A FRIEND OF THE SERGEANT MAJOR
About to turn in for the night, young Lieutenant Peter Grey commanding a small petrol dump in Germany, receives an anonymous phone call. His men are raising hell in a neighbouring village.
Unable to find his Sergeant Major, a seasoned and much respected soldier named Bennett, Grey sets off with Corporal Brown. Grey is furious, especially as the corporal has been praising Bennett and by inference belittled Grey’s ability as a commander.
Arriving at the village, they come across a cellar restaurant, being expertly taken apart by a party of men under the command of Sergeant Major Bennett. Tipped off by the sound of the Land Rover’s horn, the men escape, but Grey gets there to find Bennett taking a last poke at the proprietor, Herr Ibar. Bennett is put under close arrest and is committed to a District Court Martial.
Bennett then demands legal aid in the form of a civilian lawyer, Langford and a psychiatrist named Corder. Lieutenant Grey is shaken. This can only finish up as a public scandal. The newspapers will love the idea of an old soldier, M.M. and Bar, with only six weeks to go for his pension, being accused by a young officer.
Corder is shaken too when asked to go to Germany. Why should Bennett have asked for him. There is nothing on his files about the man. On the plane the psychiatrist meets the lawyer, Langford, and recognises him as a private who worked at a base hospital where Corder was stationed during the war. Langford reminds him that Bennett was there too – one of Corder’s first and most successful cases in the treatment of shock. Disliking Langford, and hoping to shun the publicity that the case is attracting, Corder goes to the Divisional Commander and asks to withdraw from the case. The General, concerned that the public ‘image’ of the Army should suffer as little as possible, points out that it would not be fair. If he withdraws, it would influence opinion against Bennett. It is clear that in his mind the happiest solution is for Bennett, the old soldier to win, at the expense of a young and not very experienced officer.
Corder sees Bennett who tells him that, although the excuse for breaking up the restaurant was that one of the men had got ptomaine poisoning there, in fact, he had been offered a thousand Deutschemarks to wreck the place by another restaurateur named Landau. After all, he was retiring, and the pension was small. Corder asks him if he knows who tipped off the Lieutenant. Bennett doesn’t care.
The Court Martial begins, and Grey gives his evidence. Cross-examining, Langford accuses Grey of persecuting a soldier who was much more respected than he was. The German proprietor is called, and to everyone’s surprise denies that the soldiers were doing any damage. In fact they were helping him clear out a band of roughs who did the damage. The whole court knows he is lying.
Corder suspects psychological warfare-an incident planned to bring the British Army into disrepute. While Langford is busy attacking Lieutenant Grey’s reputation in the court, Corder sends Corporal Brown out on an errand. Brown returns with the news that the tip-off came even before Bennett and his men reached the cellar. Corder asks Grey to co-operate with him by putting a watch on Bennett, who has been acquitted.
Alone in the barracks Corder points out to Bennett that for his thousand marks he has been working for the enemy, a pawn in the game of psychological warfare. Slowly Bennett realises that the tip-off came from the other proprietor, Herr Landau. But who paid Herr Ibar to lie at the trial ? Corder goes to find Grey, and they discover that the Sergeant Major has changed into civvies, and gone off with his revolver.
Horrified at what he has done, Bennett rages into the restaurant of Herr Ibar to find him drinking with Landau. They laugh as he brandishes the revolver but are terrified when Bennett shoots at one of them as he is trying to leave.
Corder arrives with Grey. It is a tricky situation. Grey asks Corder to speak to the furious Bennett. Corder points out that Grey is Bennett’s commanding officer, and Grey steps forward to play the role of a commanding officer for the first time in his life.