(Merger Homepage)


First episode taken from Rover and Adventure April 1st 1961.

The story of Harry Clint, whose aim is to wear the badge of Britain’s toughest fighting men—THE ROYAL MARINES!


Mr Towen, former Captain in the Royal Navy, rose early one morning. He broke his normal habit of a cold bath and dressed at once, first strapping on the false foot that took the place of the real one he had left at the Battle of Tobruk in 1942, during the Second World War. He was descending the stairs when a soft tapping sounded on the kitchen door. Mr Towen drew the bolt and let in Bill Perry, gamekeeper for the large country estate of which Mr Towen was manager.

He was heavily muffled against the cold, hands thrust deep into his pockets and his nose red and glowing where it poked out from the space between cap brim and muffler. He carried a shotgun in the crook of his right elbow. “Morning, Bill,” answered Mr Towen. “I’m just putting the kettle on. We’ll have a cup of tea before we start.” “There’s time enough, sir,” agreed Bill. He took his hands from his pockets, leaned the shotgun against the sideboard, then began to thaw his fingers over the electric fire. “It’s a nippy one, right enough,” he remarked. “Cold and frosty,” said Mr Towen, now busy making the tea. He produced a brew that was inky and strong enough to stain leather. He poured it into two china mugs. They were sipping it, Bill contentedly puffing evil clouds of smoke from a cracked briar pipe, when a step sounded on the stairs. “Thought I heard someone moving around,” said Adam Towen, appearing in the hall doorway. “What murky business are you two plotting?” “ ’Morning, boy,” said Mr Towen, smiling at his son. “Bill hand me over another mug.” “I say again, what are you up to?” said Adam, joining them at the table. His father passed him a mug of tea. Adam sipped the rank brew, shuddering as he did so. “Why this meeting in the early hours?” he asked. “We have an intruder,” said Mr Towen, “a fellow with a habit of sneaking into the ground in the early mornings and messing around. I’d have brought you in on it, but I thought you might be tired after your journey.” “I’m too worried about the result to be tired,” Adam replied, referring to the examination he had sat in London. He’d just returned the previous night. The exam was the ordeal set by the Civil Service for those young men who wished to become officers in the Royal Marines. “The exam’s nothing,” smiled Mr Towen. “Wait until you go for a grilling before the Fleet Selection Board.” “Let’s talk of something pleasant,” said Adam. “Is this intruder up to a bit of poaching?” “Not so far,” Mr Towen said. “That’s the puzzle of the business. He just sneaks in around six o’clock, leaves the ground around Frankley Coppice studded with boot tracks, then departs. No sign of snares or any other poacher’s gear.” “Maybe he’s a nature lover,” Adam suggested. “One of those types that likes to wander the woods in the dawn and listen to the call of the cuckoo.” “I don’t mind naturalists coming here,” said Mr Towen frowning, “not so long as they ask my permission. This fellow is a trespasser whatever he’s up to, and I mean to put an end to it.” Bill Perry rose and picked up his shotgun. “It’s time we were in position, sir,” he said. “I’ll come with you,” replied Adam, moving towards the hall and the stairs. “Just give me a chance to throw on some clobber.” “Hurry up then, boy,” said Mr Towen, and turned to the gamekeeper. “Best leave your gun behind, Bill. Those things have a nasty habit of going off at the wrong moment.

You’ll find a selection of sticks in the hallstand.” “No gun of mine ever went off by accident, sir,” Bill said reprovingly. But he laid his shotgun against the wall and went into the hall. His voice drifted back, “I’m counting on this trespasser being one of those young rips from the town. Might give him a bit of respect if he had his tail peppered with smallshot.” “It’s a good thing I know the kind heart that beats under that velvet waistcoat,” said Mr Towen, and was still chuckling when Bill returned with a knobbly length of polished blackthorn. “What-ho,” said Adam, following on the gamekeepers heels. “Are you issuing all hands with cutlasses, Skipper?” “Just sticks,” replied his father. “Grab yourself one and let’s go.” They left the house and drove through the lanes in Mr Towen’s car. The darkness was giving way to the grey light that comes before dawn. They reached a field close to the coppice and Bill and Adam jumped out to open the gate so that Mr Towen could run the car in behind the hedge. It was cold and the grass crackled frostily under their boots. “We’ve a quarter of an hour to spare at least,” observed Mr Towen, switching off the light ignition. “That’s providing he comes at his usual time.” “How do you know what is his usual time, Dad?” Adam asked. “A lot of detective work,” Mr Towen answered. “Bill and two under-keepers have been watching at night and during the day, but still there’s been signs in the morning of the fellow’s visits. Then one of the estate dairymen saw me yesterday and said that he’s seen a cycle lying against the hedge on his way for the first milking every morning this week.” “I still don’t see how you can tie the time so close,” Adam frowned. “Bill and his crew come off duty at six and walk home along the lane,” Mr Towen said patiently. “They didn’t see a cycle. Which means the villain must arrive a little later.” “That’s Navy training for you,” Adam said admiringly. “It gets the brain working like a clock.” “For that remark you can have the job of laying an ambush in the coppice with Bill,” Mr Towen ordered. “Anyway, you’re both nippier on your pins than I am with this set of tin toes. I’ll stay out here and grab the cycle once he’s inside the wood.” “Supposing he don’t come, sir?” said Bill. “Then the three of us have had the benefit of a couple of hours in the fresh air,” said Mr Towen. “It will probably do us a lot of good.” Adam let out a hollow groan, then he and Bill squirmed through a gap in the hedge into the coppice. Mr Towen listened for a time to the sound of their movements before closing the gate and returning to the car. “Now, why should this ass visit the coppice in the early hours?” thought Mr Towen, working his mind to take it off his discomfort. “Bill says there’s no sign of poaching, but maybe this fellow doesn’t use the normal methods.” Time slowly passed and the cold began to seep into his bones. Mr Towen huddled in his duffle coat. There was no sound from the coppice, but he knew his son and Bill Perry must be suffering in the same way.


Seven miles away, in a small house in the nearby town. Harry Clint was just carrying a breakfast tray into the bedroom of his Uncle Zach. He and his uncle were alone in the house and Uncle Zach was elderly, slightly sour, and not inclined to bother with any housework that could be done by a healthy young nephew.

Harry laid the tray on a table and was rewarded with a stern glance from the bed. Harry had brought in a cup of tea half an hour before and Uncle Zach was now almost awake. “You’re late,” the old man said reprovingly. “It’s nigh on a quarter to six.” “I washed a couple of towels and hung ‘em in the yard,” said Harry. He had also made up his bed, brushed and cleaned around the house, peeled potatoes for the evening meal, cooked two breakfasts, and washed himself, but this was normal and he did not mention it. “Did you wash those socks of mine?” asked his uncle. “I washed them,” said Harry. “Uncle, you should buy yourself some new socks. That pair has holes in the heels I can push my head through.” “Then it’s about time you darned ‘em,” Uncle Zach said promptly. “Lad, you’re getting right lazy these days. You’d best be off before you’re late for work.” Harry went downstairs, wheeled his bicycle from the shed, and set off. He was a slight lad, short and slim for his sixteen years, but there was a strangely old expression of determination in his eyes. The suburbs of the town fell behind and he was pedalling fast along the main road. The light was now good enough for him to switch off his lamp. He reached a place where a lane led off from the road. He halted to glance at his watch. “Six o’clock,” he murmured. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. That means I’ll only be able to stay for twenty minutes if I want to be at work by seven.” He turned up the lane and began to race his old machine. Ten minutes later he was at Frankley Coppice. Harry laid the cycle in the hedge, tossed his jacket on top, and squirmed through a gap in the hedge. He was dressed in shirt, overalls, and the heavy boots he used in his work at the building site. “This is it,” he murmured, reaching a place where a tree trunk formed a bridge across a shallow gulley. He glanced at his watch. “Reckon I’ll have to put a shove on to get round twice by six-thirty.” He tucked in his elbows and started to run across the trunk. He had just reached the other side when he received a surprise. A thick-set man holding a stick rose into view from a clump of bushes and at the same time Harry heard a rustling of undergrowth behind him. “Stand still, you varmint,” yelled the man with the stick. “I wants a word with you.” Harry’s reaction was fast and instinctive. The way was now blocked before and behind so he went to one side, scudding like a scalded cat to his right down the steepest part of the slope. Startled yells followed him, then the threshing of undergrowth and thudding of boots. Harry’s surprise had worn off and his brain was racing even faster than his flying feet, working out the lie of the land and deciding exactly what he must do. There was a stretch of boggy ground exactly two hundred yards ahead, a place where a trickle of a stream cut through low-lying ground at the foot of the slope. Harry chuckled aloud as he thought of it. He found he was beginning to enjoy this race. The furious voice was now fainter, seeming to fall away behind, but he could still hear boots pounding along fairly close. Harry risked a glance over his shoulder. The man with the stick was out of sight higher up the slope, but a scant twenty yards behind, another man, was bounding down the slope. “Jupiter, that chap can run,” thought Harry in alarm.


He caught a glimpse of water among the thin boles of saplings ahead. This was where he had to be careful, for he had to reach the edge of the bog at exactly the right place. He veered a shade to his left and sighed with relief when he came on his boot tracks of the previous day.

The bog was some twenty yards across, a four-foot width of stream in the middle, and scattered across it were logs that Harry had placed there for footing. Harry well knew the location of each one and he went across without slacking speed, merely fitting his stride to the varying intervals between the logs. He reached firm ground on the far side and paused for a breather and to look back. The man with the stick was tired and jogging slowly down the last few yards of the slope. The other man, the younger one, was halfway across the bog, leaping from log to log with the skill and timing of an athlete. Harry watched expectantly. The young man reached the log at the edge of the stream and bounded lightly across. That was where he came unstuck. The mud was deep and liquid on the far side and the log placed by Harry was inclined to roll. Harry had been braced for it, the other man was not. His foot shot forward, he teetered backwards, lost balance and went into the stream with a startled howl. “Wonder if he always goes swimming with his hat on?” chuckled Harry, trotting easily up the opposite slope. He kept on through the coppice and emerged on the lane a hundred yards from where he had left his cycle. He ran to the machine, hurriedly pulled on his jacket. Then tried to mount and ride away. The result was a horrible jarring and clanging. Harry stopped dead with a dismay similar to that of the man who had fallen in the stream. “It’s no good, young man,” said a quite voice. “I took the precaution of letting down your tyres.


A man came through a gate in the hedge on the opposite side of the road to the coppice. He was a tall man with a weather-beaten face and keen eyes and he seemed to limp slightly on one foot. Harry held on to the bike and felt like a burglar caught in front of an open safe.

“You shouldn’t have done that, sir,” he said, trying to sound cool. “Now I’ve got to pump them up before I can get to work. “Bless me, you’re a cheeky ‘un,” said the man with the limp. The amusement passed and his voice took a stern tone. “My name’s Towen, and I’m manager of the private property in which you have been trespassing. Is there any reason why I should not hand you over to the police.” “I’d rather you didn’t, sir,” Harry said truthfully. “I guessed the place was private, but I didn’t think I was doing any harm with a bit of scrambling.” “Scrambling?” said Mr Towen puzzled. “I’ve charted out my own course in there, sir,” Harry explained. “It’s just over a mile round and rough going all the way.” “But, dash it, boy, why use private property for your exercise?” demanded Mr Towen, staring at him. “Isn’t there any public place you can go?” “Not round here, sir,” replied Harry. “Just a scrubby park and bit of playing field in town. Outside it’s all farming country. I found this place on my way home from work last week.” “What’s your job?” Mr Towen asked. “A steelman, sir,” said Harry. “What you’d call a builder’s scaffolder. I’m working on a repair job near here and I’ve been putting in half an hour on the scramble there each morning.” “Most interesting,” observed Mr Towen, tugging thoughtfully at his moustache. He asked more questions, doing it in a friendly kind of way, and they were deep in conversation when two mud stained figures came through the gap in the hedge. Angry cries filled the air on sight of Harry. “Soaked to the skin,” snarled Adam Towen. “That fellow tricked me into a ducking.” And Bill Perry added bitterly, “I got pulled in trying to help him out. If I hadn’t lost my stick I’d lay it across that young man’s pants.” “Stop fussing over a little water, gentlemen,” Mr Towen ordered. “This is my friend, Harry Clint, who will be visiting us tonight to make a full apology for the trouble he has caused.” “I’ll be there, sir,” said Harry, pumping air into his tyres. Mr Towen drove the car slowly out on the lane and halted for his dripping companions to clamber in. Harry had finished pumping his tyres. He gave them a wave of the hand and took the bike away with a rush. Mr Towen drove off in the opposite direction towards his house. “A man should try to learn something new each day,” Mr Towen said thoughtfully. “I now know that steelman puts up scaffolding about buildings.” “Interesting,” said Adam, his teeth chattering with cold and damp as he shared a rug with Bill. “Dad, what’s the idea of inviting that little squirt home?” “An unusual boy,” said Mr Towen. “Undersized, scrawny, yet incredibly determined. He wants to become perfectly fit, and I should like to find out why.” “He’s certainly plotted out a rough scramble course,” said Adam, attempting to control his teeth and smile. “I mean to take a closer look at it this afternoon.” “I should have thought you’d looked close enough this morning,” Mr Towen said dryly, and even the glowering Bill managed to raise a smile.


Mr Towen had doubts during the course of the day as to whether Harry would turn up. The young fellow had been caught trespassing, an offence liable to punishment by a fine. By seven o’clock, long past the time when Harry would have passed on his way home from work, Mr Towen had decided he was not coming.

He was surprised when Harry arrived at eight, and pleased when he realized the extra time had been taken up by the boy going home to clean up and change. Harry was now neatly dressed in a sports jacket and flannels. “The boy has manners,” thought Mr Towen, shaking hands and leading the visitor into the lounge. “I rather think you’ve met my son, Adam, Harry,” he said aloud. “At a distance,” said Adam, returning Harry’s quick grin. “Sit down, Harry. I had a go round the full circuit of your scramble this afternoon.” “It’s good training, but not really rough enough,” said Harry seriously, sitting bolt upright on the edge of an armchair. “It’s all wood and bog. It would be best with a bit of rock scambling somewhere along it.” “You do like doing things the hard way,” Adam said admiringly. “What’s the idea of it? Are you in training for athletics?” Mr Towen, moving over from where he had been busy at the sideboard, placed a tray holding glasses of fruit juice on a small table and sat down. “I’m willing to give you permission to go on using my employer’s land as a private exercise course, but I’d like to know the reason behind it,” he said. “It’s just a hobby of mine,” said Harry, suddenly on the defensive. “It’s a bit hard to talk about. “You’re among friends,” said Mr Towen, handing him a glass. “You fire ahead.” “It’s a bit personal,” Harry said nervously. “I’m not too strong and that isn’t very good in a tough neighbourhood like mine. Some fellows are strong and clever enough to do things easy, but I’ve had to work real hard at anything I wanted to do. That’s why I’m trying to build myself up a bit.” He paused, looking embarrassed. “It happened when I was about twelve,” said Harry. “I was mucking about in the town library and I came across a book about the Royal Marines. I got so interested I was reading it when the library closed. Since then I’ve read everything I could pick up about the Royals. The petty-officer at the recruiting office lets me have any pamphlets he gets. Next Saturday I’ll be seventeen, and that’s when I can volunteer.” He paused again, this time because both his listeners had broad smiles on their faces. “What a coincidence!” said Adam. “I’m also trying to join the Marines. I’m waiting for the results of my exam to go up before the Fleet Selection Board.” “Crikey,” said Harry stunned. “A blinking officer.” “Not by a long way,” laughed Mr Towen. “Anyway, Harry, I’m delighted to hear your plans. You keep on using your scramble course and just let me know if I can help you in any other way. Have any of your family ever served in the Royals?” “No, sir,” said Harry. “Just me, Harry the First.” “Here’s wishing you luck,” said Mr Towen. “As a matter of fact it might do that son of mine some good if you dragged him scrambling in the mornings.” “I haven’t dried out from the last lot yet,” Adam said. The ice had now been broken and Harry, quietly encouraged by Mr Towen, began to talk. Adam, the potential officer, began to learn about the Royal Marines. Harry explained the way Royals served on ships and why the four brigades of Royal Marine Commandos, the 40, 41, 42, and 45, were the toughest fighting units in the world. He went on to refer to Marine folklore, such as the tradition of Jubilee Gate at the depot, the haunting ground of the ghost of a lost sentry. Eleven o’clock arrived before they were aware of it and Harry remembered he still had to darn Uncle Zach’s socks. Adam made coffee and brought it in on a tray. Harry, himself again, drank it rapidly and nervously shook hands, and went out to his bike. Mr Towen and Adam watched his rear lamp blink away down the lane. “Dead keen,” observed Adam. “That boy will go a long way,” his father said thoughtfully. “He has guts and determination. You know, Adam, you’ve had a lot of advantages. You’re a natural athlete and I’ve scraped to give you a good education. That boy has to do everything for himself.” “You’re absolutely right,” agreed Adam, unusually grave. “A bloke with my chances stands a chance of making a high rank, but it isn’t as big a thing as young Harry becoming a colour-sergeant. Let’s hope he makes it.” “Let’s hope so,” said Mr Towen, turning towards the house.


Adam joined Harry on the scramble the following morning. He was a natural athlete with plenty of cross-country training and once he had the hang of it he found no difficulty in beating Harry round the course. But he could never beat him by much distance.

No matter how much he exerted himself Harry always managed to toil along two yards or so behind. The next day it was much the same, save that Harry was unusually silent and had pinched lines about his mouth. Afterwards they sat in the hedge on the lane and drank coffee from a flask brought by Adam. Harry drank, handed back the flask top, and broke his silence. “I’m in trouble,” he mentioned. “Had a barney with Uncle Zach last night. Told him I’d fixed an appointment at the Navy Recruiting Office for my medical and education test for the Royals. The old man nearly went up in flames.” “Didn’t he know of your plans?” asked Adam. “I’d only told you and Mr Towen,” said Harry. “That’s why I thought it time I told Uncle Zach what was happening. Didn’t think he’d be so against it.” “Can he stop you?” Adam inquired. “Is he your legal guardian or something?” Harry shook his head. “No, he didn’t bother to take out court papers when he took charge of me,” he said. “I don’t need anybody’s permission to join up. All I have to do is produce death certificates of my parents.” “Then there’s nothing to worry about,” said Adam relieved. “It’s too bad your uncle doesn’t approve, but he can’t do a thing to stop you.” “That isn’t the point,” Harry said gloomily. “Uncle Zach’s a funny old case, but he’s good to me. Brought me up when my father died. I’ve got to think of his feelings.” “Why not think of your own?” “You can’t throw over a career just because of your uncle. That’s too much for anyone to expect.” “It’s a bit awkward,” Harry said glumly, and refused to say any more on the matter. Adam guessed something of the conflict going on inside him and was wise enough not to press the point. They talked of other things for a while, then Harry mounted his bike and pedaled off to work. Adam went home and made a report to his father. “It’s disgusting,” said Adam, highly indignant. “That selfish old man is simply annoyed at the idea of doing his own housework.” “Why shouldn’t he be?” Mr Towen quietly asked. “He’s raised Harry, fed and clothed him. Surely the old man is entitled to a little consideration for doing all that?” “I still think it’s selfish,” snorted Adam. “Why should he stand in the way of Harry making something of himself?” “Most of us are inclined to be just a little bit selfish,” said his father. “The old man’s going to be rather lonely if Harry goes away. I don’t approve, but I can understand. Anyway, it’s none of our business.” “I suppose you’re right,” sighed Adam, watching Mr Towen pace the carpet. “Just nothing we can do about it.” “Nothing at all,” agreed Mr Towen, pacing furiously, his teeth biting into the stem of his pipe. “We’ve absolutely no right to interfere. “None at all,” nodded Adam. “But if you wanted to see Harry, your car’s in the drive.” “What?” said Mr Towen, halting and staring at him. “In the drive,” Adam repeated. “Harry’s working on those repairs to the old Corn Exchange at Wotherton. “Hurrumph,” said Mr Towen thoughtfully. Adam was grinning and presently a twinkle entered his father’s eyes.


Half-an-hour later Mr Towen was driving into Wotherton and pulling up at the Corn Exchange. The old building was encased in a framework of metal poles and the walls were dotted with busy figures.

Mr Towen spoke to one of the workers on the ground and a piercing “Haree” presently brought a slight figure swinging from the heights. “Morning, sir,” said Harry. “Morning,” said Mr Towen and was suddenly puzzled as to what he should say. “I was just passing and I decided to see how the work was getting on,” he began. “You won’t know the place when we’ve finished, sir,” said Harry, continuing to regard him with an inquiring expression that made Mr Towen uncomfortable. “But it’s quite a job putting up scaffolding round these old buildings.” “I should imagine it would be,” Mr Towen said vaguely. He felt like kicking himself for coming because now he knew definitely that Harry’s business was something in which he had no right to interfere. “All those nooks and crooked walls,” Harry went on. “Would you like me to show you round, sir?” “Some other time,” sighed Mr Towen, turning towards his car. “I’d better get back and do some work.” He planted his tin foot on the running-board, then glanced towards the watching youngster. “Good luck, Harry.” “Thank you, sir,” Harry said steadily. Mr Towen drove back to the estate. “I felt a regular ass,” he said ruefully, when telling Adam about it. “As soon as I saw Harry I knew it was a mistake. It’s something that only he can settle and he has enough worry on his plate without any well-meaning duffers interfering. Mr Towen busied himself with his duties around the estate and gradually the matter of Harry Clint was pushed into a corner of his mind. It would probably have stayed there had not an incident brought it out into the open two days later. There was a cattle mart in a town a considerable distance away on the afternoon of the day following the meeting at the Corn Exchange. Mr Towen drove up there on business for the estate. The business was concluded in the late evening and he had the choice of putting up at a hotel or driving through the night. Mr Towen chose to return and at six o’clock the following morning was wearily covering the last stretch before home. He was passing Frankley Coppice when he noticed the cycle in the hedge. Mr Towen stopped the car and clambered out. It was Harry’s bike. His jacket hung on the crossbar. Mr Towen moved to the gap in the hedge and peered into the coppice. He was in time to see Harry trotting along a section of his home-made scramble. Mr Towen returned to his car and sat lost in thought behind the wheel. “I don’t like interfering,” he murmured. “But this just can’t go on.”


At midday he drove into the town and paid a visit to the Royal Navy Recruiting Office. Not much recruiting went on in an industrial town where lads could earn high wages. Chief Petty Officer Bamford was pleased, therefore, to have a caller to break the monotony.

“That boy was a surprise to me, sir,” said the chief. “A regular caller here for the two years I’ve had the office, and I was looking forward to signing him on. A keen ‘un if ever there was one. Fixed his appointment for the medical, then yesterday he comes in and says it’s all off.” “Chief, I want you to do me a favour,” said Mr Towen. “It’s highly irregular and entirely up to you, but I should like that appointment kept open.” “Why not?” said Bamford. “As long as you can let me know the day before so’s the doctor doesn’t lose a day’s golf for nothing.” “I’m obliged,” said Mr Towen. His next place of call was a small house in a backstreet. The door was opened by a beefy elderly man, who bulged and sagged in a collarless shirt and pair of overall trousers. He gazed suspiciously at Mr Towen. “We ain’t buying nothing today,” he said, and tried to shut the door. Mr Towen got his metal foot in the way in time. “It’s about your nephew, Mr Clint,” he called, and the door at once swung open. The beefy man reappeared, an expression of alarm on his face. “The lad ain’t in trouble, is he, sir?” he said hurriedly. “Harry’s in no trouble,” Mr Towen said reassuringly. “It would be easier to talk if you invited me inside.” Uncle Zach worriedly agreed, and Mr Towen was led into the kitchen where a table was littered with the remains of a meal. “I won’t keep you long,” said Mr Towen. “I’d better make it clear your nephew doesn’t know I’ve come to see you. I wanted to talk to you about his joining the Royal Marines.” “It’s just no good, sir,” said Uncle Zach, shaking his head. “I’ve got my mind made up.” “But why?” asked Mr Towen. “Don’t you think the services a good life for a man?” “A fine life,” said Uncle Zach pleasantly. “I’d like to let Harry join. I’d miss him, of course, but I’d get along. Only I know it wouldn’t be no good for him.” “I’m afraid I don’t follow you,” said Mr Towen. “It’s young Harry, see,” said Uncle Zach scratching his head and fumbling for words. “He ain’t right for it.” “Me and Harry’s father,” went on Zach. “We’re big fellows, se. Harry’s pa was a drayman and he could nigh hoist a horse on his shoulders. Harry ain’t like that. Get him out on some of that Commando training and he would just fail to bits.” “I see!” exclaimed Mr Towen, beginning to understand. “You think Harry isn’t up to it.” “That’s right,” Uncle Zach replied. “I’m acting for the boy’s own good.” Mr Towen almost laughed, then an idea came to him. “Put a coat on, Mr Clint, I’m going to take you for a little drive,” he said. “I’ve got to get to work,” Uncle Zach objected. “This is more important,” said Mr Towen. A coat hung behind the kitchen door. Mr Towen grabbed it with one hand, Uncle Zach’s elbow with the other, and hurried out to the car. Harry’s uncle was still protesting when the car stopped outside Frankley Coppice. “We walk the rest of the way,” said Mr Towen, guiding him through the gap in the hedge and into the coppice. They followed the scramble route at a slow walk for a quarter of a mile, using the easier route of stepping-stones across the stream and beginning the climb of the far bank. Halfway up Uncle Zach halted and rested against a tree. His face had turned purple. “I ain’t up to this thing, sir,” he wheezed. “Ain’t there no easier way of getting where we’re going?” “Just up to the top and down by way of that bog over there,” Mr Towen said. “That weak little nephew of yours runs round twice every morning before going to work.” Cor!” said Uncle Zach. Mr Towen relented and led Zach back the easier route to the car. Uncle Zach fell through the door and collapsed, groaning, on a seat. “The Marines turn out first class commando soldiers,” said Mr Towen, climbing behind the steering wheel. “But they don’t just want hunks of brawn and muscle. They want lads with brains and determination. I think Harry has all of those. He drove into the town and let Uncle Zach off at the place where he worked. It had been a silent journey. Uncle Zach spent most of the time fighting to get his lungs into normal working order and the rest in heavy thought. The outcome was a hurried visit by Harry to the Towen’s over the weekend. It was a wildly excited Harry who could hardly wait to spill out the news. “Uncle Zach must be going round the bend!” he gasped. “Got in last night and found the old man darning his own socks. The first words he said were, ‘Maybe that ain’t such a bad idea of yours joining the Marines, boy. It’s a fine life for a young man’. Crikey, you could have knocked me down with a lamppost!” Mr Towen winked at Adam. “What a stroke of luck!” he said.


The next few days were long and lingering ones for Harry, then Tuesday came and things started to move with a rush. Harry reported at the Recruiting Office, had his medical, and was relieved to be passed as fit for service in the Royal Marines; sat for an education test, completed various forms, and then solemnly swore his Oath of Allegiance.

He was handed his travel documents and went, hardly believing it was true, into the street. Mr Towen had his car waiting outside and, together with Uncle Zach and Adam, Harry was carried to the railway station. There was an hour to wait for the train. Harry sat with the others in the refreshment room and passed the time in a state of fidget. The train steamed in and Adam helped him load his case aboard. “Maybe I’ll be in uniform next time I see you,” said Adam. “Watch me chase you around if I do get my commission.” Harry grinned weakly and was then drawn aside by Uncle Zach. The old man was immensely solemn and dignified in a rusty black suit and paper collar and he was weighing his heavy turnip watch in his hand. “It’s a good watch, lad,” he said, handing it over. “Ain’t lost more than a minute a day in forty years. A man should have a good watch when he’s going out into the world.” “Thanks, Uncle,” said Harry, tucking it into a pocket. The instrument was the size of an alarm clock, but it was Uncle Zach’s treasure and Harry appreciated the gesture. Harry scrambled for his seat, then leaned through the window to shake hands. Seconds later the train was moving and the little group on the platform was falling behind. Harry changed stations in London and caught a train bound for Kent. There was another change at a small station in the country and Harry noticed that the waiting passengers included half a dozen young men carrying suitcases. “Recruits for the depot this way,” bellowed a voice, and out in the street they saw the owner of the voice, a figure in battle-dress whose black beret bore a badge of a globe encircled by a laurel wreath. He stood at the side of a blue truck with the letters R.M. in white on the side. Harry joined the others in putting his case aboard and climbing after it. The driver took his seat and the truck moved away from the station and began to pass through crowded streets. The lads inside began to exchange glances and nervous grins. “Now we’ve been and gone and done it,” said one of them. “Too late to change your mind.” Three minutes later the truck passed through the Cavalry Gate into the depot of the Royal Marines.

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2006