Stories abound of generals who, when inspecting units under their command, fall into the habit of always looking at the same items to check attention to detail and overall efficiency. They seldom realize that they become known by these very personal inspection expectations, or how focused units might become on satisfying these singular points of interest with lesser regard to the big picture that is seemingly overlooked. From the New "Punch" Library, a 20 volume set of books published in 1935 with the cartoons and excerpts from Punch magazine from 1900 onwards, is a delightful volume titled "Mr. Punch and the Services." Within its pages, we find this tale of an inspecting Brigadier and his personal bugbear:
The Door that was Locked
The trouble with our Brigadier is that his early training was neglected by a too fond mother or too lazy nurse, and we have to duffer for it. There is no doubt whatsoever that as a small boy he used to throw himself on the ground and howl with rage every time he was baulked; and the passage of fifty years has not altered his character to any marked degree; he has broken himself of the habit of throwing himself on the floor, but he still howls at the top of his voice if thwarted, and attempts to sooth him merely cause him to yell louder.
Like all Generals who duty it is to inspect battalions, he has his pet "stunts" and anathemas; and it has long been accepted a the first duty of Commanding Officers and Adjutants that they should make themselves acquainted with the speciality of the Brigadier immediately they arrive at a new station. The little points in question are nearly always something absurdly trivial; such as the carrying of a spare pair of bootlaces by all ranks or the complete absence of cobwebs in barracks, and the really efficient adjutant knows that there is only one thing worse than every man on parade being deficient in spare bootlaces, and that is for every man at once to produce from an accessible part of his clothing these necessary adjuncts to his footwear. To do this is to rob the tiger of his prey, and is always regarded as silent insolence. It must be borne in mind that the Brigadier has got up early that morning to fulminate over at least one man deficient in laces, and to deprive him of this pleasure is merely asking for it; so let him have one deficiency or one small cobweb as the case may be for your sake and everybody else's.
Out Brigadier's pet aversion is a locked door. It seems that in the early days of his inspecting career he came across a locked door adjoining the sergeant-major's bunk and demanded the key. This was found after a long search and much protestation, and on opening the door the Brigadier was richly rewarded, for the room was a masterpiece. It was filled with every conceivable form of insult, from dirty clothes to rusty rifles, and on top of a disgraceful bed was a bull-terrier with a little of pups. There was an historic scene—the Colonel was retired, the Second-in-Command passed over and the Adjutant went to the other battalion in Shanghai; and since then our Brigadier has had one idea in his head and only one—every battalion has a locked door and behind it corruption unspeakable. He is so intent on finding one that he will overlook everything else during his quest; and the secret of success during an inspection is t see that he discovers one with just a taste of disorder in the room—a mere rub of garlic around the bowl.
We were inspected last week, and there is a nervous restrained attitude about everyone, for no one knows what the future holds. In the first place it must be understood that our barracks were built in the days of the Peninsular War, and to make them habitable the Works Department have added and pulled down bits at various times, so that the original lay-out of the buildings has been lost entirely, and the natural appearance is an untidy one. This is not exactly our fault, but our Brigadier is quite capable of holding the Commanding Officer responsible for what happened in 1812 if he is in the wrong mood.
Our Adjutant had arranged everything for a most successful inspection—minor details like drill and kit inspection, reserve ammunition, and Quartermaster's stores were beyond reproach, and the most important point—the locked door—had been most carefully staged. It was that of a small room in "D" Company's block, and the furnishing of it lacked no detail. It was spotlessly clean and swept, it contained a tiny bed, a table, a chair and well-oiled rifle. For a moment the Adjutant had thought the rifle might be a trifle rusty, but decided this would be too drastic, and had finally selected a cigarette-end lying on the table as just that little touch of disorder to give the Brigadier entire satisfaction—the olive in the cocktail, as it were.
Everything went swimmingly till we arrived at "C" Company's rooms, and then the Brigadier, somewhat nettled at having been baulked for so long in a barracks that seemed to be all doors, stalked on ahead and rattled the handle of the door at the far end—and it was locked!
"How often have I said that every door in the barracks must be open when I inspect?" he roared, "Open it at once!"
"But Sir——," began the Commanding Officer.
"Don't argue with me, Sir!" yelled the Brigadier, hammering on the door with his stick. "Open it at once. Fetch the key! Who's got it? Send for the Armourer-Sergeant!"
"But Sir," interposed the Adjutant, "There is no key."
"Don't answer me, Sir. Every door has a key!" yelled the Brigadier. "fetch the Armourer-Sergeant and break it down at once."
The Armourer-Sergeant having been produced got busy with screw-driver and brace-bit till suddenly the door creaked on its hinges and moved slightly in a cloud of dust and plaster. The Brigadier, intent on being the first to view the disorder he counted on finding inside, pushed his way to the front. The door creaked again and suddenly swung open; the Brigadier stepped forward into a blaze of sunshine and disappeared completely from view. Looking out over the threshold of the door, closed for some forty years, we saw him lying twenty feet below in Sergeant-Major Bartlett's lettuce-bed, the bright green of the plants contrasting delightfully with his purple face.