On Parade

Pity the poor corporal who was landed with a bunch of bright young rookie pilots and given the unenviable task of trying to drill them.

The corporal in charge of Dad's lot at No. 1 Air School, like every good corporal, used to make the lads count off by numbers when they formed up on parade, to make quite sure no one was missing.

It goes like this: the person at one end of the front row calls out "one", and then the person next to him calls out "two", and so on, very fast and in a suitably military bark, and by the time they get to the end, they should in theory have counted to the right number.  And of course the eagle-eyed corporal makes sure that no-one calls out for anyone else, or occupies the wrong space.  Discipline, after all, is everything.

One morning, to his anger and bewilderment, Dad's long-suffering corporal was treated to a group of stern-faced, hawk-eyed, courageous young pilots-to-be barking out this very curious recitative:

Eye
Eye Eye
Eye Eye Eye
Eye Vee
Vee
Vee Eye
...and so on.

"Shaddap! shaddap!" yelled the enraged corporal, "Count off! From the left!"

And they barked out more of the same gibberish!

In those days, the corporal would probably not have had much schooling; he would have been lucky to have gotten beyond Standard Seven, in Afrikaans.  So this was almost certainly his very first encounter with Roman numerals.  It would be nice to think that the experience triggered a desire for higher learning, but somehow, I doubt if it did.

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