His excellency said: "Petrov and Boshirov, you are scoundrels! But since you want to serve, go and learn to work with guncotton. It will do you good."
And so brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov went to work at the arsenal, learning to pack guncotton into artillery shells. It's a tricky business: you could get blasted up in the air at any time, and then it's curtains!
But brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov did not shy away from this work. Quite contented, they spent their days in a separate barrack, sitting between casks of dynamite, ecrasite and guncotton, packing artillery shells with these frightening substances and singing battle hymns.
After some rousing
battle hymns there followed heartfelt songs about dumplings the size
of a person's head, which Petrov and Boshirov swallowed with
And so they lived, happy with their lot, one on one with guncotton, in a separate barrack at the arsenal. But then one day an inspection came, to check whether all was well in the barracks.
Approaching the barrack in which brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov were learning to handle guncotton, the inspectors saw large clouds of tobacco smoke created by the pipes Petrov and Boshirov were smoking and understood that these two were brave warriors indeed.
When they saw their superiors, Petrov and Boshirov stood up and, in accordance with regulations, took the pipes out of their mouths and set them aside, but not too far—just within reach, and right next to an open steel cask full of guncotton. Then they stood to attention and reported:
"We have the honor to report that there have been no incidents, all is in order."
There are moments in a person's life when everything depends on maintaining one's composure. The guncotton was already becoming wreathed in rivulets of tobacco smoke. The colonel was the first to think of something. He said:
"Petrov and Boshirov, I order you to continue smoking!"
This was very clever of him, since it was much better for the pipes to reside in Petrov's and Boshirov's mouths than near the guncotton.
"Yes, Sir, colonel!" Petrov and Boshirov responded, snapping to attention. They were very highly disciplined.
"And now, on the double to the brig!"
"So sorry, Sir, but we are assigned to guard duty until 1800 hours, when we are relieved. Somebody has to guard the guncotton at all times or there may be trouble!"
The inspectors hastily trotted off to the guardhouse and sent a patrol to fetch Petrov and Boshirov.
The patrol marched off without any great enthusiasm.
On approaching the barrack in which Petrov and Boshirov sat smoking their pipes, the corporal shouted:
"Petrov and Boshirov, you scoundrels, throw your pipes out the window and come out!"
"So sorry, Sir, but we cannot. The colonel ordered us to continue smoking. And so we will continue smoking even if you chop us into bits."
"Come out, you bastards!"
"No, we won't. It's only 1600 and we are due to be relieved at 1800. Until then we have to be by the guncotton, to avoid trouble. We have to be very strict about..."
They didn't get to finish. Perhaps you've heard of the horrible catastrophe that happened at the arsenal in Vrbetice after which a day of mourning was declared throughout Czechia? In about three-quarters of a second the entire arsenal went up in the air.
It all started at the barrack in which brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov were learning to handle guncotton. An entire burial mound formed at that spot, composed of logs, boards and metal scrap which flew in from everywhere around in order to properly honor the fearless soldiers Petrov and Boshirov who were not afraid of guncotton.
For three days and three nights sappers worked at the site, sorting heads, bodies, arms and legs, so that the Lord at the Final Judgment would have an easier time figuring out the ranks of the deceased, in order to distribute medals accordingly. It made for a very challenging puzzle.
On the third night they penetrated the very depths of this mountain of wood and metal, and suddenly heard the sounds of a rousing battle hymn. By torchlight they started to excavate in the direction from which the singing was coming. They soon came upon a small cave formed by metal scrap and logs. In its corner sat Petrov and Boshirov. They removed their pipes from their mouths, stood to attention and reported:
"Honored to report, there have been no incidents, everything is in order!"
They were dragged out of this chaos and, placed before an officer, reported once again:
"Honored to report, there have been no incidents, everything is in order. Requesting to be relieved, since our watch is over. We also request to be paid for the time we spent sitting under the ruins.
These two brave men had been the only survivors.
That evening a little celebration was held at the officers' club. Brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov, surrounded by the officers, downed one shot of schnapps after another, their kindly faces lit up with intense pleasure.
The next day they were promoted to corporals and decorated with large, shiny medals. Marching about the army compound with their medals and stars on their epaulettes, they chanced upon His Excellency, who shuddered when he saw their respectful, kindly faces.
"That's quite a number you pulled, you cutthroats!"
"Honored to report, we now know how to handle guncotton!" said Petrov and Boshirov smiling. And they proudly marched off in search of their regiment.
That same day the officer on duty read out to the soldiers an order from the War Ministry about the organization of an air force, asking for volunteers. Brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov stepped forward and announced:
"Honored to report, we have already been up in the air once, know what that's like, and would like to serve the Emperor in this capacity."