Monday, February 21, 2011

(Magpie 54, ABC Wednesday, Writer's Island, Sunday Scribblings)
I don’t talk much about my wartime heroism.
Perhaps because there was so little of it. :-)
But the truth is, as far as war is concerned I’ll have you know I was there, a few decades ago, right in the thick of it, as the saying goes, enduring bombings and strafings -- fire from the right, fire from the left.

As a result I wound up in a miserable jungle hospital in the middle of a miserable jungle.
They had carefully placed huge Red Crosses on the hospital tents, but the enemy saw fit to ignore them. They had perhaps heard that I was laid up in one of those tents and were out to get me. :-)
Anyway, I learned the routine. I was given a bunk in a huge tent that was filled with other bunks and each poor wounded warrior had an insect net. That jungle had the most god-awful insects nature has yet created.

The rules for the patients were clear, there was no way to improvise. Most of the time we were to stay in our bunks, with the net carefully tucked in all around to keep out the insects, but when the bombing started – and it happened any time, day or night – we were, those of us who were ambulant, supposed to get to a series of slit trenches just outside.
When the bombing let up, assuming we were still more or less alive, we were to stagger back inside the tent to the comfort of the bunk. Trouble was, what with the desperate need to get to the slit trench as fast as we could we were usually unable to carefully tuck in the insect net, so when we returned there was a horrific assemblage of insects – large, loathsome creatures -- lying in wait on the bed.

They all seemed to be chortling among themselves: We made it! We got inside! Now the fun begins! It was a tossup which was worse, the bombs or the insects.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I wouldn’t know.
During the time I spent in slit trenches – and a slit trench was just like a foxhole -- I was too busy trying to stay alive to think much about theology.
When my kids asked me about my experiences during the war, I was embarrassed to report that I hadn't done anything heroic; most of the time what I was experiencing was fear.

But the Magpie prompt of this week somehow captured one of those moments in the slit trench I’ll never forget, the moment when the bombardment was happening all around me – chunks of earth flying here and there.
Mother earth being chewed up, breaking into pieces like a jigsaw puzzle.

48 comments:

Paul C said...

You recreate the experience so well for those of us who haven't experienced all the devastating trauma.

thingy said...

If I wore a hat, I'd tip my hat to you.

Thank-you, Berowne.

Kristen Haskell said...

That was so interesting. I read it and then insisted on reading it to my brother. Who doesn't stick around long enough usually for anything to be read to him but he enjoyed this as much as I did. Great story. I hate insects too!

Pearl said...

I like how you write: clear, unassuming, straightforward.

Reading this and then looking at the puzzle piece was rather chilling.

Pearl

Helen said...

Heavy stuff ... you wrote about it beautifully. We're glad you're here.

Kathe W. said...

yow...what an awful time to be in...I salute you!

rallentanda said...

I'd say New Guinea or somewhere in the South Pacific.Terrible curse.. insect life here. I am pleased you survived the war and we all owe you a great debt. Thank you!

Roger Owen Green said...

great response re the theology quote, too.

Berowne said...

Helen: "We're glad you're here."
Thanks. I'm glad to be here too. :-)

Nanka said...

Very interesting in your own inimitable style. This was like fighting two battles on the same ground...and you survived both!! Bravo!!

Berowne said...

Pearl: "I like how you write: clear, unassuming, straightforward."
And I like how you write comments. :-)

Cezar and Léia said...

Impressive, now I'm here without words...I think of war is so terrible,you are right about puzzles and fear... You were trying to be strong and survive.You were there and you lived it!I can't imagine myself in this situation, among twist feelings and I think it's important to keep your mind, the sanity!
Thanks for sharing,
Léia

richies said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. Society to often talks of wartime heroism and bravery, but usually those thoughts aren't based in reality. Thanks for your open and honest thoughts.

An Arkies Musings

photowannabe said...

Riviting story about fear and the battles from within and without.
A powerful post. Thank You.

lightverse said...

Thus another puzzle piece has been fitted into my consciousness. I'm glad I read it, but very saddened by what I read. For me, it would seem unimaginable, but that is obviously not the case. You are a brave man, both for dealing with the horror, and for writing about it so that we might see it in all its unabashed clarity.

Everyday Goddess said...

Wow, those last lines blew my mind!

It's inconceivable to me how you and so many of your generation endured those horrible times. Namaste.

EG Wow said...

I appreciate your honesty about heroism.

Tumblewords: said...

Frightening. Cheers to you for serving. Hoping someday that need will be long past.

Leslie: said...

"It was a tossup which was worse, the bombs or the insects." Insects tend to LOVE me! So I think I'd probably prefer to just stay in the slit trench - at least that way, there'd be a chance of surviving the bombs! Well written!

Leslie
ABCW Team

Kay L. Davies said...

Heroism is not a lack of fear, but doing what needs to be done in spite of the fear.
To be injured, then bombed, then faced with a multitude of insects - that's nothing of which to be ashamed.
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Joy said...

That slit trench looks quite inviting after your description. I remember someone saying that they thought they were just about coping with the insects in the jungle until one crawled into his eye. Awful times, thank you.

Rinkly Rimes said...

What a wonderful account. We hear a lot about death and injuries, but much less about discomfort! I relived your time reading your account. In fact, I've begun to scratch!

Misfit in Paradise said...

I do wear a hat. Consider it tipped. Thank you for your service. And also for sharing your story with us.
Donna - ABC Team

Donna B said...

I agree...great writing. My Father and brother both served. Bless you for your sacrifice.

Hildred and Charles said...

Charles, a Lancaster pilot, has always said that anyone who denied fear in wartime was not being truthful, but that training and self discipline enabled you to overcome the fear and do your job, - he also says that the most fearful time he had was on his first trip when he was sent on a familiarization flight with another crew and had nothing to do but stand and watch, and not having any control over the ship, - so I can understand how you must have felt with this dreadful random bombing. And the insects!

spacedlaw said...

Nothing wrong about concentring on staying alive. I bet your kids were glad of it!

Tess Kincaid said...

Beautiful post, Mr. B. Thank you for your service to our country. x

Pauline said...

Interesting how each one of us looks at the same thing and sees something so different. I'd say just going to war showed a bravery I am incapable of...

Rashmi said...

Wonderful recollection...Thanks for sahring

helenmac said...

Berowne, honest, clear language describing the sufferings and survival of a soldier in modern jungles warfare. Thank you for revisiting what must be less than pleasant memories and sharing them with us.
I appreciate all your essays.
HelenMac,
ABC Wednesday Team

Berowne said...

helenmac: "I appreciate all your essays."
As I appreciate all your comments. :-)

Berowne said...

Tess K.: "Beautiful post, Mr. B."
Thanks for the beautiful prompt.

Berowne said...

Hildred and Charles: "Charles, a Lancaster pilot..."
What stories you could tell within these pages, Charles.

Berowne said...

From Sharp Little Pencil:
Berowne, as usual, sorry, couldn't post to Blogspot... cut and paste the comment below if you wish!
Mr. B, you say you didn't do anything heroic, but frankly, simply being there was quite something. Being out of your element, chunks of ground flying... it's a horrible mess, war, and those who are in the middle of it rarely have much good to report. Guess that's because war is appalling... but it's easy to NOT have been there and call it that. You did it. Glad you lived to tell the tale, because we would be all the poorer for your absence. Sincerely, Amy Barlow Liberatore (AKA Sharp Little Pencil)

Reflections said...

Thank you sir, for all that you endured on our behalf. And thank you for writing such a wonderful, straghtforth share...

Kavita said...

You fought wars AND insects, AND you survived to tell us about it in the most awe-inspiring manner! And you say you didn't do anything heroic!??!?! You are a modest one, my friend... Hats off to you!!

This writing just couldn't have been any better!!
I am humbled by this one...

Anna said...

Excellent post about a situation I am happy to not be in. It is as if being in a war and being injured in battle were not enough! The insects tormented you as well.
Thank goodness, my father, who was in the US-army in WWII, was not sent to the tropics. When we asked him if he had ever used his pistol, he told us that he only used it killing huge rats in Atwerpen, waiting at the docks for weeks for a transport boat back to the US.

What a life you have lead! Always interesting.
Best wishes,
Anna
(Sara Cat has taken this week off.)
Anna's ABC-F and AT-T: Tooth-Faerie

vivinfrance said...

I'm so glad you survived to write the story.

Berowne said...

My thanks to Reflections, Kavita, Anna, Amy B L and vivinfrance for such encouraging comments.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Kate said...

This is fascinating-- so terrifying and yet imbued with humour. Incredible.

Sue J said...

I'm glad you survived it all. Thanks for sharing :)
My uncle fought in the Burmese jungle with the Chindits in WW2 and would never speak of it. It must have been horrendous.

JTS said...

Yet another mind-blowing finish to a really good story. I love the way you tell tales!

Margaret said...

Bravery without fear isn't possible. Really enjoyed this write. And thank you form putting your life on the line for your country and fellow man. It doesn't get braver than that.

Berowne said...

Margaret: "Really enjoyed this write."
Thanks, Margaret. I don't feel sad, I don't feel hollow. I found myself on your "Blogs I Follow." :-)

jaerose said...

I can't begin to imagine the horror - I'm glad mother earth (or something great) kept you safe..as the others say, a clear write with not an ounce of self pity or regret..Jae

Old Altonian said...

A war story told with honesty and a sense of humour. Great stuff Berowne.

Berowne said...

An email from Amy Barlow Liberatore:
"Berowne, this is an example of you at your best... talking about the wartime experience, the visceral little bugaboos that end up in your socks and shoes, the real-life survival of being in war. I believe your testaments about the more mundane aspects are some of your best, as that's most of what war is - the time spent in between the bombs. I look forward to the day we send no one in harm's way... peace, Amy"

 
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