Colonel Harrumph's Stories
The Great Bacon Fire of 1942
Shortly after the QIR, I was stationed in Calcutta, and we had twenty four tonnes of the stuff, bacon, that is, with no refrigeration. It was as salty and fat as any bacon you have seen, but it was like gold.
It was 1942, and British troops were still receiving the same ration allotment as they were in the first war, which could include up to one and a quarter pounds of bacon, depending on the availability of fresh meat. As you can imagine, we were unable to get our hands on any beef, so the bacon was all the troops could count on. Of course, as an officer, I had gammon, but no need to spread that around, eh? Mum's the word!
As I was saying, Quit India was just gaining steam, and Bose had just made the slip, so the wogs were getting restless. Someone had broken into the store and made off with two or three sides of bacon, and we were securing the rest when a commotion broke out.
Seems someone had started a rumour that we had beef in there with the bacon, and the local were none too pleased. Hundreds of them were milling about chanting, and some of them had rifles they had stolen. We were firing into the brown, but before you know it they had overcome us and were in with the bacon.
I don't know why or how, but someone set fire to a pile of greasy muslin that had wrapped the bacon, and before you know it the whole store was afire. The bacon was so fat that the oil poured out, and the poor souls in there stealing the bacon were soaked in grease that they caught fire, and as they ran about screaming bloody murder, they set their pals alight!
There were now about a thousand milling about outside, with smoke and flaming woggies pouring out of the store, and the burning grease was filling the street,soaking into anything porous and setting it afire! My goodness, you never witnessed such a jolly spectacle. In an hour or so, the flames had gone out, and we sent some swaddies in to clean up the mess.
Believe it or not, we were able to salvage some of the bacon, and some gammon remained unburnt. We distributed the gammon amongst the officers and subalterns, and let the men have a go at the rest.
Only later did we discover that the "bacon" remaining was not bacon at all. The poor swaddies who had partaken of the feast were hanged, and the officers given a reprimand. I got of lightly, I would say. They shot my punkah wallah, who had put in with the rioters and didn't replace him.
Anyway, that's how the leopard got his spots.