NEARLY MY LAST BREW
"THAT last cup of tea will be the death of you," my mother used to say in the pre-war days when I was late for work.
Well, at Kohima with the 8th (Salford) Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, there were a couple of occasions when her words almost came true.
We had just reached the top of a hill, (5,120 feet above sea-level; they call them mountains here) and were exhausted, when the Platoon Sergeant said, "Dig in." A couple of dirty words passed through my mind in reply as I prepared my Tommy Cooker and mess-tin for a brew.
The Sergeant (McMillan) strode across and with a hefty swing, booted my brewing tackle into the bush. "Were digging in," he said, throwing me a pick.
The trenches were only half dug when the first Jap shells landed on the position, smack on top of the hill. As I clawed my fingers further into the shaly ground, I sheepishly muttered my apologies.
Not long afterwards on the same hill, the second occasion put me more in a state of confusion.
A section of us (about) seven men if you were lucky, in those days) were in a forward look-out post and had spent the night there without incident.
Peering through the dug-out slit at dawn, I saw some fellows queuing and one ladling from a dixie, a couple of hundred yards to our right front.
Reaching for my mess-tin I said to the section corporal (Eric Butlin) who was chewing on the end of a matchstick whilst scanning with his field-glasses, "The Indians have brewed, I'm going for a cuppa."
He nudged me in silence and handed over his glasses.
The sight nearly choked me. I was gazing in disbelief at Japs as tall as Sikhs. I couldn't even swallow spit.
Contrary to what the actors and producers would have people believe, life was pretty miserable. It wasn't too uncommon to come across a fellow sat crying to himself.
The night before an attack or prior to setting off on patrol there was none of the jocularity seen on the screen. Everyone went quiet, I remember. Nobody had anything to say, not the comics. The chatterboxes like me, or the practical jokers. Most of the words spoken were orders.
Our subsequent advance into Burma was a cakewalk compared to Kohima.
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