BRITISH COMICS

(Wizard Homepage)

THE BOMBS WITH THE PURPLE STRIPE

“Hup, there,” bellowed the physical training instructor. “Hup, hup, hup.” His squad of twenty men tried to look as though they were “hupping” as they climbed in file over a fifteen-foot, brick wall erected in the middle of a field.

They began to puff and grunt as they swung themselves over the top with a stiff-armed lock and fell into a sand heap on the far side. Those waiting their turn began to run on the spot and look eager. In other parts of the field similar squads, in webbing and shirt-sleeve order, were being put through physical training, bayonet drill, and methods of unseen approach, or sat in groups about one of the instructors studying map-reading and weapon training. This was Penrud Camp, a training wing where infantrymen did three months’ intensive training before being posted to a regular, fighting battalion. The scene in the field at Penrud was being repeated all over Britain at that time, April 1940, as the country trained to fight Germany in the Second World War which had not long begun. Jumbo Whalen was sitting on a log in a corner of the field, with Thirty-Seven Squad sprawling on the grass around him. Jumbo was a corporal in the cadre of the camp, which meant that he was on permanent training duties. Jumbo was a man admired as much for his bulk as his skill in ranging a light mortar on its target. If Jumbo was not the tallest man in the British Army, he was generally reckoned to be the heaviest. He weighed twenty stones when stripped of his size twelve boots and uniform and all his weight was spread evenly over his six-foot frame. Jumbo liked to claim that a lot of his weight was muscle, and it was a fact that if a thin chain was wound round one of his biceps he could snap the chain merely by flexing the bicep. He could also bend a six-inch nail in the fingers of one enormous hand. “This metal instrument in my hands is known as the two-inch-mortar,” Jumbo was saying to the recruits of Thirty-Seven Squad. “I want you to try to remember that. Now, Sykes, what is this here contraption I am holding?” “A two-inch mortar, Corporal,” Private Sykes said promptly. “Very good,” said Jumbo, beaming. “We are in a bright mood today. Private Wilson, I would like you to try to tell me the use of a two-inch mortar,” Private Wilson thought deeply. “The two-inch mortar is an infantry close support weapon,” said Wilson, and went on in a kind of gabble, “It is a simple weapon used to fire smoke and illuminating bombs. It can also be used to fire high explosive bombs, but only under the direct orders of an officer.” Wilson stopped and looked pleased with himself. “There,” said Jumbo approvingly. “I knew he could do it if he set his mind to it. Now, lads, let’s go over the rest of what I taught you yesterday, Sykes, let’s hear you describe the two-inch mortar. “The two-inch mortar,” said Sykes dramatically, and paused to give a sidelong glance at the stubby steel tube across Jumbo’s knees, “consists of a barrel, a spade base, and a breech piece –” “Corporal Whalen,” said a voice beyond the circle of sprawling figures. Jumbo looked up and recognised the Commanding Officer’s runner – the private who delivered messages. “The C.O. wants you in the office right away.” “Thanks,” said Jumbo. He glanced round the squad and noted that they bore the hopeful expression of men who expected to take it easy while he was gone. Jumbo grinned. “We’ll break off the lecture period at this point.” The squad looked pleased. “You can go for a little run while I’m away,” said Jumbo, and the recruits’ faces fell.

First episode of:

The Bombs with the Purple Stripe

taken from The Wizard # 1807

October 1st 1960

“Private Wilson, you’re in charge. Keep ‘em doubling round this field until I’m back.” Jumbo rose to his feet and began to double across the field, the runner trotting beside him and beginning to puff as he tried to keep up. Jumbo could heave his great bulk about with astonishing vigour and lightness. The squad followed his progress with pained glances. “We love our dear corporal, don’t we?” said Private Sykes dismally. “He tries so hard to keep us busy and happy.” “All right,” said Wilson nervously to Thirty-Seven Squad. “On your feet at the double.” Jumbo bounded over the fence, crossed the road and, still running lightly began to pass along a concrete runway between a row of huts. The runner was panting. “Any idea what the C.O. wants to see me about?” asked Jumbo. The runner shook his head, too puffed to reply, and Jumbo’s face screwed up in thought as he paced along. “Maybe it’s my posting.” “What you want a posting for?” wheezed the runner. “You’ve got an easy job in this camp.” “You horrible little man,” snorted Jumbo increasing the pace. “I don’t want to spend the war in a training battalion. I’m a soldier, I am. I want to get into an active service unit.” He ran into the camp office and halted, his breathing even and unhurried, snapping to attention and smartly saluting the Adjutant. The runner tottered behind Jumbo and collapsed at his desk in a corner. The Adjutant returned the salute and waved Jumbo through into the Commanding Officer’s room at the rear of the main office. “Ah, Whalen,” said the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Geary, glancing up and acknowledging Jumbo’s salute with a nod of the head. “Stand, easy man. I have news for you.” “Is it my posting, sir?” Jumbo asked hopefully. “No, it is not,” said the Colonel wearily. “I wish you would forget about the posting, Whalen. I know how you feel, being stuck away in a training unit – I feel the same, myself. But you’ll just have to get used to it. You are medically unsuitable for active service.” “That’s all wrong, sir,” Jumbo said earnestly. “I’m as fit as a fiddle, fitter even than I used to be before the war when I served in India.” “I’m inclined to agree and I’ve done my best to help you get away from here,” said the Colonel. “But a board of three medical officers has decided that you are too fat – er – too overweight for active service.” “There ain’t one of them officers I couldn’t run into the ground, sir,” Jumbo said bitterly. “I can’t help being born with a good figure.” “Er, no,” said Colonel Geary, blinking at Jumbo’s bulk. “Anyway, that’s enough of that. Whalen, I’ve sent for you because I’ve had word that the new brigadier will be paying us a surprise visit tomorrow.” “Yes, sir,” said Jumbo, wondering why a mere corporal should be consulted on such a matter. “I mean to lay on a good show for him,” the Colonel went on. “And, since this is a training battalion, I’m sure he will be interested in watching some of the work. “I’ve decided to arrange a small exercise, an attack on Blaydon Wood by one of the senior squads. “We’ll use Bren guns to give a bit of colour and the squad will advance under a smoke screen laid by mortars.” Jumbo’s ears pricked up. “I want you to lay down the smoke,” said Colonel Geary. “It would mess up the whole scheme if anything went wrong so I thought I’d better have a word with you – you being something of an expert with a mortar. The Colonel brought out a map of the wood and surrounding country and went into details with Jumbo. The attacking squad would come in from the side of the wood away from the camp, having first shown the Brigadier their skill on the assault course. Jumbo was to have the ticklish task of laying down smoke from mortar bombs between the attackers and the objective – ticklish because Jumbo had to pitch the bombs the way the wind was blowing. “It might be better if they attacked across this field, sir,” said Jumbo, laying a thick finger on the map. “The stubble’s been burned out, so there won’t be any risk of the smoke bombs setting grass alight. I can site the mortar in this spot – a gorse clump a hundred yards from the wood.” “Excellent,” said the Colonel, smiling. “I shall look forward to a good show from you, Whalen.” “I’ll do my best,” said Jumbo. “Talking of my transfer, sir -” “Perhaps you’re talking about it, but I’m not,” the Colonel said firmly, “and I don’t intend to. You may leave my office, Corporal.” Jumbo left the office. He did so with a scowl on his face and all the way back to the training field he was mumbling under his breath. Lance-Corporal Sam Singh, breaking off from demonstrating to a squad the working of an illuminating bomb for the two-inch mortar, doubled across to Jumbo and asked, “What did the Colonel want you for? Was it about your transfer?” No transfer,” growled Jumbo as he plodded on, all the lightness gone from him. “I’m too fat.” “Don’t let ‘em worry you, Jumbo,” said Sam comfortingly. His father had been a Sikh from Bengal, but Sam had been born and raised in England. Sam was chocolate-coloured, undersized, and easy-tempered. “You keep plugging away.” “Fat, me!” mumbled Jumbo. He reached his corner of the field and found his squad missing. A look round showed them doubling sluggishly round the sides of the hedge, Private Wilson running alongside and encouraging them with a timid, “Hup, hup, hup.” Jumbo forgot his anger and disappointment in disgust at the sight of the slow-moving squad. “Get a move on there,” he bellowed at them. “Wotcher think this is, a kiddies’ Christmas party? Get moving! Hup, hup, hup.” The squad began to move as though prodded by red-hot pokers. “And me a veteran of the North-West Frontier,” mumbled Jumbo. They don’t deserve a bloke like me in this army.”

A MASTER MARKSMAN

The camp was heaving with activity from first light the next morning, a constant stream of officers and non-commissioned officers hurrying from hut to hut and place to place to ensure that the visiting Brigadier would not be dismayed by anything he saw.

It was supposed to be a surprise inspection, but, in the usual way in the army, a warning had been given twenty-four hours earlier so that the visit should not be too much of a surprise. When the parades started, the huts glowed with cleaning, beds carefully made up, blankets squared with cardboard and kit laid out, brasses glinting. Men went round the lines putting finishing dabs of whitewash in different places. The Brigadier arrived at eleven o’clock. He arrived with a motor-cycle escort of two military policemen, two staff cars, and dozens of lesser officers. He was a small, spare man with keen eyes and at the sight of him Jumbo let out a whistle. “Blimey, it’s old Herrick,” he told Sam. “Old ‘Blood and Thunder’ Herrick. I knew him in India. I didn’t know he’d got himself made a Brigadier.” Old Blood and Thunder appeared to have his own ideas about how to conduct an inspection. The Commanding Officer tried to lead him to the most attractive part of the camp, only to be brushed aside as the Brigadier made a bee-line for the kitchens. The menu, every pot and pan, even the hands of the cooks were inspected, then the Brigadier climbed a ladder and ran a finger along the top of a shelf to ensure that there was no dust. “He’s a lad is Blood and Thunder,” grinned Jumbo, staring through a window in the armoury where he and Sam were preparing their mortars. “He believes in looking after the lads.” “Let’s have some grub and get out to Blaydon Wood,” said Sam. “The exercise starts at half-past-one.” The Brigadier finished his tour of the camp by twelve o’clock and visited the officers’ quarters for lunch. An hour later he emerged, guided by the Commanding Officer, and the whole party trooped from the camp in the direction of the assault course. Jumbo and Sam sneaked out by a different route, Sam with a case of smoke bombs, Jumbo carrying the two-inch mortar. “A cross wind, huh!” said Jumbo, settling his great bulk in the gorse patch. “And not too powerful. I’ll put the bomb to the right and let the smoke blow across the front of the wood.” Yells, the thudding of boots, the curt orders of sergeants and corporals, and the tapping of a Bren gun sounded from the direction of the assault course. Presently the line of officers filed towards the wood, the Commanding Officer and the Brigadier in the lead. They jammed shooting sticks in the turf and settled to watch the attack. Jumbo and Sam watched from their hide in the gorse patch. “The attackers are coming,” Sam announced. “Load,” said Jumbo. He was lying as flat as his bulk would allow, the mortar held before him at a shallow angle from the ground, the spade base well clear of his chest. “Load,” repeated Sam. He fitted a bomb, tail first, into the barrel and gave it a gentle push. The bomb was now seated on the steel pad at the breech of the mortar. “This wind’s a bit gusty,” said Jumbo, laying his right hand on the firing lanyard. The assault course was now silent and Jumbo knew that the squad was being formed up for the attack. In less than a minute it would be breaking through the hedge, the light-machine-gun section dropping into the ditch and pretending to give covering fire, while the rest of the attackers advanced into the smoke Jumbo would set up. Jumbo had to lay his smoke bombs at the far end of the stubble so that the wind would blow the smoke towards him and across the front of the wood. The range was some three hundred and fifty yards. Instant calculations took place in Jumbo’s head and almost in the same fraction of a second he was acting on them. The barrel of the mortar tilted up, Jumbo’s eye glinted along the sighting line, and his hand tugged the lanyard. The mortar jerked and let out a sharp crack. Jumbo shot a glance upwards and caught a glimpse of the bomb turning at the limit of its high curve. Then it vanished and next second there was a thud and burst of grey smoke in the stubble at the far end of the field. “Slap on target,” said Sam approvingly. Jumbo frowned as he watched the smoke spread and drift towards him. He was still worried by the gusty wind. The attackers came bursting through the hedge, dropped to cover in the ditch the way they had been taught, the two men with the Bren gun setting it up. “Sam, take a look at that smoke,” said Jumbo urgently. The smoke had started to billow and pile up in the air. “That darned wind,” said Sam. “It’s changed.” “Swung right round,” Jumbo snapped. “Now it’s blowing from behind us. Load up. I’m going to lay more smoke on this side of the squad so that it blows the other way.” “Be careful, Jumbo,” Sam pleaded, sliding a second bomb into the mortar. “You’ll be in trouble if you set the corn alight in that field. It doesn’t belong to the camp.” “I’m trying to miss the corn,” grunted Jumbo, tilting the barrel at the higher angle. “I’m aiming at that bare patch of ground over there.” The mortar cracked again and more smoke swirled in the air, this time rising from the few square yards of bare ground about which Jumbo had spoken. In a seeping, grey cloud, the smoke drifted along the front of the wood. The attackers went across the field, into the smoke and the empty wood, and jumbo and Sam decided to clear off. They were sliding away when a voice yelled and they turned to see the officers staring at them and a figure with red tabs on his shoulders waving a beckoning hand. “Gosh, the Brigadier wants us,” gasped Sam. “I warned you not to put that bomb near that cornfield.” “And it would have to be old Blood and Thunder,” said Jumbo mournfully. “He’ll probably take off my hide and hang it on a washing line.” Loaded down with gear, Jumbo and Sam stumbled over the field to the group of officers. Sam saw that the Commanding Officer was nervously biting his lips and that the Brigadier was just as keen-eyed when seen close up as he had been from a distance. His first words startled both Jumbo and Sam. “Excellent shot,” commented Brigadier Herrick. “You fellows are on the permanent staff at this camp, aren’t you?” “That’s not our fault, sir,” Jumbo said promptly. “I’ve been putting in for a transfer to an active service unit every week for the past six months.” “You have, eh?” said the Brigadier, those keen eyes roving up and down Jumbo’s bulk. “I’ve seen you before, Corporal. India, wasn’t it? You were in my battalion at Fort Sandeman on the North West Frontier.” “Yes, sir,” said Jumbo, grinning as he stood to attention. “Whalen’s the name.” The Brigadier snapped his fingers. “No wonder you could land that bomb on that patch of ground. You used to be able to land one on a soup plate at five hundred yards.” The Commanding Officer stepped forward and tried to join the conversation. “An excellent instructor, sir,” he began. “I know he is,” said the Brigadier. “I helped train him.” He turned and motioned to another officer, a lieutenant-colonel. “Here, Thomas, this is the very man for your crazy scheme. You won’t find a better if you search out the whole of the infantry.” “I’m certainly impressed by the way he placed that smoke bomb,” admitted the Colonel. He was a tall man with a grey face and steady eyes. “But I’ll have to test him to make sure he’s suitable in other ways. He might not even want to volunteer.” Jumbo said eagerly, “I’ll volunteer for anything that might get me away from this training camp, sir.” “That’s the answer you’re bound to get from one of my old crowd,” said the brigadier with satisfaction. “We trained real soldiers in India before this war. All right, Thomas, take him away and talk to him.” “My name’s Hipple-Rath,” Sam heard the Colonel say as he led Jumbo aside. Sam flexed his ears. Jumbo and the Colonel halted out of earshot and he missed the rest of the short conversation. He saw Jumbo gradually relax and noted the expression of deep concentration on his face. Sam was almost gnawing his lip in curiosity by the time the pair split up, the Colonel moving off to join the offices, Jumbo heading back to Sam to pick up the mortar. “A piece of cake,” chuckled Jumbo, as he and Sam walked back to camp. He was wearing a grin that almost cut his face in two. “That’s Colonel Hipple-Rath from the War office. He ain’t really a soldier, he’s more of a scientist. He is the boss of some kind of experimental weapons station.” “Stop dithering round the subject,” said Sam. “What kind of job has he offered you?” “Dunno yet,” said Jumbo. “It’s something to do with testing out new explosives in mortar bombs. He did mention that the last bloke that volunteered for the job was blown to bits while on the job.” “You nut-case,” said Sam, gulping. “You lunatic. What did you want to volunteer for? Testing explosives – blimey, that’s the end.” “Don’t worry so much,” said Jumbo comfortingly. “We’ll probably find it ain’t half as bad as you think it is.” “We?” repeated Sam, staring at his friend with suspicion. “That’s right,” nodded Jumbo. “I volunteered for you as well. There’s a truck coming to pick us up at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.” “Oh, no,” gasped Sam. “No, no, no!” He spent the rest of the day expressing horror at the whole crazy idea. Jumbo just listened, beaming, and went on with packing his kit. Presently he noticed that Sam had his kitbag out on the bed and was stowing in gear. “Better pack this, too,” advised Jumbo, tossing over a boot brush. “It’s one I borrowed from you yesterday.” “Don’t let this give you the idea I’m going with you,” grunted Sam. “I often pack my kitbag just for fun.”

THE NIGHTMARE RIDE

At nine o’clock the following morning Jumbo and Sam stood waiting outside the camp office. They were dressed in full marching order, large and small packs on their backs, kitbags at their feet. The Commanding Officer came out, shook their hands and said a few kind words.

“I’m sorry to lose you,” he told them, paused, coughed and said, “Are you allowed to mention any details about what you’re going to do?” “Sorry, sir,” Jumbo shook his head. “It’s to do with new explosives, but it’s so secret that I just daren’t say any more.” The Commanding Officer looked impressed, shook hands again, and returned into his office. “You spoofer,” said Sam, grinning for the first time since the previous day. “Why didn’t you tell him you don’t know?” “Never let an officer know you’re as ignorant as he is,” Jumbo said solemnly. A fifteen hundredweight truck came roaring up the road from the main gate. It whirled on to the graveled area in front of the offices at thirty miles an hour, the driver ignoring large red signs forbidding him to drive at more than five, and came to a screeching halt beside Sam and Jumbo. “Hullo,” said the driver, leaning over the door and blinking at them. “I say, this is Penrud Camp, isn’t it, old fellow?” “I ain’t an old fellow, I’m a corporal,” replied the outraged Jumbo, staring back. The driver dressed in a battledress that was completely bare of any flashes of rank or unit. He was a tall man, long and skinny. His face was long-nosed, and he wore a pair of enormous spectacles. Jumbo added,” But you’re right about the camp, Private. Are you here to collect us? Whalen and Singh are the names.” “That’s right, old fellow – er – I mean, Corporal,” said the skinny one. “Sorry for the mistake about rank.” “It’s best to watch things like that,” Jumbo said seriously. “You won’t get far in this Army if you don’t. What’s your name?” “Felton,” said the driver. “By the way, I’m afraid I’m not a private. I’m a lieutenant.” The jaws of Sam and Jumbo sagged at the same instant. “Don’t let it worry you,” the driver went on. “Hop in and we can talk as I drive.” Jumbo and Sam, too crushed to speak, heaved their kitbags and packs into the back of the truck. Sam clambered in after the gear, while Jumbo went to the front to sit beside Lieutenant Felton in the cab. “Nice day,” commented Felton, working the clutch and accelerator and sending the truck away with a jerk that almost broke Jumbo’s neck. “Have you been in the Army very long, Corporal?” “Eight years, sir,” Jumbo replied, and added to himself that in all that time he had never met an officer like this. Jumbo wondered if he were a fair sample of the staff at the Experimental Weapons Station. “How interesting,” said Felton, spinning the truck out of the main gate on two wheels at fifty miles an hour. Jumbo mopped his brow. “I’ve only been in two months, but, of course, I’m really not a soldier.” Jumbo mentally agreed. “I’m what you would call a scientist,” Felton continued. “I was made an officer so that the Army could use me at the establishment. “That’s why I came instead of the regular driver to pick you up. You two will be working under my orders and I thought I would like to get to know you.” A haycart showed up along the road, but Felton did not slacken speed. He whipped between the other vehicle and the hedge, the two offside wheels of the truck running on the bank for twenty yards. “actually I’m not supposed to drive,” Felton confessed, giving Jumbo a vague and engaging smile. “I’m doing a motor transport course in my spare time, but I haven’t passed my driving test as yet.” Jumbo turned pale. “Now give me a few details of yourself and your career,” said Felton. The rest of the journey was a nightmare. Lieutenant Felton proved himself as a man who thought the proper way to drive was to ram the accelerator into the floorboards and concentrate on the steering-wheel. Jumbo was drenched with sweat and squirming in his seat when, an hour after leaving Penrud, the truck turned up a lane clustered with signs that said, “No Admittance – War Department Property.” The lane ended in a barbed-wire barrier guarded by two lance-corporals of the Military Police. “I’m back again, old fellows,” said Felton, smiling at the Redcaps. “With my two men. You signed me out a couple of hours ago.” “I’ll still see your permit if you don’t mind, sir,” said one of the policemen firmly. “You know the regulations, sir.” Felton showed an official looking document then the barrier was wheeled aside and the truck was waved through. “You seem careful about who you let in here, sir,” Jumbo commented, as they drove into a vehicle compound beyond the gates. The Lieutenant nodded. He braked in his usual startling way and said, “We have to. This is a highly secret establishment. Jumbo began to get the feeling that his joking words to the Commanding Officer at Penrud might not have been so far from the truth. “Leave your gear in the truck,” said Felton, as they climbed to the ground. “I’ve a job for you before we go any further.”

“FIRE AT THE FLAGS!”

He led the way from the compound and Jumbo and Sam found themselves in a large camp laid out in the usual Army style, huts with concrete walks between them, though Jumbo noticed an absence of parade grounds.

Felton walking with long, shambling strides, took them to where two huts had been merged to make one building. “Blimey, it’s good to be out of that truck,” said Sam, with feeling. “The way that officer drives, he ought to be locked up.” One side of the large building proved to be a medical inspection room, where Jumbo and Sam were given a thorough going over by two medical officers. Then they were sent to put their clothes on in a changing room. “A fine report,” said Felton on their return. “Both first-class – and the doctors are quite impressed with your colossal build, Whalen.” “I knew it,” said Jumbo grinning. “I’m as fit as a fiddle, I am, sir.” “Now for the next part,” said Felton. He took them to the far side of the camp, where there was a great stretch of moor with a surface that looked as though it had been worked over with a giant pick. Here and there were connecting lines of trenches and among them were the scorched craters of countless explosions. A two-inch mortar and six bombs were laid out on a groundsheet. A man in denim overalls, a sergeants stripes fastened the sleeves by rubber bands, rose and saluted as they came up. “Sergeant Preston is an instructor attached to the establishment,” said Felton returning the salute in the way of a man scratching his forehead. “He’s going to test you out on the mortar.” “Get down, Corporal,” said the sergeant. “The lance-corporal can act as your Number Two. Those flags scattered over the moor are your targets. They cover an area from two to six hundred yards away and each one is numbered. “On my calling out a number, you will range and fire the mortar on the flag with that number. One bomb only and then wait for a further order.” The six bombs were high-explosive, a fact that was shown by a white metalled tail and red and green bands painted round the buff coloured body. Jumbo made a personal check that the tail unit caps were properly screwed up and the adhesive tape firm about the safety cap. The sergeant gave an approving nod. Jumbo then stripped the tape and safety cap from each bomb, but left the safety pin in for Sam to remove when he was loading the mortar. “Ready,” said Jumbo, lying in his favourite position, the mortar grounded and tilted at a shallow angle before him. “Number Three,” said Sergeant Preston. “Fire!” Jumbo judged that the red flag with a white three above it was three hundred and fifty yards. He felt Sam pat him on the shoulder as the bomb slid home in the mortar, and Jumbo elevated the barrel. He glanced along the sighting line and fired. The burst almost hid the red flag. Sergeant Preston made pencil marks in a notebook and called out, “Number Ten. Fire!” Jumbo began to enjoy himself. He fired of the remaining five bombs, taking his targets from the sergeant, and scored two direct hits and three so close that the flags were slashed by shrapnel. Jumbo’s worst shot was just over ten yards off target at a range of five hundred yards, and Sergeant Preston was goggling and almost forgetting to make notes in his little book. “That’s six rounds,” said Jumbo, looking up grinning. “Unless you want to let me have some more bombs.” “He ain’t bad, sir,” said Preston, looking at lieutenant Felton. “Not bad at all, in fact.” “So I gather,” Felton said with a quiet smile. “All right, Whalen, come with me. I have an interesting little show for you to see.” A hundred yards away, two privates waited in a trench, one parapet of which had been built up with sandbags as a blast wall. The privates sat beside a small, metal container and Jumbo noted that sweat beaded their brows and their hands seemed to tremble. Lieutenant Felton dropped into the trench and said – “All right, fellows, take the ice-box to that flag about a hundred yards away. Then you can push off and have a cup of tea.” The privates picked up opposing handles of the container with their shaking hands, gingerly lifted it to the edge of the trench and began to walk towards the flag with the care of men treading on eggs. Felton told Jumbo and Sam to wait in the trench and he himself shambled off after the bearers. Jumbo and Sam saw the container lowered to the ground and Felton throw open the lid and take out what looked like a small, glass tube. The next moment the privates were doubling away, the empty container between them, and the Lieutenant was kneeling on the ground, presently he rose and walked back to the trench. “I suppose I should give you a sort of lecture before I go any further,” he said, sitting on the edge of the trench and peering  owlishly at them. “I suppose you know how the war is going. The German armies are winning everywhere, the countries of our friends and allies have been occupied by German troops – in fact, Britain’s in a tight spot.” He slid into the trench and began to connect the bared ends of a length of cable to terminals on a black box with a handle jutting from the top. “It’s a time when we have to fight with every weapon on which we can lay our hands,” Felton went on. “Now, two years ago, a quite brilliant young scientist discovered a powerful new explosive. “It was a marvelous piece of work, but the explosive proved unstable, liable to detonate without warning, and the scientist was killed in an explosion at his laboratory. “The formula of the explosive was destroyed and all that was left of his discovery was a quantity of Element K, as it was called, which he sent to the War Office Chemical Warfare Section for experiments.” Jumbo said – “It sounds like hot stuff, sir.” “The very opposite,” said Felton. “It can only be handled in a low temperature – the reason we keep it packed in ice.” He smiled at their startled faces. “Yes, there was Element K in that container, just half an ounce of it. Duck your heads and I’ll show you what half an ounce of it can do.” Jumbo and Sam ducked rapidly into the trench. The Lieutenant crouched beside them, pressed down the handle on the box, and with the action the sides of the trench threatened to cave in, heaving as the world exploded and darkened outside. A long crack opened and closed in the thick clay before Sam’s fascinated eyes. The three men cupped their hands about their throbbing ears as the air was sucked from the trench and then rushed back in. They sat up and heard earth and stones against the blast wall. “Just half an ounce of Element K,” said Felton. “We have to use plastic for the windows in the establishment. We used to break ‘em every day.” Jumbo was staring over the parapet and shaking his head in disbelief. The red flag had gone and where it stood was a crater thirty feet across. “A mortar bomb could hold two and a half pounds of Element K,” Felton said slowly. “Enough to blow up London Bridge. “Just two men and a mortar would be able to do as much damage as a Royal Air Force bombing raid. We could land the men with their mortar anywhere on the enemy coasts. They could cause untold damage.” “It’s a good scheme, sir,” said Sam Singh, while Jumbo remained silent as he stared at the crater. “You said this Element K was unstable. That means it’s likely to go off without warning at any time.” “You’ve laid your finger on the one slight snag in the scheme,” Felton admitted. “Scientists are working on the explosive to make it safe to handle, but it will take time. “You are being offered a job where you’ll carry your lives in your hands all the time.” “I’ve designed a portable ice-box in which bombs packed with Element K will be fairly safe and you’ll have a third man to carry it – but that’s the best we can do at the moment. The bombs which contain Element K have a purple stripe painted on them to signify the great danger in them.” “Have you another man picked for the team, sir?” asked Sam. “I shouldn’t think you’ll be able to get three madmen to volunteer for a stunt like this.” “I am the third man,” replied Lieutenant Felton. “But I’m a scientist and I shall only be there to look after the bombs. “You can forget I’m an officer once we’re in action. You two will have the job of getting the mortar into position and firing it.” “Where would we operate?” asked Jumbo. He threw the question over his shoulder, his eyes continuing to stare in fascination at the crater. “Anywhere we were needed,” Felton replied. “Anywhere the bombs with the purple stripe can do the most damage to the Germans.” He began to polish his glasses and his voice became grave. “It is an exceedingly dangerous job and no one will think any the worst of you for turning it down. You’ll have until tomorrow to make up your minds.” “No need to wait that long, sir,” Sam said promptly. “Just lay on the truck and we’ll go straight back to the training camp.” “Yes, you can lay on the truck, sir,” said Jumbo, and Felton’s shoulders drooped in a dispirited way. Jumbo turned to face him. His face was paler than normal, but he held his twenty stones erect and his eyes were steady. “But Sam can go back on his own. I’m volunteering to be the Element K mortarman.” “You’re barmy!” exclaimed Sam. “That’s right,” agreed Jumbo, mopping his brow. “I’m barmy.” “That’s what I was afraid of,” said Sam Singh, and let out a deep sigh. “You’d better forget about the truck, sir. This big clown is bound to get into trouble if I’m not there to look after him.” “Watch out, all you Germans,” grinned Jumbo. “Here we come with the bombs with the purple stripe.

The Bombs with the Purple Stripe 24 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1807 – 1830 (1960 – 1961)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2005