Bob Huber: Local columnist
When the Freedom of Information Act brought to light World War II super heroes known covertly as the Scarlet Pimpernels, it exposed a dark world of espionage, bravery, and thankless hardship.
The group’s name was derived from a movie by the same name staring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, which played one Saturday at the local theater in my hometown. The movie’s hero was Sir Percy Blakeney, an 18th Century aristocrat who led a double life — an effete nobleman by day, a hero of the French underground by night, freeing nobles from Robespierre’s Reign of Terror.
That said, it should be noted that by the time World War II came along the local Pimpernels had already achieved fame, mostly on Halloween. Outhouses were pushed over, windows were soaped and, in some cases, cans tied to certain dogs’ tails.
But with the advent of World War II, the Pimpernels heightened their efforts. Taking the bull by the horns, they headed upstream in patriotic zeal, leading a devastating attack with little more than clichéd metaphors against evil porch lights during blackouts.
Behind these wartime acts was the fact that their hometown no longer had a police officer. Their lone law enforcement officer, Buford Snavely, had been drafted and was digging latrines for the Army in New Jersey, which meant the Pimpernels had free rein to conduct their underground activities.
But let me clear up a few points. The Pimpernels were really Boy Scouts of Troop 48, who had been drafted as air raid wardens under the leadership of their tipsy scoutmaster, Moon Mullins, a plumber.
I won’t reveal names to protect the guilty, but the scouts answered to their aliases — Smooth Heine, Virgil Crotchmire, and me.
Every week, the Pimpernels gathered with other Scouts of Troop 48 and were given air raid warden arm bands and instructions. “We’re gonna skip knot tying tonight and go looking for anyone disobeying our blackout orders,” Moon said.
(Moon was always a little wobble legged by the time the Scouts gathered for their evening meeting, which enhanced his patriotic fervor.)
“Hooray. Hooray.” the Scouts shouted and spread out all over town, ringing doorbells, threatening old ladies, and in general making nuisances of themselves.
You have to understand that my hometown was a strategic target for enemy bombers, Moon said, because it contained a large brewery. Hitler and Tojo both knew that if you took our beer away, you took what little esprit de corps could be found half way around the world from the front lines.
But I have to say, the residents of my hometown took everything in stride and were accustomed to the partisan ways of the Pimpernels.
“You better get out on the porch, Earl.”
“Is it Wednesday night again already?”
You see, we Pimpernels were stringent in carrying out our duties even if it made folks mad. If a light was on, we didn’t bother to give warning We acted.
“Let’s go over to old man Hemburger’s place. He’s got a two-seater out back.”
“What about his dog?”
“That’s why I brought the dead squirrel.”
I don’t want to say we Pimpernels were totally successful in our wartime efforts, but it should be noted that my hometown was one of the darkest in the early 1940s. For a little while, we Pimpernels allowed folks to forget the war in favor of their own conflict.
I suppose we Pimpernels might have received some national recognition, maybe a medal or two, if our night-time activities hadn’t been sidetracked in favor of Moon Mullins’ new endeavor, gathering newspapers and tin cans for the war effort.
“This isn’t near as much fun as dumping over outhouses.”
“Ah, those were the days. (Sigh.)”
The Scarlet Pimpernels disbanded following World War II in favor of snuggly hay rides and rollicking rumble seats, and that’s a shame. We could use a little Pimperneling nowadays, just to keep folks on their toes.
In fact, this Wednesday after dark I plan to … but that’s another story.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.