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Sir, Yes Sir by thadeusz
The reader should read "All because I said 'Sir' " written by Storyteller. This story inspired me for this one and I thank Storyteller to let me try to continue his story.
In my country, boys reaching the age of 18 had to join the military for their military service. It was a long military service since it lasted two years, but those who were studying at the University, or who were considered as especially useful for the Nation, got nearly automatically an exemption.
I fulfilled all these conditions: my father was a shoemaker in a little town and my mother did not work, but they had succeeded to send me to a good University thanks to a scholarship given by our town. I was thus in a big town, studying at the University, when I turned 18 and was called to fulfill my military obligations. I really wanted this exemption, I had no intention to lose time in the Army. I knew I would easily get this exemption, but I wanted to make a good impression. So I went to a barber the day before I had to appear in the barracks and I asked him to give me a slight trim. Well, I could not say all that: I was shy and the barber was curious. He interrupted me to ask how old I was and I answered politely, because my mother always told me to me polite: "18, Sir".
Hearing that I was 18 the barber asked me if it was not time for me to join the Army for my military service, and he again interrupted me when I started to say:
"Sir, Yes Sir, but in my case…"
"My boy, I know my job. Let me work," and he gave me a really short Army haircut adding "You will look better, you will have a bright future in the Army."
I was shy and simply said:
"Sir, Yes Sir".
The barber made some remarks and refused to hear that I wanted an exemption. He chose to understand my attitude as he, an ex-soldier, wanted. At the end of the hair cutting process he decided to take me with him in his car to the Army barracks, refusing to hear that I only wanted an exemption and that my appearance before the commision was planned for the next day.
Storyteller told very well what happened to my haircut and then what happened to me, but he did not tell what happened later and how I behaved then.
My name is Dirk Vandevenne and my parents had placed all their hopes in me and in my sister, but … my sister left home when she was very young and never came back. So my future University career was the only hope my parents had to have later a better life. But I went into this barbershop … .
I came out of the barber shop rather early in the afternoon. The barber had decided to drive me immediately to the barracks, despite the fact that I insistently told him that I would then be a day early. I arrived there at 15:45. I was there nearly one day in advance ! I did not have an opportunity to ask for an exemption : the Colonel made me sign some papers without reading them.
He then called a soldier with two stripes on his sleeves and told him to lead me through the passages inside the barracks since I was too early. He was a young man, slightly older than me. He was wearing a nice uniform which I learned to know as a "service uniform". On his breast pocket was a label with his name: J. Bijstra. The Colonel simply told him:
"Corporal, take this recruit with you and get him fitted."
Corporal Bijstra took me to the "Master Tailor room" (that’s what was written on his door) where I got my first uniform. The Master Tailor first gave me green Army underwear and told me:
"Change immediately into these. Place all your other clothes and belongings into this bag", and he showed me a big bag in solid khaki canvas !
I remained silent but politely obeyed this order.
The Master Tailor then really threw to me green woolen socks to be worn immediately. After that came heavy green canvas pants without belt but with suspenders and a green jacket in the same material, looking more like a heavy shirt, to be worn on top of the pants. Finally, the Master Tailor gave me black heavy boots and a green beret without badge.
Obediently, as I had always been, I put on all these pieces of uniform. When I was fitted, the clock showed exactly 16:15. In exactly thirty minutes I had been transformed from a student into a sort of soldier.
As soon as I was fitted, the Corporal told me:
"My name is Bijstra, Jan Bijstra, and I will be your training corporal." He then looked at me and added: "Now you look better with this ‘duty uniform’, nearly a soldier. There is still a little detail we must fix. But that is for later, recruit … ," and he looked on a piece of paper the Colonel had given him, "Vandevenne Dirk."
The Master Tailor gave me then the rest of my equipment, including a service uniform similar to that worn by Bijstra, but without any stripe. He told me to place all this stuff in another big khaki bag while he was storing the bag with my own things.
At first, the service uniform seemed to be nicer than the olive green duty uniform I was wearing. But when I looked closely and tried the stuff that had been given to me, I noticed that it was of an ugly khaki colour which I have always hated ! But there seemed to be nothing I could do anymore. This service uniform consisted of a very thick shirt with a high collar made in a heavy woolen cloth, a khaki tie to be adjusted to the high collar and of pants made in the same fabric, with the same suspenders as the one I was already wearing. Finally came a jacket in the same material with a dreadful heavy duty, textured webbing belt with several metal buckles which, according to the Corporal, had to be kept perfectly shiny at all times, like the boots !!! Speaking of boots, there was something for Privates I had not on my duty uniform : gaiters, which had also to be kept perfectly white in order to stick my dreadful ugly khaki pants in nice white gaiters ! Finally, the Master tailor added a set of sport uniforms.
In order to keep all this equipment, the Master Tailor gave me a second khaki bag and as soon as I was completely fitted, with all my stuff in the bags (except the things I had to leave with the Master tailor), Corporal Bijstra led me to what would be my room during the next 24 months.
Well, it was not a room, it was a dorm with 6 double beds, 3 on each side, with six little cupboards. He advised me to choose the best bed: on the left side near the window and above. Who was I to discuss his orders ? I did what he told me and I started to put my things in my cupboard. During that time, the corporal started the conversation:
"So you are one of the new soldiers."
"Sir, Yes Sir" was my reply
"I am not a Sir, that’s only for officers and specially honored civils. I am Corporal Bijstra. You must address me as ‘Corporal’ or ‘Corporal Bijstra’."
"Yes, Corporal, Yes".
"Do you always say ‘Yes’ at the beginning and at the end of your sentences ?"
Since I did not know how to be polite with the person who was now my immediate superior, I went on: "Yes, Corporal, Yes"
"Well, here you only say it once, or you don’t say it if you know well enough the person with whom you are."
"Yes, Thank you, Corporal."
He then gave me a very small cleaning kit with a toothbrush, soap and a bath towel, adding that the soap was to be used also to clean the teeth. He added to that a huge cleaning kit for my uniforms giving me several instructions concerning the way to keep them clean and well ironed. He finally ended saying:
"If you behave like I told you, you will keep out of mischief. Otherwise it will be the brig."
It is at this moment that I behaved ridiculously like a child. I asked the Corporal:
"Corporal Bijstra, where can I find a pijama ? I don’t have any with me."
"Recruit, here you sleep in your underwear."
"But Corporal, I have only one set of underwear."
"Do you still pee in your bed ?"
"In that case, keep your underwear. When they will be dirty, you can wash them. In any case you will receive others."
The corporal took me then with him to fix the last little detail. He took me to the regimental barber and explained:
"Vandevenne, you are now a lowly recruit. You have a nice and short haircut, but lowly recruits are only allowed to have a baldy during their two years of service, except if they get promoted ! Which is certainly not yet your case."
I sat thus in a barber’s chair for the second time on the same day. The barber (who was apparently also a Corporal) caped me and started to use his clippers in order to "clean", as he said, what remained on my head. He pushed and pulled my head several times, he turned it also as if it was his property and as if I was only a puppet. Finally he said:
"You are a good recruit who came here well prepared and in advance, so I have time for you. I will give a special treat if you agree."
I did not feel like it, but the only words I could utter were: "Yes Corporal, Thank you Corporal."
The barber took then foam in his hand, placed it nicely on my head and then started to shave it with an old razor. When he was done, I looked at my head in the mirror and noticed that it was perfectly clean. The barber told me that I had to come back every two weeks, but that he would not be able to give me what he called "a shiny" every time.
Corporal Bijstra showed then how to behave as a good soldier: how to salute, taking the position of attention, and other interesting ways to behave I had to learn fast and others I had to forget equally rapidly if I wanted to avoided what the Corporal evoked as the "dreadful brig".
After that he took me to the soldiers’ mess where I ate my first military meal. It was neither good nor bad, but it was enough food to keep me filled till the next day. The clock showed 18:00 and I was now convinced that I had been cornered and that I was a soldier for good, well for two years !
The Corporal wanted to discuss with me and he asked why I had arrived one day early. I told him the whole story, adding that in fact in did not intend to become a soldier: I had come to get an exemption. To that Bijstra replied:
"Well, I think it is too late now. You are in uniform now and tomorrow you will take the oath. That will make of you a soldier for ever. I’ll do you a favor: as a recruit you are NOT supposed to drink alcohol, NEVER ! But I will go the barracks bar and get for you a last glass of beer."
That was my last glass of beer for a long period of time and my first one in uniform !
Corporal Bijstra told me then that it was bedtime and that I should quickly try to sleep: the next day would start early and would be full of activities. I went to my room, all alone, but it was difficult for me to sleep. I was used to a small and cosy room with curtains, I was now in a large and cold dorm with a large window without any drapes !!!
I spent a very bad night, wondering how I could ever get out of this stupid situation: trying to get an exemption for my military service and being in uniform one day early ! I could not even warn my parents, in their little town, since I had no access to a telephone. Bijstra had warned me that this situation would last 2 months !
The sound of the bugle woke me up (so finally I had slept) and I tried to guess how early it was. Bijstra suddenly appeared and said:
"04:30, wake up time. Get dressed in duty uniform and hurry downstairs."
I did what I had been told and was just in time for the morning roll call. Then I had a few minutes to change into my sport uniform. This was for the sport session followed by cleaning duty: getting a clean shower and a good shaving. I had also to get my bed and room perfectly clean. Finally at 06:00 I was again in duty uniform and got my breakfast. During all that time Corporal Bijstra kept shouting: he later said that he purposely made me "Run and wait" explaining that it was a good training for my future life.
Around 09:45, Corporal Bijstra told me:
"Hurry up and put on your service uniform to take the Oath of Allegiance."
As soon as I was dressed, the Corporal adjusted my uniform to make it look more elegant, placed my beret in the correct position on my bald head after making a knot in the sort of shoelace that enabled to adjust the size of this beret to my poor baldy and ended by giving a solid pat on my back while saying:
"You look great Vandevenne, you are ready for the great moment."
This meant that I had now to take the Oath of Allegiance to "the King, the Constitution and the Laws of my country" and to promise solemnly to obey all orders given by my superiors. I also knew that after that I would be in the military for ever: in my country you are born a free civilian, but once you have taken this oath, you can become, at the end of your time of service, an ex-soldier but never more a really free civilian. This implied that the military would be able to call me back whenever they felt they needed me. I had been warned at school and in my University against this Oath, but there seemed to be nothing I could do now.
At 10:00 precisely, I followed Corporal Bijstra and entered the Colonel’s office. I saluted him as I had been taught and took the position of attention facing the Colonel. This important man started to congratulate me:
"Vandevenne, you were here one day in early, ready for your military service. I carefully read your file and I discovered that you were in fact a University student. So you could have asked for an exemption ?"
"Sir, Yes Sir" was my reply
"But you like the Army as shown by your attitude in uniform ?"
Well, I could not really say "NO" to my chief now that I actually was in uniform ! So I simply tried to explain my adventures. I started to answer the Colonel’s question as follows :
"Sir, Yes Sir, but …, " at this point the Colonel interrupted me and said:
"Good, so you are ready to take the Oath of Allegiance ?"
"Sir, Yes Sir".
Corporal Bijstra took the flag from its corner and approached solemnly this flag from me, telling me to hold it with my left hand and extend my right arm towards the Colonel. This big chief said the words and I simply had to repeat them. When that was done the Colonel congratulated me:
"Vandevenne, it is good that you took that Oath. Now you are bound for ever to our glorious Army. I am mighty glad you took the Oath, otherwise you could still have asked for that stupid exemption. But you are really a soldier as of now. You will make here a great career. So you will start by assisting me when the other recruits come for their exemption."
That’s how I realized that I had had one more chance to skip out of this stupide military service but that I missed it because of my shyness. In fact I had been lured into joining the Army, but now it was really too late.
I saluted, made an "about turn" as told by Bijstra and left the Colonel’s office. I was very sad because I had been stupidly badly informed, and that I thus behaved to shyly ! It was 10:45 now and I was no longer a free man !
Bijstra took me with him to the soldiers’ mess and we had an early lunch. At 12:00 I was ready to do my sad duty with the other recruits. Several officers entered this office while I served as plain "door opener". I had of course to salute each of them and then wait in the position of attention. The Corporal brought each recruit separately into the office, I saluted the Corporal while opening or closing the door. During the interview, questions were asked and all those who were or had been University students got an exemption but all the others were told that they had to serve during two years. In these cases I presented them the flag and they took the same Oath of Allegiance as me, but the difference was that I was already in uniform. Bijstra took then those poor guys to the Master tailor office while I opened the door for the next one.
There was also a sort of intermission for the officers and I had to serve them coffee and … wait in the position of attention till they were done. Of course, since I was only a lowly recruit, I received nothing.
When this tiresome ceremony was finished, I was really tired since I had had to stay on my feet during more than 6 hours. Corporal Bijstra was kind enough to let me go and have my dinner before he was completely ready with the 17 new recruits.
The next day, we started together our Basic training under the very strict leadership of Corporal Bijstra. We left the barracks in service uniform and we kept this uniform during two months, with lots of activities and very little sleep. It was rough, it was tiring, it was not very interesting but I had to go through it anyway. So I decided to behave as well as possible, which meant that I tried to be as obedient as possible, certainly not because I liked these gruesome activities, but because it was less annoying to do it well and avoid a punishment than to be sloppy and constantly punished. Bijstra was not easy with us and I was the only one who was never punished.
At the end of our Basic training, we were taken back to the barracks. The Corporal told us to change into our duty uniform and go "on formation", as he called it, on the parade ground. There the Colonel greeted all of us since we were now "accomplished soldiers", but he then called my name and told me to step forwards. When I had walked in front of the others, the Colonel made a short speech saying that we had all made the grade but that one of us had done better than the others. He added:
"Private Vandevenne, Corporal Bijstra made a brilliant report of your attitude during Basic Training. I also remember that you arrived here one day early, having voluntarily andonned your University studies without asking for an exemption. You also told me that you loved the idea of being a soldier. For all these reasons, I make you now Private First Class. Take the Oath, Vandevenne"
I had to take again the Oath, adding this time that I promised to obey my superiors and to respect those who had a lower rank. I did as I had been ordered, as usually and I added "Sir, Thank you Sir".
The Colonel asked me if I was pleased with that first promotion and I replied, as usually with me, "Sir, Yes Sir" despite the fact that I really didn’t care.
I was also told that I did not need to have a baldy anymore. The first result of the Colonel’s decision was that I had now one stripe on each of my sleeves. The second result was that most of my 17 comrades started to hate me.
After that, our group of 18 led a very uneventful and dull barracks life. In order to avoid unnecessary punishments, I chose to continue to be polite and obedient. I kept saying constantly, and shyly "Sir Yes Sir". I tried to be full of RESPECT, of HUMILITY and MODESTY in order to satisfy my chiefs. As a result, I was one of the few who was nearly never punished. Our main activities were doing chores to help the "real voluntary enlisted soldiers". I thus became an excellent assistant cook, specialized in peeling the potatoes. I became also a specialist in toilet cleaning and in floor scrubbing. Besides that I learned nothing.
Every evening, after our chores were done, we had some hours of "free time". I could have used them to start again studying, but I did not feel that I had the right mood to do so. So I followed my comrades to one of the bars near the barracks. We had of course to be in uniform and we drank a lot. That’s where I learned what it actually meant to "know a girl".
Two weeks before the end of my two years of military service, my father suddenly passed away. I didn’t have any possibility to go and see my parents during these two years, only the possibility to speak rarely with them on the phone. I asked the authorization to attend my father’s funerals, but that was refused on the grounds that I had to get ready, with the others, for our passing out ceremony. Luckily, my sister came back from nowhere and took care of my mother, but that possibility was denied to me. I felt deeply depressed.
Shortly after that, nearly two years of military service, each of us was called to the Colonel’s office. I was still deeply depressed. When I entered this office, the Colonel told me:
"PFC Vandevenne, you have an excellent file. I was convinced you would reenlist, so I prepared a special contract for you. There are clearly possible promotions for you. Are you going to sign it now or later ?"
In fact I hated this Army life, but I was depressed and moreover a stupid and shy person. I was also impressed by the Colonel’s attitude and I did not want to be rude, so I simply replied:
"Sir, Yes Sir"
And the Colonel gave me a contract by which I accepted to be bound to the Army during 6 more years and I signed it with closed eyes, or nearly so.
When I came out of the Colonel’s office, Corporal Bijstra congratulated me in those terms:
"Congratulations Vandevenne. You just got a good job as soldier for the rest of your life. The military told you to sign a 6 year contract which they have the possibility to extend if they like you. So if you are not too stupid or too bad, they will renew it for six year and the for life."
"But Corporal, if I don’t want to stay, can i denounce the contract ?"
"Certainly not, Vandevenne. As long as you behave well they will keep you and you can't object to that. That’s what make this contract so good for you !"
So, in fact the contract i had just signed was worse than a simple contract and I had not noticed it: this contract enabled the Army to extend my contract by 6 more years, without asking for my agreement, if the authorities considered that could be a useful pawn.
I nevertheless chose to remain polite and obedient, and I adhered to the three pillars the Army like : RESPECT, MODESTY and HUMILITY. These 6 years were better than the 2 first ones. First, I was no longer with unknown comrades: Donovan, who was with me during our military service, chose to re-enlist on the basis that he would become Private First Class one year later. Donovan came from a farm, had no education at all, and loved drinking lots of beers and sleeping with many girls.
There was another positive argument: we now slept in a much more comfortable room, 4 soldiers per room and real beds, no double bunks anymore. We had lots of sport sessions, several military training sessions per week. No chores anymore: the military service recruits were there to do the chores for us. Sometimes we had to patrol in the city streets and rarely were we sent to actual fighting zones. It occurred nevertheless and while we were in Africa, defending the King and the Flag, Donovan got killed. He never made Private First Class, but he had wonderful funerals and was promoted after his death.
I had ample time to resume my studies, but I really did not feel like it: I was too busy obeying stupid orders.
At the end of my six years contract, Bijstra, who was now Sergeant Bijstra, took his "best recruit" to the Colonel’s office. The big chief looked at my civilian file and then at my military file and said:
"Your record is still excellent. The Army needs you and will keep you 6 more years at least. Don’t you think it is good for you, Private first Class Vandevenne ?"
And I automatically replied, like a well drilled machine:
"Sir, Yes Sir" and I signed my new contract without any hope to be ever free again.
Shortly after that, the Colonel summoned me in his office. He told me:
"It is only now that I have completely realized that you had started University studies. Did you really like so much the Army that you abandoned your studies instead of asking of an exemption ?"
That was the first time I could really and completely explain what had happened with my barber, on the day before I was supposed to join the Army to ask for an exemption.
The Colonel went further and said:
"So in fact you wanted to get an exemption ! But it is too late now ! Are you at least happy now to be a soldier ?"
What could I say ? That I hated the Army ? In any case, I was cornered, so I simply said the easiest thing for me:
"Sir, Yes Sir"
"Well, that pleases me. You will be an excellent soldier. Obedient and disciplined. But you will never be a leader, never be an officer. You are an excellent chief operative, but not a real leader and this is why the Army will keep you in this function. DISMISS Private First Class Vandevenne."
Three months later, I was promoted to Corporal and immediately after that Sergeant Bijstra told me that according to him, I would soon be sent to Sergeant school and become a group leader like him. I hoped that he was right, but I didn't really believe it.
When I had nearly reached the end of my second 6 years contract, I was again summoned to the Colonel’s office who spoke in strong words:
"Corporal Vandevennne, you are a good Corporal. That’s why the Army has decided to keep you until the end of your career. You are promoted to Master Corporal, but realize that this will be your last promotion untill you retire. I hope you are pleased with this announcement".
And as usually, I replied "Sir, Yes Sir", but this time I was sincere: I was now 32 years old and I did not want to have to start now a new career, and certainly not new studies. I simply asked:
"Colonel, may I from now on sleep outside the barracks as if I were a Sergeant ?"
"Yes Master Corporal, you have my special authorization to do so because you are so obedient and respectuous of all Army rules. But this will not be applicable on special occasions, for instance when you are sent on a camp with recruits."
"Colonel, may I get married ?"
"Master Corporal, you must first submit your future wife’s file and I will decide then if I give you this Sergeant’s privilege. Another question ?"
"Then DISMISS before I choose to punish you for excess of questions."
After 32 years of service, at the age of 50, I was told that I had to retire. I had not been promoted further ! So I left the Army as a Master Corporal, still theoretically bound in some way to the Army by my initial and damnable Oath of Allegiance, but in any case useless for the Army as retired master Corporal.
I am married with a charming lady and we have a son. I took great care to educate him to rebel when it is still time and to refuse to sign any document without reading it, at least twice, in a very critical way. Our son is a fine man, but he is not as polite as his father and that is good !