TALES FROM KOHIMA
We were in slit trenches on a hill known as 5120 (it's spot height) when the Brigadier with his entourage arrived to inspect the positions. He had obviously been told that we were being hampered by Japanese snipers. As an ex-colonel of our First Battalion he was disgusted to find us below ground . "Snipers," he said, "Get down there and sort 'em out."
He walked a few yards along the track beyond our front, then dropped with a sniper's bullet through his thigh.
After being treated at the field dressing station he had asked to be carried down to the valley (Zubza) by Lancashire Fusiliers. A sergeant announced this, and called for four volunteers; as none of our stretcher bearers was available.
Four of us; Cyril Livesey, George Glover, Lehman and I made our way to where the stretcher column was being organised. I then realised why our own S.B.s were not available. It seemed that the column was made up of the sick and wounded from every unit in the Brigade. Escorts also had to be found, or we would have been easy targets if attacked.
We set off along a track down the hill, but before long we were struggling as the track disappeared and each stretcher party was left to make its own way down the steep, wet and slippery ground. Here and there we came across the roof of a shelter, which the Nagas had built into the hillside. These were a Godsend because they enabled us to park the stretcher for a short while, take a breather and rest our aching limbs. The Brigadier (Hawkins) was a large man, over six feet tall.
Towards the bottom of the hill as we reached one of these shelters, a Captain, unknown to us at the time, sitting on a boulder under his steel helmet and monsoon cape, started to give us instructions in a positively pompous and critical manner, "Now, if you chaps would use a bit of common sense..." he started. The Fusilier behind me, Lehman, an ex-coal miner from Pendlebury, Manchester; slithered down and confronted the critic.
"If you'll get off your bleedin' arse and give us a lift, instead of makin' silly noises, we might do better", he said;- for all around to hear. (Incidentally, Lehman was charged with this offence, but the charge was dropped after he was badly wounded shortly afterwards.)
I should also say that the Officer, not infantry I seem to remember, was not typical. Our officers at Kohima and throughout the following campaign in Burma were 'the tops'.
We reached the valley with great relief, as the rain was a steady drizzle but at last we were on the flat, where we were to hand over the stretchers to Naga tribesmen, who were much more efficient at the job than we were (they were six to a stretcher and carried it on their shoulders). Without halting they would change sides for relief as they chanted along.
The Brigadier, who must have been in agony during our hazardous descent now told us to halt and try to ease his discomfort. His leg was raised at the knee and supported by a rolled blanket. Travelling along the valley the halts became frequent and so the M.O. took what must have been his first opportunity to move along from patient to patient injecting morphia. The Brigadier's gunman followed behind our stretcher becoming more impatient at each halt. I remember him in a bush-hat (we were in helmets) and he carried a tommy-gun slung on each shoulder. His boss was still trying to find a more comfortable position and must have been cold because at one stop he had asked for his 'Wooly'. No one seemed to understand until a Geordie in front said, "He means his gansy". We knew that the Brigadier was fully conscious, but the gansy halt was too much for his gunman; who stood reiterating, "Come on, fuck 'im,- ee's dilerious".
I often wondered about the outcome but never saw either of them again.
© COPYRIGHT RICHARD PATTERSON 2001