TTGU, Ep. 2, Ch. 24 – Odds And Ends
There are many brief incidents, and some not-so-brief, which I’ve missed in the writing of this period of my life. Some have been forgotten with the passing of time and I may recall them later; some I have left out as they might seem trivial to a reader, even though they were an important part of my own life. I have missed out some of the nastier happenings.
Anyway, here are a few bits and bobs.
One was never forced to play sports while on Active Service, though the Army kept its ever-watchful eye on us to ensure we were fit. I was press-ganged into turning out to play Rugby for the unit once upon a time. So turn out I did, but I didn’t enjoy the experience: every time I got anywhere near the ball, somebody would barge into me and knock me over. In normal circumstance, I would have retaliated in kind, but “play up, play up and play the game” was the order of the day. I chose not to play in the team again, but spent many a happy hour running touch and making a lot of silly decisions.
The National Sport of Malaya was badminton, and may well still be. We had a court on the camp, and would watch little Malays who were civvies employed as cleaning staff, etcetera, play amazingly fast games. They would invite us to join them. We did but could never keep up their pace. We took to playing among ourselves which was more enjoyable and a lot slower.
I saw my first corpse in 1960. It was the body of a Ghurkha. We – my mates and I – came upon it unexpectedly. It was a shock. He looked as if he was still alive, eyes open and all, and just having a lie down. I do not know what killed him.
Later that year, I was one of four who had to carry a body out of the jungle. This time, we had braced ourselves, but to see a British soldier rather badly injured and dead was not a pleasant experience.
Death, though, was a part of us being there. And “life is cheap in the Far East” . . .
Mac and I stood on KL station one afternoon waiting to meet some new lads who had been sent out to replace our mates who’d gone off to be demobbed. A train pulled in, passengers alighted, passengers got in and, after a few minutes, it pulled out
As it did so, a Chinese man raced along the platform dragging a little lad behind him. The train was gathering speed. The man managed to fling open a door and tried to launch the boy into the carriage. But the man’s foot slipped and he plunged off the platform and went under the moving train dragging the youngster with him.
Mac and I had seen corpses before. But we, along with most of the people at the station, turned away and were sick. We left the station for a while and left what had to be done to the railway staff. Apparently, the man was crushed to death by the wheels, and the kid had one of his legs sliced off. I still think of what that boy’s life would have been like as he grew up amid the dire poverty of Malaya.
I shall not forget the night of Kenny Seymour’s rampage. He was one of the lads with whom I’d shared a billet before moving to Barrack Room 10. A decent sort of chap, he was, though not necessarily the cleverest of soldiers.
It was very late at night. A shout went up from below our company lines. Clearly something was amiss. One of the blokes on guard-duty rushed past our billet. “Ken Seymour’s gone mad and he’s swinging a parang,” he shouted.
As I’ve mentioned, a parang is a very sharp machete-type thing used to hack one’s way through the jungle. Not the kind of thing a madman should be swinging about.
The RPs were called out and, though they stalked him all round the camp, none of them dared approach Kenny. Looking out from our billet, we sometimes saw him leaping, running and hiding like a wild animal. He threatened several people, RPs included, and smashed anything a parang could smash. He ran in and out of billets demanding ciggies – which were given to him without question.
Suddenly, he dashed into our billet and saw me. He stopped in his tracks.
“Sorry, Jazzer. I don’t want to scare you. I wouldn’t hurt you. You’re a good bloke.”
We looked at each other for a few moments. And I do not want to show off or appear heroic when I recount what happened next.
“Look, Ken,” I said. “We’ve been mates since I came here. You helped me settle in. I know you’re a good bloke, too. But this isn’t the way you and me do things.”
I took a packet of fags from my locker and handed them to him.
“If you carry on like this, you’ll be in trouble, lad. Go and hand that parang over to the RPs. It’s the best thing to do . . .”
And he just did it. He turned round and quietly went off to hand the weapon over.
They arrested him, of course. He was taken to hospital where it was diagnosed he had alcohol-poisoning, but I knew it went deeper than that: the booze had simply triggered his actions. Kenny was sent to the Psychiatric Division in the Army’s Singapore hospital. He came back to our camp only a few weeks before I left for Blighty having been dismissed from P. Div. He seemed to be alright.
* * * * *