It was the Neapolitan admiral Francesco Caracciolo (1752–1799), who made the observation: 'There are in England sixty different religions and only one sauce'.
However, when I enlisted in the RAF, nearly two hundred years after his rather disparaging remark, many changes had been made in the Sceptred Isle.
England now had two sauces— red and brown, and the myriad Christian sects and denominations encountered by Francesco Caracciolo were reduced to three — at least as far as the Armed Forces of the Crown were concerned — the three being C of E, RC, and OD.
'C of E' refers the Church of England; Protestant, Anglican, the Established church of the Realm. 'RC' indicates Roman Catholic and 'OD' Other Denominations, a title which encompasses a plethora of nonconformist persuasions, including Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists — Calvinist, Wesleyan, and Primitive, Plymouth Brethren, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Gospel Hall, in fact all and any Christian creed and cult neither Anglican nor Catholic.
Having Christianity divided into three parts — somewhat like Gaul — made life so much simpler for the military.
Every Sunday all apprentices would attend a church parade relevant to their religious persuasion to be marched off to the appropriate church for their devotions; the Anglicans to St. George's Church, the Catholics to The Holy Family Church, and Other Denominations to St. Andrew's Church.
The default religion for 'don't knows' or 'none' was C of E. Agnostics, Atheists, and pagans of all shades, also fell in with the Anglicans and marched to St George's. However, they remained outside of church until the end of the service, and then fell in with us holy ones before we all marched back to camp for Sunday dinner.
An urban myth was that 'the ungodly' were given foot drill during the hour long service, and many became 'Christian' to get into the warmth of the church during the winter months.
The RAF ensign was raised every morning at Reveille, with the Orderly Officer, Orderly Sergeant, and the duty trumpeter in attendance. However on Wednesdays the Colour Hoisting ceremony was carried out during the morning parade before we were marched off to work.
After Mr. Carter, Number 2 Wing's esteemed Wing Warrant Officer, had the parade assembled to his satisfaction he handed over to the senior officer, and then went marauding behind the rear ranks of the three squadrons drawn up in review order.
The C of E Padre would trot onto the parade square after the RAF ensign had been raised, but before he started on any of his sky pilot spiel the parade commander, who was usually the Wing Commander, gave the order. 'Fall out Roman Catholics, Jews and Moslems, and any other non-Christian denominations. '
Once that rather ambiguous order had been issued a mass exodus from the ranks ensued, the majority being Catholics but among which would be a few bold C of E lads who liked to chance their arm and have a break from the routine of the parade. Warrant Officer Carter must have had a photographic memory as he soon stopped any apostates in their tracks.
"I know you're not a Roman Candle, Smetherswick. Get fell back in, jildi!"
After the C of E Padre had given a homily and a prayer the order 'Fall in the Roman Catholics, Jews and Moslems, and other non-Christian denominations' was given.
Those who had broken ranks to stand on the edge of the parade ground, and were thus out of earshot of the Proddie Padre when he spoke, now made their way back to their ranks, chivvied by Mr. Carter.
The parade continued with the order 'In open order -- right dress', preparatory to the inspection of the troops by the Wing Commander. As the Wingco made his way through the ranks the military band serenaded us with a tune, the name of which I never learned but the words we sang, sotto voce, to the melody were:
'Somebody shat on our doorstep
Mother swore blind it was me.
Ttiddle, tiddle, pom'
During this musical interlude W.O. Carter, who was both large and flatulent, would prowl up and down behind the rear ranks of the squadrons, belching and breaking wind — you can probably guess his nickname, which rhymed with his surname — and muttering "Fall out the officers" or "Fall in the Gale and Crash crew", loud enough to be heard by those in the rear ranks. This would of course cause some to snigger or chuckle.
Then he would pounce. Sideling up behind an unfortunate his eye had lighted on he would hiss sibilantly in their ear.