NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99


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Page 10 of 97

Forget-me-not Remembrance Vol.4 6 W hile Germany was collapsing into unconditional surrender in May 1945, the war against Japan in the Pacific and South-East Asia continued. George MacDonald Fraser (the author of the Flashman novels) was then serving as a private soldier in the 9th Battalion the Border Regiment, a unit of "war-service" soldiers from the English Lake District counties of Westmorland and Cumberland. A tough lot of hill farmers, fishermen and shipbuilders, they soldiered against the Japanese in a spirit of' dour determination to get the war over and get home. Nine Section, a group of less than a dozen infantrymen, had no particular love for each other. They recognized however that the life of each individual depended upon the unconditional support of all the rest, and regarded the death of any one of them as a diminution of the group's chances of survival. Phlegmatic, unemotional, they found their own silent ways of mourning a comrade's death in battle. Here Fraser describes how they said their farewells to Tich Little, a Nine Section soldier who had died in battle with the Japanese.... Nine Section had lost two men. The aftermath was as interest- ing as the battle. Fiction and the cinema led us to expect certain reactions from men in war, and the conventions of both demand displays of emotion, or a restraint which is itself highly emotional. I don't know what Nine Section felt, but whatever it was didn't show. They expressed no grief, or anger, or obvious relief, or indeed any emotion at all; they betrayed no symptoms of shock or disturbance, nor were they nervous or short-tempered. If they were quieter than usual that evening, well; they were dog-tired. Discussion of the day's events was limited to a brief reference to Gale's death, and to the prospects of the wounded: Steele had been flown out on a 'flying taxi', one of the tiny fragile monoplanes to which stretchers were strapped; it was thought his wound was serious. Parker was said to be in dock (hospital) in Meiktila (and a few weeks later there were to be ironic congratulations when he returned to the section with a romantic star-shaped scar high on his chest; penicillin was a new marvel then). Not a word was said about Tich Little, but a most remarkable thing happened (and I saw it repeated later in the campaign) which I have never heard of elsewhere, in fact or fiction, although I suspect is as old as war. Tich's military effects and equipment - not, of course, his private possessions, or any of his clothing - were placed on a ground sheet and it was understood that anyone in the section could take what he wished. Grandarse took one of his mess-tins; Forster, his housewife [sewing and mending kit], making sure it contained only Army Issue and nothing personal; Nixon, after long deliberation, took his rifle, an old Lee-Enfield shod in very pale wood (which surprised me, for it seemed it might make its bearer uncomfortably conspicuous); I took his pialla, which was of superior enamel, unlike the usual chipped mugs. Each article was substituted on the groundsheet with our own possessions - my oId pialla, Forster's housewife, and so on - and it was bundled up for delivery to the quartermaster. I think everyone from the original section took something. It was done without formality, and at first I was rather shocked, supposing that it was a coldly practical, almost ghoulish proceeding - people exchanging an inferior article for a better one, nothing more, and indeed that was the pretext. Nick worked the Quartered Safe Out Here: Dividing up a dead comrade's possessions By George Macdonald Fraser The aftermath was as interesting as the battle. Fiction and the cinema led us to expect certain reactions from men in war, and the conventions of both demand displays of emotion, or a restraint which is itself highly emotional.

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