by Edward Cimokowski
The American airmen never learned that the English pub was not a saloon, but a family gathering place. In an effort to improve Anglo-American relations, the neighboring pubs were placed off-limits and a giant sized saloon called The Sad Sack Shack was opened on the base. A canteen cup and a six-penny piece was the only requirements for admittance. This is how Ed Cimokowski remembers it.
The Sad Sack Shack is the monastery for the devotees of the foam-flecked chalice, a coffee stained aluminum canteen cup. Here we meet our companions in relaxed stance, “batting the breeze” through the heave pall of cigarette smoke, all brands but a certain one beginning with and “R,” and haranguing over the trivia of the fast-fading evening. One observes the swaying and elbowing congestion of the fatigue draped exiles seeking salvation before a malt syrup altar behind which rest the three gigantic barrels of Whitebreads Ale, green in its youth and terrible in its corrosion of the youthful stomachs, those who thrust forward their drained quart cup trying to get some attention before last call is announced; it seems so long ago since 10 p.m. was the end of any evening, but it is all coming back to haunt us again in wearier years, when a few hours of crawling through the Fortresses would make a sunset bedtime welcome.
The window blinds of this decompression chamber which latches on to the PX are decorated with paintings of nude females, it is true, but still admired as bawdy brash art when the perspective is contracted by steady swigs of that unripe brew our of Ipswich.
There are also crayon sketches of high life on Lennox Avenue and scenes found in risqué’ magazines of that day, when risqué’ had a riskier meaning that it will ever have again. A solemn-faced board, not edged in black, announces that the chaplain’s phone is 19. suspended from the ceiling are 100 pound practice bombs shells upon which are painted the names of pounded German targets with dates of the raids.
The floor is covered with linoleum, and in an hour after the crowd of GIs convenes it is bed for a shallow pond of the sloshy suds. A piano is being hammered with unembarrassed diligence and gruff, rasping, strained disharmony vibrates the corrugated Nissen hut ceiling, as we all try and forget that jolly old England is not the far distant place in the USA where our songs of yesterday were meant for the many tomorrows we though we would be holding hands with.
The stars look so bright, so unusual for the island supported by barrage balloons, after a session at the PX GI Saloon; even the swirling murk which eventually shuts our the beauty of a silver-speckled night to us is welcomed as a momentary nostrum for the growing throbbing in our fragile temples. When the anesthesia is worn away in the soggy morning mist, a dull pounding strikes the infinitely complicated machinery of out heads – which, abandoned for the carnival of the night, rejoins the reluctant body in the noisy morn of the next session.
The path of the Sad Sack Shack was tucked away a reasonable distance from the more elevated and less slippery surrounding of the Red Cross Club, which, with delicate watercress sandwiches and brew of saner sort, had fewer possibilities of mental and bodily disorders when it was time to go to the line and rev up the Wright Cyclones once more. It was later, quite a bit later, when an alternative to the devil’s concoction restored the stomachs of the GIs who thence visited the PX only during daylight hours when ice cream was being served.