Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I won't if You don't

Continuing the series of daily posts of small WWII snippets, as they happened to his family, Mine Host recounts this hearsay yarn from one of his uncles:

Uncle, in the army and with a very low NX service number (two digits, beat that!) was serving in New Guinea in the Engineers. Being a bush worker accustomed to solving his own construction/logistic dilemmas apparently made him ideal Engineer material. He was asked to forge a link, this he did (no problem for the son of a blacksmith) and that's how he found himself in the Engineers.

Uncle's army tales are mostly around One of Two themes:
1/. How little he thought of anyone who abused rank, particularly if the same specimen then threw themself at the feet of anyone with an extra stripe on their sleeve or pip on their shoulder. And,
2/. How hopeless most soldiers (Engineers mind you) were at basic Engineering tasks, ie, setting up a block & tackle and things like that.

Uncle enjoyed the Engineers' problem-solving, but the abuse of rank caused him to loathe the army and every day he spent in it. At Six foot Six inches, barrel chested, arms like telegraph poles, and with a "behind the saleyard for Sixpence, place your bets" bare-knuckle background (the 1930's were a tough time, to drive a gentle compassionate man to such a base source of income), Uncle's solution to fools & irritators in the bush (not that he had many, at that size) was to warn 'em, then just flatten 'em.

One can imagine how much it rankled such a man to be subject to the Army rank structure and physical inferiors who took their opportunity of a lifetime and issued petty commands to the "big fella" because rank allowed them to.

The story: On foot patrol in New Guinea. Bringing up the rear of his section, Uncle was mostly looking backward. As the section moved on, he glanced upward, and saw a Japanese soldier perched high in a tree.

The Japanese had his rifle carefully aimed at Uncle, and clearly had been covering him for some many seconds. The distance was quite close. Uncle and the Japanese stared directly into each other's eyes.

Neither man said anything, both sets of eyes remained locked on the other. Uncle continued pacing backward to keep up with his section.

Uncle could see in the eyes of the Japanese that the Japanese did not want to die, or to be involved in a shootout, likewise the Japanese no doubt could see the same in Uncle's eyes.

Neither man gave any hint that would have alerted Uncle's section to the situation.

Uncle kept backing away, both men kept their rifles and eyes on each other, until the section, and Uncle with it, moved out of sight of the Japanese.

In Six Years of war, this was the only contact he had with the enemy.

Uncle never joined the RSL, and never attended an Anzac Day parade. When his brothers urged him to take up both of those "rights" he explained, only once, that it was his right to not join, and his right to not march.

Such was the strength of his desire to forget the entire distasteful experience of war and having been in the army.


Kay said...

Let me thank you right now for not using the word "Jap." I sincerely appreciate your tact and respectful kindness. I am American but my grandparents were Japanese and it stings to hear that word.

Mine Host said...

Kay, the thanks belong to my English teacher.

Any notions that there is respectful kindness due toward the ..er.. enemy of the Pacific War are going to be put to the test somewhere in the next few posts.

Boy on a bike said...

Uncle served in PNG in a RAEME unit. He was the senior NCO, and ran it for a while after a bomb blew up the officer's mess, and all those in it. Turned down a commission apparently.

Anyway, he had a nice sideline in manufacturing samurai swords. Take one leaf spring from a Jeep, heat, beat and attach an appropriate handle. Sell to gullible yanks.

Both Dad (RAN) and uncle never joined the RSL. They cited the awful snobbery of the WWI vets as a major reason ("WWI - that was a proper war. You lot fought a sideshow by comparison, etc etc"). Vietnam Vets complained of the same treatment by WWII vets 25 years later.

As Dad continues to say, "I didn't fight the bloody war to be forced to join organisations when I got home".