Mid-afternoon and the sun beat relentlessly down through the Burmese jungle. The shallow depression that formed their refuge provided no protection from nature’s attacks. In addition to the sun, the humidity and the mosquitoes created an unbearable combination. Removing a helmet in an effort to gain some respite from the heat only increased the area of flesh vulnerable to the biting insects and risked a head shot from the attacking Japanese. The stench from the already rotting corpses resulting from the earlier skirmish added to a feeling growing in Sam’s mind that he was already dead and enjoying the hell reserved for sinners such as himself.
Burma had become a nightmare for them. Disaster followed disaster after the initial Japanese attack. They were now in full retreat from Rangoon. Sam’s section had been decimated in the earlier attack and he and Mike were the sole survivors. As far as he could tell the other two sections in their platoon had feared no better. It was clear that they were now cut off behind the advancing Japanese troops. Stories of the Japs bayonetting Allied POWs had filtered down to them. He didn’t know if this was made up to stiffen their resolve or if it was true. But what he had seen in action so far made him think it was no fairy tale.
He shifted his position as carefully as he could to look at Mike who was stirring. He had fought bravely but had taken a bayonet thrust to the gut before Sam managed to fell the Jap with a shot to the chest. He was now groaning. Once the fighting was over, Sam had managed to apply a pressure pad, a bandage and administered a shot of morphine he had acquired from a medic along the way. He knew that the effects of the morphine would now be wearing off. He had no more to give him and knew full well that Mike was not going to survive. The chances of evacuation were non-existent and, in any case they were now cut off. Ahead, he knew, lay only a very painful death for Mike.
He and Mike had known each other forever. They had grown up in the same village and gone to school together. They had never been close though. Far from it. Mike had been a bookworm, while he had always led at sports; and with the girls. Throughout the worst of the war, Sam would take his mind off things by trying to remember all the girls he had had. It didn’t matter if it was during the most mindlessly boring times (like the troopship coming over) or in this Burmese hell hole, recollecting the best of the beauties he’s had, always took his mind off things.
Hearing a noise, he reached for his rifle. He cautiously raised his head over the lip of the depression and scanned the clearing. And then grinned, and laughed silently to himself. Two rats were making a meal of one of the dead Jap’s faces. A good way for the bastard to meet his maker, he thought.
Mike groaned again. He helped him sip a little water. There wasn’t much left in either of their water bottles. Perhaps there was still some left in the ones the rest of the section had carried. They wouldn’t need it now. He’d take a look when he was sure there were no more Japs in the vicinity. God only knew what would happen to him; the British were retreating fast and the area where he was would soon be overrun with Japs.
Looking at Mike, he knew he had done well, got a desk job in the council offices and a nice little house with Doreen. Book learning is fine, he thought, it might help you get on in civvy street, even a step up the ranks in the army but it couldn’t help you dodge a bullet or a bomb or a piece of shrapnel.
Sam had left school as soon as he could and worked on his parents’ farm. With three sisters and two brothers he knew he’d only get a share when his parents died. Fighting had always been a part of Sam’s life. It was the one thing he could thank his father for; toughening him up, never letting him give up on anything, never backing down. No one had dared mess with him in the village. But here, his toughness was for nothing. He did OK hand to hand, sure, but when a skinny little Jap could finish you off with a bullet, luck was more important.
Looking at Mike, he felt sorry for him. He hadn’t when Mike had somehow managed to pull Doreen Hardcastle. She was an exception to his own scorecard when they were younger. There was something that set her apart from the other local girls. She was a looker, no doubt about that but there was some other special quality about her. They had stayed friendly, given it was a small community. But he had finally managed to wear her resistance down when he met her at a party one time when Mike had been away on some council business or training course. It turned into an affair that continued until Mike and he were both called up and found themselves in the same regiment. They had got on & worked together even when placed in the same section. Mike clearly never knew what had happened.
It was getting dark and clear to Sam that there was now no hope that they would be rescued. Making the maximum speed on the retreat north had always been the objective. Maybe, working on his own, he could find a way north to meet up with the rest of the regiment; he had always been resourceful and was used to spending time alone in the countryside. Maybe, just maybe there was a chance.
Mike was awake again and starting to writhe around. Sam moved closer to try and provide whatever comfort he could.
‘Come on mate, hang in there, help will be on the way.’ He whispered
‘No…chance!’ Mike hissed between clenched jaws, ‘They’re… long gone!’
‘No, I’m staying with you. Just a little longer and the medics will be here.’
‘I…know…what a gut…wound will do…for the love of God, finish me!’
Mike put an arm around him ‘I’m never leaving you…you’ll make it.’
‘I’m dying… but I’m not stupid. Finish me off and go! Doreen… will…need you & you need to make it back! Promise me you’ll take care of her.’
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