Monthly Archives: October 2012

Excerpt from “Somme Mud” by E.P.F. Lynch ~~Potshot~~

The fifth night passes and our fifth day dawns. Just after ‘stand-down’ young Snow sees an enemy soldier a full half mile away. This is the first enemy we’ve seen on this trip. The man is making back from the line going sideways across our line of vision. In the morning mist he shows up very big. The light of the breaking day is behind him. We see that he has a big pack upon his back.

‘Look at him. Off to Berlin on leave,’ says Dark, envious of anyone going on furlough.

‘Shake it up, boy, or you’ll miss the bus,’ laughingly advises Longun who is always friendly towards the enemy when they are a long way away.

‘Don’t you think we oughta have a pot at him? Farmer wants to know.

‘Let him go. Good luck to him,’ puts in the Prof. ‘Lucky to be getting out of this mud hole.’

‘Let him go be blowed. Watch me stir him up a bit.’ And Snow is busy getting the cover off his rifle breach. Snow leans half-balanced across the trench and aims. Crack! The rifle kicks hard, Snow collects a smack in the jaw from the recoil, slips and nearly falls, whilst Fritz never alters his stride. We laugh and enjoy Snow’s mishap.

‘Who got hurt the most, Snow?’

‘You’re a pretty decent shot, Snow. Oughta be a sniper.’

‘Fling a clod of mud at him. You might do better.’

‘Fritz is pretty safe.’

Snow is a bit rattled. Flat out across the trench he crawls, determined to have a better shot. He seems to forget that he is a wonderful target himself for the enemy manning their trench only a hundred yards away, but his luck is in and he isn’t fired at.

 We watch Snow. Lying flat in the mud he aims. The rifle moves, steadies, drops a little and steadies again. In unison with Snow we hold our breaths. Crack! The rifle kicks back with a sudden jerk and half a mile across the muddy field the enemy soldier jolts upright, falls on one knee, rises hurriedly, takes a few staggering steps and collapses in a heap on the ground. Back in the trench drops Snow. He’s looking queer. No one speaks. We don’t quite know what to say. Snow gets his pull-through out and gives his rifle a couple of pulls through. He snaps and jerks at the rifle as if he holds it to blame. We all commence talking to relieve the tension for we know Snow is queerly affected by having shot the man.

‘Suppose you chaps think I’m a bloomin’ mongrel for doing that?’ he says, defiantly defending his action.

‘No, why the devil would we think that?’

‘What else did we come to the war for?’

Snow pelts the rifle up against the trench wall. ‘Well, a man’s a flamin’ mongrel to come at that, whether you think so or not. Poor beggar, probably going on leave too! A man ought to be shot himself for having anything to do with their rotten war.’


Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

Excerpt from “Vietnam – a Reporter’s War” by Hugh Lunn ~~Mini-Moke~~

This is what Dinh later told me:

‘Saigon police chief my friend, call me and said: “Any Reuters correspondent go to Cholon this morning?” And I said: “Yes, two men there.” And he said: “Sorry, something not good news for you.” That all he said. I said: “What happened Colonel?” He said at least two people killed. Five people in mini-jeep.

‘We went to police station nearby where they reported shot. And I say I must go to the area to see if Bruce Pigott wounded and not dead yet. Police chief very angry with me because he friend of mine. He say: “Are you crazy boy? How much do Reuters pay you to do that?” I said: “Nothing. My heart order me to do that. But nobody pay me. Because Bruce friend of mine I miss him very much. I love him.”

Dinh then set off to walk one kilometre into the fighting, unarmed, to see if his friend Bruce was still alive. Vietnamese refugees poured out – only Dinh walked in the opposite direction. Nobody else would have approached that area in less than company strength, and then backed up by tanks and grenades. And, for the moment at least, no army was going in there just for the sake of a few reporters.

After he and Jim Pringle had been pinned down by fire in this area soon after Tet began, Dinh had vowed never to go there again. Now he walked ‘step by step’ into what he described in a letter to me later as ‘very quiet area’. Then, fifty metres away, he saw the Mini-Moke and some bodies. As he moved closer, suddenly two men ‘black pyjama AK arm’ pointed their guns at him. ‘”Where you going boy?” they say. They were ready to shot, because battlefield going on now. Air strike, bombing, artillery, anything going on, mortar, something like that,’ said Dinh. He told them he lived there and, because of the danger, wanted to get out.

It was not in the Viet Cong’s interest to kill every fellow Vietnamese in sight, and Dinh, being clever, and talking to them in their own peasant lingo, managed to win a brief confidence. The men told Dinh it was all right to clear out, but he had still not found whether Bruce was alive. So he ignored the Viet Cong instruction to go and moved straight to Bruce, whom he could now see slumped over the other side of the Moke.

‘I saw Bruce legs still in car and head lay down on the land, and Laramy sitting back something like that.’ He realised that if the Viet Cong thought he were a friend or relative (his word) they would shoot him. So he asked, ‘Is that American GI soldier?’ and the Viet Cong leader said, ‘No, that is the CIA. We must kill them. We must shoot them.’ Dinh felt obliged to agree. ‘I said, “Oooh, CIA, that is correct you must shoot them.”’ But this renunciation of Bruce hurt him. ‘I looked like crying at that time, but stopped. I quickly stopped. I saw Bruce’s body and I want to cry immediately. But I stop myself. I said, “Stop.” I said to myself, “Must stop.” If I cry then they already know who am I. So I stopped. And I said, “That is CIA then you should kill them because CIA do dirty job in Vietnam. Let me see the body of CIA?”

‘One said: “You can look that body quickly boy.”

Dinh then described the tragic scene. Holding up his left hand with the fingers tightly together and straight, like a priest, he said, ‘I put my hand in Bruce’s heart,’ and he put the hand over his own chest, inside his shirt. ‘And Laramy’s heart,’ and he did the same again. ‘But finished. No, nothing more. And I move back to police station and report.’

Dinh did not check the bodies of Mike Birch or John Cantwell, though he was sure they too were dead. (The autopsy was to show that the smallest number of bullets in any of the four journalists was ten – the most, twenty-six.)

Pham Ngoc Dinh and son outside the Reuters office in Saigon

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Excerpt from “Everyone but Phar Lap” by Peter Fitzsimons ~~Miller & Edrich~~

As far as Bradman goes, Miller is an enormous admirer still – of both the man and the cricketer – though he does acknowledge they had one or two differences in their approach on the field. That was apparent, from the very first Test he played.

The Australians had batted first, amassing a score of some 600 runs over the first two days – including the usual 180-odd from the Don. Overnight, though, a Queensland tropical storm had hit, making the ‘sticky wicket’ all but unplayable for the English when they took the crease.

‘All the English players were war boys,’ Miller recalls, ‘and they were my best mates. At one point I’m bowling, and there was little Billy Edrich facing. He was the toughest little guy you could ever meet, a lovely guy, Bill, and he got a Distinguished Flying Cross for flying over Germany in the early part of the war, when it was like winning a Victoria Cross.’

‘And I’m bowling … and I kept hitting him … bangbang … and I thought “Oooooh, that’s [my mate] Billy,” and so I started to ease up, started to slow down, fill in time, thought “We’ll win this anyway and that’s it” … so I slowed down.’

‘So Don came up to me, and he said, “Nugget, bowl it faster, it’s harder to play this stuff on these pitches.” Well that one remark … I thought, “Here’s my mate [Billy]” … And then I thought, [had we been] playing cricket in England, where it’s a sport, a real sport [it would have been different].

Here we’ve got, the war’s just over, and we’ve got Don who was only in the war five minutes here – and here’s all these fellows, all been to war in the real tough parts of the war … just come out here for a lovely trip … and suddenly they run into this.’

‘And when Don says, “Oh Nugget, bowl faster, it’s hard to play that type of stuff on this pitch” … I just thought, “We’ve just finished one war, and it’s like walking into another war.” And that really turned me completely against Test cricket as it was played then. That took the sting out of me, as far as playing cricket and enjoying it. Test cricket suddenly went from a sport to a war. I [got through] it, but for quite a while it stuck in my mind, that.”

*Extract from The Best Ever Australian Sports Writing (A 200 Year Collection) edited by David Headon


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“Phar Lap wins the Agua Caliente Handicap” by Bert Wolfe

Phar Lap made all dreams come true yesterday to the shouts of fifty thousand racing fans when he won the Agua Caliente Handicap. He did more to advertise Australia and New Zealand in the United States and Mexico than a million dollars.

Today he is the ‘big news.’ Every newspaper of any consequence in the United States is printing stories of the success of ‘the Big Train from the Antipodes.’ They are saying that Phar Lap and his connections made American trainers and jockeys look like ‘suckers.’ They are lauding Woodcock to the skies for his cleverness, Elliot is being described as the Tod Sloan of Australia, and owners are being advised to send to Australia for a shipload of trainers and jockeys.

Not only was Phar Lap’s win considered sensational, but regarded as even more sensational was the fact that he was having his first run in America, his first race on dirt tracks, his first start from the barrier stalls, and his almost unequalled feat of giving the leaders ten lengths’ start from the six furlongs and being in front at the half-mile.

Americans love the unusual. They also love to see freaks in sport, and they almost worship anybody or anything that has some pretensions to world’s championship class. So today they are talking about Phar Lap with affection and telling their friends that he is ‘some hoss – and I don’t mean maybe.’

It could not have been a better day for the big race. Warm in the forenoon with a breeze from the desert, gradually getting chilly as the afternoon wore on. And the excitement! Thousands of motor cars, hundreds of aeroplanes, scores of movie cameras, everybody shouting, gambling, laughing and drinking.

Arrangements had been made for the candidates for the Caliente Handicap horses to be saddled in field, or on the flat, as we know it. Each horse’s name was nailed to a flagpole, on which a flag of its owner’s colours waved in the breeze. Phar Lap was brought to the course before the twelfth race – there were fifteen on the card that day – and caused quite a flutter. He walked round the inside paddock as if he could not understand what all the fuss was about. Woodcock looked drawn and tense, Nielsen and Martin were like cats on hot bricks, Mr. D. J. Davis wandered from one roulette table to another as if endeavouring to divert his thoughts, while Mrs. Davis gradually got more nervous as the day wore on, and finally disappeared to watch the race by herself . . .

As the field passed the judge for the first time (a mile from home) Phar Lap was in seventh place ten lengths from the leaders. Leaving the straight he was in the middle of the track and holding his place. When the back stretch was reached (six furlongs from home), Elliot let him go. In a flash his amazing speed was apparent, and the crowd, following his dash with intelligent interest, let forth a mighty cheer. As one writer said afterwards, ‘He won America in an eighth of a mile.’

Of all the famous sprints Phar Lap has ever made that two furlongs from the six furlongs to the half mile was his greatest. He ran the journey in 22 seconds, and when he arrived at the half mile he had left the field astern. At the turn he was a length in front, with Reveille Boy gaining ground fast.

I must confess I could not tell whether Elliot was giving him a breather or not. My field glasses would not remain still. When fairly in the straight Reveille Boy almost seemed to head him, and the thought flashed through my mind that owing to his foot injury the amazing dash from seventh to first had taken its toll. But just when everybody was getting ready to cheer the American horse, Phar Lap gave a few terrific bounds and in a twinkling he was lengths in front and Elliot was easing him up passing the post well clear of the field.

It is impossible to describe the scene at the finish of the race. The crowd cheered itself hoarse, the paddock seethed with excitement, and when he returned to the winner’s circle pandemonium reigned.

It was a great moment, and the coolest person of all was little Elliot, who, in a quiet voice, said, ‘When do they want me to weigh in?’ The crowds milled around Phar Lap, he was photographed from all angles, his connections were photographed, but the horse steadfastly refused to be decorated with roses.

The Melbourne Herald

21 March 1932

*Extract from The Best Ever Australian Sports Writing (A 200 Year Collection) edited by David Headon

Bert Wolfe


Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction, Sport

Excerpt from “A Doctor’s War” by Rowley Richards ~~War is over~~

In early August three things happened that made us suspect the end of the war had either taken place, or was about to take place, but we would have to wait until the middle of the month for absolute confirmation of our liberation.

The first thing was a news report on 6 August. The eight of us in the isolation hut huddled around our evening newspaper, puzzled by a seemingly unbelievable front-page headline. I interpreted it as: ‘One B-29 aeroplane, one bomb, Hiroshima finish.’ At the time, we had no concept of atomic warfare or its shocking consequences. We speculated that Hiroshima had been bombed by Allied forces but we did not understand the devastation which had taken place – there was no picture accompanying the story. We had no idea just how radically the world of weaponry had changed during the term of our incarceration. I wondered if I had misinterpreted the words or if it was perhaps a false report, but the men had also returned to camp with rumours that Hiroshima had been destroyed. I don’t remember what we talked about in the hut during that night, or what we issued in that evening’s bulletin; we were obviously excited – we knew that the end really must be nigh, but at the same time we could not yet celebrate. After years of clinging to unreal deadlines (‘Home by Christmas!’), we didn’t dare presume our freedom was an absolute certainty. When only a few days later the headlines were similar for Nagasaki, we remained under a spell of what I would term ‘cautious optimism’.

The second thing occurred on 10 August, when Sakata came in for its share of bombing. From the window of our hut we watched Allied bombers form a circle in the sky and, one by one, peel away to swoop down on a target in the harbour and then resume its position within the circle. The men returned to camp that night with first-hand accounts of how the planes had strafed the town and destroyed the Japanese anti-aircraft guns. We allowed our hopes to rise another notch. (In hindsight, it’s difficult to believe we could have been so calmly philosophical about our own odds of escaping an Allied attack; I think after surviving a shipwreck one’s outlook on ‘chance’ becomes relative – and, in relative terms, we suspected the targets would be ships, factories, anti-aircraft posts and larger buildings as opposed to our own camp. Strangely, I do not recall experiencing any real fear that we might die at the hands of our own forces).

The third thing happened on 15 August. We had been maintaining a vigilant eye on our keepers, forever on the lookout for some kind of change in their behaviour to verify our suspicions that the war was over. On this particular afternoon we observed some guards setting up a table outside their own guardhouse. A wireless set was carried across the parade ground and placed on top of the table and the guards were soon on parade before Lieutenant Mori. The wireless was switched on and the guards yelled out ‘Banzai!’ repeatedly, so we knew the voice coming from the radio had to belong to someone of high standing. As the broadcast continued, the guards became increasingly subdued. We were not close enough to hear the radio but we watched as their facial expressions tightened; tears rolled down the cheeks of some.

Inside the hut, we chattered rapidly. That had to have been the voice of the Emperor advising of Japan’s surrender. The war was over; it must be! We waited: surely Lieutenant Mori would soon be heading our way. But nothing happened. The guards were dismissed and with their heads hanging low they dispersed within the camp without another word. If Japan had surrendered, why wasn’t any one telling us? We waited for the men to return from work – their rumours seemed to match our hopes, but there was no newspaper on this day to confirm what we wanted to hear.  . . .

The next morning all men were sent to work as usual but, that afternoon, the work parties returned very early and our guards abandoned their posts. The following day the men were not sent to work and the moment we had been waiting for finally arrived during evening roll call.

Standing at the front door of our isolation hut, we watched our men standing on parade. Armed guards were positioned along the sides of the columns of our men and Lieutenant Mori walked slowly to the front. He wore tiny spectacles on the bridge of his nose and a sword hung by his side. He looked immaculate. Glancing down at a small piece of paper clasped in his hands, he read his announcement in English:

The longed for day of peace has arrived … you must obey your own officers … we are concerned for your health and your safety … myself, the guards and Military Police will do our best to protect you.

 There was no hypocrisy in Mori’s announcement, which he read with great dignity and respect; no postulating over how fortunate we were to have been in the care of the IJA. I think he knew we deserved nothing but the truth.

Inside our minds, we were bursting with joy, but there was no cheering, no din of spontaneous applause, no tears of relief. We would not celebrate in the face of our enemy. Nor did the Japanese react. Both sides were silent. Many might question such a lacklustre response, but unless you have been a prisoner of war it will be difficult to understand, just as it is almost impossible for me to put such a situation into words. After years in captivity, we had become disciplined in the art of self-control – we were experts at masking emotions in front of our keepers. On the Railway, the penalty for emotional outbursts had always been physical. We had learned long ago to keep our thoughts, feelings and hopes inside our own minds; they were safe there. Surrounded by armed guards, the poker game between ‘us and them’ was still very much in progress. The minutes following Lieutenant Mori’s speech were peaceful. For most of us it was time to acknowledge our own personal triumph over a relentless endurance test: our victory was survival. I was 29 years old and free – well, almost.

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Excerpt from “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo ~~Smitten~~

It was serious; in fact, Marius had reached that first violent and charming hour with which grand passions begin.

A glance had wrought all this.

When the mine is charged, when the conflagration is ready, nothing is more simple. A glance is a spark.

It was all over with him. Marius loved a woman. His fate was entering the unknown.

The glance of women resembles certain combinations of wheels, which are tranquil in appearance yet formidable. You pass close to them every day, peaceably and with impunity, and without a suspicion of anything. A moment arrives when you forget that the thing is there. You go and come, dream, speak, laugh. All at once you feel yourself clutched; all is over. The wheels hold you fast, the glance has ensnared you. It has caught you, no matter where or how, by some portion of your thought which was fluttering loose, by some distraction which had attacked you. You are lost. The whole of you passes into it. A chain of mysterious forces takes possession of you. You struggle in vain; no more human succor is possible. You go on falling from gearing to gearing, from agony to agony, from torture to torture, you, your mind, your fortune, your future, your soul; and, according to whether you are in the power of a wicked creature, or of a noble heart, you will not escape from this terrifying machine otherwise than disfigured with shame, or transfigured by passion.

Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Silver~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Cosette~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Court~~
Another Excerpt from Les Misérables ~~Grave~~


Filed under Fiction, Literature

Excerpt from “Fawlty Towers” by Graham McCann ~~Germans~~

Back at the hotel, Polly is busy helping the guests from Germany to settle in when Basil suddenly returns, with his head heavily bandaged and a hospital smock still visible beneath his jacket. ‘You OK?’ asks a bemused Manuel. ‘Fine, thank you, dear,’ replies Basil absent-mindedly. ‘You go and have a lie-down.’ Then it is his turn to be puzzled when, as he resumes his position behind the desk, one of the guests comes up and says, ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch?’ Seeing that he is confused, they translate: ‘You speak German?’ Basil, his concussed head finally processing the information, smiles with relief: ‘Oh, German! I’m sorry, I there was something wrong with you!’

The rest of the episode reveals just how much damage and distress a combination of a backward mind and a bruised brain can cause in a confined space. Lapsing into the Little British delusion that shouting in a foreign accent is the same thing as actually speaking in another language, Basil adopts an Adolf Hitler voice to assure the bewildered visitors who have merely inquired about the possibility of renting a car (‘ein auto mieten’), that there is already ‘meat hier … in ze buildink!’ Polly arrives just in time to prevent any further offence, and, after hearing Basil whisper to her, ‘They’re Germans. Don’t mention the war,’ she rushes off to call the hospital.

Basil, meanwhile, has wandered into the dining room and, believing himself to be on his best behaviour, is attempting to take some orders: ‘Oh, prawn, that was it. When you said prawn, I thought you said war. Oh, yes. Oh, the war! Oh, yes, completely slipped my mind, yes, I’d forgotten all about it. Hitler, Himmler, and all that lot, oh, yes, completely forgotten it …’ It goes from bad to worse. ‘I’ll just get your hors d’oeuvres … hors d’oeuvres vich must be obeyed at all times vizout question … Sorry! Sorry!’ Polly urges him to answer an urgent call from his wife, but he brushes her aside, warning her in another whisper, ‘Listen: don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.’ Then he returns to his guests:

BASIL: So that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads … no, wait a moment, I got a bit confused there, sorry. [One of the women begins to sob] I got a bit confused because everyone keeps mentioning the war, so could you …

[One of the other guests, who is comforting her, glares at Basil]

BASIL: What’s the matter?

MAN: It’s all right.

BASIL: Is there something wrong?

MAN: Will you stop talking about the war!

BASIL: Me? You started it!

MAN: We did not start it!

BASIL: Yes you did – you invaded Poland!

He tries to lighten the mood by attempting a joke featuring a man in a bomber over Berlin, then, realising that something far more impressive is now required, he proceeds to place a finger across his upper lip and does Führer party piece, goose-stepping his way out of the room and then back in again. Much to his amazement, not even this has done the trick:

MAN: Stop it!!

BASIL: I’m trying to cheer her up, you stupid Kraut!

MAN: It’s not funny for her.

BASIL: Not funny? You’re joking!

MAN: Not funny for her, for us, not for any German people!

BASIL: You have absolutely no sense of humour, do you?



The end comes, mercifully, when Basil spies his doctor sneaking up on him armed with a hypodermic needle. Chased through the lobby, he pauses under the mounted moose and, believing that he has given the doctor the slip, slaps his hands together in triumph – and the moose crashes down again on his head.

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