A/N: I don't own Hogan's Heroes and I don't get paid for this; it is truly a labor of love. This story is affectionately dedicated to the late great Bernard Fox, who passed away December 14, 2016.
So how did such an apparent nincompoop as Rodney Crittendon end up as a career officer? Fans of P.G. Wodehouse and Gilbert and Sullivan will understand...
Last night I dreamt I went to Stalag 13 again.
The medical chaps say that the unconscious mind never forgets. And Stalag 13 was not a place one readily forgets in any case, even when one's role at the camp had been less than heroic, as mine was. Alas, I am unhappily aware that I am not the stuff of which heroes are made. But how I wish I were!
And though I performed my duties today with my customary good humour, the memories weighed on my mind. So much so that when the day's work was done and the children put to bed, Emily sat me down and enquired what had caused the disturbance of my peace of mind.
To be more precise, what she said was, "What's eating you, Rodney?"
I suppose the wives of former prisoners of war must deal with the memories, don't you know. So I tried to tell her, but in truth, I found it difficult to put into words. I had been an unwilling lodger of the Jerries in several different prison camps, and each one had left its mark on me.
But of course, the memories that troubled me the most were of my rather odd experiences at jolly old Stalag 13. I admitted as much to Emily, and she nodded. "I thought so. It's time you got that out of your system, you know."
I sighed. "How does one do that?"
She thought for a moment, and snapped her fingers. "I've got it! You should write your memoirs, Rodney."
"My memoirs!" I was a bit startled. "Who would care to read anything about me?"
"Probably no one," my wife admitted. "But in justice to yourself, I think you should write them anyway."
She responded with a firm nod. (Emily is a very decisive person.) "Yes, I do. I've heard all the stories, and I think it's time you told your side of it."
Well, I am a very modest chap and not one to blow my own horn, after all, and I told her so.
"Yes, I know," she said. "All the more reason for you to speak up now."
I was willing to take her word for it, but I had some doubt in my ability to do the thing. "But I say, Emily! I hardly know where to start."
"Why not start at the very beginning?"
"What? You mean, I should start off with 'I am born' or some such rot, like that Thackeray fellow wrote?
"I think that was Dickens, Rodney dear."
"Eh? Oh, yes; yes, of course. But, Emily..."
She handed me a fountain pen and a pad of paper. A steely glint was in her eye, so I meekly took the items and sat down at my desk.
A Soldier's Tale:
Memories of a Life Behind Barbed Wire
Rodney Wooster Stanley Crittendon
I was born in Cornwall in 1905, in a little town called Penzance; perhaps you've heard of it? I expect one could say I am the typical product of a typical British upbringing. We had a very proper British nanny, of course. And many a jolly holiday we had while she was with us, but eventually I went away to school, as boys do.
I attended Brookfield School during my formative years, and a jolly good experience that was, too. My cousin Bertie attended Malvern and my elder brother Nigel attended Harrow, and I'm afraid they poked a bit of fun at old Brookfield, but it suited me.
Yes, it was a second-rate school and all that, but when one is blessed with a second- or third-rate intellect such as mine, one can hardly be expected to attend Eton, can one? At any rate, as our Latin master Mr Chipping pointed out, even fellows such as myself could contribute in some small way to the glory of England.
Ah, yes, old Chips was a turn in himself, he was. He had retired, but the onset of the Great War brought him back into action at Brookfield and a whole new generation of boys learned Latin from him. I can still recall him standing in the chapel at Vespers, reading out the list of former Brookfield boys lost in combat each day...the flower of England, those who had given their all in the line of duty...
Duty! It has ever been the guiding light in my life. And of course, Nigel and Kay and I first learned our notions of duty at Grandfather Frederic's knee. Grandfather was a perfect slave to duty, and I resolved to adopt his creed as my own. I would always do my duty, I told myself, no matter how difficult or incomprehensible the task.
And so, at the suitable time, I went on to Cranwell. And how did I end up at the Royal Air Force College, you may ask? I had no choice, you see: the military was in my blood, by Jove!
Great-uncle Sir Joseph would of course have preferred that I attended the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, but aside from the fact that I always get beastly sick whenever I venture out on the briny deep, I didn't fancy following in his footsteps. Even though he had been the First Lord of the Admiralty, I always had the feeling that the old fellow was a bit queer in his attic, don't you know.
And the fact that Grandfather Frederic's nephew and namesake had been lookout on the Titanic further discouraged me from a naval career.
My great-grandfather had been a Major-General in the Army, and he would no doubt have preferred that I secure a place at Sandhurst, as Nigel did. I think the old fellow always regretted his own lack of military knowledge, although he was very sound in every other subject, of course, very sound indeed. The very model of modern thinking, my great-grandfather. He had always held that the members of his family were to have the best possible education, believing it would compensate for the rather appalling lack of common sense which is our most distinguishing characteristic.
But I had become enthralled with the exploits of the chaps in the flying machines, and so I applied for admission to the Royal Air Force College. Eventually, to the absolute astonishment of all of my instructors there, I emerged with the rank of Flying Officer. To be sure, though, not all Flying Officers actually fly...
Shortly after I received my commission, my cousin Bertie came to visit me, full of news.
"What ho, Roddy, old chap! The most peculiar thing..."
He went on to tell me that he had engaged a new valet. A most superior fellow, he assured me. Intelligent, and all that; had extricated poor Bertie from any number of scrapes, up to and including engagements to unsuitable young ladies.
I listened with keen attention. If anyone was lacking in the old gray matter more than I, it was my cousin Bertie. And if he had discovered a way to make up for that lack, well, jolly good for him! I was a bit envious, in fact.
Bertie noticed my expression of envy, and smiled and slapped me on the back. "No need to look so down in the mouth, old fellow. You haven't engaged a bâtman yet, have you? No? Well then, my man Jeeves happens to have a nephew who is serving in the ranks in the Royal Air Force, and who is looking for just such a post. I promise you, you won't be disappointed."
And I wasn't. Young Fleming was respectful, kept my gear in good order, had the most remarkable ideas, and (after I acted rather rashly on those remarkable ideas) the most extraordinary talent for getting me out of trouble and keeping me in the good graces of my commanding officers. We went off to India, and before I knew it I had progressed to Wing Commander, and by 1929 I was a Group Captain.
And I had never yet learned to fly! I remember something Great-uncle Sir Joseph once said: "Stick close to your desk, and never go to sea, and you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navy!" In my case, stick close to my desk, and never take flight, and I might end up Marshal of the Air Force. Of course, that didn't quite occur in my case. But beyond all reasonable expectation, I became a Group Captain, and Group Captain I remained, even as my brother Nigel became a Colonel in the Regular Army.
But then the bally Jerries invaded Poland. We did our best, but once the British Expeditionary Force was driven from France we were truly in the soup. I hadn't a prayer of concealing my incompetence in the current situation (especially after young Fleming was scooped up for some rather hush-hush work with the Home Office), and I was recalled to dear old England.
I was still tied to a desk, but fortunately, I had a bit of a knack for bolstering the morale of our brave lads who were fighting the Battle of Britain.
Perhaps you've heard of the Crittendon Plan? Well, the particular portion of the scheme involving geraniums didn't fly, if you'll pardon the expression, but I did manage to improve living conditions on the base for the poor chaps, as best I could. I always held that a well-fed and well-rested pilot was much better prepared to do battle with the enemy.
Odd, isn't it, that no one seems to remember that part of the Plan.
But, in the words of our good King George VI, "Keep calm and carry on." And so I did.
Later I was transferred to the Bomber Command, but it was deucedly frustrating sitting at my desk, knowing full well that other chaps were out there fighting and dying. And there I was, in charge of all those young fellows who risked their lives every night on bomb runs over Germany. I determined that I should experience for myself just what they were undergoing, and so I appointed myself observer on a mission over the Ruhr area.
Frightfully bad luck that we should get shot down, of course. And when that beastly rude Gestapo squad picked me up, I was firm in my conviction that they should get nothing out of me.
Actually, I suppose it was rather fortunate that I knew nothing of importance in any case. And so during my interrogation at Dulag Luft, I concentrated on setting the fellow straight on my rank.
"Group Captain Rodney Crittendon, His Majesty's Royal Air Force," I said.
"Captain? You are a Hauptmann? A Kapitän?" he said.
"No, no, not a captain. Group Captain," I said.
He eyed me with suspicion. "You are not a captain. You are an Oberst—a Colonel," he said, pointing to the insignia on my tunic.
"No, no, no, man! Pay attention, if you please," I said, getting a trifle hot under the collar. "Not a captain. Not a colonel. Group Captain."
"Colonel," he said.
"Dash it all!" I said, and that was the end of it. As far as the ruddy Jerries were concerned, for the duration of my stay in Germany I would remain a Colonel.
My subsequent experience in Stalag 18 was enlightening, to be sure. The camp was stuffed with all sorts of officers, and most of them jolly good ones too. I can tell you I kept my eyes and ears open! One must always be open to learning from one's fellows, don't you know.
The Escape Committee at Stalag 18 was a very busy one, and although I volunteered my services at once, for some reason Air Commodore Thistlethwaite wasn't at all keen to put me to use. Odd thing, that.
I did ask him how they expected to escape the Jerries without proper identification and money and whatnot. I was assured that these things would all come to pass in due time, and that when the escape plan was put into execution, it would be done on a grand scale. Thistlethwaite had a theory behind all this, and I must say it was a regular pip of an idea.
"We might not make it home, Crittendon," he told me. "But we can tie up as many Jerries as we can while we're on the loose. Every one of them running around looking for us here is one less gunning for our lads in North Africa and bombing our families back home."
Well, I say, the chap was a ruddy genius! So I suggested that perhaps some rather incompetent fellow could attempt a few futile escapes in the meantime, to divert attention from the preparations of the mass escape he had planned.
The Air Commodore eyed me rather sceptically, but then he smiled. "Feel free, old boy. But try not to get hurt, will you?"
And that's how I came to be rather famous at old Stalag 18, don't you know. Eleven escape attempts I had in all, twelve if one counts the time I hid myself in one of the supply lorries about to leave camp.
I suspect that the Jerries were having a bit of fun with me after a while, allowing me to go a little farther each time before I was recaptured. It occurred to me that perhaps they considered me to be rather mentally negligible, which, according to my cousin Bertie, is the opinion his man Jeeves has of him. That sort of thing runs in families, don't you know.
However, as I say, I am not one to shirk my duty, and anything for King and country, what? So it was strange, indeed, when Thistlethwaite summoned me to his quarters one day.
I gave him a brisk salute, and he told me to stand at ease. Then he informed me that I was to be transferred to a different stalag.
Well, I must say that was a bit of a facer, don't you know. I had been doing my bit at Stalag 18, helping the lads along with their grand scheme. Whatever would they do without me?
But Thistlethwaite assured me that I could find a way to be of use at my new stalag as well. In fact, I was to be the Senior POW Officer at Stalag 13!
My duty was clear. I would assume command of the prisoners at this stalag, do my utmost to bolster their morale, and see to it that the lads worked hard at the only duty of a POW...escaping to rejoin one's own national forces.
Emily put down the manuscript and gave me the look that makes strong men tremble. Then she sighed and shook her head. "Really, Rodney—you aren't giving yourself enough credit! In fact, people are going to think you're an absolute idiot."
I was a trifle put out. "Not at all, my dear girl! I merely set down the facts as they occurred. 'Tisn't for me to judge how my actions might appear to the uninitiated."
"Hmm." Emily tapped the manuscript with her fingertips. "Okay, let's see how you do with the story of your arrival at Stalag 13."
"No buts." She handed me the fountain pen with a smile. "Write."