As he waded ashore the R.S.M. stumped up to him. “Have you been using soap in that slough water?” he demanded. “Have you been using bloody soap?!”
Rudi looked blank. “Sorry, ja? Me Dummkopf, ja? Nichts verstehen, me.”
Angrily the RSM grabbed at the wrapped scrap of red Lifebuoy soap in Rudi’s hand, tearing it out of the waxed paper and holding it hard under Rudi’s nose. “Seife! Seife nicht good in Wasser—niemals in Wasser. Verstehen?”
Rudi grunted, taking the soap back from the man’s hand. “Jo, verstand.” He looked from the RSM to the soap, then around at the surrounding grainfields. He could see no cattle and could not comprehend what harm the soap might do. Shrugging, he fell in with the other men, dripping, pulling and smoothing at his faded tunic by way of a rough hand pressing. He had already begun to steam under the beat of the sun. His uniform was at least clean again and would keep him cooler than dry clothing. He crossed himself. Thank you God for giving me a chance to get clean.
The prickly heat under his arms had been driving him mad until he had been able to get into that cold water and ease the salty bite of his own sweat. He felt a new man. Behind him he could hear the Tommy Feldwebel bellowing about ‘Nicht Seife’ to another uncomprehending Wehrmacht man.
Then the Tommy came striding past to take the head of the swimming parade and the Lady from Hell blew on the bagpipes, swinging away upfield with swirling kilt to the skirl of ‘Highland Laddie.’