Sunday, April 5, 2009

Growing Up . . .

. . . A Non-Smoker

Very soon after landing in Scotland in July, 1943, as one in a company of 250 men destined to work in a tiny village down south in England, I was befriended in Thatcham by two men looking like Mutt and Jeff.

They were Britishers who worked as clerks (CLARKS in British English) and already established comfortably in the litle office where some of our unit's men were to work in the effort to win World War II.

I say comfortably because both had soft leather easy chairs at their desks, something like you see the CEOs lounging in during our TV movies. We GIs were assigned, hard, straight-backed wooden chairs sans cushions.

We came from our barracks at the Hut Camp, a mile down the road, to begin our daly chores at 0730 hours and were joined by the two astute Englishmen at 0900 hours. For those not familiar with military time, that's 7:30 and 9:00 a. m.

First things first. As the two sat, both unsnapped small leather cases and took out slim bottles one said was their morning tea. Each sipped for a few minutes before beginning their clerical work, recording incoming shipments of supplies for troops.

They left for lunch at 1130 hours (11:30 am), returning at 1330 hours (1:30 pm) . Afternoon tea time, with crumpits, was at 1600 hours (4 pm) and their bicycle trips back home was at 1645 hours (4:45 pm.).

Without having absolut proof of the statement, I will say, by the way, the afternoon tea exuded an aroma quite different than the morning tea. But that's beside the point of this story.

The short gentleman was a cigaratte smoker but his stocky six-foot companion smoked a pipe. It's the latter of whom I will write. Promptly at our first meeting he inquired if I smoked and did I smoke a pipe.

Receiving a "no" reply and introducing himself at that point as Mr. Thomas, and his friend as Mr. Sparkes, he quickly opened a campaign to encourage me, and other Americans in the office, to join him in the typical British way of relaxation, pipe-smoking.

I was invited to become a pipe-smoking enthusiast. I declined. The next day I again was encouraged to join him in relaxation. I declined.

On the third day, Mr. Thomas approached, inserted a pipe stem into my mouth and lit the tobacco it contained, all in a moment in which he caught me by surprise.

"Draw," he commanded, and involuntarily I did, and was promply commanded "again." I coughed, stuttered, shook my head, coughed again and then ran for the door to the outside where I quickly lost first the pipe, then my morning breakfast , my meal from the night before and maybe more.

I've never smoked again.

Mr. Thomas and I became good friends - a few weeks later. Mr. Sparkes never even offered me a cigarette. How inconsiderate!

Before I left England, I learned both men, who had been transferred to another work location, had passed away, both of lung cancer.

Old Newsie

- 30 -


  1. I'm imagining him shoving that pipe in your mouth. What a crummy experience. Wonder if he thought everyone should smoke?

  2. When Geezerguy,in his younger days began smoking a pipe, you told him you had briefly smoked one during WWII. You never mentioned how brief that time was!