The Jungle War Against the Japanese
From the Veterans Fighting in Asia 1941-1945
Tim Heath brought together many new perspectives on life under Hitler in ‘Hitler’s Housewives’, reviewed last year. Now he has turned his attention to the war against Japan in the Far East. Again he has collected a variety of accounts from those who were there, in this case from both sides of the conflict. There are many personal stories here, painting a picture of the raw, often brutal, war in the jungle. He has not sought to censor his contributors - who appear to have been have ben very frank with him.
Last week’s excerpt from The Jungle War Against the Japanese came from the Japanese perspective.
This week , following the approach taken by this volume of collected stories from both sides, takes up the account of a British soldier. Heath managed to track down some old soldiers at the end of their days, and did a valuable service in capturing what they had to say. These seem to be very authentic perspectives on events.
Heath has reproduced the full unexpurgated version of their stories - as they appear here. The language can best be described as “adult”:
Former private soldier Mark Rutherford was another 19-year-old who found himself in India as part of the 2nd Infantry Division. With his strong cockney accent and a sense of humour he admitted was often offensive, he was a man I certainly felt at ease with. I found Mark very typical of many of the Second World War veterans I had spoken with over the years. His accent gave that strange sense of assurance that you were in the presence of a practical man who had seen and done a lot throughout his years. He recalled:
God, India ... fucking hell, where do we start with that? [he laughs] Back then India was okay if you were one of those toffs living it up; you know, the high life as we used to call it. It must have been pretty good there. When I arrived, I thought to myself: fucking hell, it’s hot here, can’t bloody breathe, there’s no air movement here — not like standing on the London docks where my old man used to work his knackers off for a charity wage.
No, I didn’t like it there at first; it was what you’d call very primitive and what with those fucking officers and sergeants barking orders at you all day long - but we were there and had to get used to it pretty quickly because they said the fucking Japs were coming.
We did a hell of a lot of amphibious landing training, getting in boats, jumping out into the water, getting back in boats - drove us fucking mad, it did. After a few months of that, we used to say the Japs would be our mates.
I’d never met an Indian or ‘coolie’ as some of the lads used to refer to them before. I had never even tasted this stuff they called curry until then either. Those Indian soldiers [and civilians] could make a curry out of virtually anything - from a tree to a dead fucking rat, and it was delicious [he laughs]; fuck me; it really was. Throw in a bit of rice and this bread the women often made which was flat circular-shaped stuff, and bloody hell, you were ready to go; it was filling grub, I can tell you.
Some of those spices they had - Jesus! they’d blow your arsehole out the next morning when you took a shit. Not all the lads could handle the spice. One complained it felt as if he were shitting a campfire out of his arse the next morning. The Indians found this amusing and so did we, so, yes we soon broke the ice with the Indian lads and some of them would become lads you could depend on with your life - they’d look out for you as much as you would them, proper mates, which we didn’t expect at first being culturally different and all that.
Our officers used to fuck me off with their attitude towards the Indians though. Officers always came from upper-class, privileged backgrounds and tended to look down on the Indians. On more than one occasion I heard our own officers refer to the Indians as ‘wogs’, ‘fuzzy wuzzies’ or ‘nig-nogs’.
I personally didn’t find it amusing at all, but that’s how detached some of the officer classes were from us foot sloggers. We didn’t call them names though, and we treated them the same way we would want to be treated. The way I saw it we were all soldiers of the Fourteenth Army and we were all on the same side and we all had the same job to do.
The only bit I wasn’t looking forward to was going into that fucking jungle. You couldn’t see jack shit in there: a Jap could be right by you and you’d never see the little yellow cunt until he stuck his bayonet in your ribcage and by that point it was over. I heard all about their tactics and the methods they used.
That’s what they were like, right cunning little fuckers and in the jungle it was often very dark, humid, with lots of fucking things crawling around and they seemed to thrive in it whereas we did struggle for a while. We all sensed before long we’d get a crack at the Japs.
We had to learn to use the jungle as they had been using it. To not be intimidated by the fact that your jungle camp could be surrounded by the Japs, that they were always nearby - we had to get through that mental challenge and to use the jungle itself to travel through as opposed to the roads which may have ran alongside it. Yes, we all had a lot to learn but learn we did. First blood was Arakan - never heard of the place before in my life; it sounded like something from one of those old Sinbad films. Yes, Arakan was the first taste of battle for our gang.
This excerpt from The Jungle War Against the Japanese appears by kind permission of Pen & Sword Books Ltd. Copyright remains with the author.