KAERIMI WA SEJI
Never Look Back
Itu fell in beside Kojima as they started the descent inþU¤sþGto Kuala Lumpur. realising that the noise of battle was from the south now, from the north the occasional spadmodic shots could be heard as Japanese forces continued mopping up and it was not just the enemy who would be executed he thought.
“What regiment did you serve with” asked the young soldier escorting them. Itu told him of his enlistment in the 11th Infantry regiment and his later promotion then his transfer to the intelligence section under captain Mitzutani. By the time he had finished telling his story, they had arrived on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The scene was vastly different now, bodies lay bloating in the hot sun and the stench of putrefaction was heavy on the air, several buildings were clinging to each other for support and down the street was the trade mark of the Imperial guards division, every telephone and electric stanchion was festooned with the heads of local Chinese merchants.
“Where are we going?” asked Kojima. The tall quiet soldier who had accompanied them pointed toward the brick fields. “We are to take you to the headquarters of colonel Koba of the 55th infantry, the 11th infantry no longer exists”
“Why does it no longer exist?” asked Itu
I don’t know the full story, but there was so much unrest after the loss of so many men at Taman Negara, that the 11th was amalgamated with the 55th”. Itu could not refrain from staring up at the severed heads hanging from every prominent position. “You seem bewildered with the victorious decorations” said the young one. Itu gave a grimace “I have heard of the courage of the Imperial guard and of their astute methods of disposing of the enemy, but I never imagined so many heads to be on display”, he turned to look to where a group of four heads had been suspended from the same rope. “If it were left to the guards divisions, there would be no Chinese left in the world” said the young one “Taiping and Shanghai was far more decorative than this, it took several days for them to rot and drop off”
“How do you know this?” asked Itu
“I served in both “ replied the young one
“If that is so, why are you still a soldier third class?”
The young one shrugged “My good friend Saki would always get me into trouble just at the wrong time, At one time I became first class and was waiting for promotion to gunso, but my friend Saki knew that we would have to part company and I was demoted and severely beaten before being placed in the kennels” He looked downcast as he answered.
“Is Saki still your friend or is he now your enemy?” asked Kojima who had been listening to every word with interest.
“No one knows who is their friend or enemy today, sometimes it is neccessary to embrace the bottle in order to dispel the spirits which haunt us each day” He looked toward Itu as he asked “Do you not occasionally see the ghosts of deceased comrades and wish to drink to their passing?”
Itu was about to reply when an army waggon came to a halt by their side. An officer sitting in the passenger seat shouted to them to climb aboard. No questions asked as to where they were going or even if they wanted to climb on board. “Quickly” shouted the officer. Itu just had not got the energy to swing on board and he fumbled and grasped at the tail board as the truck moved forward, Kojima grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and as he was heaved on board he heard the rasping sound of his shirt ripping across his shoulders. He was about to give Kojima a piece of his mind, but thought better of it when he realised that he could easily have fallen from the truck.
“What happens now?” he put the question to the group not to anyone in particular.
It was the quiet one who answered. “The officer is major Kunishi of the Imperial Guards and we have been chosen to assist in the despatch of more Chinese if my guess is correct. The truck proceeded to the front of the British municipal offices, where a large crowd of people were assembled, but they were mainly comprised of Japanese military. As soon as the truck had halted the major yelled for them to come to attention, then Chioski (March). They marched in single file to the bottom of the steps and were then ordered to face the crowd. “Whatever is happening whispered Itu, I don’t think that I like it”. “Quiet” said the young one, as several officers and guns’s came marching out in single file. One of the gunso’s ran forward and placed a wooden box on the ground in front of the crowd, then rejoined the line of officers and nco’s. Itu could hardly contain his feelings of nervousness, “Surely this is not the usual display and ceremony before sending a group of Communists on their way” There was no answer as two robed religious men entered the arena and began to chant, one was a Buddist and the other Shinto. One or two of the nco’s began to chant, then gradually everything went quiet except for the chanting from the clerics, Four Japanese men appeared each man naked except for a fandosa between his loins and a white vest, They had all had their heads shaven, and each carried a scroll. Eight soldiers marched from the interior of the building. Four each carrying a ceremonial sword. The others carried a ceremonial stool. Everything seemed to be a complete mystery to Itu. The young one began to whisper “This is to be a ceremonial execution, it is apparent that the four men standing to the front have been convicted of some crime which is worthy of the death sentence and major Kunishi likes nothing better than to show off his expertise”.
The four men were ordered to stand to the rear of each of the stools, there hands were tied behind their backs, an officer approached each one and spoke to him, and with each the reaction was the same, the officer would nod his head and one of the attending gunso’s would immediately untie the mans hands.
“A gunso shouted the orders for attention and as soon as there was silence, major Kunishi took his place on top of the up turned wooden box.
From a scroll he began to read out the crimes which each man had committed and the findings of the court. In essence, they had all been tried and sentenced in the field for cowardice, refusing to carry out orders and disgracing the Emperor and his Imperial army.
The majors speech seemed to go on and on and was suddenly joined by the chanting from the holy men. One or two friends or comrades of the men, shouted out a final message like “Go in good spirit” and back came the reply “I go in high spirits and thank you for your friendship”
The major stood down and an order was given, then suddenly Itu and the others were ordered to march forward and each stand beside one of the condemned men. Itu looked around for someone to tell him what he was supposed to do, The young one whispered “You must stand by to hold down his head, should he at the last minute decide to run away” The realisation suddenly dawned in Itu’s mind, if the man struggled, there was a strong possibility, that he himself could be hit by the deflecting sword. He had no stomach for killing at such close quarters. It was easy to kill from a distance and the chance that he himself could become a victim caused his nerves to run amok. “Steady” whispered the young one, “just stand at the side and be ready to go for his legs” Itu nodded and waited. The ritual and chanting continued until the order came for the condemned men to kneel. Each man dutifully knelt behind the stool assigned to him, two officers and two gunso’s took a position by the side of each man. A further order and each prisoner bowed his head. Itu closed his eyes, he could not pray, because he assumed that the man he was guarding was probably a Buddist. Suddenly there was complete silence, then the order came to the executioners to proceed in their own time. Itu could hear the executioner place his sword into the bucket of water which had been placed beside each stool, then Swish!, Itu opened his eyes, but was too late to see the speed of the sword which decapitated the prisoner he was standing by. The mans muscles tightened as he went into his death throes, blood spirted from the veins in his neck, then he suddenly relaxed, kicking out with his legs as he rolled onto the ground. From the rear there were one or two muffled shouts and he thought that he heard someone scream.
After it was over, he congratulated himself on not having been sick. A group of soldiers came from behind the crowd and rolled the bodies of the dead men onto pieces of canvas, to carry them away. No one taking any particular notice of the four as they remained standing close to where the executions had taken place. “What happens now?” asked Kajima Itu looked toward the young one, who replied, “we get the hell out of here”
“But what of us young one?” asked Itu.
“Firstly, my name is Kiyoki Masura, and I am some years older than you, secondly, no one gives a damn about you or me, We are a part of the 55th regiment 18th division, as far as anyone knows or cares,
we are casualties of the great advance, so I would suggest that we find somewhere where we can eat, have a drink and find ourselves some clean clothes” “What happened to your clothes and equipment?” asked Kajima
“The last time I saw my clothing bag, it was hanging from the back of a waggon somewhere near Ipoh, so whenever I require a change of clothing, I call into the nearest quartermasters store and claim that I am adrift from my regiment” he smiled all round “I have never known it to fail” As they walked away, Kiyoki introduced the quiet one as Yoshida Sadao. Several of the small shopkeepers had opened up, they had goods , which if they were not sold would become rotten and need to be thrown away, so the first port of call was a small bar and eating house, where the Indian owner had never known such trade. All manner of food was available and strange as it may have seemed all brands of Japanese beer and saki. Kiyoki’s eyes lit up as they focused on the array of bottles, it was as if they had always been there, no one wondered where the bottles had come from, it was just accepted that the Indian was one of them.
After eating their fill Itu stood up to leave “Where are you going?” asked Kajima, “We are still wearing the clothing of Japanese soldiers, and as such we are still entitled to receive our just rewards, so I am going to find the headquarters of the 55th, not only to ask for the pay that is owing to me but also to enquire what my position is now that the 11th have been dissolved” Kiyoki looked at him with eyes swimming in alcohol, “You will find the offices of the 55th on the green to the rear of the British municipal buildings, ask for gunso Teishin and tell him that I sent you”
“What do you mean, tell him that I sent you?”
“We were ordered to collect you both and deliver you to the gunso, if he asks any questions, you may tell him where we are”
“Why have you not told me before that you were under orders to collect us”
Kiyoki winked “You never asked me to explain, so I assumed that you were aware”
Itu had no wish to remain any longer than was neccessary now, it was not so much that he wanted to be a hero, it was that he was not capable yet of thinking for himself. Turning to Kajima, “come on, you must also report”
Side by side they walked to the headquarters of the 55th infantry regiment, once within sight of the camp, they each began to wonder if they had done the right thing. For men to go missing for several days in the Japanese army was not a crime, providing that he can give a good accounting of where and how he spent the time. Both men had been assigned from the 11th infantry to captain Mitzutani’s intelligence section.
Along with others from the regiment, they had carried out the orders of the captain, and had it not been for losing everything when they were bombed by a Japanese plane, they would most probably still be carrying out orders. This was the story which was passing through Itu’s mind. It was because there minds were so occupied, that neither saw or heard one of the camp police shouting, requesting to know who they were and where they were going. The police man ran to a position where they could not avoid bumping into him. “Nanda haiti” (explain yourself soldier) Itu was the first to answer, but before doing so, he checked the rank of the policeman, which was the same as his own, then gave a shallow kiri, .Kojima did the same and it was fortunate that the policeman had returned Itu’s bow.
“ I am Itu Nakahama, soldier first class lately serving with the 11th infantry regiment, my comrade is Kojima Sumi soldier second class with the same regiment. We are returning from an assignment with captain Mitzutani, who was killed in the line of duty five days ago”. He finished with a further kiri, accompanied by Kojima. Follow me said the policeman after acknowledging their courtesy.
The camp was brimming with men from the 55th, and both Itu and Kojima looked round as they followed the policeman hoping to see at least one former member of the 11th infantry. They were taken to the office of gunso Haramuchi, who informed them that 11th Infantry regiment had now amalgamated with the 55th and that their new commander was colonel Koba. The regiment were at that moment deployed in the area of Malacca and that was where they would be despatched just as soon as they had collected their clothing and equipment. “What of our pay and letters from home?” asked Itu. The gunso became red in the face as he answered “You will receive your pay from the paymaster when you report, concerning your ,ail, I would imagine that it is somewhere between Singora and Singapore like all the rest” he gave a slight kiri which both men acknowledged deeply. He then shouted for the policeman who had brought them to take them to the 55th infantry stores to be re equipped.
Itu and Kajima were taken to the transport park where they joined several others, all due to be taken to join the 55th. The scene was the same in every village along the way. Heads of victims hanging from trees and posts, the bodies of women and children, lying exposed to the sun, their bodies bloated and burned. Several of the young soldiers on the transport were acting with great bravado and passing obscene remarks, but to the seasoned soldiers who had seen it all before, they just sat grim faced discussing their future prospects.
The convoy of trucks contained four waggons aboard which were the replacements, two escort vehicles and three ration waggons, as they came to a bend in the road, several mortar shells straddled the vehicles, followed by machine gun and small arms firing.
Off the trucks, shouted one of the gunso’s his shout however had been pre empted, as men dived for cover of the jungle. The whole area reverberated with the sounds of the firing and the shells, they had been well and truly ambushed. having pushed the enemy back, they had assumed that since they had not counter attacked, they had retreated, Gripping his rifle, Itu followed by Kojima wiggled his way into the jungle to where several large trees gave cover. Pointing to the largest he imitated a climbing motion and Kojima nodded with enthusiasm. Itu had never climbed a tree before, but he remembered the men just after the invasion, he placed the sling of his rifle over his head and round his chest, leaving the rifle hanging from his back. Climbing slowly and carefully , he managed to reach a branch about fifteen feet from the ground, where he was able to observe the movement of both Japanese and enemy soldiers. the slight puff of smoke indicating when a mortar had been fired and the shallow explosion as it hit its objective. Kojima who had climbed a nearby tree, gestured with his arms directing Itu to look to his left. A small party of enemy soldiers were gathered round what appeared to be a radio, others were passing out boxes of ammunition. Itu waved back to Kajima, then took careful aim at the man operating the radio and fired. Not waiting to observe the damage, he continued to fire at any moving target, Kajima doing likewise. At the same time the gunso had urged the remainder into a group, leading the men, he charged at the nearest machine gun position. Itu stopped firing he was so engrossed in watching the action . Soon the enemy soldiers withdrew and the gunso called for a tenko, at which it was found that they had lost twenty of the original sixty replacements. The transports had received very little damage, so after recovering the bodies of those who had been killed and the wounded, the convoy continued slowly on its way. After three hours and in mid afternoon, they arrived at Port Dixon, a small fishing village, now a very busy military area. All around the usual grim trophies of war were in abundance. having reported to his superior nco and made a written statement concerning his time with captain Mitzutani’s intelligence section and its abysmal failure, he was allowed to collect his back pay and whatever mail had been forwarded, the latest was a letter from Fujika dated three days before he had sailed from Yokohama. Most of the news was old, but just receiving a letter from her lifted his spirits heavenwards.
There was also a letter from his parents and one from the bank, showing that his account was in a far more healthier condition than he was.
The sun was setting as he walked onto the beach, he wanted to be alone to read his letters and be able to think about the future. This war would not last forever, so one must make plans, The sunset and the beach, had no resemblance to a holiday beach, it had at one time been full of people, men women and children, playing, building castles in the sand and generally walking barefooted and carefree. He looked around at the masses of dead bodies, soldier and civilian, European and Asian, mingled in death, the blood red sun creating a sea the colour of blood, as if accentuating the depravity which had occurred here. One or two of his soldier comrades were walking among the bodies, like vultures scavenging and collecting whatever souvenirs remained, the tide was coming in slowly, carrying with it other flotsam, discarded by God and by nature, superfluous to their requirements of the future. Two Japanese patrol boats passing close to shore and in file, created larger waves which seemed to be compelling each corpse to hurry ashore, before the sun went down. He had realized before today, that he had always been a loner ever since he had been called to join the army, he wondered about his future, what would be his ending. Would it be like these poor souls, left to be battered by the waves, thrown backward and forward until they disintegrate and become the food of the creatures of the deep, or would he be similar to those still rotting in the jungles of Malaya. No one seemed to give a damn, All through the fighting so far, he had only once observed the death rights being performed, and that was en masse after the landings. He returned to his letters, but they gave no answers or comfort. The wind coming in from the sea, had turned chill in anticipation of a further rain fall and he returned to where Kajima and the others were sat drinking while at the same time, tormenting a small monkey which was tied to the branch of a tree. Its previous owner having left it tethered as they made their escape. From the south the winds echoed the sounds of battle, down the coast several boats of all sizes, containing men, who’s next task would be to go ashore at Muar and Bhatu Pahat. The stories of the British fighting machine had been proved a myth, they never learned. Each time they were involved in battle, the Imperial Japanese army would belittle them again and again by their en circling movements, the oldest ploy in the military manual, yet they fell for it every time. His mind went back to Namura and their first meeting at the training barracks, to the landings and the scrapes he got into up to the present day.
He heard his name being called, and he reluctantly joined the others as they paraded for evening tenko. The gunso was the one who had been calling his name, immediately after tenko he called Itu over to one side.
“I understand that you have done some good field work” Itu remained standing to attention. “Relax” said the gunso “I am not about to have you shot or anything like that” Itu smiled wondering what trick the gunso had up his sleeve. “I will be leading a patrol tonight and I want you as my forward point” Itu squeezed his eyes and forehead in amazement “
“Me?” he asked “why me?, I have no experience in such things”
“You was recommended to me by gunso Yashio, he says that you are the best forward point in the regiment”
The name Yashio brought back the memory of the beating he had sustained the last time they had met, he wondered why Yashio had recommended him, it could only be another form of revenge, Itu thought awhile before answering “Where is gunso Yashio now?” he asked.
“He went forward to join colonel Nasu’s regiment the 56th infantry on the west coast, he watched you arriving and heard about your action outside Seramban” Itu could not make out if the gunso’s remarks were meant as a compliment or a skit on his manhood, but he decided to see it through, he could not very well refuse. “When do we leave?” he asked
“Now said the gunso, you have time to collect your rifle and fifty rounds, be back here in fifteen minutes”.
There was the usual nine men and the gunso making up the scouting patrol, Gunso Yutaka, privates first class Aida, Naoji,Wakana, Ichiro and Itu, plus four very junior soldiers. Each man offered a prayer to their individual kami, God, or ancestor. They entered the jungle at a point below Gemas, where the railway runs through dense tropical forest. With the noise of battle coming from the south, anything above the noise of insects and jungle creatures would create an echo. After having been given instructions from the gunso, Itu took the lead point with the gunso at the rear. Placing his feet foot firmly on the ground with each step, walking a short distance and then stopping to listen for noise, in the damp humid atmosphere, Itu began to sweat, it was not just the heat of the jungle though, it was the thoughts of running into an ambush, he had been on several patrols, but never as the front man. His mind went back to the first dismal patrol just after they had landed, when three of his friends had been shot to pieces, he was beginning to imagine several scenario’s, and was so deeply engrossed that he walked into a very large nest of red ants. The first instinct was to yell out at the first bite, but he managed to control himself.
The men following could not help but fall over each other in their attempts at avoiding the nest. Gunso Yataka came running yelling in a deep whisper, curses which would have made the devil blush and his fist crunched into Itu’s face. “I was told that you were an experienced soldier” he half whispered half shouted at Itu. All that Itu could do was stand and absorb the harsh words which came flowing from the gunso’s mouth until he finally ran out of expletives.
After a while, a short path led to what seemed to be a deserted kampong and Itu held his arm in the air, then told the nearest man to inform the gunso. The steady plod plod indicated the gunso was on his way, suddenly there was a sharp ping from a rifle, and one of the junior soldiers fell to the ground, shot through the chest. The man didn’t even scream as he fell. Everyone scattered for cover including the gunso. Itu looked toward the kampong, seeing no movement he decided to crawl across to the nearest hut. Aida and Naoji watched as he crept quietly through the rear of the hut. Itu’s arm waved from an open doorway indicating to the others that it was all clear, both men ran stooping low to the cover of the hut. Gradually each man entered the hut, quietly discussing who it could be. The gunso was the last to arrive and was made aware of the situation, the wounded man had been left where he had fallen. “You, get up the nearest tree and have a look round” the gunso ordered the nearest man . Wihout argument the man slithered to the nearest tree and began to climb. The gunso pointed to Itu “You take Wakana and Naoji and search the huts”. Wakana was about to ask what they should look for, but he was quickly dragged away by Itu. There were five small dwellings and a large one which they now occupied.
The first three huts were unoccupied, but several items of clothing and food still remained, moving as quietly as possible, they entered the third hut. On a bed in the corner was an old man, the bed covers tucked under his chin, sat weeping in a corner an old lady, “Are you alone” asked Itu, the woman just stared back, having no ideas what he was talking about. Itu repeated the question again, but she just stared, Wakana pointed his rifle at the woman, but apart from making her cry even louder, it made no impression. Wakana slipped the safety catch and fired, hitting the old lady between the eyes. “Bastards” he said opening and shutting his rifle bolt.
Itu was speechless and Naoji just puked as he walked to the entrance to the hut. The gunso came running and shouting in the same whisper, asking what the shooting was about. “I shot the bastard” said Wakana, “she would not tell us what we wanted to know” The gunso belted him a cross the face, “you are the bastard” he said, “we are supposed to be on a patrol”
“We are not supposed to tell the enemy that we are coming, and you have to inform them through your stupidity” he brought the back of his arm once more across the soldiers face, as he did so they heard a whimper, which seemed to be coming from the side of the hut. An extension was built on the side, which was used for storage, pulling the attap and bamboo away it revealed the store house, cringing against the wall and to each other were two young girls. Naoji grabbed at their arms, pulling them into the room, they started to scream now and Itu tried to intervene in order to pacify them, As he put out his arms, a woman came running into the hut from outside, screaming and shouting in Malay “Apa ini Lu ibu kambing” (what are you doing you goats mother) Her onslaught had been so sudden that they were falling all over the place. Several more men ran in from outside to see what the commotion was about, then shooting started and in an instant everyone went quiet, even the Malay woman, who had by now taken hold of the two young girls. Both Itu and the gunso went to the opening , trying to establish where the shooting was coming from. They were so preoccupied, that neither was able to stop the Malay woman, with the two children clinging to her, running out of the hut and across the small flat area, before vanishing into the jungle. Three of the men started to follow, and as the gunso shouted for them to halt, the leading one was hit, the others quickly retracing their steps back inside. Itu who was kneeling beside the doorway, shouted to the gunso to take cover and as the gunso turned to run back, he too was hit .
Itu remembered the last time he hod lost his superiors, he had no wish to be left out on a limb again. He called to the remainder of the men to get back inside the hut, then waited, slowly one by one they entered. As soon as the last one arrived, he announced that they were going back the way they had come. “What about the gunso?” asked Ichiro
“Look out of the door “ suggested Itu, “do you see him moving?”. Ichiro didn’t answer “We have lost three men” said Itu, there is no way that we can complete the patrol, because we don’t know exactly what the gunso’s orders were, this was supposed to be a quick observation, in and out in the shortest time possible”
“I would prefer that we continued” said Naoji “we must be close to the enemy, otherwise why would they be setting out sentries”
“But what are we supposed to be looking for?” asked Itu
Naoji shook his head “The last patrol I was involved in, was required to establish the strength of the enemy, and on the way out, we sniped one or two of them for good measure”
Itu sat shaking his head from side to side, I propose that we get the hell out of here”.
“I am not a coward, I am just looking at the facts, we have no idea of what the mission was about and when you come to think about it, we have not got a clue as to where we are and it will be dark very soon”
“Alright said Naoji, we must all agree to stick together under one leader, so I will support Itu”.
They all gathered round to discuss how and at what time they would leave, it was obvious that if they tried to move now, they would be picked off one by one, so it was agreed that they would wait until later in the night before making a move. Each one in turn would keep watch for one hour, “It is now six thirty, all being well we will leave at one o’clock, each man will be given a time including myself “ said Itu and they all settled down to wait, some slept while others ate what food they had left in their bantu. no sooner had the sun gone down than the moon stood out in a clear sky, at the same time the crickets and the bull frog orchestra commenced, which would give them ample warning of approaching strangers. It was about nine o’clock when Wakana and Aida decided to go to relieve themselves, and Itu watched through part closed eyes.
A short while later there was a scuffling noise and muffled voices, Itu, followed by Naoji crawled on their bellies to the door, but there was little to be seen, the crickets and bullfrogs had stopped their noise. The muffled sounds were coming from the jungle on the other side of the hut. Giving a sign to Naoji, to go to the back of the hut, Itu crept round the other way,
Both met up again behind the hut and listened as the noise sounded like muffled screaming. Standing upright they moved toward the direction of the sound. Wakana was lay on the ground at the head of a woman, and was holding her arms outstretched. She had a piece of cloth fastened round her mouth, her sarong was above her waist and lay on top of her pumping away was Aida. Naoji struck out with the butt of his rifle, knocking Aida out completely, as he rolled onto the ground, Wakana released his hold, the woman screamed as she ran toward the kampong. Within minutes a barrage of shots were fired, Itu and Naoji crept back to the hut leaving Aida and Wakana to look after themselves.
“Come on yelled Itu as he entered the hut, lets get out of here quickly” He made to move back to the track which they had come along, but from the sound of the firing they would be walking directly into the line of fire, Instead he moved toward the far side of the kampong, to make a wide detour. Quickly following behind Naoji,Wakana and Ichiro, What about Aida, asked Wakana, but no one answered. The going was rough tough and very damp and Itu did not stop until he assumed that they were safe away from the enemy. Unknown to him, the enemy were the Chinese.
Without resting they continued walking in an easterly direction, using jungle paths wherever possible. At first light a squadron of high level bombers passed over heading in the direction of Singapore, over to the east a number of light aircraft could be seen swooping and diving. A peculiar sound caused Itu to hold up his hand, he was quite used to jungle noises by now, and this was not one of them, they listened trying to ascertain what it was. As the sound came closer, there was the tinkling of a cycle bell, then several more. Ichiro pointed in the distance “Look” he said laughing, “soldier cyclists”. Some distance ahead was the main road leading to Johore and as they approached they watched as hundreds of soldiers on cycles, were riding along as if on a week end outing. Some were riding cycles without tyres, others with buckled wheels. When they drew level they could see that several of the cyclists were sitting at the side of the road resting.
Itu approached the nearest group and gave a deep kiri, not realising that the most senior of the group was a private third class. “I wish to be directed to the lines of the 55th infantry” he asked. The soldier jumped to attention gave a quick kiri and pointed up the road from where they had just come. “Headquarters company is two kilo that way” he gave a further kiri and remained standing. Itu ignored this, calling to the others he went up the road in search of at least one person who might be able to point him in right direction. Since leaving the 11th infantry, he had been posted to various departments and units, he had not after all this time yet established a proper position where he could honestly say that he belonged to this battalion or that. Leg weary, hungry and tired they arrived at the headquarters of 55th Infantry. The men lined up as Itu approached one of the junior officers, with his rifle slung over his shoulder and his hands tightly at his side, Itu gave his best kiri followed by a salute. The officer, very impressed returned both. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
Itu told him of how the patrol had set out under the command of gunso Yutaka, how they had travelled about twenty kilometres into the jungle and come under fire, how the gunso had been killed along with two others. He did not mention that Wakana and Aida had been left behind, except to say that two men had dropped back. The officer listened intently, then directed Itu to report to gunso Shigeo at the HQ office. Within minutes of reporting they were each given a meal, and clean clothing where necessary. They were each assigned to a company within the 55th, where they reported to of all people gunso Yashio, who had sent Itu to join captain Mitzutani.
As soon as Yashio set eyes on Itu, he gave a beaming smile. “So we meet again” said the gunso “ I heard about your mishap with the captain” he paused and looked up and down as if about to tell a secret. “How good a soldier was captain Mitzutani?” he asked. It was a question Itu had never been asked concerning anyone, he pondered a while wondering if his answer would create bad feeling with the gunso. “He was a good soldier and I believe he was a good person to know” he replied. The gunso smiled,” good “ he said still smiling “good, I am pleased to hear it” there was a drawn out silence before he asked, “What happened tÄÅo the rest of the group” Itu told him everything, about the bombing and the ambush by the Malays. The gunso clicked his teeth as all Japanese do when they are displeased. “Kojima survived and is with the 55th regiment” said Itu as an afterthought, the gunso smiled. “You have done well” he said, I want you and two more men of your choice to join me tomorrow” he un-clipped his map case and handed it to Itu” Meet me outside my quarters at 0800 hrs, we are continuing where captain Mitzutani left off, look up Johore Bharu, that is where we are heading” Itu was about to suggest that Johore Bharu was in enemy territory, but he thought better of it and went to locate Ichiro and Naoji, to warn them to be ready for the following morning, then he retired hoping to be able to catch up on some much needed sleep.
At 0800hrs prompt, Itu and his two companions having eaten their fill, sat waiting in the rear of the small private car which had been assigned to them. On the approach of the gunso, they scrambled out of the car and stood to attention, before they could begin to kiri or salute, the gunso waved them into the car, taking the seat at the side of the driver.
Itu handed over the map case and sat back. “Did you locate Johore Bharu?” asked the gunso. “Yes “ replied Itu, “it is approximately 130 kilometres south from here”
“We are not going to ride all the way to Johore Bharu” said the gunso, “we are going as far as Yong Peng, and from there across to Kota Tingi on the west, hopefully if we do not have any trouble, we will then try to find the highest point in Johore Bharu and set up our observations from there”
To Itu and the others, this was all mysterious cloak and dagger operations, and they had hardly been taught the basics of soldiering. “Wont it be dangerous?” asked Naoji.
“No more dangerous than anything you have done so far” replied the gunso, then he turned away closing the subject.
The car sped without interruption, its tyres creating a humming noise which as always seemed to create desire to back seat passengers to sleep
It seemed that just minutes had passed as the staff car pulled up at Yong Peng, waiting by the side of the road were several soldiers, two of them equipped with radio’s. Gunso Yashio went into conversation with an officer and another gunso, it seemed that strong words were being spoken, when Yashio returned he seemed just a little bit annoyed. “We will not be going on to Kota Tingi, we are going to Pontien Kechill instead”
No one spoke, it was of no consequence to them, they had no idea where either place was anyhow. “Come” said the gunso and as the three fell in behind him, one of the men with a radio followed behind. Pontien Kechil was a small fishing village, just thirty kilo from Singapore. The group walked into the jungle, single file with Yashio leading. The noise of battle was now so intense that on occasions shells and mortar bombs fell within just a few yards. A large concentration of troops were bivouaced from the jungle across the west coast, and the gunso decided to make camp for the night alongside a group from the imperial guards division. These men were noted for their bravery and valour and although it was assumed that they would all be large muscular men, this was not so, several which Itu saw, were smaller than he was. They had hardly settled to rest, when a huge cry of banzai echoed all through the jungle. “What is happening ?” itu enquired of one of the men close by. The man looked at him wondering which planet he had come from. “The division are holding a sports and athletics program, it is something that should not be missed by anyone. Itu called to Naoji and Ichiro to join him, and they made their way to where hundreds of men were standing or sitting round a large clearing in the jungle. On the far side of the clearing were several large tree’s, hanging limply from them, the bodies of Allied soldiers. To the front a group of five or six men stood in line with bayonet fixed, waiting until the dead ones had been replaced by a live target. As soon as this was done, men from all round were shouting urging their unit representative to get in first and produce a first time kill. While this was going on, a group of prisoners were being led out from behind the tree’s, each manacled to the other. Ten European soldiers were placed in line, then a space with ten Indian soldiers. A European officer was then led into the space, a long rope attached to each of his wrists. The ropes were passed to the prisoners on either side, where they were instructed to engage in a tug of war between the two groups, the Indians on one side and the Europeans on the other, with the British officer in the middle. Those who refused to pull or who did not pull hard enough were hit over the head with anything available by Japanese soldiers. As soon as the officer died from manual exhaustion, heart failure, and having his arms pulled from their sockets.
One or other of the two teams was declared the victors and a huge cry of Banzai went up. Itu watched, in his mind he knew that what was happening was wrong, but having also been told that the Japanese prisoners were treated in the same manner by the British, he put the matter from his mind.
The sun was beginning to lose some of its heat as the gunso came over and suggested that they would soon be leaving and collecting the others, he made his way back. With just a few minutes to sunset, they commenced their journey to Ketchil. Measured on the map it was about thirty kilo, two hours at the most. The sound of battle never diminished and the closer they got to Kechil the louder it became, so that as they came to a narrow river crossing, they were unaware of the British patrol passing just a few hundred yards to the east. until they heard the sharp crack of a rifle and the bullet hitting the leaves and embedding itself into the trunk of a tree. Instinctively they all dropped to the ground and waited. Just a few moments passed before a second and third shot was sent in their direction. “Don’t return the fire” advised gunso Yoshio, “Keep low and follow the line of the river” slithering like snakes they gradually managed to clear the area, so that they could once more walk without being crouched down. It was two o’clock in the morning when they finally reached the coast. Along the beach was the usual residue of the ravages of war, bodies, pieces of equipment the odd rifle and shell discarded by both sides as they made good their escape, or moved from the area. Coming toward them from the sea, a Japanese gun boat, which as it came closer to the shore, opened its search light, making a sweep along the beach and back again. It was about to begin a third sweep when there was a small explosion and the lamp was either hit, or was turned off. The boat moved seawards out of rang “”it would seem that we are quite close to the enemy lines” suggested the gunso and was about to move off, when the radio operator called over with instructions cancelling the project and to say that they were to rejoin the 55th who were congregating around Kulai. It was the morning of the 30th January, so collecting their equipment they threw away all caution and quickly located the main Kulai Johore road . Within ten kilo the road became bogged down with traffic and military all heading in the same direction, on that particular day 100,000 Japanese soldiers were massing along the roads round Johore Bharu, they had no qualms concerning exposure to Allied aircraft, because they knew that there was none operating in this area. On arrival at Kulai, Itu went in search of the 55th and whichever comrades remained. The shells from enemy artillery began to fall among them, which confirmed that their air force had abandoned the fight, Itu had just about given up hope of finding anyone from the old 11th, when he heard his name being called from a group sat round a musician, singing an old ballad. “Come on over shouted Kojima, we are going for a drink shortly”
As soon as they met, it was similar to two brothers who had been apart for ages, Itu noticed that even a small tear appeared in Kojima’s eye, “ I have missed your company” said Kojima, “When you left, I was assigned to the 55th, working in the administration office. It was composed chiefly of first class privates and gunso’s, who were all talking about the Kaikosha book. (The Japanese officers book of war) and how many men were killed at Nanking,Manchukuo,Chungking and others,If you were to add all the total number of Japanese killed it would calculate to more than half the population of Japan and in the book, they say that there were three times that amount of Chinese killed”. “You should not believe a half of what you read and always doubt the other half” advised Itu. “I hope you will be with me when we begin the push tomorrow, the gunso says that we are going to push the enemy into the sea” said Kojima, but Itu had his own opinion on that, having watched the enemy on various occasions. “Don’t you anticipate the fighting to be easy” said Itu, and went on “I have seen the enemy soldiers when it would seem that all was lost for them, but somehow they manage to scramble out of any set ambush and will be not be easily defeated”.
The following morning at daybreak Itu and Kojima fell in alongside the remainder of the 55th and 56th regiment as they commenced the mass movement toward Sedenak, it was to be a long journey constantly under fire of the enemy artillery which was now operating from the northern shores of Singapore. Weary and foot sore, a halt was called at Regham. Allowing them the opportunity to bath their aching feet for a while in a small scream.. Kojima had finished bathing and was about to wander into the jungle in search of wild fruit, just a few yards away others were resting, sleeping or preparing for what might be ahead, “come over here” shouted Kojima. Itu looked to where he was standing and instantly noticed that the colour was draining from his face. As soon as he stood by Kojima, Itu wished that he had not. Set back in the jungle, was a small glade, which under normal circumstances would have presented a scene which any painter would appreciate. Instead there was the savage picture of devastation and murder, The ground was strewn with the bodies of both Japanese and enemy soldiers, most of them killed in battle, but secured to the trees by barbed wire were the bodies of several Japanese soldiers and officers,each one had been shot through the head and bayonetted. Kojima part screaming part shouting went running toward the main group, who all came running. tempers were becoming tense as they stared at the scene of death and depravity. Captain Shintaro Ken, pushed his way through the vast group, each swearing vengeance against the British Imperialist pigs, each unaware that the scene had been set by their own Kepitai officers. The men hanging from the trees had been convicted of desertion, showing fear and various other crimes. it was the Kempitai who had suggested that they be executed in this manner to infuse more hatred into the men who were about to enetr the final battle for Malaya they had been executed by the Japanese kempitai.
The bodies of enemy soldiers were those who had been killed in the battle two days previous. but none of the crowd were aware of this, Kojima was one of those who allowed the sught to twist his mind. Itu having looked at the sight briefly, returned to find that most men were preparing to move out. and quickly donning his small army pack, he picked up his rifle, assuming that Kojima would follow later.The noise of battle now became intense as to the front, men began to run, fanning outward into the jungle Itu took to the right keeping close to the others, an enemy machine gun commenced firing, to his left he watched as several men fell. A soldier first class was trying to assemble a Japanese machine gun single handed, he must be instilled with the Yamato Damashii ( The spirit of Damato) thought Itu as he dived into the enclosure where the man was hoping to set up the gun. Itu had never before experienced firing a machine gun, hopefully now he might get the ÿvøÿvöšchance. The soldier toiled, at the same time issuing instructions to Itu, while above and all around the noise of war, the bullets and shells were passing like hornets. The soldier gasped as he placed the locking pin into the cross head joint, Itu passed him a full magazine and waited expecting firing to commence, the soldier yelled out an order and along came a junior pulling an ass. quickly securing the machine gun onto the back of the ass and without a word of thanks, they started to run forward. Itu followed behind, then it was as if someone had lifted a curtain. In front a vast open area, from the far side being heavily defended by the enemy. The ass was hit and dropped instantly to the ground, the two soldiers began to pull and wiggle the machine gun and had just about got it clear, when they both keeled over. Now is my chance thought Itu as he set the gun upright, he looked round for ammunition, but there was none in sight.
His chance to fire the machine gun had gone, flinging himself to the ground he observed the firing coming from the far side, then decided to go back to where the machine gun had been put together and collect the magazines of ammuntion. “You haiti” shouted a gunso, Itu hesitated. “The enemy are that way” shouted the gunso raising his revolver. Itu wanted to explain, but realised that there was no time and quickly turned following the others. Charging through the jungle as if the enemy were not there. Keeping his head down as .low as possible without being too obvious, he followed.Kulai was just three kilo down the road and it was being defended vigorously. said Colonel Sadao as he started to brief his officers and nco’s. “In front of us, are the remnants of the British 9th division and possibly one or two battalions of infantry, we possibly outnumber them by about three to one, so with one last encircling monouvre, we can trap them before they can fall back onto Johore Bharu.
As night fell, so did the noise of battle coming from the enemy and Itu found himself once more alone. He sat down tryig to recall all the things which had happened and gradually fell asleep.
The sound of a bugle caused him to wake at dawn to find that apart from the odd few stragglers, everyone had gone. Allowing his mind to wander to the thoughts of Fujiko,he did something which he had never done before, he stood quietly beneath a tree and parayed to his granfather and great grandfather to come to his aid, he was at the stage when he was not sure of why he wanted to kill people he had no grievance against. When he had finished he felt fulfilled and in a better frame of mind, he knew now that his duty was to the Emperor and Japan, joining a few other stragglers he set out to find his regiment and comrades.
The sound of heavy fighting led him to his section in action north of Kulai, the main road for several kilo was filled with abandoned trucks, ambulances and other vehicles. Thinking that he recognised the faces of one group, he quickly joined them, in the background he could see the enemy soldiers as they fired several shots and then pulled back, over to the right among the foliage, a vickars machine gun occasionally sent bursts i n their direction. The gunso shouted from the distance asking for volunteers to go forward and silence the gun, but Itu was no hero, that was until the man lay by his side Tanida, grabbed his shoulder and shouted to the gunso “We will go, kaerimi wa sefi” (We will not look back) he shouted, Itu felt himself being pulled along, but felt a willingness to be lead. Running with head bowed and body bent, similar to an American rugby player, they chrged at the gun. Devine providence must have been their guide, the gun silenced, Itu threw a grenade followed by Tanida, then rushed forward.
Itu felt a sharp pain in his thigh, he tried to continue running but his leg felt wet and sticky, there was a burning sensation coming from the top of his leg and he fell just a few yards from the now abandoned machine gun. Banzai,Banzai, the cheers and shouting were the last thing he heard before passing out.
“Come on drink” someone was holding his head and telling him to drink, opening his eyes he looked up at Kojima. “How does it feel?” he asked . Itu felt round the top of his leg, which was being bandaged by one of the medics. “I’m ok” he replied, “But what happened?”. “Dont you remember chrging the machine gun post?” asked Kojima, “Vagualy” replied Itu, “I meant what happened to me, I felt a pain in my leg before I went down” Kojima grinned “You were shot you stupid devil” “Will I be alright” he asked the medic. “Perfect came back the reply, but you will need to go easy for a couple of days, the bullet passed through the fleshy part of your thigh, but it will be alright in a few days time” “Come on said Kojima,I’ll give you a lift to the HQ section” Itu looked around, “where has everyone gone?” he asked “To Singapore” said Kojima and the medic in unison . They managed to walk back to headquarters, where within minutes of arriving captain Osada was shaking Itu’s hand, “That was a very brave thing you did, and it has not gone unnoticed” he said Itu was about to tell them the truth, that the gun had already fallen silent, but a stern look from Kojima caused him to shut up.”We have managed to chase the enemy out of Malaya” said the captain and within the next few days aftera brief rest, we will begin to take Singapore” All those around were clapping and muttering good good and Itu beamed at the attention.
The following day he was ordered to report to the regimental office of colonel Koba, where he was further promoted to gunso. Itu blushed with pride, he had always resented being a soldier, but this rapid promotion had gone to his head. Men had served for several years before being allowed to join the hallowed ranks of the Shoko’s. “you will accompany guso Yashio, when he leaves today “ Itu bowed low and backed out of the room smiling broadly.
Over the next five days, hundreds of troops began to pour into the area, The 12th army was being rejuvinated by the arrival of 18th division and the 3rd guards division and the 50th division. it was as if there was a constant picnic taking place, there was very little if any normal military duties and men were allowed to wander anywhere. In the company of gunso Yashio and gunso Iwaguro, Itu set out on his first night of freedom in the town, The bars which had once been frequented were now full of Japanese soldiers,
Saki flowed alongside the vast quantities of beer left behind by the retreating enemy soldiers. It was as if every Japanese soldier wa partaking in his own funeral party. O there was the occasional blood letting and in one instance a killing, but as the Emperor had stated “The spoils of war are the victors to enjoy” and they were most certainly grabbing at the spoils.
Very few local people could be observed on the streets, but it did not stop the recruitment of comfort girls. Watching the men lining up outside one of the brothels, reminded Lim of his own experience in collecting comfort girls. Yashio pointed to one of the houses, from which a small glow of light was showing, “Come on, let’s create our own comforts” he said, passing a woden stall on which were rows and rows of bottles, he snatched a bottle and set about placing it down his shirt front. The Indian owner laughingly but embarrasingly, pleaded with Yashio for the money, “Two dollar” he said, but Yashio shook his head. “You steal it from the Englander, now we steal it from you” the Indian put on a false laugh and held out his hand, but Yashio brushed it aside. As the Indian became more insistant, he drew his revolver and pointed it at the mans head, “I will blow your brains out rather than pay you “ said Yashio. The Indian could see that there was no way that he was going to receive payment and he started to grin and shove at the bottle “You bucksheese” he said “Japan soldier number one” The trio walked on to the shack and without invitation simply walked inside. There was just a single oil lamp burning, sat around on small stools and on a large bed, several Malay people, men and women. Yashio was the first to speak, holding his hands out in greeting, he offered the bottle, which was politely refused, they were Moslem, but in his ignorance he assumed that they did not wish to drink with him. Itu watched as Yashio’s mood changed from jovial to mean, and he started to maul one of the women. words were being exchanged, neither party understanding what the other was saying, and as Yashio began to put his free hand down the front of the dress of one of the women, all hell broke loose. One of the men pulled out a hand gun and fired, Itu ducked and ran out of the door as further shots were fired, followed by screaming and cursing, out came Iwaguro, falling all over the place, much the worse for drink, then Yashio pouring the raw spirit from the bottle down his throat as if there was to be no tommorrow. who knows thought Itu, maybe there wont be. Not bothering to look back they headed back toward where the majority of the soldiers were drinking, singing and getting as much out of life as they possibly could before once more facing the enemy. “Did you shoot anyone?” asked Iwaguro, Yashio was too far gone to even answer, they walked just a few more paces and he fell in a heap onto the ground.
Itu decided that enough was enough and made his way to where a group were sat around a table drinking and discussing the war, he drew up a chair and sat down. They were mostly of the 5th division and the Imperial guards, but Itu was past caring what unit any man belonged, he wanted this war to finish so that he could go home to his beloved Fujika and lead a normal life away from this bloodshed and bravado. A young soldier was relating to the others about the first time in which he fought in the jungle. “In Shanghai and Tiensen it was mostly street fighting or open country, where you could see your enemy, but the jungle is another kind of warfare.The worst part is at night when you can not see your hand in front of your face and the jungle creatures reach out from the overhead leaves, or the wild animls beging to howl sending a shiver along your spine. We were not allowed to call out, if you did you was considered a coward. The patrols were allowed to shout to each other, but that was to draw the enemy fire. Our job was to try to kreep up on them at night and then charge into them in the morning, while they are still awaking from their sleep”.
Itu listened, he had not as yet been involved in a regimental or group action, he had always been either sent on ahead or asked to take up the rear.
The man continued “When we were attacking the bridge at Slim, the river was in full flood, this helped, because it covered any noise we might make on our approach. The enemy knew that we were close by, but they had no idea how close, then for some reason, they blew the bridge. Our commanders assumed that they had retreated across and then blown it, but this was not the case, someone had detonated the charges prematurely leaving thusands of their men on the wrong side.
In the morning, it was similar to a hunting trip, they were running like deers in the jungle and we were running after them”.
“How many did you account for?” asked one of the listeners
“I lost count after the first dozen or so, but I did take part in the bayonet practice afterwards” He lowered his voice as he remarked, “Its the kempei who bug me, While we were chasing around I went to go across a small bridge, a kempei soldoer stood in fron of me and demanded that I salute him, me a five year gunso, I told him what he could do with himself, then two or three days later I heard that one of his won men shot and kiiled him for being to officious.
Just then there was a general commotion as officers and nco’s began to run among the men recalling them to their units immediately. Itu returned to his adopted unit the 55th and found Kojima and one or two others he had become to know.
It was close to nine oclock in the evening as Itu along with his section 11 began to make their way through Johore Bharu to take up positions below a large mosque, the waters of the Johore strait glistened below as men from various units began to prepare to invade Singapore. The instruction had been that on the coloured rochet signal, every man must go forward . Itu remained close to the men he knew, even though he was now a gunso and supposedly a leader of men. The coming fight was causing him to have giant betterflies in his stomach. He took a gulp from his water bottle and was about to replace ti on his belt, when the signal came, he didnt see it himself, but heard the others calling to each other”See you in the New World” shouted one, “See you in the Raffles” shouted another “Say goodbye to my sister for me” Victory for the Emperor and Japan” The shouting was encouraged by the officers, it would cause the enemy to give away their positions. Anything and everything which would float was commandeered , planks of wood fastened to petrolium drums, blocks of latex, small rowing boats, or just planks of wood. Others divested themselves of all equipment and began to swim across. Itu had decided long before the attack, that he would walk across via the causeway and as the big and medium guns on both sides opened up, followed by the multi fire from machine guns and mortars, he picked his way to where it was possible to climb on. In front there was a small tank followed by the engineers unit carrying planks, trees and anything else which would fill the void in the causeway, created by the enemy attempts at demolition. The flares and tracer bullets and shells, creating a gigantic firework display, only this display was not for pleasure. Making his way through the debris and the fallen bodies of comrade and enemy, he set his eyes on one particular point, it was the large petrolium tank, which was ablaze to the left of the causeway, just beneath it was the rapid flashes of a machine gun post. He estimated that the firing was too continuous and that it would be the target for many, which would see its immediate demise creating an easy landing. Rifle on his shoulder and small pack on his side he walked forward to meet the enemy.