Excerpt – Dreamer in the Dream

Jun 12th, 2012 | By | Category: Uncategorized

The Unknown Factor – Dreamer in the Dream by Jane Adams

MANY YEARS ago, I got a tap on the shoulder – one of many to come – which woke me. As with many conscripts to National Service, the period 1949-51 was for me a time of difficult adjustment. Most of the Army had demobilized, leaving a hard core of regulars. These heroes of El Alamein, Burma and the liberation of Europe, were suddenly faced with raw schoolboys to train as soldiers. It was an arduous bridge for both sides to cross. One man who achieved the crossing for me, was a certain Captain Carter. Carter was the epitome of rough-diamond military bearing. He had a look of Errol Flynn, down to the exact detail of the moustache. One of his favourite training methods was to order the squad to the local wood, and drill us to “walk like cats”. We had to feel our way as if by night, with full attention and without a sound, under his incessant fire. The poor pimpled lads tried like moon walkers, to copy a cat. They snapped fallen branches and lurched awkwardly under their kit, as their rifles tangled with the twigs. “I said a CAT, a CAT you dam’ fool! not a sex starved rhino. You ever seen a cat before? I said a hundred times and I’ll say it again, the ENEMY SURROUNDS US. DON’T GET CAUGHT OUT. WATCH!”

Back in barracks after the “enemy awareness exercises”, Carter lectured us on a subject called TEWTS, or what was officially called Tactical Exercises Without Troops. In the Nissen hut, there was a model of a battle terrain. He harangued us for over half an hour: “the success of any battle is ninety-nine percent due to making certain that each and every detail is planned so carefully that you can neither fail nor be surprised. Only one thing can defeat you. THE UNKNOWN FACTOR.”

Captain Carter had a bee in his bonnet about this. If he said it once, he said it a hundred times: it was in all his other drillings as well. All military planning must ensure it is NEVER caught out by this unknown factor. In my barracks the factor itself became known as the Un-mown Carter. Having exhaustively covered every small ramification of strategy and tactics in his imaginary battle plan, one day he asked Were there any questions? No one moved. We were all a little afraid of his ferocity.

He asked again. Still no questions. “Right,” said he, “no one leaves this class room till a question is asked.” Total, ringing, creeping silence.  “Right. You’re all lily white. Now I’m going to ask YOU a question. See if you heard a word I said. Which of you boys can tell me which is THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in a battle?” For due emphasis he wrote it on the board, stood back and bristled. Not a word. A long pause. The buzzing of bluebottles. Ears being awkwardly scratched, pencils chewed, desks stabbed, bladders squirm. He would keep us here all night.

Timidly, I raised my hand.


“Sir,” I replied, “the most important factor in any battle is the unknown one.”

“UNKNOWN FACTOR!” he roared, beside himself “Where the hell did you get that totally ridiculous idea from. Absolute piffle. There is no such thing as an unknown factor. Poppycock. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, the success of any battle is due to meticulous and exact planning, every detail, no more or less. There’s no such thing as surprises. Unknown factor. Absolute rubbish. Who ever heard of …”

For a long time I was lambasted with this tirade. Finally he sneeringly dismissed the class. As I left, tail between my legs, he came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear “Do you know what that was, Jacobs?”

“No Sir,” I replied meekly, rather dazed.

“That was the Unknown Factor!”

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