A true story, this really happened to my dad and his friend Harold.
It remained a mystery, a bizarre mystery which would never be solved. The only person who may have had some insight into where the body went, how and why, had been supremely drunk at the time. By the time the story was properly recorded even the most crucial details of dates and place had been forgotten, except it was somewhere in Greece, a port or docks of importance, and British paratroopers had secured it and were guarding various sites.
Snick, known as Cowboy because he carried a Colt 45, and Harry were on duty, guarding a morgue. It was dark and gloomy, but above all boring. What was the purpose? They had no idea. Whose was the body on the slab which had been left out awaiting attention?
“You’d have thought they’d have had the decency to put the poor lad away overnight, wouldn’t you?” Harry remarked. “And why are we guarding him, he’s going nowhere.”
A thought occurred to Cowboy; it didn’t take two of them to guard the corpse, so why didn’t he go on a recce and see if he could find what passed for a pub round here. He thought fleetingly of his parents back home in their own pub in England, no doubt worrying about him, not knowing where he was or what he was doing. He shut down those thoughts except for the pub part.
Harry was not exactly happy to let Cowboy go in search of refreshment, leaving his STEN gun ‘don’t want to frighten the girls,’ Cowboy said. Although a city boy, Harry was not as confident as Cowboy, was not as familiar with pubs and that sort of socialising. I’ll be back in a flash, I’ll bring a couple of bottles for you, and although it was dark, Harry could imagine Cowboy’s bright blue eyes flashing a mischievous look.
It seemed a long wait in the morgue, which began to feel increasingly creepy and increasingly chilly. Harry didn’t like to look at the body on the slab, but turning his back on it was worse. Where the hell was Cowboy, probably drunk as a lord and had forgotten all about his chum. In fact, that wasn’t likely on either count, Cowboy might be a great drinker but was rarely addled by it as Harry so easily was. He tried to cheer himself with the memory of the time in Italy when the boss had rewarded the lads with a barrel of wine, and even Cowboy got very drunk… Harry laughed out loud at the memory and spooked himself as his laughter echoed in the chilly morgue. He shone his flash light round, but that was worse, the corpse seemed to move, but it was only Harry’s trembling hand.
They had all enjoyed the barrel of wine, Cowboy had staggered outside for a pee, but on returning, had somehow got between the two walls of the tent and had stumbled along, encased in canvas, to the laughter and ribald cheering of his mates. Harry smiled now, the bumbling shape of the lost drunk, fumbling his way round the tent, he’d fallen and lost his front tooth, luckily a falsie…
Harry’s heart nearly stopped and a dreadful accident nearly occurred as a figure suddenly appeared… but it was Cowboy of course.
“I found a great little gaff, literally round the corner. His name’s Yiannis and he’s got a couple of bottles of wine waiting for you!”
Harry wasn’t sure about going on his own, but Cowboy gave him directions, and he did feel in great need of a drink.
Now he was alone, Cowboy tried not let his mind wander back to his old folks, but drinking in a friendly place – even a place so very different from the English pub where he’d grown up back home, had made his thoughts turn to those he loved.
To shake off these thoughts he pulled out his gaspers, asked his silent companion if he minded if he had a smoke, and thought instead of the things he’d do when he got home, most of those things connected to his beloved river.
It occurred to him that Harry had been gone rather longer than he expected, and although he wasn’t sure when his chum had left him, glancing at the luminous figures on his watch he realised it was now much later than he’d realised, or much earlier since it was way past midnight. He shouldered his gun and slipped out of the silent room and made his way through the moonlit streets, back to the little bar… which was shut and shuttered. He was about to bang on the wooden door when his boot connected with some sort of pot which fell and clattered.
A voice shouted something in Greek. It’s me, Cowboy, I’m looking for my friend, looking for Harry! He received a reply which left him not doubt that Harry had gone and he should bugger off too. Where the hell was that skinny, Lancashire lad? Where the hell was he? Cowboy, you Cowboy, you friend gone to buy fish! a more friendly reply voice called out.
Thanking the voice, Cowboy headed down to the harbour, beginning to worry about his friend. Harry was as brave as any man jumping from a plane to parachute into some unknown place, or under fire, or in any of the other ghastly situation they’d found themselves in, but now… A cloud took it upon itself to drift across the full moon, and the harbour was in total darkness. Easy enough for some unwary drunk to stumble too near the edge of the quay and…
Cowboy had the night vision of a cat but he could see no trace of a pissed paratrooper staggering around. Harry!! he bellowed, Harry!! To his surprise he heard a voice, an English voice, and to his relief the voice began to sing ‘Roll out the barrel’ with a strong northern accent.
It took several minutes for Cowboy to find his friend, guided by the drunken singing, and once he’d found where he was, it took several more minutes to actually locate him. The singing seemed to emanate from the sky. There was a massive stone block, twice as high as Cowboy and somehow, tiny Harry had managed to get on top of it. The cloud covering the Greek moon slithered away and Cowboy was shocked to see a huge horse rearing above him – but calmed his racing heart as he realised it was a statue with a naked warrior brandishing a sword, and a drunken Harry brandishing a bottle.
How Harry managed to get up onto the block and then mount the giant horse remains a mystery, but the descent was more simple. He corked and threw the half-full bottle to Cowboy, dismounted his steed with a slither, and then jumped from the block and landed safely with a parachute roll.
This is not quite the end of the story. When the two soldiers returned to the morgue to continue their duty, someone had stolen the body.