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Song of the Onion

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Strange was quite right to be concerned as to Lord Wellington’s reaction had he learned about the French troops’ singing cooking-pots. Fortunately the Iron Duke never got to hear about it and Strange, too, was left in blissful ignorance; equally fortunately the spell wore off after a while, although it caused a certain amount of consternation whilst it was working.

The French sergeant glared at his orderly. “Shut up!” he ordered. “We’ve had a long day, I’m tired, and I don’t need you to keep on singing.”

“But I’m not singing, Sarge.” The orderly was emphatic.

“Then who the blazes is?”

They both listened and caught the faint sounds of “J’aime l’oignon frît à l’huile, J’aime l’oignon quand il est bon” which was coming from behind one of the tents.

“I’ll show whoever’s skulking round there, singing instead of doing any work,” the sergeant said, picking up a heavy ladle.

He walked purposefully round the tent, followed by the orderly. There was no-one present, just a jumble of pots and pans on a cart.

The sergeant initially thought the miscreant had heard him coming and scarpered, but then a slightly higher voice (more of a tenor, the original singer had been a baritone) sang, “J’aime l’oignon frît à l’huile, J’aime l’oignon, j’aime l’oignon.”

The sergeant and the orderly watched in considerable surprise as a kettle tipped its spout to one side and came to rest on one of the pots, after which both gave a loud sigh, which could have been the sound of water cooling, except both were empty and neither had been on the range.

The sergeant and the orderly looked at each other and with mutual accord decided they had been imagining things and would never mention it again ever.

***

The troops had been fed and the sergeant was settling down to get some sleep ready for the long march the following day. It had been difficult keeping a straight face as the men were served, since most of the meal had been punctuated with “Un seul oignon frît à l’huile, Un seul oignon nous change en lion.” He had contented himself with glaring at anyone who looked as if they might say something, which had had the desired effect. When the lieutenant had braved a question, the sergeant had looked him straight in the eye and said, “It’s to help with morale.”

The sergeant fell asleep to a quiet duet of “Au pas camarade, au pas camarade, Au pas, au pas, au pas.

***

The next morning the sergeant decided it would be best to split up the kettle and the pot. He had grown used to them singing to each other and it didn’t particularly bother him anymore, but he had no wish for his unit to become the laughing stock of either allies or enemies. Accordingly they were loaded onto separate carts.

At first everything was fine. The only singing was that of the marching troops. The sergeant began to relax. But then he heard it. It was only quiet, but the singing was so mournful he felt his own tears beginning to well. This was ridiculous. He wondered whether he could stuff something in his ears to drown out the sound.

Unfortunately he wasn’t the only one who could hear it. It wasn’t long before he was confronted by an extremely angry captain who demanded to know what he was playing at. The sergeant protested he didn’t understand.

“I have hardened men in tears from the singing they can hear. If this carries on they will be in no condition to fight. You could be found guilty of aiding the enemy.”

The sergeant gulped. “I just thought they’d be quiet if I separated them.”

“Them! Who are they?” the captain shouted.

The sergeant took a deep breath. “One of the kettles and one of the cooking pots.”

The captain looked at him in total disbelief, then sighed. “I don’t care what it, just get it sorted.”

Hurriedly the sergeant went to find the pot and kettle. It didn’t take him long to reach the kettle and he snatched it off the cart. Tracking down the pot might prove more difficult, but he could hear the mournful singing in the distance and he could have sworn the kettle swivelled in his arms so the spout pointed in the right direction. Not that that was possible, of course, but he was prepared to accept any assistance.

Breathlessly he made his way to the cart with the singing pot. The driver halted on his arrival and he pushed the kettle next to the pot, knocking a couple of smaller pans out of the way as he did so. As he put the kettle down its spout tipped up and balanced inside the pot. Out of the two came sounds which made a young recruit blush deeply and then there was blessed silence.

The silence didn’t last long, for soon he heard a baritone and a tenor duetting happily, “Aimons l’oignon frît à l’huile, Aimons l’oignon, aimons l’oignon.

The soldiers around the cart joined in and the march continued.

***

That evening Napoleon said to his aide-de-camp he’d heard about some trouble in the morning and had it been resolved?

The aide-de-camp looked at him and said, “Just un affaire de coeur. A minor matter, easily sorted.”