Remembering John Farrell

My friend of 45 years, John Farrell, passed away this week after fighting terminal cancer with the same toughness of spirit that he lived his life with. John and I met in the Army in 1973. We were both posted to Northern Germany, to 5 Company of the Intelligence Corps. We connected immediately; each of us seeing something of ourselves in the other; a wicked sense of humor and a willingness to push our luck about as far as it could go and, to be honest, I’m not sure how we got away with some of the pranks we played, without getting court-martialed. But we did and those memories have made both of us chuckle on many occasions since.

There are rumors, that I can neither confirm or deny, that John and I were on a security patrol for an exercise in Germany one winter. The temperature was something like 20 degrees below zero and we had to drive around all night, in an Army Land Rover, checking the perimeter for Soviet activity. It was so bloody cold that we drove 35 miles to a small town and checked into a hotel where we stayed for three nights, returning to base each morning, just in time for breakfast and then spending the rest of the day in our sleeping bags while everybody else froze their asses off. As I said, I can neither confirm or deny this baseless rumor.

Another rumor says we were with a young Intelligence Corps Captain, on another exercise, who casually mentioned, at about 11pm, that he was quite hungry so John and I went in search of food. Of course, everything was locked up and we were in the middle of a forest, but we found the mess tent and, while John kept watch, I picked the lock and we requisitioned half a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread which we made fried egg sandwiches out of. Chris, the officer, asked where we had got the provisions and was told that we had gone into the nearest town, some 40 miles away to buy them. Since we had only been gone 15 minutes; the story was, to say the least, hard to swallow but it went down just as easily as the egg sandwiches.

There is also a scurrilous rumor that he and I were on an exercise with a young Lieutenant, who was very green behind the years and was encouraged by John to play poker with me. Since I was an expert player, it wasn’t much of a contest and rumor says that he lost his entire paycheck in that game.

On another exercise, John and I were in the briefing tent standing around the ‘bird table’, which was the name used to describe the map of military activity; sometimes with models but often with just lines drawn, in crayon, on a topographical map. The General came in, who John knew quite well and who had a good sense of humor. The General asked John for a briefing and John, without any hesitation, pointed to the map and said “Well, Sir, the enemy is over there and we’re over here and if we don’t move pretty quickly, we’re absolutely fucked.” There was a collective gasp of breath from all of the General’s aides as they waited for an explosion to happen but the General just grinned and said “Thank you, Sergeant Farrell. That was the most succinct briefing I’ve ever had”, and walked out of the tent. After the briefing, John and I had to get back to our tent but it was pouring with freezing rain and we would have got absolutely drenched. John had me pick up one end of the bird table while he picked up the other and off we strode with the table on our heads keeping us dry. An officer stopped us and demanded to know what we were doing. John said “Need to know, Sir. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” and we carried on walking without waiting for a response.

One time, and this is a true story, John and I hadn’t seen each other for about 6 months but there was a company wide shooting competition scheduled so we duly turned up for it, coincidentally arriving at the same time. As were walking to greet each other, John said “Mike, your shoelace is undone” and, like an idiot, i looked down just in time for his boot coming up to collide with my forehead. The force of the blow was so strong that it, literally, lifted me off the ground and I flew backwards onto the hood of my car. Instead of apologizing, John then spent the best part of the next hour complaining how I had ruined the polish on his boots. Since I had a black eye and the evidence was on my forehead, it was hard to deny. He later said that it was about time somebody kicked some sense into me, and he never let me forgot about his damn boots.

We found ourselves paired on a company rally with John navigating while I drove. Suddenly, he found a shortcut through the forest and had me take it. As we were barreling down this narrow tree-lined path, a wild boar ran out in front of us and was promptly killed. We stopped and while I surveyed the damage to the front of the Land Rover, john went, picked up the boar and threw it in the back of the vehicle so we could have it for dinner and indeed, it was very tasty. We then set off and came out of the forest only to see the rest of the vehicles some distance ahead of us at the bottom of a steep grade. I looked at him, he looked at me and without a word being said, I headed straight down the hill, knocking over fences and going airborne several times. I’m not sure if the suspension ever recovered but we were both very annoyed that we didn’t come in first.

While we were in Germany, I had bought a Lotus Europa which I was known to drive very fast. I drove John into Hannover one day and it was the first, and only time, I ever saw him go white as I went through an S-bend, on a bridge, at 70 mph over the recommended speed. He said, after that, that he would rather be shot at than have me drive him. Many years later, he visited my wife and I in France and we went for a day trip to Carcassonne. By that time, I had slowed down considerably and drove, in my opinion, very sedately but John accused me of driving like Sterling Moss, saying that I had changed gears more times than he had eaten hot dinners.

John was known, by one and all, as a prankster. One time in Berlin, he ran into a newly posted officer and, instead of the usual ‘Morning, Sir’, John asked him if had any nude pictures of his wife and then, when the officer said that he didn’t, offered to give him some. The officer looked at John and said “Oh, you must be Staff Sergeant Farrell. I’ve been warned about you.” To which, John grinned and said “Thank you, Sir.”

John was incredibly well coordinated and very athletic but the one sport he couldn’t master was skiing. He came to visit me in Lake Tahoe one winter and stayed for several months during which time, we went skiing. Well, at least I did. John spent most of his time falling and it was the only time I ever heard a string of profanities come out of his mouth. For some strange reason, he just couldn’t stay upright on skis and I’ll never forget how awkward he looked on them.

John was the toughest person I have ever known. He was diamond hard but with his gap-toothed grin, he looked about as dangerous as a slice of toast. One time, he and I were tasked, by the local Kripo (Kriminal Polizei) with taking some photographs of agitators. I had the camera and John was there to protect me. Anyway, I was busily taking photographs when one of the agitators spotted me and angrily strode towards me. The man was 6’6 at least and built like a brick shit-house and was very intent on doing me some serious physical harm. I looked around for John but he’d gone off to get a cup of coffee so I prepared for a beating. Just before the man reached me, John slid in front of me and, without saying a word, wagged his finger at the man and shook his head. This belligerent giant looked into John’s eyes, didn’t like what he saw there, promptly turned and stomped away.

I will miss my friend more than I can possibly express but I hope that some of these stories (baseless rumors, most of them) will give some pleasure to his family and friends. He was immensely proud of both his children, David and Jenny, who I knew as young children.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Michael Rocharde
November 23, 2018

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