Wanganui Midweek - - REP -

Early on An­zac Day I sat pon­der­ing the causes and con­se­quences of war, how it brings out the worst and the best in us, ex­tremes of hard­ship and of hero­ism.

When I watched the movie The Dark­est Hour I ap­pre­ci­ated how Win­ston Churchill had to make the hard de­ci­sions and re­sist the urg­ing of other se­nior par­lia­men­tar­i­ans to make a treaty with Hitler, in­stead ral­ly­ing the troops and heart­en­ing the British peo­ple.

“We will never give in,” he thun­dered.

Per­haps there are those who don’t see Spike Mil­li­gan as a war hero but any­one who man­aged to en­cour­age the troops, to keep their morale up, is wor­thy of recog­ni­tion.

When Spike Mil­li­gan was called up to serve in World War II he was ini­tially a sig­naller in the 56th Heavy Reg­i­ment D Bat­tery which was equipped with ob­so­lete World War I-era BL 9.2- inch how­itzers. Mil­li­gan claimed that the gun crews shouted “Bang!” in uni­son as they had no shells to prac­tise with. His unit was later equipped with BL 7.2- inch how­itzers and saw ac­tion in North Africa be­fore mov­ing to Italy.

It was in Italy dur­ing the bat­tle for Monte Casino that Spike Mil­li­gan was in­jured and hos­pi­talised with a mor­tar wound to his leg and shell shock.

“Only they called it bat­tle fa­tigue then which just means you’re tired of fight­ing,” Spike quipped.

He’d risen in the ranks to Lance cor­po­ral and was about to be pro­moted to the rank of bom­bardier when he was hos­pi­talised, but an un­sym­pa­thetic Ma­jor de­moted him. Sub­se­quently Spike spent the rest of his time in Italy as an en­ter­tainer, singing and play­ing the mu­si­cal in­stru­ments he’d taught him­self to play.

He wrote his own ma­te­rial, much of which was penned to stave off bore­dom in the year he’d spent in bar­racks be­fore see­ing ac­tion in Africa.

Spike’s war me­moirs 1939-1950 in­clude the ti­tles Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Down­fall, Monty: My Part in His Vic­tory, Mus­solini: His Part in My Down­fall among oth­ers. While Mil­li­gan’s mad­cap hu­mour is strewn through­out the pages of bathos and pathos he claimed salient facts were true.

Back in Lon­don Spike Mil­li­gan be­came known as a co­me­dian but he did play some se­ri­ous roles. When he was cast as Oblo­mov in the play of the same name he felt the script wasn’t very good but his in­ten­tion was to play it straight. His slip­per in­ad­ver­tently came off, flew across the stage and landed in the stalls caus­ing laugh­ter. Spike gave up play­ing it straight and ad libbed (cardinal sin in theatre), ver­bally rewrit­ing the script ev­ery night. The rest of the cast went along with it and the show was a great suc­cess.

Although Spike made us laugh he was also quoted as say­ing that the deaths of his friends and col­leagues would live for­ever in his mind. Are laugh­ter and tears op­pos­ing sides of the same coin?

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