Bruce Anderson

The Swiss appetite for wine gives them a good name

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A friend was in town, who rebuts two instances of dull conventional wisdom. The first is that although Swiss Germans may have many qualities – they make excellent bankers – they have no joie de vivre. The Calvinist heritage persists. Second, that the Swiss are an implacably martial race. Other armies, especially the British, use humour to palliate the rigours of serving. The Swiss would be appalled by such frivolity, which may explain why no one has been in a hurry to assail their mountains.

There was a serious French restaurant across the border, so he borrowed a tank and set off

In both respects, Nick Sillich is a triumphant exception. He is also a fellow who puts the trench into trencherman. That explains why he was the last Swiss soldier to invade France. It was during his national service. The hour of lunch approached and he felt hungry, as one would. There was a serious French restaurant just across the border, so he borrowed a tank and set off. After doing full justice to the haute cuisine, he emerged to find some gendarmes resting their elbows on the armour plating, looking quizzical and sardonic. He was allowed to depart. Any potential outbreak of hostilities was averted. There was general agreement that his mission, though unorthodox, had been diplomatic.

But the grenouilles turned out to be spoilsports. They alerted the Swiss military authorities about this gastro-nomic foray. It may be that Nick would have been caught anyway. One assumes that armoured regiments have the odd roll-call, and someone would have clocked the fact that a tank had gone walkabout. Anyway, Nick was sent to the guardhouse. He says that the rations included a half-bottle of wine, which would do for breakfast.

On release, trying to behave, he drove his tank into a swamp.

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