose between literature and lunch.
Whenever he approached that tub a combat raged between the appetite of a youthful body and the hunger of a busy mind. The body won five times out of six, but when the mind was in the ascendant he spent a delightful five minutes choosing his volume from amongst a litter of almanacs, textbooks, and works of Scottish theology. It was one of the ambitions of my lifetime to look ipon his face, but by the irony of Fate I arrived in his native city just in time to lay a wreath upon his newly turned grave.
The outstanding feature of Doyle's character was its simplicity and innocence, and he was deeply impressed, as only a simple man can be, by any display of knowledge, using that term not in its intuitive but in its instructiveo or informatory sense. Though he was but partly conscious of the fact, it was this aspect in the novels of Walter Scott and Charles Reade that chiefly appealed to him and was to influence his own historical romances.
His obligations to Macaulay and Edgar Allan Poe were of the same kind. If, he once said, he had to name the few books which had really influenced his own life, he would put Poe's stories second only to Macaulay's essays. Macaulay seemed to know everything; Poe seemed to deal with everything; and Doyle mistook the memory of the first for profundity, the fancy of the second for imagination. It is hardly surprising that such a man should have been so much impressed by the professors of Edinburgh University that he popularized two of them in his books and attributed vast intellectual powers to the dons who figure therein.
To any but the simplest and most easily gulled individual the average professor is about as far from one's conception of a superhuman or an electric force as it is possible for a man to be. But if one of Doyle's professors is not a demi-god, then he has to be a demi-devil. Of the two he was to portray at length in several books, Doctor Bell Sherlock Holmes and Professor Rutherford Challenger , we shall speak later. Here we may illustrate the point by reference to minor sketches of the good don and the bad don.
We are told that he "lives on some mental mountain-top, out of reach of ordinary mortals. The dry, creaking, absent-minded scholar had suddenly vanished, and instead there emerged a human electrical machine, crackling with vitality and quivering from the great driving force within.
His eyes gleamed behind his glasses like flames in a lantern. Upon his face there was a look of such power as I have never seen upon human features yet. Endowed by Nature "with a phenomenal mathematical faculty," at the age of twenty-one "he wrote a treatise upon the Binomial Theorem which has had a European vogue.
He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations and he knows well every quiver of each of them. As one would expect, Doyle quickly followed the scientific drift of the period and became an agnostic.
His nature demanded a belief in something, and as one usually obtains what is essential to one's nature he eventually got what he wanted, but his simple and susceptible mind was overwhelmed by the information recently poured out by Darwin, Huxley and others, all of which went to prove that the Bible had not given a very scientific account of Creation, and that the orthodox conception of Hell was humbug.
This was a great relief after the Jesuits, one of whom had horrified him by declaring that everyone outside the Church of Rome was eternally damned, for he was much too kindly disposed towards his fellow-creatures to believe in a God with a diabolical nature. While ceasing to be a Catholic he did not become an atheist. His trusting, ingenuous, reverent nature favored the idea of a beneficent power behind the universe, but under the influence of Huxley and the rest he reached a point where, before believing anything, he required proofs.
Certainly there was nothing very spiritual in his appearance. At the age of twenty-one he was over six feet in height, brown-haired, gray-eyed, broad, and forty-three round the chest; he weighed "over sixteen stone in the buff," and had the strength of a bullock. Not perhaps altogether aware that he was doing so, he described himself at this period in the first of his novels to survive, The Firm of Girdlestone: "The long, fine curves of the limbs, and the easy pose of the round, strong head upon the thick, muscular neck, might have served as a model to an Athenian sculptor.
There was nothing in the face, however, to recall the regular beauty of the East. It was Anglo-Saxon to the last feature, with its honest breadth between the eyes and its nascent mustache Shy, and yet strong; plain, and yet pleasing; it was the face of a type of man who has little to say for himself in this world, and says that little badly, but who has done more than all the talkers and the writers to ring this planet round with a crimson girdle of British possessions.
He must have studied a lot in his spare time, but one has the impression that he instantly dropped his medical books if there was the least chance of a bout with the gloves. I read much. I played games all I could. I danced, and I sampled the drama whenever I had a sixpence to carry me to the gallery. But playgoing in those days was not unattended with danger, and once his strength and manliness were called upon.
A dense crowd was waiting at the gallery door and a soldier made a girl scream by jamming her against the wall. Doyle remonstrated with him and was rewarded by a dig in the ribs. The soldier was about to follow this up when Doyle hit him clean in the face with both hands. The soldier drove him into an angle of the door and tried to kick him, but Doyle gripped him tightly. The situation was becoming unpleasant because the soldier's friends were showing hostility, one of them striking at Doyle's head with a cane and cracking his hat; but relief came with the opening of the door, through which Doyle flung his man; and then, feeling that his reception inside would be inhospitable, he saved his sixpence for another night and went home.
Meanwhile, those sixpences had to be earned, and he did his best to help the family as well by getting work as a medical assistant. For this purpose he compressed a year's classes into six months and advertised his services as a doctor's assistant for the time so saved. Knowing very little, and wishing to gain experience, he started by offering himself for nothing; but the first doctor who took him on valued his assistance at less than nothing, and after three weeks spent among the poorer classes of Sheffield in he left for London, where he stayed with some Doyle relations in Clifton Gardens, Maida Vale.
He mooned about the metropolis for several weeks with empty pockets, often visiting the dock district where he watched the shipping and talked with the sailors who had roamed the world. He longed for adventure, and if it had not been for the thought of all that his mother had done for him he would have obliged the Trafalgar Square recruiting sergeants who liked the look of him, taken the Queen's shilling and joined the Army. For that matter he did "volunteer as a dresser for the English ambulances sent to Turkey for the Russian war" late in '78, but the Turks did not hold out long enough for him to dress them.
He felt humiliated by the lack of pence in his pocket. I may want a flower for a girl, and must be content to appear ungallant. I don't know why I should be ashamed of this, since it is no fault of mine, and I hope that I don't show it to anyone else that I am ashamed of it; but I don't mind confessing that it hurts my self-respect terribly.
His next job was in a small Shropshire place called Ruyton-of-the-eleven-towns, where he stayed for four months, had little to do, and spent most of his time reading. It was here that his professional ability was first put to the test. During some festivities in a large country-house an old cannon burst and a bystander received a portion of it in his head. The doctor being out when the semi-demented messenger arrived, Doyle rushed to the scene, concealed his alarm at the sight, extracted the iron from the man's head, and was greatly relieved to find that the brain had not been injured, as he could see the clean white bone of the skull.
This incident gave me confidence, and, what is more important still, gave others confidence. After that he got what he called "a real money-making proposition. While at Birmingham he began to write stories. He tried again for the same magazine, but though his next few attempts were not successful, he did not lose heart. The small check was welcome, but it did not occur to him that he could ever be a success as a writer, and he never dreamed that he could himself "produce decent prose.
The financial situation at home, however, was not improving, and it looked as if prose of some sort had to be produced until he was authorized to prescribe pills. His father had subsided into a convalescent home, where he survived until , and at the age of twenty Doyle found himself the head of a large and poverty-ridden family. Three of his sisters were sending home as much of their salaries as they could spare, and he was doing his best to provide for his own maintenance, but more was wanted to keep the home together, and it was early in that chance put something helpful in his way.
Currie himself had got the job but found at the last moment that he could not fill it and wanted someone to take his place. Doyle did not hesitate, took over Currie's kit, was at Peterhead within a fortnight, and sailed in the Hope, a ton whaler, on February 28th. He did very little surgery during the trip, which lasted seven months, and his chief occupations were to keep the captain company and supply him with cut tobacco. It was a free-and-easy life, for when the cook spoiled the dinner three times in succession by dosing himself too generously with rum, his habit was cured by one of the crew, who hit him so hard with a brass saucepan that his head appeared through the bottom and his neck was decorated by the sides of the pan like a ruff.
Doyle's prowess as a boxer was useful and made him popular. On the first evening of the voyage he had several rounds with the steward, Jack Lamb, whose opinion was later delivered to the chief mate, Colin McLean: "Doyle's the best sur-r-r-geon we've had, Colin — he's blacked my ee. Drink made the mate violent, the steward argumentative, and each time Jack referred to the whale's escape he was assaulted by Colin.
After every bout Doyle tried to change the conversation, but the moment he had got his breath the steward began again: "No offense, Colin, but all I says is that if you had been a bit quicker on the fush The steward had a pleasing tenor voice and while cleaning the knives and dishes in his pantry used to sing sentimental ditties about women which filled Doyle "with a vague sweet discontent.
Seal-killing began early in April, and Doyle did not like this part of the business. And yet those glaring crimson pools upon the dazzling white of the icefields, under the peaceful silence of a blue Arctic sky, did seem a horrible intrusion. In a furious temper he sat on the top of the bulwarks dangling his legs over the side, until the swell pitched the boat over to an acute angle and he shot overboard, disappearing between two blocks of ice.
Coming to the surface he managed to scramble on board; whereupon the captain said that as he could not help falling into the sea he might "just as well be on the ice as on the ship. On a later occasion Doyle's facility in falling off ice nearly ended in disaster. While skinning a seal he stepped backwards into the water, and as he was some distance from the others no one noticed the accident.
At last, however, I caught hold of the hind flipper of the dead seal, and there was a kind of nightmare tug-of-war, the question being whether I should pull the seal off or pull myself on. At last, however, I got my knee over the edge and rolled on to it. I remember that my clothes were as hard as a suit of armour by the time I reached the ship, and that I had to thaw my crackling garments before I could change them.
In June they went farther north after whales, only obtaining four in three months, but Doyle showed such aptitude for the work that the captain offered him double pay, as harpooner and surgeon, if he would take a second voyage in the Hope. He relished the danger, and the lure of the Arctic with its "peculiar other-world feeling" was upon him, but he had to refuse.
The experience haunted him all his life, and he was never to forget the dazzling glare of the ice, the deep blue of the sea, the bright blue of the sky, the crisp exhilarating air, the perpetual daylight which made memorable the first glimpse of a star when they were back in the south, the sense of loneliness, the call of innumerable sea-birds, the half-human cries of the seals, the spectacle of a seal-pack scattered over the ice like grains of pepper as far as the eye could see, the lumbering bears, the glistening lead-colored body of a whale as it jumped clear of the water, the thrilling moment when he saw suspended over him the huge side-flapper of a whale, one flick of which would have sent their boat to the bottom, the romance of standing on the brink of the unknown, and the first sight after six months of a woman at a light-house off the north of Scotland, even though she was well over fifty and wore short skirts and seaboots.
He returned in a state of bursting good health, with fifty golden sovereigns concealed in the various pockets of his clothes, so that his mother "might have the excitement of hunting for them. During the last year of his study at Edinburgh he made the acquaintance of a fellow whose influence on his literary career was far greater than he ever knew. The student's name was George Budd. He belonged to the athletic set in the University, played on the Rugby team, and was one of the fastest and most determined forwards of his time, though the savage fury of his game prevented him from receiving the international cap.
Five feet nine inches in height, with broad shoulders, an arching chest, and a quick jerky way of walking, he had a well-built body and a strikingly ugly face. His hair, yellowish and wiry, shot up from a square head and protruded from his upper lip. A bull-dog jaw, overhanging brows, small, deep-set, light-blue bloodshot eyes, set close together and either radiating geniality or darting forth gleams of diabolical hatred, a red, aggressive nose, strong yellow overlapping teeth, a throat of the color and texture of a fir-tree's bark and usually unprotected by collar or necktie, a voice and a laugh like the bellow of a bull — such were his physical characteristics.
The mental Budd was as peculiar. He was half-genius, half-maniac, with a streak of charlatanism in his genius, and some sense in his mania. Though he never appeared to work, he won the anatomy prize from all the fellows who could not be torn from their books. At a moment's notice he would take up any subject with intense enthusiasm, weave the most amazing theories around it, display a mind teeming with original inventions, carry his listeners away with him until they were gasping with excitement, drop the subject suddenly, take up another, and repeat the process.
Torpedoes were once mentioned. Out came his pencil and he instantly began to rough out a novel method of piercing a ship's netting.
The whole of the man was absorbed in the new idea; his enthusiasm was infectious; practical objections were swept away by his ingenuity; he had an answer for everything; and as he disposed of each difficulty he roared with triumph. The subject exhausted, he turned to another. How had the Egyptian workmen got the stones to the tops of the pyramids? He explained how, and it seemed as if he had spent his life studying the question. He was full of schemes for making money, and he amassed imaginary fortunes on each and all of the inventions which poured from his fertile brain.
As he jerked his way up and down the room he explained the new contrivance, which was going to revolutionize something or other, took out patents for it, included Doyle in the partnership, foretold its adoption throughout the civilized globe, foresaw every conceivable application of it, estimated the royalties they would make on it, planned out a dozen astonishing ways of investing the money, and pictured their retirement with fortunes beyond the dreams of millionaires; at the conclusion of which Doyle, who had been sailing through the air on a magic carpet, found himself trudging home with nothing in his pocket and a copy of Kirk's Physiology under his arm.
There was something both heroic and murderous about Budd, whose fun could change to fury at a moment's notice. He enjoyed horse-play, but no one played horse with him twice, because it always began in good humor and sometimes ended in the hospital. When in the mood he supported authority; when in another mood he flouted it. A leading London specialist was addressing the students, one of whom in the front row kept interjecting facetious comments.
The specialist appealed for silence and Budd shouted, "Hold your tongue — you, sir, on the front bench. Nothing loath, Budd picked his way among the inkpots along the tops of the desks and dropped to the floor close to the facetious student, who promptly hit him full in the face. Budd seized him by the throat, rushed him backwards out of the classroom, and "there was a noise like the delivery of a ton of coals. Against this praiseworthy performance must be recorded one that displays another side of his nature.
He did not drink much, but a little alcohol had an immediate effect on him: he might want to fight everyone he met, or collect a crowd and preach to it, or play the fool in public. One quaint result was that, while he could walk or run without deviating a step from his direction, sooner or later he would unconsciously twist about and return the way he had gone. Apparently sober, but really drunk, he visited the station one night and courteously inquired of the ticket-clerk the distance to London.
The clerk advanced his face to the hole in the glass in order to reply, and received Budd's fist slap on his nose. His yell brought the police, and Budd sprinted down Princes Street with some of the railway staff and constabulary in hot pursuit. But he soon out-distanced them, and after a while they paused to take breath and hold council. Suddenly they were amazed to see their quarry returning towards them and going as fast as ever, he of course being "under the influence" and unaware that he had changed direction. They tripped him up, fell upon him, and after a violent struggle got him to the police station.
Next morning he was brought before the magistrate and defended himself from the dock with such brilliance that he was let off with a nominal fine; after which he invited the police and everyone else who had witnessed against him to the nearest pub and entertained them with reminiscences and whisky.
His relations with women were of an equally incalculable order. Once he had to choose between compromising a woman or damaging himself. Without hesitating a second he chose the latter and hurled himself out of a third-floor window; but he was in luck, a laurel bush breaking his fall and the ground being soft. His marriage was just as precipitate. He fell in love with a girl who was under age, locked her governess in a room, dis- guised himself by dyeing his hair black, and decamped with the girl. Having consulted a Bradshaw, and selected the most out-of-the-way place they could find, they spent their honeymoon in the village inn, where their sudden appearance and the weird yellow-and-black effect of his hair, the dye having failed to take in certain places, must have formed a topic of conversation among the natives for several years and made them far more conspicuous than they would have been in Piccadilly Circus.
Budd met Doyle in the street shortly after this, thumped him heartily on the back, bellowed the details of the events just described, and carried him off to meet the lady. Doyle found a small, timid, gentle, sweet-faced, quiet-voiced girl, very likeable but utterly under the dominion of her husband, whom she obviously adored. Their flat consisted of a kitchen, a sitting-room, a bed- room, and a fourth room which Budd, convinced that it was a center of disease, had not only locked up but had gummed paper over the door-cracks to prevent in- fection; though Doyle was equally convinced that the smell of cheeses from the grocer's shop below had put the idea into his friend's head.
Doyle became a frequent visitor; in fact he was almost the only visitor. There were never more than two chairs in the sitting-room, but he would sit on a pile of volumes of the British Medical Journal, dining off an apple dumpling, and listening to Budd as he strode about the room, shouting, gesticulating, talking. I still look upon those Bohemian evenings, in the bare room amid the smell of cheese, as being among the happiest that I have known. Watson explains his particular value to Sherlock Holmes we are reading Doyle's subconscious recollection of another quality in him that attracted Budd: "I was a whetstone for his mind.
I stimulated him. He liked to think aloud in my presence. His remarks could hardly be said to be made to me — many of them would have been as appropriately addressed to his bedstead — but none the less, having formed the habit, it had become in some way helpful that I should register and interject. If I irritated him by a certain methodical slowness in my mentality, that irritation served only to make his own flame-like intuitions and impressions flash up the more vividly and swiftly.
Such was my humble role in our alliance. His mercurial and explosive temperament, his genius for improvisation, his quick inventive mind, his range and grasp of subjects, his outrageous behavior, his buffoonery, the drama and comedy inseparable from his flamboyant personality, even the sinister and malignant qualities in his character, made an irresistible appeal to what was most durable in Doyle's nature: his boyish love of the unexpected, of the mysterious and the fantastic.
It is Budd, far more than any original, who gives life to the professors in his books. Some of his experiences with Budd are described in his stories, many of which owe their inspiration to the same source. Budd is in the energy of Holmes, the braggadocio of Gerard, the malignity of Moriarty, the violence of Roylott, the fanaticism of Maracot, and the more extravagant incidents and individuals who appear in his pages; while in the creation of Challenger he is haunted by Budd, who, like the Professor, has a device for deflecting a torpedo, a new and economical method of separating nitrogen from the air, and so on.
The description of Challenger's personality is a description of Budd's: "If it is impossible to be at your ease, it is equally impossible to be dull in his company, for one is always in a state of half-tremulous doubt as to what sudden turn his formidable temper may take. His debt will be more apparent later on. In due time Doyle underwent the horrors of examination at the University, but in spite of his nervousness he noted the comedy which preceded the viva voce. A crowd of students were awaiting their turn to be called in: "It was painful to observe their attempts to appear confident and unconcerned as they glanced round the heavens, as if to observe the state of the weather, or examined with well-feigned archaeological fervor the inscriptions upon the old University walls.
Most painful of all was it when someone, plucking up courage, would venture upon a tiny joke, at which the whole company would gibber in an ostentatious way, as though to show that even in this dire pass the appreciation of humor still remained with them. At times, when any of their number alluded to the examination or detailed the questions which had been propounded to Brown or Baker the day before, the mask of unconcern would be dropped, and the whole assembly would glare eagerly and silently at the speaker. For example:. Doyle passed his final examination "with fair but not notable distinction" in , qualifying as Bachelor of Medicine in August of that year, and taking his Doctor's degree in He had intended to start his professional life as a ship's surgeon, partly because he wanted to see something of the world and partly to make enough money to set up in practice.
He sailed from Liverpool on October 22nd, , and spent the four most miserable months of his existence going from place to place on the west coast of Africa. It was a neat little steamer of 4, tons, carrying a cargo of mixed goods and a score or so of passengers. He started well by saving the lives of everybody on board. The ship was running before a fierce gale in a thick fog down the Irish Sea when, through a rift in the fog, Doyle suddenly spotted a lighthouse on the port side.
Knowing that they were supposed to be well down on the Irish coast, but not wishing to lay himself open to ridicule as a landsman, he casually drew the mate's attention to the lighthouse and asked, as if for information, "Is that all right? They had been heading straight for the rocks. The passengers included some nice white women and some nasty Negro traders, who were patrons of the line and had to be humored.
These palm oil chiefs were wealthy, spending their money on drink and women, and Doyle noted that one of them "had a choice selection of the demi-monde of Liverpool to see him off. The first part of the journey was stormy, everyone was seasick, and Doyle was kept busy; but life became endurable further south, and he was able to enjoy Madeira and the Canaries.
They touched at Freetown, Sierra Leone, where white people used to die quickly in beautiful surroundings, at the capital of Liberia, and so on down that burning, surf-lined, flat, monotonous, and seemingly endless coast. Trade in those days was conducted in a rough-and-ready fashion: "Once we moved on while a hundred native visitors were still on board. It was funny to see them dive off and make for their canoes.
One of them had a tall hat, an umbrella, and a large colored picture of the Saviour — all of which he had bought at the trading booths which the men rig up in the forecastle. These impedimenta did not prevent him from swimming to his boat. At another minor port, since we were pressed for time, we simply threw our consignment of barrel staves overboard, knowing that sooner or later they would wash up on the beach, though how the real owner could make good his claim to them I do not know.
At Old Calabar he got into a canoe with another fellow and paddled up to Creektown through gloomy mangrove swamps. Here they were in native territory, and the King, hearing of their presence, ordered them to report instantly to him. They paddled back to their steamer faster than they went to Creektown.
Having seen the Negroes sporting in the waters, Doyle considered that a white man should be equally free of the ocean, and at Cape Coast Castle he plunged in and swam around the ship. While drying himself on deck after this excursion he observed the high fin of a shark, which had heard the splashing and come up to look for him. The sight made him feel rather cold. One day, while standing on the poop in a raging thunderstorm, he decided that this first trip must be his last.
Existence on board ship was too comfortable for a young ambitious man. One more voyage and he would probably want to settle into the easy enervating rut of ship's surgeon for life. If he desired success as a doctor, there was a hard struggle ahead of him, and whereas one wander-year might be useful two would be fatal. So he thought; and with his determination to stop traveling the seas he made up his mind to stop drinking spirits for the rest of the voyage. The deadliness of Africa no less than the luxury of the boat palled on him, and he wrote a verse in his diary:.
Oh Africa, where are thy charms That sages have seen in thy face? Better dwell in Old England on alms Than be rich in that terrible place. The return journey, spent in collecting oil and ivory from the places where they had dropped beads and umbrellas on the outward voyage, was enlivened during its last week by the ship catching fire.
For the first two or three days they did not take it seriously, but when the smoke turned into a blaze they did. All hands exerted themselves for over twelve hours, the iron side of the ship getting hotter every hour until at one point it was red-hot and arrangements were being made to leave in the boats, but by the evening the danger was over and the "pillars of smoke were down to mere wisps.
The atmosphere of the west coast of Africa, to say nothing of the atmosphere of the Mayumba, had been unfavorable to literary conversation, and Doyle did not feel that he had made any mental or spiritual advance during the trip; but the American consul at Monrovia, a Negro, had discussed Motley with him and had told him that if he wished to travel in Africa he should go unarmed: "You would not like it in England if a body of men came armed to the teeth and marched through your land.
The Africans are quite as sensitive. Apart from these two incidents Doyle was thrown back on his old companions for mental nourishment, and on one of them in particular. Glancing over his library a quarter of a century later, he told us which it was: "If I had to choose the one book out of all that line from which I have had most pleasure and most profit, I should point to yonder stained copy of Macaulay's Essays.
It seems entwined into my whole life as I look backwards. It was my comrade in my student days, it has been with me on the sweltering Gold Coast, and it formed part of my humble kit when I went a-whaling in the Arctic. Honest Scotch harpooners have addled their brains over it, and you may still see the grease stains where the second engineer grappled with Frederick the Great. After finishing at the University Budd had disappeared from Edinburgh, and as he never wrote letters Doyle had lost touch with him for some months.
But one spring day in a wire arrived from Bristol: "Come at once. I have urgent need of you. He was working in Birmingham at the time, but set off at once for Bristol, feeling sure that Budd had something good to offer him. The first person he saw on the station platform was Budd, with his hat as usual on the back of his head, an unbuttoned waistcoat, and the unusual addition of a collar round his neck. He greeted Doyle with a roar, pulled him out of the carriage, seized his carpet bag, and hustled him along the streets, talking about everything except the reason for his telegram.
From football he jumped to his latest invention, concerning which he got so excited that he surrendered the bag to Doyle in order to gesticulate freely and discoursed in this manner:. I'll tell you why. It was because the weight of metal that would protect a man who was standing up was more than he could carry. But battles are not fought nowadays by men who are standing up.
Your infantry are all lying on their stomachs, and it would take very little to protect them. And steel has improved, Doyle! Chilled steel! Very good. How much to cover a man? Fourteen inches by twelve, meeting at an angle so that the bullet will glance. A notch at one side for the rifle. There you have it, laddie — the Budd patent portable bullet-proof shield! Oh, the weight would be sixteen pounds.
I worked it out. Each company carries its shields in go-carts, and they are served out on going into action. Give me twenty thousand good shots, and I'll go in at Calais and come out at Pekin. Think of it, my boy! One side gets home every time and the other plasters its bullets up against steel plates. No troops would stand it.
The nation that gets it first will pitchfork the rest of Europe over the edge. They're bound to have it — all of them. Let's reckon it out. There's about eight million of them on a war footing. Let us suppose that only half of them have it. I say only half, because I don't want to be too sanguine. That's four million, and I should take a royalty of four shillings on wholesale orders. What's that, Doyle? About three-quarters of a million sterling, eh? How's that, laddie, eh? This statement, which gave Doyle an idea he was later to develop, was delivered in a dramatic style, punctuated with pauses, now whispered, now bawled, and accompanied by thumps, shrugs, and peals of laughter.
They arrived at a large house, standing in its own grounds, and when the door was opened by a footman in red plush knee-breeches Doyle felt that he was on velvet. Budd looked pale and tired, and their surroundings were impressively ancestral, yet they had an uproarious supper which reminded Doyle of the evenings above the grocer's shop. Not a syllable was uttered during the meal in explanation of the "urgent need" that had brought him to Bristol.
Afterwards they retired to a small sitting-room, where the men lighted their pipes, Mrs. Budd her cigarette, and for a while they smoked in silence. Suddenly Budd jumped to his feet, dashed at the door, flung it open, discovered no one's ear glued to the keyhole, shut it, and returned to his armchair. He had an insanely suspicious nature and was firmly convinced that people were conspiring against him and spying on him.
His fears temporarily allayed, he confided in his visitor:. Well, they've eaten me up among them I'm done for, my boy, unless It's a wretched thing to have to refuse a friend; and if I had the money And d'you see those documents on the right? Well, those are County Court summonses. And now d'you see that? Recovering himself, he proceeded: "It's this way, Doyle. You have probably heard — in fact I have told you myself — that my father had the finest practice in Bristol.
As far as I could judge, he was a man of no capacity, but still there you are — he had it. Well, he's been dead seven years, and fifty nets dipping into his little fish-pond. However, when I passed I thought my best move was to come down to the old place and see whether I couldn't piece the thing together again.
The name ought to be worth something, I thought. But it was no use doing the thing in a half-hearted way. Not a bit of use in that, Doyle. The kind of people who came to him were wealthy, and must see a fine house and a man in livery. What chance was there of gathering them into a bow-windowed forty-pound-a-year house with a grubby-faced maid at the door? What do you suppose I did? My boy, I took the governor's old house, that was unlet — the very house that he kept up at five thousand a year. Off I started in rare style, and sank my last cent in furniture. But it's no use, laddie. I can't hold on any longer.
I got two accidents and an epileptic — twenty-two pounds, eight and sixpence — that's the lot! That's why I wired for you. I always respected your opinion, my boy, and I thought that now was the time to have it. Though the appeal flattered him, it occurred to Doyle that it was rather late in the day to ask his advice.
You've got to start yet. Take my tip, and go where no one knows you. People will trust a stranger quick enough; but if they can remember you as a little chap who ran about in knicker-bockers, and got spanked with a hair brush for stealing plums, they are not going to put their lives in your keeping. It's all very well to talk about friendships and family connections; but when a man has a pain in the stomach he doesn't care a toss about all that.
I'd stick it up in gold letters in every medical classroom — have it carved across the gate of the University — that if a man wants friends he must go among strangers. It's all up here, Doyle; so there's no use in advising me to hold on. If they push you into a corner now, they can get nothing. Make that clear to them. But if you make a fresh start elsewhere and succeed, you may pay them all in full. I see no other possible way out of it.
Apparently Budd was entirely of his opinion: "I knew that you'd say that, and it's just what I thought myself. Well, then, that settles it, and I am much obliged to you for your advice, and that's all we'll say about the matter tonight. I've made my shot and missed. Next time I shall hit, and it won't be long either. In a minute or two he was drinking whisky and rattling away as if there were no such things as duns and summonses. Unfortunately, two glasses of whisky had its usual effect on him, and after his wife had left them together he brought the subject round to boxing and suggested a few rounds.
Doyle, who ought to have known better, could never resist a challenge, and donned the gloves. They pushed back the table, put the lamp on a high bracket, and faced one another. At once Doyle realized his error. Only one eye and his nose were visible through brown paper bandages, which the Germans used instead of gauze.
Springer joined his men in one corner. Sometime later, Lyle Bouck noticed blood seeping through his field jacket. He checked inside-a bullet had grazed his upper body. Outside, meanwhile, members of the platoon had been lined up against a wall. A German officer took my cigarettes and offered each of us one and then kept the rest of the pack. Bouck watched as Sergeant George Redmond carried in a wounded man: as with James, only his nose and eye were visible because of the extensive bandaging. Sergeant Redmond laid him down on the floor. Others from the platoon walked over to check on him, wanting to know how bad the wound was.
Neither did I. Kalil had still not been given any morphine. His embedded teeth caused him maddening pain. But he was glad to be alive, amazed that he had not been shot. Thank God their captors were not SS. They were in the hands of the German army. Perhaps that was why they had not been executed. His field jacket had been cut away, and he had a bad gash in the shoulder. He was placed near some wounded German paratroopers. Bouck asked a German who looked like he had some authority if James could be allowed to lie down next to Louis Kalil.
The German conferred with another officer and then agreed. Private First Class Milosevich watched as James and the other wounded men from his platoon were placed together. It filled him with pride to watch his buddies endure their pain so stoically. Boy, they were hurt. James, at least three bullets in his face; Kalil, a grenade in his face; McConnell hit in the shoulders. But they never said a word. There was no crying. Downstairs, they had more German wounded, and they were screaming. The super race was screaming. Bill James drifted in and out of consciousness.
There was this clock hanging there going tick, tick, and every fifteen or thirty minutes the little gong would ring. The clock got into my brain. Whatever was left of my brain, the clock was working at it, trying to keep me focused on life. A fantastic account by the Brit who landed the Bedford Boys in exactly the right place — Dog Green — at the right time, 6. I was born on the 4 July in the city of Bristol, England. It had a long association with the sea for the Cabots sailed from Bristol in and discovered Newfoundland.
Bristol was also involved in the triangular trade — providing workers for the plantations in Virginia in return for the tobacco that the local manufacturers W D and H O Wills turned into the Woodbine cigarette so popular with British servicemen in the two world wars. Seeing ships from all over the world in the centre of Bristol gave me a longing to go to sea. As soon as war broke out in September I volunteered for the Royal Navy, but there were no vacancies.
I was fortunate though I did not think so at the time in not passing the course, as most of those cadets who became pilots did not survive the war. I was given the option of staying in the Fleet Air Arm as observer or joining the executive branch as a potential officer. In May we captured U with its Enigma machine and code books intact.
I was on deck behind the 3. A British sailor who could speak German took my place in the boarding party. We spoke in French. He would not believe me. Life aboard HMS Bulldog was dreadfully uncomfortable. Above deck, waves as high as houses would crash down. I was often very cold, spending endless hours staring out to sea. Below deck, there were too few hammocks, so I had to sleep on a locker, tossed and turned by every movement of the ship, with seawater sloshing around everywhere.
It was the worst year of my life! I was a keen sportsman, playing rugby, cricket and football. Being part of an assault flotilla allowed me to indulge my interest in sport more frequently. I joined the navy as George and came out as Jimmy. The Luftwaffe flattened the centre of Plymouth in and , but the dockyard was virtually untouched. Our 18 LCAs were moored close to Ceres and we were able to carry out exercises and use dockyard facilities to bring our craft up to operational standards.
We also managed to play an occasional game of football against local opposition. Here we came under the orders of a Commodore of the US Navy. He passed them to the Flotilla Officer, Lt Freddy Grant, who passed them on to me to read, learn and inwardly digest. The books detailed the procedures for taking troops on the landing craft, which circled off the troop ships until such time as they were called in to load their passengers from scrambling nets.
We took part in a couple of exercises using these procedures with limited success. The LCA had a crew of four — a coxswain, two seamen and a stoker in the engine room responding to a telegraph and voice pipe operated by the coxswain. The LCA had two petrol engines fuelled by percent octane, which it gobbled up rapidly giving a comparatively short range. It was also not designed to go round for a long time in circles and I was made aware of the discontent of the crews, particularly the stokers who had bells constantly ringing in their ears as coxswains tried to maintain station.
I conveyed my criticisms to the Flotilla Officer and SNOT, having doubts about the system working in the English Channel in the night and in a possible gale. My arguments were accepted and it was decided to invite the Commodore to lunch aboard the Javelin to discuss our problems. We found that troops normally preferred this method rather than using scrambling nets.
We continued our training in Scotland, exercising with troops both by day and night. Live ammunition was used in this exercise and my first wave had little time after the ceasefire to make for the shore. At the given time the bombardment ceased and we made full speed for the beach. As we neared the shore about ten minutes after cease fire we were straddled by a salvo of inch shells from USS Texas, which missed our craft but soaked most of the occupants.
Observers reported that we were all sunk, which gave rise to rumours over casualties. There was of course another action off the Isle of Wight during the earlier Exercise Tiger with the landing craft for Utah Beach, when E-Boats got amongst the convoy of troop ships making for Slapton. Early in June the Javelin arrived at Portland and we took on board from Weymouth harbour the 1st Battalion of th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division along with other support units.
They were a friendly but shy bunch of fresh-faced country lads who must have felt at home in Ivybridge — a small town in Devonshire, where they had trained for the invasion. There were a series of briefings at the Pavilion in Weymouth and I had a separate briefing for my particular assignment. I was the leader of the first wave and it was my task to land A Company of th Infantry Regiment at Vierville sur Mer at on 5 June.
We had trained day and night, including fog. Many of the men in Flotilla had taken part in earlier landings in the Mediterranean. Like so many men on D-Day, we felt we simply had a job to do and that we were ready for it — ready for the war to end and ready to get on with it. When troops were aboard the Javelin, it was very cramped and the bar was closed, so we were ready to get the troops off the ship too.
They were to come to the Javelin and tag on to my right column then come into line abreast on my signal so that we all landed at the same time on 5 June. He was a very serious, thoughtful officer who seemed a lot older than our sailors who were in their late teens or early twenties. It was his objective to secure the pass at Vierville sur Mer, which led off the beach between the cliffs.
It was my task to put him and his Company plus the Rangers on the beach at the right place and at the right time. The beach was empty, apart from the beach obstacles laid by the Germans. Taylor Fellers spoke to me of his concern that this would be the first time that he and his Company would see action and asked me to give them every support. He sought me out on the Empire Javelin. I assured him that if we saw any Germans we would certainly open fire with our Lewis guns.
In the event, we were unable to do so. We landed about yards below the beach obstacles soon after low tide and hundreds of yards from the edge of the beach. It was dull, grey and overcast. Like so many, we could not make out a single German. We knew they were there, but we could not see them. With the LCAs rocking up and down on the surf, we were in more danger of shooting down the American troops in front of us. The Javelin sailed from Portland harbour on the evening of the 4 June in the teeth of a gale.
A few hours later we were recalled to Portland harbour as the invasion had been postponed for 24 hours. H Hour was amended to I turned in at about hours on the night of the 5 June with instructions for a call at as we were due to launch at He asked me if I would be good enough to report to the Flotilla Officer as the launching time had been changed. At first, I was annoyed at being woken early. The ship was bouncing around in the heavy seas — little different from the previous day.
Freddy told me to get the first wave launched as soon as possible as I could not make my planned rate of knots in these conditions. Captain Taylor Fellers and 31 of his men were waiting at the davits opposite LCA and were soon taken on board to be launched in the pitch dark into unfriendly sea. The lowering into the water was a bit of a nightmare as the heavy block and tackle was moving around and had to be secured against ones body before the hook could be released from the ring of the LCA. The after hook had to be released first while the LCA maintained position until the forward hook my responsibility could be released.
My coxswain was Leading Seaman Martin of Newfoundland How I blessed those Cabots from Bristol for discovering a land which produced such an excellent seaman. Instead of my normal sternsheetsman the sailor at the back I had been given at the last minute Signalman Webb to work a brand new signal set — also given to me at the last minute. Webb was delighted to be given the opportunity to see action instead of manning the signal station in the Javelin.
As LCA was being unhooked we were hit in the stern by LCA and the stoker told the coxswain through his voice pipe that we were taking in water in the engine room. I had to clamber through the troops to the engine room only entered through the stoke hole on the after deck. After a discussion with the stoker and Webb we thought we could keep afloat if Webb, sitting at the open stoke hold, used a hand pump at its maximum.
After this minor diversion we found the American patrol craft, which was to escort us part of the way to Vierville. We set off in two columns of three, like Nelson at Trafalger, with LCA at the head of the starboard column and my second in command Sub Lieutenant Tony Drew at the head of the port column. In fact, they were close behind us on my right flank, but I could not see them in the dark.
I had been aboard the US patrol craft after Exercise Fabius and had seen its radar, which was far more accurate than my magnetic compass. It was heavy going in the rough seas and we were shipping water over the bows.
Bermuda: Our People, Our Story. One more voyage and he would probably want to settle into the easy enervating rut of ship's surgeon for life. Bermuda High School Chronicle. On September 18 the "Ellen arrived in Norfolk. While struggling with algebra and Greek and all the rest of the nonsense Doyle made a discovery, the joy of which more than counterbalanced the anguish of his lessons. On the front page was a sinking ship, straight up and down in the waves. The fact is, it is a safe moneymaking play for the province.
However we were on course and on time. About five miles from the coast we parted company from the US patrol craft with mutual signals of respect. A few minutes later we came upon a group of Landing Craft Tanks LCTs wallowing in the heavy seas and making about half our speed. We left them in our wake and never saw them again. It was beginning to get light and the bombardment by the battleships and cruisers had ceased.
I could vaguely make out the French coast through the gloom and noticed puffs of smoke moving along the top of the cliffs. Dismissing the thought that it was the USS Texas emptying its gun barrels, I believed that it was a steam train puffing its way along the coast to Cherbourg. It was approaching the time to form line abreast and make our dash for the shore.
I turned round to see how the other craft were coping. I was just in time to see the bow of LCA dipping into the sea and disappearing below the waves. I believe had been damaged during the collision with , whilst lowering the boats from the Javelin. All the crew and soldiers had life jackets and I could only hope they would keep everyone afloat until I returned. It goes against the grain for a sailor to leave his comrades in the sea, but LCA had no room and our orders were explicit that we were to leave survivors in the sea to be picked up later.
It was essential to land on time. A few minutes later as we neared the shore I picked out some nasty looking pill boxes and hoped they were not manned. A group of LCT R s — tank landing craft carrying rockets on their decks — came up behind me and launched all their rockets woefully short. Not one came anywhere near the shoreline. The heavy swell must have played havoc with their range finding.
I remember shaking my fist in anger. I then gave the signal to form line abreast and told signalman Webb to stop pumping and take cover. Martin pulled down the cover over his head and was guided by me through slits in his armour-plated cockpit. I was watching a particularly menacing looking pillbox at the mouth of the Vierville sur Mer draw in my binoculars and thinking that if it was manned we were going to be in trouble.
I wished it could have stayed longer but it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. I had no idea we were getting support from other landing craft. One of the LCAs in the left flank was hit by an anti-tank bullet, passing through the armour plating on both sides of the boat and catching one of the American troops, who was vary badly injured. Now we were alone, at the right beach at the right time. Taylor Fellers wanted to be landed to the right of the pass and the other 3 boats in the port column just to the left of the pass. We went flat out and crunched to a halt some 20 or 30 yards from the shore line.
Taylor Fellers was gone as soon as the ramp was lowered before I could wish him luck, followed by the middle file, then the port file and the starboard file as practised and in good order. They all made the beach safely and formed a firing line at a slight rise. At this time there was a lull in the German firing. They had been plopping mortar shells around us and firing an anti-tank gun but suddenly they ceased fire.
A German veteran told me recently that they had been ordered to preserve ammunition. They had been ordered to wait until they had a clear target within range. The beach was very wide. About yards from the shore line were some obstacles. We knew the beach was mined and this was why we landed at low tide.
About another yards further on from the obstacles were the dark cliffs where the Germans were in their prepared positions. In my briefing I was told that the beach would be bombed the night before and there would be craters where the advancing troops could shelter. The beach was flat as a pancake with not a crater in sight. The landing took quite a time and I was itching to return to the survivors of LCA hopefully still afloat about a mile offshore.
I looked to my left and saw Tony Drew up to his neck in water around the stern of his LCA and obviously in some sort of trouble. He told me much later that he had reversed off the beach into a tank, most probably from the US Navy LCT A , which landed immediately to our left. I was intending to see if I could help Tony Drew, when my coxswain told me that there were some of our lads on the beach. I thought it unlikely but he was right. The two craft with the Rangers on board had landed just behind us and to our right. The crew of one of these craft were waving frantically at us and wanted us to take them off.
One of them was wounded and had to be supported by his shipmates. They told me that they had been hit by 4 mortars on landing which destroyed their LCA and killed a number of the Rangers. There was no one else nearby so I assumed the Rangers had looked after their own casualties.
Tony Drew was still up to his neck in water around the stern of his LCA. He told me that his rudder had jammed, but he could fix it. This LCA made its way ten miles back to the Javelin without steering, using the twin engines to steer the boat. It was about this time that I remembered to send a signal reporting our landing. I looked round for Signalman Webb who was on the after deck sweeping off the remains of our smoke float which had probably been destroyed by a near miss from a mortar or anti-tank shell.
He obviously enjoyed his role as a seaman — much more exciting than relaying signals in the Empire Javelin. We formed up again and set off to find the survivors of LCA They were still bobbing around in the heavy swell. I was told that the crew of had been picked up by a patrol craft, which then made off at speed with Petty Officer Stewart hanging on to a rope. His arm was later amputated and he was invalided out of the Navy.
We managed to get everyone on board with some difficulty as an exhausted sodden soldier carrying a vast amount of kit is very heavy to lift. I had to use my sailor knife to cut the straps releasing the kit before being able to lift survivors aboard, leaning over the side of the boat and being held by my legs. In some cases I had to lower the ramp and lift exhausted soldiers in over the bow.
No one was left in the water. Years later, I was informed by survivors from A Company of th Infantry Regiment, which the signalman had downed, weighed under by his signal equipment. The survivors asked about their comrades and I told them that they had landed as planned. Many wanted to be taken to the beach, but they were in no fit state to take any further action. We returned to the Empire Javelin and took several shots at hooking on. The Javelin had to up anchor and make a lee, the conditions were still so rough.
We had never set sail in such seas. Martin was hit by a swinging block which threw him from one end of the boat to the other, splitting his forehead open to the bone but we eventually made it and handed our survivors over to the waiting medical staff. I have absolutely no idea what I did when I returned to the Javelin. There is a gap in my memory and my next recollection is of entering Plymouth harbour the following day to an amazing reception.
Plymouth sound was full of ships waiting to depart to Normandy and they recognised that we had come from there as our six empty davits revealed our losses. The surviving landing craft were badly shot up.
As we came to anchor we were greeted by all the ships sounding their sirens as a signal of their respect. It was a very moving and rare experience. We were the first vessel to enter Plymouth harbour from the invasion. We had been told to expect one-third losses and in respect of the landing craft, the planners were right. We returned with 12 out of 18 LCAs, with many of the remainder badly shot up. The second and third waves of LCAs from our flotilla had landed between and , by which time the tide and reached the beach obstacles and the Germans had them within machine gun range and subject to more accurate mortar fire.
One sailor from our flotilla, Bill Wheeldon, was killed on Omaha Beach. Many of our flotilla were injured and invalided out after D-Day. Many other troops transported on the Javelin and landed by Flotilla were killed. It was a long time before we discovered the extent of the casualties. I expected them to run off in various directions, like the commandos we had trained with. Having completed our task, our attention turned to getting back to the Javelin and away from the beach. Captain Fellers had discharged himself from hospital to lead his men on D-Day.
A number of British sailors were killed on Omaha Beach. Many other landing craft, amongst them LCTs for example, were British. We had to replace and repair our craft at Plymouth and take on fresh crews as quickly as possible so as to make many more trips to Normandy, ferrying men and equipment until suitable harbours could be opened. In November our services were no longer needed and we left the Javelin at Fowey where we moored our craft in the river there.
Shortly after leaving SS Empire Javelin we heard that she had been sunk by a U Boat in the Channel off Cherbourg, where she still rests at the bottom of the sea. The reception given to us by the Channel Islanders was rather different from the one we received in Normandy. We were the first into harbour, with the Germans still at their stations. We enjoyed several days of celebration then rounded up the German Garrisons and took them back to Southampton to POW camps.
I remember being driven around Jersey in a car that had been hidden in a haystack for the duration of the War. The flotilla then sort of disintegrated. I buried my wartime memories for over 50 years and it was not until I became a widower in that my thoughts returned to my old shipmates. I joined the Landing Craft Association and through them discovered that my flotilla had been holding reunions for a number of years.
Finally clear of the oil slick, I kicked off and started sidestroking toward the platform. Boomerang kept pace with me, his long, narrow head bobbing in the gentle current. Fanned out behind us swam the rest of the assault team. Terry Devine, who I named Timex, because he can take a licking and still keep on kicking butt , busted his cherry status with me in Germany last year.
The rest of the team is new -- but they're capable. Hey, just who the fuck is that out there making all that goddamn noise? Oh, it's the fucking editor. And he wants to know why I have a bunch of newbies on this mission. I have two words for you, ed. The two words are retention and reenlistment. Both are down in this politically correct, zero defect Navy.
And so a lot of my old shooters have gone civilian. Digger's the kind of can-do dirtbag you need on ops like this one. There's nowhere he won't go, and nothing he can't climb. But who the hell is gonna call anybody Rupert these days of don't ask don't tell? Rotten Randy is built like a defensive linebacker -- e.
We call him Rotten Randy because he spent ten years as an Army Ranger -- and if that ain't a rotten existence, I don't know what is. Then, he made the right decision: he realized that life should be an adventure, not just a job, and he joined the Navy.
Currently, he's an E That's a master chief for all you cake-eating civilians out there. Randy, friends, is the kind of Warrior you want to put your back up against when the merde hits the ventilateur and you're outnumbered eight to one. It took him about half a second to volunteer for my Roguish band. His only demand was that I also take his E-5 swim buddy, Nigel, who weighs in at a mere pounds.
He is living proof that the only thing that separates us from the English is our common language. Anyway, Nigel came here at the age of eleven; became a citizen at eighteen, and the first thing he did was join the Navy. He can run thirty miles in five and a half hours. That's not a lot you say. You're right. But Nigel can do it in the desert. While carrying an eighty-pound load of combat gear. And after he's run his thirty miles, he can whip your ass no matter how big and bad you say you are.
Mustang, the lead spotter, is a half-Sioux I think the other half is mountain lion Warrior who grew up in Montana. He's built sorta like a mailbox, which leads people to believe that he's clumsy. Big mistake. Hammer once made a twenty-six-hundred-yard head shot with the caliber sniper rifle he helped develop for Desert Storm. The weapon he's shooting tonight is a fourth-generation rifle that's twice as accurate as the Mark-1, Mod-0 original. Goober if he has a last name he's never told anybody, and if I ever knew what it was I've forgotten is Echo Platoon's other sniperman.
Goober is a boatswain's mate first class from Georgia, and he can shoot the fucking eye out of a housefly at a thousand meters. My dirty dozen secured to a long, tubular member that ran between the thick, vertical hull columns. We were fucking exhausted already -- and we hadn't even begun the night's work.
Timex and I unhitched the pair of two-liter bladders of water. I passed one of my containers to the Pick, and the other to Duck Foot, so they could drink. Timex handed one off to Digger, and drank from the other. I lay on my back in the water, trying hard to breathe. It wasn't easy. The water temperature was in the low eighties; the air was perhaps ninety-five, and the heat sapped what little reserves I had in the way of energy. I waited until everyone had taken on water, then took one of the bladders and drained it. I'd sweat buckets during the swim -- and as heavy as the water had been, I was glad I'd insisted that we carry enough to make sure each man got about two-thirds of a liter before we made our assault.
Something I've learned over the years is that a dehydrated Warrior doesn't perform as well as a hydrated Warrior. Sixteen-Bravo sat in perhaps feet of water.
It was what's known as a fixed rig, which means it was secured to the Caspian's bed. If the water had been, say, a hundred fathoms deep here, the platform would have been a semisubmersible, which floats on huge pontoons and is kept in one position by long anchor chains. You may indeed be wondering how we could swim in with such impunity, knowing that the bad guys were on their guard.
The answer is simple. First, the platform itself is huge, bigger than a twenty-five-story building. It is also virtually impossible to see directly down into the water unless you're hanging off one of the catwalks suspended below the main deck. The arc lights play tricks on your eyes. The water's surface, eighty to ninety feet below that decking, is indistinct.
It's damn hard to pick a swimmer out, even in becalmed conditions like tonight. Second, there's a lot of ambient noise on an oil rig. The metal creaks and groans; the platform itself moves in the water. The modular sheds and housing units shift as the currents below change. And then there are all those generators that power the electrics, the derricks, and the drilling units themselves.
Even when 90 percent of the fucking rig is shut down -- like this one was -- it is still a noisy, distracting, environment. It is an environment that I can and do use to my advantage. Time to move. But first, I had to deal with the oil. Since I practice the credo of Roy Henry Boehm, Godfather of all SEALs, I'd hit the slick first and hence suffered more than the rest of my guys, most of whom saw what happened to me and swam under it.
My BDUs were almost entirely covered by crude. So was my SEAL vest. But layered below, my modular body armor was pretty clean.
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So was the wet suit. I shrugged out of the vest, body armor, and BDUs. Then I pulled the body armor back on over my wet suit, peeled the modular pouches off the CQC vest and rigged them onto the Velcro surface of the body armor, reattached my pistol belt, thigh holster, mag holders, and combat knife. The scabbard that held my sub-gun was totaled. But the viscous goo hadn't penetrated to the compartment holding the MP5.
We plugged earpieces and lip mikes into our waterproof radios and checked to make sure they were all working. Well, I guess eight out of twelve isn't bad, although I tell you, I'm gonna have some nasty things to say to the folks at Motorola when I get back to the States about the alleged waterproofness of their products. I raised my snipermen, sitting in the darkness a thousand feet away, and told 'em we were going over the rail.
We're on the case. The catwalk above is clear. I can see one tango on top of the doghouse. He's got a weapon with night vision. Goober's got another target on top of the monkey board -- he's got NV too. Looks like he's holding a detonator. Okay: one bad guy had command of the high ground, because the monkey board is where the derrick man sits. That put the tango about seventy feet above the deck. From that position, his field of fire could control access to the chopper pad, modular living quarters, and the majority of the platform deck areas.
From what Mustang said he also controlled the explosives. A quartet of tsk-tsks in my ear signaled message received. We swam under the rig and I silent-signaled for the assault to begin. Digger secured the twenty-meter length of thin, nylon rope he'd been carrying over his shoulder, hoisted himself onto a thick vertical brace, and began the long climb up. I watched as they wormed their way up the slippery brace.
I do not like taking down oil rigs. I lost a man during an oil rig operation in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago. But, as the SpecWar Commandment says, we didn't have to like it, we just had to do it. My climbers made steady progress. But I could see the energy they were expending to do their jobs -- visible heat waves were radiating off their bodies.
As Digger, Duck Foot, and Randy climbed, Boomerang, Nod, and Rodent perched, their sub-gun muzzles pointed up toward the catwalk fifty feet above the water, scanning for targets. If one of the tangos decided to take a cigarette break or a piss, it was their job to neutralize the sonofabitch before he could raise any alarm or injure the climbers. We were real vulnerable until the first three shooters reached the catwalk. Then, with Duck Foot and Randy protecting his six, Digger would lower the line, bring the caving ladder sections up, link 'em together, secure the ladder to the rail, and lower it, so the rest of us could make our way onto the catwalk.
Caving ladders are no fun. But they're less painful to climb than the vertical braces my trio of shooters had just scaled. Eight minutes is a long fucking time when you're vulnerable, and that's how long it took us to get up the ladder. I went up last. Yes, I always lead from the front. But I've got a bit more age than my shooters, and they can scamper up a caving ladder, while I have to fight my way rung by rung.
I waited until Nigel's narrow butt was ten feet above the water, then raised myself as high as I could, took hold of one of the narrow titanium rungs, pulled myself upward ounce by ounce, until I could get the toes of my right Rogue foot through the narrow opening. God, that hurt. And, yes, I press pounds, reps, every fucking day, rain, sleet, snow, or shine, on the outdoor weight pile at Rogue Manor. I have superior upper-body strength. In fact, I am one bodaciously strong motherfucker.
But all of that doesn't mean shit when you have to muscle your way up a twisting, narrow, slippery, wet caving ladder under combat conditions. It has been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And for me, tonight's journey would only begin when I took that first step up. I fought the fucking ladder as it twisted away from me; used my shoulders and upper arms to get some leverage on the contorted metal and cable, and -- finally -- thrust my fucking foot onto the rung.
Have I mentioned, friends, that I'd been swimming through an oil slick? You say you remember that fact. Well, good for you -- because your memory is better than mine. I'd forgotten that the bottom of my neoprene bootie was as slick as deer guts. My foot went skidding out from under me, my leg slid through the ladder, my hands lost their grip on the rail, and I dropped about two and a half feet, wedging myself -- ooooh -- up to my crotch on the fucking rung. Let me be more explicit. All of my own weight -- every stone, every kilo, every pound, ounce, gill, and gram, not to mention the combined weight of everything I was carrying -- was now resting squarely on my right nut.
The selfsame nut that was being squeezed into peanut butter by the titanium rung. Oh damn oh shit oh doom on Dickie, which as you probably know, means I was being fuckee-fuckeed in Vietnamese. Fuckee-fuckee indeed -- if I didn't do something soon, I was going to perform the rest of this fekokte mission as a goddamn countertenor. I uncrossed my eyes, gulped air, and struggled to pull one hand over the other until I was able to extract myself and start moving upward once again.
Except now, each step of that painful climb was accompanied by the tom-tom throbbing of my right testicle. Oh, let me tell you, by the time I finally pulled myself over the catwalk rail, I hurt in every molecule of my body and from the way my wet suit felt, I'd probably lost another four or five pounds of water weight. I'm not as limber as I was when I started playing the lead role in this series, friends, and it is climbs like this one that make the fact painfully obvious. But as I have said in the past, and will say again, pain exists to ensure that I know I'm alive.
And since I was very much alive, I unsheathed my MP5, loaded a mag, and dropped the bolt. It was about to be Show Time. Most platforms have two such flare devices. The catwalks, with one vertical and one horizontal gas nozzle, are affixed to the end of a seventy-foot arm similar to the long jib of a tower crane. In the "at rest" position, the flare catwalks sit about three yards below the lowest part of the platform.
That made 'em accessible without exposing our flanks. And because it is possible to shinny along the jib, my shooters could remain invisible to anyone on deck until they reached the shelter of the tanks in the oil-processing area. We had swum under the rig and climbed at the little-hand-on-eleven position because it was completely shielded by the huge derrick superstructure and main engine heat-exchangers from the aforementioned tangos who were manning the monkey board and the doghouse roof.
Now that we were aboard, all that remained was to stay out of sight until we'd made it to our assault position, while praying that the rest of the bad guys -- the ones we hadn't seen yet -- didn't have night-vision equipment, infrared sights on their weapons, or thermal-imaging range finders like their two buddies. The unfortunate and nasty truth, friends, is that these days tangos can obtain just about every techno-goodie that is used by Delta Force, DEV Group, or any other cutting-edge special-operations unit. Maybe not the absolute latest generation, but still better than most of the world's armed forces carry on a day-to-day basis.
The good news was that given the heat -- it was still in the high nineties -- all the metal on the rig was just about as hot as our bodies. And that would help mask us as we moved into position if the bad guys had some techno-backup. Time to move out. We were real bunched up on the eight-by-twelve-foot platform, and crowds make me nervous under conditions like this. I rubbed the soles of my booties against the nonskid flooring of the platform until I was satisfied that I'd removed all the oil residue.
Then I silent-signaled to disperse. Boomerang and I, accompanied by Nod and Duck Foot, would balance atop the four-foot rail of the flare platform and pull ourselves up onto the rig's main deck, sheltered from discovery by a red-and-white-striped crane housing. From there, we'd scamper across thirty feet of unprotected ground, up a steel ladderway, around a corner, and along a narrow length of decking that led to the back side of the modular housing unit. As we did that, the rest of the platoon would make its way along the jib.
When they reached the end, Timex, Gator, Randy, and Nigel would move to port. They'd crawl under the oil storage tanks, slip behind the explosives locker, then secure the front end of the modular housing unit and wait for my signal to hit the main force of tangos and free the hostages. As they did that, Half Pint, the Pick, Rodent, and Digger would head to starboard, where they'd thread the needle between the outermost storage tanks and the modular drilling equipment sheds, then separate into two-man hunter-killer groups to neutralize any tangos in the commo shack and stowage areas.
We had eight bad guys to deal with. We had pinpointed two -- the lookouts. I knew from experience most of the rest would be in close proximity to the hostages. Boomerang scampered around the vertical flare nozzle to the corner of the rail. He looked up at the platform bed, which was about ten feet above his head and perhaps two feet distant.
He vaulted up onto the rail, and with the athletic balance of a ballet dancer, then jumped vertically, about eighteen inches, straight up. His fingertips caught the steel edge of the deck, and he began to haul himself up, as if he were doing the last pull-up of a very long string. Then his left hand slipped. His gloved fingers lost traction on the platform surface and slipped off. He tried to regain his grip, but it was impossible. And he was wearing too much equipment to pull himself up one-handed. I watched as he dropped back into space and fell. Yes, the vertical distance between the bottom of the deck and the top of the rail was only about eighteen inches.
But there were two feet of horizontal space to consider as well. If Boomerang didn't thrust himself backward at the same time he dropped onto the flare platform rail, he was going to fall about eighty feet into the water. And with all the weight he was carrying, falling eighty feet into the water was going to be like hitting fucking concrete from the same height.
I watched transfixed. This was one of those moves in which time seemed to stand still. Boomerang was suspended in space. But he didn't descend. Instead, he turned his whole body degrees. Then, like one of those goddamn circus trapeze geniuses, his body, facing the flare platform, kinetically impelled itself forward.