The man who knew too much – Relooking Pvt. Quelch
The Man who knew too much by Alexander Baron —Reassessing Private Quelch
Private Quelch, the army recruit around whom the story ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ has been written, is a much maligned person. This story forms part of the English text book in countless schools across the world. Sadly, students and teachers often treat this profoundly learned person of astounding scholarship and boundless energy with mockery, calling him boastful, vainglorious, arrogant, pretentious etc.
I feel Private Q is unfairly treated by the community of teachers and students. This man of learning should be idolized and not vilified. His fate, unfortunately, had put him in an army camp rather than in a academic hub.
My justification ….
Private Quelch was a man of extraordinary academic talent. Through voracious and ‘intelligent learning’, he had amassed a huge storehouse of facts and information about a wide array of subjects starting from ammunition to aircraft to nutrition.
No doubt, he upset his instructors, particularly Corporate Turnbull through his impetuous attempts to butt in during lectures. However, his intention was to add value to the lecture’s content, and not boast about his impressive learning. Sadly for him, his instructors did not take kindly to his interventions.
When, during a lecture by Corporal Turnbull on grenades, Quelch stood up to add that there were 44 segments in the grenades shell, the former was very peeved. Quelch had the temerity to suggest that Turnbull should have given his presentation in a different way. This annoyed Quelch so much that he asked Quelch to complete the lecture. Private Quelch did as ordered. It is a safe guess to assume that he did a better job than Corporal Turnbull. The enraged Turnbull packed off Quelch to kitchen duty, perceived as a humiliation by his colleagues.
In an earlier occasion, Quelch had corrected his sergeant by giving the precise speed of a bullet. This incident had left the sergeant infuriated. The sergeant had clobbered him with a barrage of questions.
Apart from these two incidents Private Quelch did nothing wrong. He followed army discipline meticulously. His salutes at the pay table were smart and respectful.
Private Quelch made light of the arduous 30-mile run, jokingly suggesting to his mates to sing a song at the finishing point. No doubt, he was a man of great stamina and the correct attitude valued in the army.
In identifying aircrafts flying overhead, he was a wizard who could name a plane from its sound.
As a man of positive attitude and high ambitions, he was focused on his career growth. First he wanted to get his stripes and then his commission. Army loves such individuals.
He was a man of tidy habits who maintained his hut well.
When deputed to the kitchen, he did not demur a bit. Instead, he utilized his knowledge of nutrition to advise the cooks not to peel the potatoes to conserve their vitamins.
His friends mocked and ridiculed him for his exuberance. He appeared somewhat eccentric and bizarre at times, but Quelch rarely took offence at the jibes his comrades threw at him.
In Private Quelch’s armoury, there was his incredible scholarship, razor-sharp intelligence and rare equanimity. Most potent of his trait was his positive attitude and the ability to stay focused on his goal.
Judged fairly, the sergeant and Corporal Turnbull appear hot-headed, mean and vindictive. A good officer is trained to applaud extraordinary qualities of his subordinate. The sergeant and the Corporal would have gone up in the estimation of the recruits if they had sportingly praised Private Quelch for his knowledge and interest. Punishing him exposed a myopic attitude.