Not my normal blog entry, and certainly not a glorification of war, but definitely a recognition of ordinary people called on to spend their youth and vitality undertaking terrible tasks, often at odds with the way they would like to live their lives.
Soldiers sometimes recounting military stories with mates will often finish a frightening anecdote with a humorous ” Tell you what mate, I sh** meeself”
As ex-forces, last night I went to a regimental comrades branch meeting in Mid Wales. Whilst there I had the privilege of having a beer with a 2nd WW veteran from my old unit. He had fought at the Battle of Kohima against the Japanese in North East India in 1944. A close, bitterly fought battle with the Japanese that lasted many many weeks, their defensive positions only metres apart.
The veteran is now in his 90’s but talks like a 30yr old soldier. A few classic comments about that battle that even today makes you stop and think:
” The Japs were so close to us, when they were digging in, their topsoil was landing on our heads”…..He then looked me in the eyes and said “I’m not joking!”
There was that many bodies littering the battlefield which they were unable to remove or bury, that the RAF dropped bags of lime soil without parachutes, which then dispersed on impact. Some of the enemy bodies actually formed the trench parapets on the British units trenched positions! The British soldiers unable to remove them, because of the snipers that harassed any movement above ground level.
The veteran was wounded by RAF aircraft strafing the battlefield of Kohima, the evening before his sub-unit was due to launch a daylight attack on an enemy-held feature called Kukis Piquet. He said ” Somebody patched me up, they then stuck me in the bottom of trench until I could be evacuated the next day, during the night the bloody japs broke into our position, I can remember watching them run past my trench…..By god I sh** meeself “( He then laughed!).
He puts his own personal survival down to that wound. He was a company signaller, a specialist role, the guy who replaced him was killed the next day during the assault on Kukis Piquet. The veteran returned to the fight some 6 weeks later with the same battalion and fought all the way through to Mandalay in 1945.
As with many of these guys, they didn’t let the bitterness of war destroy them. He recounted to me that many years later he and another Kohima buddy attended some sort of service commemoration. As they walked in his mate said “Bloody hell there’s a Jap over there!” The veteran turned to me and said almost apologetically “We had a lot of bad feeling towards them in those days”! It transpired that the guy was a former Japanese army officer, who had fought in the same areas as the veteran. He recounted that they spent a very pleasant time in each others company swopping stories, even now he could still recall the Japanese soldiers name.
For me? A fantastic gentleman, who had experienced the best and worst of mankind. A real privilege to spend some time with him.
The battle was fought over a small piece of ground surrounding the District Commissioners Bungalow in Naga. With battle sites named for example “The Clubhouse” and “Tennis Court“…As I said previously the opposing sides were only metres apart. If you look closely at the picture above of the Kohima Memorial and cemetery erected on the site of the bungalow, you can clearly see the markings of the tennis court, thats been left in situ at the foot of the memorial..a sombre reminder of this battle and its ferocity (Image courtesy CWGC/Trekearth)
That is all.