At Victoria station the R.T.O. gave me a travel warrant, a white feather and a picture of Hitler marked 'This is your enemy'. I searched every compartment, but he wasn't on the train.
Spike Milligan's war diaries, generally known by the title of their first volume, although via Trilogy Creep they would go on to span seven:
Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall
"Rommel?" "Gunner Who?": A Confrontation in the Desert
Monty: His Part in My Victory
Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall
Where Have All the Bullets Gone?
The first three books were also released in an abridged single volume, cutting out most of the tangents and "Hitlergrams", called "The War Memoirs", and parts 5-7 as "The Peace Memoirs".In these books Milligan records his experiences as part of the Royal Artillery during and after World War II, accompanied by much hilarity and occasional bouts of sorrow and depression. He reveals the sources of much of the humour in The Goon Show and how the key players behind it came together. Although written in a very surreal style and with many bizarre interludes, the narrative depicts real people and events and Milligan was rather offended when one reviewer didn't realise this.The first book was adapted as a movie starring Jim Dale as Milligan. The real Milligan has a cameo as his own father.
Contains examples of:
Americans Are Cowboys: The Americans rarely appear either in the real or spoof segments, but when they do they are basically cowboy stereotypes, such as wanting to put the tanks in a circle with the women and children on the inside.
America Wins the War: At one point the regiment parades through an Italian village in triumph only to realise the cheering crowds are yelling 'Hail the Americans!'
One of Spikes comrades suggests "Quick, lets slip it up her and blame them!"
On the other hand, there is a telling scene where Milligan's heavy guns are directed into a firing position in a boggy field where they sink into the mud under their own weight - the only powerful vehicles nearby that can tow them out belong to the American Army, who generously give their time and help, leading to angst in Jumbo Jenkins that "we've sunk so low as to ask the Americans for assistance". "We have sunk so low, sir. That's why we need them" replied Milligan.
Major 'Jumbo' Jenkins inverts this (in truth, a lot of Brits had their own version of this at the time) by challenging a downed American airman: "Who goes there? English, or German?" The airman's reaction is predictable.
Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Subverted with "Jumbo" Jenkins. At first coming across as a stiff General Ripper, he later softens up a little and even plays jazz with Spike and his friends, but still busts Milligan down to the ranks after he suffers combat trauma in Italy.
The basic issue seems to be Chaotic Vacuum of People Skills. Jenkins isn't vicious, he just doesn't know how to manage people.
I Was Told There Would Be Cake: Milligan's mother keeps sending him cake, which Major Chater Jack gets a taste for and soon Milligan's having to eat it as soon as he gets it before the Major can turn up.
Mood Whiplash: The books are mostly light in tone, especially the pre-battle fatigue ones, but these are war diaries. In particular, the death of Lt. Goldsmith, a direct hit on the Command Post, and random macabre daydreams are sprinkled through the earlier books - the fact that these events often come right after the silliest moments makes them all the starker.
One Steve Limit: Averted, one of the other Gunners is also nicknamed 'Spike' and is more commonly referred to by the name than Spike himself in the narrative.
Only Sane Man: Milligan presents himself like this, which is hilarious in itself when you know the level of nuttiness in his works.
Running Gag: From the second book onwards, Milligan uses pictures of British soldiers fighting in colonial wars from the Victorian period with captions suggesting they're supposed to be from the war - presumably a spoof on how the British Army tended to be underequipped and technologically inferior compared to the Germans.
The constant propaganda claim that "the Russians are advancing on all fronts".
Small Name, Big Ego: Parodied. Milligan doing something is often followed by a 'Hitlergram' of senior Nazis concernedly discussing what Gunner Milligan is up to, as the entire fate of the war presumably rests on it.
Spot of Tea: Vital to the British war effort. At one point Hitler and Rommel discuss building a tank that shoots tea as bait to make the British troops charge across a minefield.
At one point, a group of signallers, including Edgington, is caught in an air strike while brewing up. Most of them run for the cover of their three-tonner, but Edgington collects the kettle and mugs first. He also takes his tin hat off and uses it to cover the tea urn.
Stiff Upper Lip: At one point while Major Chater Jack is addressing his men, a German plane flies over at very low altitude. The entire battery jumps into a ditch and as they crawl out are greeted by the sight of the Major still standing up, lighting a cigarette. He tells them "Now of course you realise in this situation that you did the right thing, and I the wrong..."
Surrounded by Idiots: Milligan also presents himself as the only one with any knowledge of history, dragging complaining fellow Gunners on a day trip to the ruins of Carthage for instance.
Upon seeing the ruins of a Roman aqueduct:
Gunner: Christ, Jerry didn't 'alf bomb that!
They try climbing it one day, and upon reaching the top Spike mentions how old it is, whereupon his fellows suddenly become afraid that it'll fall over.
Tanks, But No Tanks: One of Milligan's friends mistakes Panzer IIIs for the much larger Mark VI Tiger tanks at one point.
Tempting Fate: He seemingly causes a plane to crash by yelling 'I HOPE YOU BLOODY WELL CRASH!' at it.
Too Awesome to Use: One of Spike's comrades feels this way about the atom bomb, getting angry that they 'wasted' it on the Japanese. "They should have used something cheaper, like gas stoves filled with shit!"
Trilogy Creep: Was originally intended to be three books covering World War II, ended up as seven and covering the years after the war as well.
Unreliable Narrator: Although a certain amount is to be expected in a comedy memoir by one Terrence Milligan, there's an apocryphal story about the making of The Film of the Book, concerning a scene in which one of Spike's comrades is left behind to guard the wreckage of a crashed German plane, which suddenly and unexpectedly explodes, and kills him. Jim Dale apparently asked Spike whether watching them shoot the scene had been upsetting, to which Spike is alleged to have replied "Oh, it didn't actually happen..."
To be fair, Spike didn't actually witness that scene in the book either. In fact, his preface to the second volume professes that he carefully checked names and dates to try to get the books themselves as near as possible to what actually happened (except the bits that obviously didn't. Or the bits he couldn't possibly relate...)
Wall Bang Her known here as 'knee-trembling. Often referred to, occasionally actually seen- most of the young adults in the books, especially the first, have casual sex, but the mores of the time mean it's hard to find a comfortable place for it...
War Is Hell: Being in a Heavy Artillery Battery and hence miles behind the line, there's very little direct danger from the enemy - but of course this makes the individual deaths all the more shocking. The passage after his injury in Italy, where he describes a bloodied and battered infantryman comforting him in the ambulance with his relatively minor injury, but flinching and crying at every noise, is particularly poignant.