The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Spirits from the Desert
Spirits from the Desert.
Jim Morton was a long-limbed, bullet-headed youth, from somewhere around Darwin. He never told us much about his shadowy past, but signs were not lacking that he had been in the "live by the wits" line. Jim never went short of anything he wanted, if the article existed within a radius of ten miles of camp.
One Sunday morning, when Tom Grogan and 1 were grousing over the bully, out comes Jim with a 2lb. tin of pork sausages. We hadn't stooped a mail for weeks, so the mungaree didn't reach him in a parcel; Jim just got it—and no questions asked. It was damned good, too.
'Tell you what," quoth our mate, as we were mopping up the sausages, "there ain't a dewdrop of whisky in the joint, and it's New Year's Day on Monday. Did you ever hear of a Christian goin' hungry for shikker on such a day? It's unnatural." "Well, it's up to you, Jim." says Tom. "But I'll bet you fifty dizzies you can't raise spirits from the Desert."
"Done," cried Morton. "Hand over the feloush. Just listen to me, boys."
And lowering his voice, "Slim" Jim unfolded a dark, free-booting scheme. Tom and I are moral chaps, and it took our cobber a long time to win us over as accomplices; but he.did it
New Year's Eve, and a night of darkness. Three Lighthorsemen crept from their bivvy, and ten minutes later were riding hell for leather toward Railhead.
There was a bit of a m ix-up by the trucks, and boxes and bales were scattered around in confusion. Sergeants cursed and rapped out orders, while men flitted about as the G.S. wagons were loaded.
Lighthorsemen had no right there, but we made ourselves useful, and Jim's unlawful scheme was beginning to work out nicely. A Tommy officer eyed us suspiciously, and I saw him speak to a sergeant. But nothing happened—then.
Beyond the glimmer of hurricane lamps, it was dark as the King's Chamber in Cheops, and when Jim motioned to us, we followed in the wake of a wagon unobserved.
"When I light a fag", says Jim, "you chaps ride up to the driver, and get up a barney with him and his mate about a small case belongin' to our regiment, that's got mixed up with his load. I'll fix up the rest."
We trotted along in silence, and I was wondering if our leader had lost the trail, when a point of light pulsed in the darkness, away to the left. Tom and I spurred our nags, and overtook the wagon.
"Hulioa! Choom, what's wrong?" asked the driver, puiling up.
"Why," Tom replied, "You've got a case of ours on board. We've been sent over by our Canteen Sergeant to get it."
The Tommy, a burly Lancashire lad, was silent for a while. He was suspicious, for sure, but puzzled how to act.
"Naw, Choom," he said at last. "We've noan 'o yer cases here."
"That's right, Dinkum," added his mate, "I checked every bloomin' case meself."
Tom swore, and I glared at the two Tommies. They were stolid fellows, but in two minutes we had them floundering in the thick of stormy argument.
'Oh! cut it out," cries Tom, then "Slim" Jim, who had not shown himself before, conies riding up.
Jim, who had a couple of stripes up, poured oil on the troubled water.
"What's all the row about?" he asked. "Haven't you got that case yet?"
Then the Tommies, Grogan and I all started to explain at once.
"We'll soon settle it," cried Jim. "Just let's have a look at the stuff on the wagon."
The driver, after some further barnry, agreed to a search, and we started to pull the cases about.
"Here she is," and Jim pulled out a small wooden box, and put it on the ground.
We crowded around the case, and when a lamp was flashed on it, there was the
label, plain as a pikestaff:
— th, Regt., A.L.H.
"That's the stuff to give the troops," says Jim, pleasantly.
But the Tommies were kind of dazed.
"It's got me beat, Choom" said the driver. "I'd 'ave give my oath that case was ours."
"There it is, in black and white," replied Jim. tapping the label with his finger. "Now, boys," turning to us, "one of you hoist her up and we'll iggery to camp." .
I took charge of the box, and with a cheery farewell to the bewildered: Tommies, we vanished into the night.
"How the devil did you do it, Jim?" I asked, as we cantered along.
Jim chuckled. It was too dark to see the triumphant smile on his ugly dial, but I knew it was there.
"It was easy as pulling a cork," says he. "I had that label all ready, and while you chaps were hazing the Tommies. I sneaked up and clapped it on the box, which I marked down when 1 saw it going on the wagon at the station! It's whisky 1"
New Year's Day at Belah was celebrated in the good old way. When the O.C. heard the bovs cheering "Slim" Jim Langton, he wondered why. We didn't.