Category Archives: Military

Excerpt from “Shrapnel” by William Wharton ~~Bully~~

When I was in elementary school, there was a young Irish boy named Mike Hennessy. He’d been left back a few times; he wasn’t much of a student. That’s putting it mildly, he was a Neanderthal. He had blue eyes, heavy black brows and black hair, he was somewhat stunted in growth, about the size all of us in the sixth grade were, when he should have been in the eighth. I was tenth, because I’d been double promoted once. He was fourteen and had to shave. The joy in his life seemed to be taking the joy out of my life. He was a real bully. I spent all my recesses running around the school building trying to escape Mike Hennessy. One time he caught me, turned me upside down, pushed my head into the toilet and flushed it. I’ve never felt comfortable being in water since.
I hadn’t thought much about Mike Hennessy in almost ten years. He left that school, or I moved away, I don’t know which. I didn’t care too much as long as he was gone. They might have thrown him out of school, or he ran away; maybe they put him in reform school, he was always stealing things, letting air out of tyres, breaking windows, general mischief. He definitely needed reforming. But just by accident, while I was in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, I met Mike Hennessy in the PX. He was easy for me to recognise. I’ll never forget that brutal low-browed, long lipped, Irish face. He was in the Twenty-Eighth Division.
We shook hands, and here we are, both grown up, more or less, and he’s two or three inches shorter than I am, and he actually even weighs less than I do. It doesn’t seem possible. Even though the relationship of elementary school is gone, we could never be friends because he’s as vulgar and stupid a man as he was a boy. He’s almost drunk when I meet him, on three point two beer, yet. He’s very definitely not the kind of person I can relate to. But we have a beer together for old times’ sake. I realise he couldn’t have been in a reform school or the army would never have drafted him, but he still looks like someone somebody ought to reform.
When we come up to relieve the Twenty-Eighth, on that steep hill near Metz, we all know what’s happened and are scared. Luckily, someone has finally gotten smart, checked with the French and found how, for this particular fort, the one we’re going to attack, Fort Drion, there are only two water sources, or wells. The sources fill great reservoirs dug inside the hill. These forts are really underground warrens. There’s even an underground railway for moving guns and equipment. We find that out later. There are holes dug out in the sides of the hill to concrete bunkers. The sight of it is enough to scare anybody.
All of us in I&R are convinced they’re going to send some of us up that hill to snoop around, find out where the bunkers are. We don’t sleep much.
But the French tell us where the hidden springs are, so we poison them. Just like that. The glories of war. I don’t know how, but somehow the Germans find out, maybe because people are dropping dead all around them and somebody guesses.
As soon as we arrive, the first thing I do is go see if Mike Hennessy has survived the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. I go asking around the busy grave registrars on the Twenty-Eighth. Finally I find someone who knew him and is pretty sure he’d been hit. They’ve pulled most of the bodies down from the hill, I believe they even arrange a sort of truce for doing this.
Sure enough, there’s Mike Hennessy stretched on the ground, his head sticking out of a body bag. It’s a terrible shock to see someone who’s been such a menace in your childhood, such a symbol of violence, unfairness and fear, who took so much of the joy away from your life, lying there empty, bloody, spattered with dirt particles and shrapnel pitted into his skin. He’s white and blue, his whole shoulder blown off and his arm more or less tucked back in beside his body. The body bag is, in reality, a fartsack. He’s still wearing his wool knit cap over his dark curly hair. One of his dog tags has been jammed in his mouth between his teeth. I’m not even nineteen years old yet, and Mike Hennessy is dead. Some things are hard to live past.


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Excerpt from “Colonel Henri’s Story” by Hugo Bleicher ~~Odette~~

We arrived back there in darkness. I was anxious to have a look at the Hotel de la Poste, where I had eaten lunch on my first visit to St. Jorioz. I sent Kiki ahead of me and told him to ask whether any of the organization were still there, as he brought important news from Paris. Kiki came back to me at once and said that apparently there were still some members of the organisation there. I put a cordon of Italian soldiers round the house immediately and was about to enter with the Italian officer when two men dashed out and into the darkness in headlong flight. It turned out that one of them was the wireless operator Arnaud for whom we had long searched. I did not attempt to follow them, as it seemed to me more important to apprehend the others in the house. I was right to do so. A surprise was in store for us beyond our wildest dreams.

It seems to have escaped the notice of Bleicher that the French Chief of Police in Annecy was aware of his movements, and at the risk of his own life sent a warning ahead of Bleicher to the St. Jorioz group. I am informed by Colonel Jacques Adam, Commander of the Jean-Marie resistance group, that this gallant French police officer was arrested, deported and died in Germany.
A second point to me made in regard to this narrative is that neither of the two men who vanished in headlong flight from the Hotel de la Poste was Arnaud, alias Captain A. Rabinovich, whose billet was not in St. Jorioz and who for some time managed to evade capture, having been sent away on the previous day by Captain Churchill.

There were still a few guests in the Hotel de la Poste whom I assembled in the hall of the hotel, together with the hôtelier and his staff. I was just putting the first question to them when down the stairs came a woman, whom I recognised as the energetic Englishwoman who had scolded Louis during my first visit to St. Jorioz.
So this was “Lise”, the renowned Odette! I had managed to find out something about her in the meantime. She played a prominent part in the Secret Service and had done signal services to the Allied war effort by obtaining plans of the dock installations and reconnoitring the port of Marseilles. It had been related to me by agents that Odette was the wife of Peter Churchill, a nephew of the British Prime Minister, and that she worked with him here. The version that he was a close relative of Winston Churchill was spread about to give him greater prestige in the French Resistance, as well as a safeguard if he fell into the hands of the Germans.
Odette was a Frenchwoman by birth, married first to a Frenchman, Sansom, and mother of three children. She received the order of the George Cross from King George VI and was decorated by the President of the French Republic with the Cross of the Legion of Honour. After the war the film “Odette” made her world famous.
I had little idea then what celebrity I was encountering on that night of April 16th, 1943. Wrapped in a dressing gown and personifying calmness itself, she came downstairs as if trouble in the hall was nothing to do with her. She had the intention, I think, of walking straight past us, and I was so taken aback that I only prevented her doing so at the last moment.
Peter Churchill could not be far away, it seemed to me, with Odette here.
I left the others in the guard of the Italians and asked Odette to show me her room. We walked upstairs, accompanied by the Italian officer. Odette showed no sign of distress. She had grasped the situation and was resigned to her fate.
Odette opened the door of her room without a word. I asked her to go ahead. It was a simple bedroom, such as you find in any country hotel. I ceased to watch Odette and looked into the room next door. There in bed lay a young man, perhaps thirty to thirty-five years old, in an elegant pair of pyjamas. He smiled quietly at me as he lay there. The book that he had apparently been reading was posed on the coverlet. He got slowly out of bed and stood before me, an athletic-looking fellow with pleasant features. I asked for his identity card. Without a sign of nervousness, he asked Odette to hand him his jacket, pulled the card out of a pocket and held it out to me. I read the name Pierre Chambrun. I felt that there could no longer be any doubt, and that this was Peter Churchill, known to us also as Pierre Chauvet and more frequently still as “Raoul”.


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Excerpt from “The Naked Island” by Russell Braddon ~~Captured~~

We worked on a “two-man-ahead patrol” system – on the All Clear from them the remaining seven moved up, whereupon the next two took over. Thus we leapfrogged for about two hours. Hugh and I patrolled together: Harry and the first infantryman, called (we now learnt) Herc: the two young sigs: and the sergeant and Sandshoes.
The latter pair were now ahead. We waited for their “All Clear”.
“Pair of no-hopers, they are,” declared Harry acidly, as he lay with his feet resting high up against a rubber tree, “done nothing but bellyache ever since we started.”
There was a moment’s silence whilst everyone thought of the undoubted degree of the no-hopers’ capacity for bellyaching.
“O.K.,” said one of the sigs, “she’s clear up ahead.” We looked up and saw the sergeant waving us forward.
Harry got to his feet and Herc with him. Roy and Rene, the sigs, followed with the officer. Hugh and I brought up the rear. As fast as possible we walked forward to where the two bellyachers waited and then on along their patrolled beat. We had covered perhaps fifty yards of it when we cleared the first small rise in the rubber. The jungle lay cosily by our left hand. We trotted down the far side of the rise. And instantly the air was full of bullets, whilst ahead of us and to our right about fifty yards away, with automatic weapons blazing, were Japanese soldiers. We had walked straight into an ambush. The bellyachers had funked their patrol.
I didn’t wait to see what happened. I was off at once, sprinting wildly, towards that jungle on the left. Beside me, I was aware without seeing him, ran Hugh. Cursing myself for every fool in the world, I thought yearningly of those four beautiful hand grenades now lying uselessly beside a canal the other side of Yong Peng.
“Stop there,” I heard the officer’s clear voice directed at us, “stop and surrender or we’ll all be shot” and my absurd Army training made me falter for a second and look back. I saw Herc already bleeding from a wound in the arm; and Sandshoes and the sergeant lying on the ground; and the officer standing quite still, the sigs looking at him questioningly and Harry in outrage. Just for a second we faltered. As in any race, when one falters, it was then too late. The path to the jungle was cut by a Jap soldier with a tommy gun. We stood still, our only chance lost. Then, very slowly, very foolishly and with a sense of utter unreality, I put up my hands.
At that moment all that occurred to me was that this procedure was completely disgraceful. I have not since then changed my mind. I have no doubt at all that I should have continued running. One does not win battles by standing still and extending the arms upwards in the hope that one’s foes have read the Hague Convention concerning the treatment of Prisoners of War. It was unfortunate that the Army had trained me sufficiently neither to disobey instantly and without hesitation, nor to obey implicitly and without compunction. Accordingly, I had done neither: and I now stood in the recognized pose of one who optimistically seeks mercy from a conqueror whose reputation is for being wholly merciless.
The enemy patrol closed in on us. Black-whiskered men, with smutty eyes and the squat pudding faces of bullies. They snatched off our watches first of all and then belted us with rifle butts because these did not point to the north as they swung them around under the ludicrous impression that they were compasses. They made dirty gestures at the photographs of the womenfolk they took from our wallets. They threw the money in the wallets away, saying, “Dammé, dammé, Englishu Dollars”: and, pointing at the King’s head on the notes, they commented: “Georgey Six number ten. Tojo number one!” And all the time two Tamils stood in the background, murmuring quietly to one another, their hips tight-swathed in dirty check sarongs and their wide-splayed feet drawing restless patterns in the bare soil of the rubber plantation.
“Done a good job, haven’t you, Joe?” demanded Harry savagely but they wouldn’t meet his eye. Just kept on drawing in the dirt with their toes.
Hugh picked up a ten-dollar bill and stuffed it defiantly back in his pockets. Then they tied us up with wire, lashing it round our wrists, which were crossed behind our backs and looped to our throats. They prodded us onto the edge of a drain in the rubber. We sat with our legs in it, while they set their machine guns up facing us and about ten yards away.
“That bloody intelligence officer would have to be right this time of all times, wouldn’t he?” demanded Harry we all knew that he referred to the “Japanese take no prisoners” report, and Herc, bleeding badly, nodded rather wanly.
“We must die bravely,” said the officer desperately at which the sergeant howled for mercy. Howled and pleaded, incredibly craven.
Neither he nor Sandshoes had been hit at all when I had seen them prostrate on the ground, merely frightened. The sergeant continued to bawl lustily. We sat, the nine of us, side by side, on the edge of our ready-dug grave.
The Japanese machine gunner lay down and peered along his barrel. It was my twenty-first birthday and I was not happy.

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Excerpt from “A Fortunate Life” by A. B. Facey ~~Gallipoli~~

We left the harbour – Mudros Harbour I had found it was called – on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth of April. We were nervous and excited, knowing that we were finally on our way into action. We sailed all afternoon through a calm sea. That night we turned in to sleep in hammocks. I was very tired and despite the excitement, went to sleep.
The next thing I knew, I was being shaken awake by a corporal. The ship was moving slowly, some lights were on, and everyone was busy packing up and getting into battle dress. I noticed that stripes and rank markings had been removed from uniforms. One of the sergeants said, ‘It’s not far now. All portholes are blacked out and no lights on deck.’
The officers and sergeants were called to report to the Company Commander. Now excitement ran high. A few minutes later they returned and told us that we were to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.
When we were called to our sections our officer gave us a briefing on the proper instructions for landing. We were told that our ship would move as close as possible into shore but would keep out of range of the enemy’s shelling. He said, ‘They will throw everything they’ve got at us as soon as they wake up to what we’re doing. Now when the ship stops you will be called to the side and lined up. On the side of the ship is a rope net already in place. A destroyer will come alongside and you will climb over the side and down the rope onto the deck of the destroyer when ordered. When the destroyer has enough men it will pull away and go towards where you are to land. Close to shore you will be met by a small motor boat towing rowing-beats. You will climb into the rowing-boats and the motor boats will take you as close to shore as possible. There will be sailors in the rowing-boats and they will take you into the beach. Now you are to get ashore as best you can and then line up on the beach and await further instructions.
This was it. We were scared stiff – I know I was – but keyed up and eager to be on our way. We thought we would tear right through the Turks and keep going to Constantinople.
Troops were taken off both sides of the ship onto destroyers. My platoon and other “D” Company men were on the same destroyer. All went well until we were making the change into rowing-boats.
Suddenly all hell broke loose; heavy shelling and shrapnel fire commenced. The ships that were protecting our troops returned fire. Bullets were thumping into us in the rowing-boat. Men were being hit and killed all around me.
When we were cut loose to make our way to the shore was the worst period. I was terribly frightened. The boat touched bottom some thirty yards from shore so we had to jump out and wade into the beach. The water in some places was up to my shoulders. The Turks had machine-guns sweeping the strip of beach where we landed – there were many dead already when we got there. Bodies of men who had reached the beach ahead of us were lying all along the beach and wounded men were screaming for help. We couldn’t stop for them – the Turkish fire was terrible and mowing into us. The order to line up on the beach was forgotten. We all ran for our lives over the strip of beach and got into the scrub and bush. Men were falling all around me. We were stumbling over bodies – running blind.
The sight of the bodies on the beach was shocking. It worried me for days that I couldn’t stop to help the men calling out. (This was one of the hardest things of the war for me and I’m sure for many of the others. There were to be other times under fire when we couldn’t help those that were hit. I would think for days, ‘I should have helped that poor beggar.’)
We used our trenching tools to dig mounds of earth and sheltered from the firing until daylight – the Turks never let up. Their machine guns were sweeping the scrub. The slaughter was terrible.
I am sure that there wouldn’t have been one of us left if we had obeyed that damn fool order to line up on the beach.

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Excerpt from “Record of Service” by Bruce Robinson ~~R.A.P.~~

The following event occurred during the Sanananda campaign in Papua New Guinea around December 1942.

On the morning of our first action I left most of my gear at our overnight camp, and set up a temporary R.A.P. at one of the near corners of the oblong, and was soon kept busy dealing with incoming casualties. Later on the scene of battle changed, and I moved with my staff to join forces with Captain Jim Fotheringham, who was the R.M.O. of the other battalion that was in action with us, and we occupied a joint R.A.P. just inside the jungle beside the road. We were soon very busy, as the casualties were numerous by now. In fact, “Dum” Norris, the senior medical officer of the division, who had come up and was lending a hand, said he had never seen a busier R.A.P. in this war, or the last.
In jungle warfare there is no real front line as in more orthodox wars, and the scene of battle fluctuated throughout the day. We would hear firing on our left, and this would die down. Then it would break out to the right, and next it would be close alongside us, wherever, in fact, an enemy machine-gun post or sniper was found by our lads. On one occasion during the mid-afternoon we heard firing close at hand, and we were disturbed to see some of our green-clad boys falling back through the trees towards us, and eventually through us and past us. “Look out, there are the Japs,” cried one of my boys, pointing to shadowy figures in the undergrowth across the clearing. We had no arms, so we jumped into nearby holes. There were four of us in mine as tightly packed as on a half-past-five city bus. Lead was flying over our heads from both directions. I thought, “This is a fine way to end my military career; some blasted Jap will throw a grenade into our hole, and then good-bye.”
However, our boys rallied and held their ground, and the firing died down in a few minutes, so I thought I would crawl out and try the air, if only to get some weapon and my tin hat which I had taken off when we were busy. Nothing happened when I emerged, so I called my boys and we hastily collected our gear and made an orderly, if rapid, withdrawal. Jim Fotheringham and his boys appeared later, having had a similar experience, and together we selected a new combined R.A.P. site a couple of hundred yards farther back – our fourth for the day. This one was to become my permanent home during the next few weeks, though Jim Fotheringham had several other moves. By this time we had passed the busiest part of the day, but a trickle of casualties kept arriving all through the evening and night.

*R.A.P. – Regimental Aid Post
*R.M.O. – Regimental Medical Officer

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Excerpt from “War Cameraman – The Story of Damien Parer” by Neil McDonald ~~Wau~~

picture-warcameraman-mcdonaldBy February 1942 it was clear Australia itself was in peril. The decision that they were to return to Australia must have been a relief to Parer. His parents and his eldest sister, Doreen Owen, were in New Guinea which was likely to come under direct attack from the Japanese.



While the two correspondents rested in Wau, Parer located his parents’ hotel and his brother-in-law’s house. Both had been hurriedly abandoned at the first news of the Japanese invasion.

The three fine billiard tables were all that was left of Dad’s hotel . . . I walked into the home where Dor [Doreen Owen] and Jock were living and picked up some cloth animals – now sorely battered – they were some I had sent them from Palestine last year – also the big leather cushion affair I had sent mother from the Mussky bazaar in Cairo! Bending down and opening a camphor wood box I found an envelope addressed to me! Mother had written, made a mistake in the spelling and put it aside – then the family album – photos of all of us – some I took myself. What a strange war it seemed to me. From the far sands of Egypt – I had come home to see my own people’s homes struck by the enemy.

Damien was deeply moved by this experience. For the first time, he was meeting people who had known his family in New Guinea and seeing places he only read about previously. He incorporated what he felt in a re-enacted sequence showing Bob Nesbitt of the NGVR returning to his bomb-shattered home in Wau. ‘CU [close up] He bends down and picks up a cloth animal – a symbol of the happy life of peace time and he looks over to photos on the wall of wife and children’. The cloth animals and the pictures were the same ones Parer had found in his sister’s abandoned house. He described this sequence as ‘Australians are here fighting right in their own homes.’


Bob Nesbitt surveying the damage “War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Bob Nesbitt surveying the damage
“War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Bob Nesbitt handling a cloth animal “War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Bob Nesbitt handling a cloth animal
“War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47


Camera pans to photographs on the wall “War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

Camera pans to photographs on the wall
“War in New Guinea” Pathe Gazette Newsreel Issue 43-47

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Excerpt from “The Hundred Days of Lt. Machorton” by Ian Machorton ~~Lal Bahadur~~

picture-hundreddaysltmachorton-machortonFrom that ominously silent jungle across the railway track whence most of the firing had come, would there burst forth another charge? Or, even as we lay low waiting, were the Japs in the jungle behind us massing silently to complete the encirclement? An ammunition clip rang like a bell on the night air in the midst of the silence as someone to me left re-loaded his rifle. Someone to my left! Kulbahadur, I knew was by my right-hand, but who was at my left? My next duty as an officer was suddenly urgent. We must close up and keep contact. Whoever was on either side of me must be formed under my command into an integrated fighting force.
“Kulbahadur!” I whispered: “Eh! Kulbahadur!”
“Huzoor!” he answered softly.
“Is there anyone on your right, Kulbahadur?” I asked.
There was a pause of some seconds and then, having peered into the darkness: “I can’t see anyone, Sahib. Shall I go and look?”
“Yes. But very quietly” I said.
There came the clink of his empty cartridge cases, dislodged by his movements, striking the flints as they rolled down the embankment. Then silence again. A few minutes later, with a stealthy scuffling, he crawled up beside me to whisper in my ear. “I have found no-one, Sahib. Except four or five dead men.”
So I turned left to the Gurkha soldier lying immediately to my left to find out from him who I had with me on that side. “Pass the word down,” I told him. “Make contact with the man on your left!”
As if lost in thought the Gurkha soldier continued to stare fixedly at the impenetrable shadows of the jungle ahead of him across the embankment. His honey-coloured hands held his rifle in readiness, the taut readiness of a trained soldier ready for the next Jap attack. His obvious vigilance gave me an added sense of security. What better fighting soldiers could a young British officer wish for on each side of him than Gurkhas? For all his eagerness to be ready should another Jap charge come, this Gurkha must do what he was told. Impatiently I repeated my order, and when he still took no notice I exclaimed: “Eh – timi!” and stretched out my hand and pushed his shoulder roughly. He rolled over languidly and, amid an avalanche of small stones, slithered to the bottom of the embankment. He lay there in a crumpled heap, his upturned young face glistened in the moonlight. I lay paralysed.
The hasty hot words of reprimand were never said! I could only stare in horror at the smiling Gurkha boy who was younger even than I. I knew men were killed in war but it had never occurred to me that those I knew and liked would be killed. And killed beside me at that! Rifleman Lal Bahadur Thapa would never answer to my orders again.
Lal Bahadur had been close to me from the day I joined the Chindits back at Jhansi. Somehow or other he had always seemed to be there. All through those days of marching since we had crossed the Chindwin I had been somehow aware of his smiling young face, his virile young presence, marching onwards close to me. He was I knew little more than sixteen years old, and it was almost impossible to reconcile the grinning, tireless, Lal Bahadur with that body, which I could now see had a ragged hole the size of half a saucer in the back of the head, lying grotesquely at the embankment’s foot.

Rangoon Memorial within the Taukkyan War Cemetery ... Rifleman Lal Bahadur Thapa

Rangoon Memorial within the Taukkyan War Cemetery …
Rifleman Lal Bahadur Thapa

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