This is from the time when I was working in the main headquarters signals centre for the RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) in Wellington in the 1960’s. Kurt Brindley prompted this memory by mentioning reading punched paper tape when he was in the Navy and that was exactly what the main signals centre processed. It received messages punched out on paper tape from each base around the country. Our job was to take the tapes received and send them on to whichever base or external party it was addressed to. You may scoff but it was state of the art for the times and we must have processed literally thousands of these messages every day.
The little pieces that were punched out of the paper tape to construct each character in the message, the little bits of paper that were the holes that is, were called chads and were collected in bins in the tape machines. They needed to be regularly emptied and tipped into large rubbish bins.
The Flight Sergeant who was the shift leader on duty this particular day was, say, let’s call him Bert. Bert had been posted down to the centre from the other end of the North Island, Auckland, with only about eighteen months to go on his contract to complete twenty years service. He was a little bitter and twisted about this, as we used to say, and with children in their last years of high school he had decided it wasn’t worth bringing the family down to relocate to Wellington with him. He would go off back home to Auckland whenever his roster commitments would allow. He was a lovely gentle soul and we all sympathised with his predicament. His personality however would not let this affect the personal relationships he built with each of us nor in the way he ran the shift. He was a pleasure to work with.
By way of contrast a female corporal was posted into the centre. A red headed girl who lived up to the common perception of red headed girls, fiery and opinionated but also in this case with a high degree of unsociability. She just annoyed everyone, with no exceptions. I struggle to find a better description of her attitude than to say, a bitch to work with. Let’s call her Vicki for the sake of the story, my apologies in advance to all the beautiful Vicki’s in the world.
One wet and windy day, as only Wellington can turn on, Vicki came storming in from her lunch break looking wet, bedraggled and covered in tiny bits of paper, shouting out for Bert to charge someone. Apparently Vicki had gone out for lunch taking her umbrella with her. However it wasn’t until she got to the corner of Lambton Quay and Stout Street that she opened the umbrella and was then covered in an enormous shower of chads, the little pieces of paper punched out of the paper tapes. Chads are a real nuisance to deal with and they seem to stick everywhere and get into all sorts of folds in clothing and skin, even worse when wet. Vicki’s folded umbrella had been sabotaged and loaded chock full with chads. Vicki obviously assumed that the prank had been carried out by one of us airmen on duty that morning and she was demanding that Flight Sergeant Bert investigate and charge the airman responsible. He listened patiently and concerned to her ranting and raving and reassured her that he would do his utmost to identify the culprit and place him on some sort of charge.
No airman was ever charged for the offence though. It was revealed later that it was in fact Flight Sergeant Bert who had sabotaged Vicki’s umbrella. How Bert managed to keep a straight face throughout Vicki’s rant was a testament to his experience and personality. Vicki was shortly transferred on to become someone else’s problem.
The lesson here is that you can only offend and annoy so many people in the services before natural justice will play out.