Expel The Barbarians
A stiff kick in the ribs stirred Itu into life. He had only just dozed off, but his body had the feeling of a man who had been sleeping for a long time
It was Namura whose big foot was kicking him in the ribs to waken him and at the same time apologising for the kicking, due to his hands and arms being occupied by rifles, bandoliers, grenades and his own equipment. At the same time slung round his person were extra water bottles, and two rations each of rice, sushi and sobar.
“Where in the name of Cha’an do you think you are going with all that ?” enquired Itu.
Namura stammering as usual, replied “While you were sleeping, the Gunso gave orders for every man to carry as much stores and equipment as he possibly could” anticipating Itu’s next remark “The Gunso said that there would be no supplies where we are going”.
Itu took one of the rifles and bandoliers, plus a water bottle and one of the small packages of rice. “Where are the rest of the section?” he asked looking round at a sea of new faces “where is Amanagowa, Kunishi and Okada?”
Namura looked at Itu in bewilderment “Have you forgotten that Kunishi and Okada were both killed when we came ashore?. The rest are on their way to the aerodrome where the colonel told us all to go” he paused looking intently at Itu’s face. He was like a massive Geni waiting his next command. “I let you sleep on because I thought you looked ill” He did a slight Kiri before asking “How are you now?”
Itu was lost for words, he was not sick, maybe a little tired. He had needed the rest, but at the same time he had no wish to be separated from his former friends and comrades. Especially Amanagowa, who was a very good soldier and leader “Come on lets go “ said Itu putting his hand into the small of Namura’s back and steering him into step behind others similarly equipped as themselves and headed in what they assumed to be the direction of Alor Star.
Leaving the short grass and sandy beach behind, the ground became rough, and trees more dense as they entered the jungle. What had started out as a broad path, soon became just a slim jungle path. In the distance they could hear the vibrant chatter of machine guns, which had the distinct sound of enemy guns, which were of a heavier calibre.
It had been one of the first things which Itu had noticed. The difference between the enemy machine guns which, sounded heavy in comparison to the staccato rhythm of the Japanese type 96 and 99. He remembered comparing the sounds of the German Mauser being used by the Guards division and the British Vicars as he lay squirming in the sand on the landing beach.
As they penetrated further into the jungle the sound of mortar and rifle fire was ample evidence that the enemy were not going to give ground lightly and as they entered a clearing the evidence of battle was a daunting sight with the bodies of Japanese, Australian, British and Indian soldiers, lying lifeless and intermingled. Itu wondered if the enemy had a Zen or Kami to guide their lost souls. He remembered reading about the British people who nailed their Kami to a cross made from railway sleepers, because he would not reveal the secrets of his being. Then thought to himself that he must not have been a very clever Kami to have been captured in the first place. A clever Kami would have struck them down with one blow or would have disappeared himself from the cross, returning later to strike his enemies dead.
Such thoughts passed through the mind of Itu, as he followed behind Namura along the jungle paths, occasionally tripping over the vines and creepers which grew in profusion along the side of the track. They approached what had recently been a Malay kampong, but now the majority of the huts lay in ashes, scattered around them the bodies of the women and children of the village. It was not their war, but they had paid the price for the Japanese future East Asia Co Prosperity sphere, which Itu’s beloved Emperor had decreed that they must all accept, had he not said that the innocent will be sacrificed along with the guilty in the struggle for breaking the yolk of Imperialism.
Inside the perimeter of the village, Itu noticed desperate groups of Japanese soldiers congregating beneath the stilted huts and beneath the trees. In the centre of the village and tied to trees and stakes were several enemy soldiers mainly European. Itu was at a loss to understand, had not the Emperor decreed that there should be no prisoners. Surely someone had been disloyal to the Emperor in allowing the taking of prisoners. The party he was with began to make a space for themselves at the rear of the compound. No sooner had they settled down than the Gunso called to them to take a quick break, and be ready to move out in a short space of time. This he had emphasised would be their last break until they had reached their objective.
In total there were about five hundred men in the group sitting down with probably a further two hundred or so on their way.
Namura opened his pack and brought out enough rice and fish for both himself and Namura, they were about to start eating when the gunso returned, as he passed each group he shouted “Hitu, Hitu”(You You) and the ones he had pointed to began to follow like lost sheep. He pointed to Itu, but before he could rise, Namura quickly pushed him back down and stood up in his place. “I will take your place” he said, “save me some rice for later”. Itu looked puzzled sitting down on the ground again, he was about to reprimand Namura, but the big farmers boy had followed the others as quickly as his bulk would allow him to.
After just a few minutes, there was the sound of cheering and cursing, followed by the occasional clapping of hands, with the gunso’s voice shouting orders in the background. Itu along with others curious to know what was happening walked gingerly toward where the cheering and screaming was coming. A large crowd of Japanese soldiers were all milling around what had once been the village community centre, in the middle of which were several large oak tree’s, to which Allied soldiers had been tethered. The Japanese soldiers which the gunso had selected, were being instructed on bayonet drill with the use of live targets. Each Japanese soldier was ordered to take his place, the gunso gave the order to charge and exhorted under the threat of death by the gunso was told to ram his bayonet into one of the bound prisoners.
Some of the prisoners had only been wounded, only to be bayoneted several times more by others. As each prisoner died, he was taken down and his place taken by another. Should a Japanese soldier make a killing thrust, the watchers would cheer, clap and shout, but if the assailant only managed to wound the prisoner, they would receive cat calls and boo’s. Any one appearing timid or reluctant would be booed and have objects thrown at them
Itu shivered, he had no idea if it was sickness, rage or fear, he felt useless begrudgingly he thanked Namura for having taken his place, for he knew that he would most certainly have been one of those being booed. He was ashamed and sick, he knew that in war people were killed, he also knew that war was a dirty game, but up to this point he had not been aware that it was such a filthy game. He had understood the generals orders that there should be no prisoners and assumed this to mean that you killed the enemy on the field of battle, not tied unarmed to a tree trunk. This was yet a further lesson he had learned about his own nationals, but he also knew that he had not seen the worst yet by any means. Itu watched as Namura took a stance then charged at one of the prisoners who had already been bayoneted and was struggling with the ropes which bound him. Namura charged like a demented bull elephant. Being tall, he stood head and shoulders above his fellow soldiers. He carried his rifle and bayonet higher than his comrades and as he charged he screamed like a thousand devils. Still screaming he lunged at the unfortunate prisoner, the bayonet entered the prisoners chest with such force that it plunged through the prisoner and into the tree to which he was tied. At the same time the vibration wrenched Namura’s rifle from his hands and he went flying through the air, finishing in a heap beneath the next tree. The cheering which rent the air was as if he had achieved some physical triumph. Returning to recover his rifle and bayonet from the now dead prisoners corpse, he needed to place his big foot on the mans chest and as he heaved clear, there was a further cheering and shouts of encouragement.
To say Itu felt sick now would be an understatement, he was livid with rage and preparing himself to berate Namura when he returned, but worse was yet to come as the gunso paraded a group of Indian soldiers with rifles and bayonets. A European soldier was tied to each tree, and each Indian soldier was given a specific instruction on how to kill their previous allies. Some needed no encouragement, but others had to be compelled with several stiff kicks and slashes with the side of the gunso’s sword. There were those who, not wishing to be killed themselves and at the same time not wishing to kill their previous allies either, resorted to just jabbing at their victims, not realising that this was worse than killing them outright and the prisoner would yell and curse them. In most cases a Japanese soldier would be sent to finish the job.
When the show was over, the gunso ordered that the Indians be brought to him, there were nine in all. The gunso then ordered that they be bound and be forced to kneel at about three foot intervals, pacing each one separately. When they had all been placed satisfactorily he made one or two phantom strikes with his sword, then taking off his cap and replacing it with a white headband, he proceeded to wipe his hands on a small white towel. A bucket of water was set aside into which he dipped his sword. Then taking up a position at the side of the first Indian, he muttered a prayer to his Kami, dedicated the killing to his Emperor, then shouting at the top of his voice “Yorishiku-kyo-kichigai” he brought his sword decapitating the mans head with one swipe. Five of the Indians died instantly, but the others lay writhing on the floor until he had completed his dance of death along the row, after which he returned to them, then picking one up by the hair the gunso shouted to an assistant that this was the way he wanted the men held, in order that he could make a clean thrust. Each time he thrust, he left a vomiting soldier standing with a decapitated head in his hands. The whole scene was a grisly mess, and Itu was beginning to wonder if he had not lost his senses completely or was it all just a nightmare and if neither, was he in danger of losing his sanity
He was about to leave the killing area as Namura came running over to him and putting a bloodied hand round Itu’s neck asked “did you see my bayonet charge ? was it not the greatest thrust of them all?”
Itu felt sick and started to walk away, Namura walking a short distance behind felt rebuffed “Are you a coward” he asked Itu “or are you just a soldier in name only?”, Namura paused for effect, “You should be proud to kill the enemy, they are barbarians and they have no brain, I will show you how to kill, because there is no disgrace in killing for our emperor” He stopped talking and fell in beside Itu as they followed the others toward the sound of battle.
They walked for several miles, sometime across marshland, thick brush and jungle, mainly in the rain, occasionally firing off at some stray allied soldiers who had become over run. The noise of battle came ever closer. Occasionally the odd shell dropped close, too close for comfort that they clawed at the ground for safety. Eventually they came to a metallic road, walking toward them was gunso Okabe. After getting over the initial shock of seeing them, he called over “Where the hell have you two been, I sent Sugura to look for you and he returned to say that no one had seen either of you”. Itu was trying to remember what had happened to them as Namura butted in . “We have been with the Imperial guards, killing prisoners” The gunso looked astounded and Sugura looked to Itu for conformation. In the meantime Namura had produced his bloodied bayonet as evidence. It was eroded and sticky and Namura stooped down wiping the blade in the grass and smiling to himself smugly as he watched Saguaros face cringe.
The gunso called the men round him and as he started to talk, several of Itu’s old comrades appeared and slapped him on the shoulder, having been under the impression that he had been killed as they stormed the beach. Gunso Okabe had drawn a rough diagram in the loose earth and pointed to certain bits which represented future targets. The airport had been taken by the guards division, he said so their next objective was Kroh village which was about thirty kilometres away, turning to the rest of the men he announced himself as gunso Okabe from the eleventh infantry regiment under colonel Saeki. “Your officers and NCO’s are mostly dead, he proclaimed, so you will be assigned to my regiment”.
“Gunso’s Haito, Nasowa and Hoashi are my aids and I look to all of you men to obey their every order” He then selected ten men, to form a patrol who’s job it would be to move forward toward Grik. Seek out the enemy then wait for the main body. Then at a given signal they must create as much noise from fire power explosions, even banging tin cans in order to draw the enemy fire, so that the main body would then be able to create an encircling move behind them. The men selected were Amanagowa, Namura, Itu, Takuma, Harada, Sugiu, plus four men of number nine section.
The ten men stepped into line under the command of gunso Haito who immediately called them to attention “Chioski” he shouted followed by his cry of “shuishe” (forward) marching forward in single file for the first few yards then gradually adopting a leisurely stroll with their rifles slung over the shoulder. The going was rough, falling and tripping over tree roots bamboo and the long lallang grass. The stabbing of the bamboo thorns, the stinging nettles and the long hanging vegetation brought their progress to a slow tortuous shamble. There had been a slight drizzle as they set out, but now the heavens opened, and the rain being swept by a strong wind caused it to cascade down the leaves like a thousand waterfalls. One or two moved as if to seek cover, but the voice of the gunso boomed out to make them change their minds. “Move you jelly fish” he yelled “The rain will not melt you or wash you away, anyhow from the smell of one or two of you, its time you had a bath” Haito knew that if he had wanted them to attack a machine gun post single handed, they would each do what he commanded without further thought. After travelling for some time, each step they took becoming more trying and exhausting as the clay and mud clung to their soft shoes. The sound of battle which had been going on around them for some time began to increase and the gunso shouted for the men to halt while he gave further instructions. It mattered not that the enemy might hear them now, because their job was to harass them into believing that a full force of Japanese soldiers were coming through the jungle.
The sound of the firing indicated that the enemy were very close and the gunso called out to Namura, Itu, Harada and Takumi to go forward in single file until they came to the edge of a thicket, “once you get to the edge of the bushes I want you to fan out make your observations and then come back here. I want this done as quickly as possible, and do not under any circumstances start shooting” He turned to the others “you lot will remain where you are and keep quiet”. Several of them made moans and groans about hanging about in the mud, but a growl from the gunso brought them to silence. It seemed like ages as each man strained his ears listening for an unfamiliar sound, above them the continual drip drip of water falling from the leaves, now there were several muffled shouts as the red ants began to bite, having been flushed out from their positions under the palm leaves by the rain water they were now cascading down their necks. The actions and reactions of several would have created a scene from a movie as they tried to adopt every conceivable position in order to relieve the itch or pain from every delicate spot on their bodies, while at the same time trying to remain silent.
Tensions were beginning to reach the point of explosion when suddenly the gunso gave the order to scatter. The squelching sounds of their retreat had barely died away as Itu followed by the others came creeping out of the jungle. Itu made his report that two or three kilometres ahead there was a main metallic road on which the enemy had set up a road block and other defences, behind which there were a large number of vehicles and enemy soldiers. In front of this barricade were rolls and rolls of barbed wire. It had not been possible to estimate how many men there were however. Namura stepped forward and handed the gunso a British army jacket and a brass cap badge depicting the Leicester’s tiger . “I took this from one of the dead bodies” he said. The gunso started to feel in the pockets and Namura smiled “I already done that “ he said . The gunso looked hard at the cap badge, remembering the last time he had seen it back in Shanghai. He smiled knowingly and placed the badge in his pocket. Giving instructions to Harada to go back and notify the main party of what they had found, also to tell gunso Okabe that they will wait for one hour and then start to harass the enemy.
Telling the rest of the man to follow him, but to be quiet, he led them through to where the roadway was just visible. The rain was still falling heavily, causing some of the men to slip and slide until finally he decided to tell them to rest. The hour seemed to pass quickly and as he gave the order to commence firing, gunso Okabe came noisily out of the jungle. “I want to see this road block” demanded Okabe as he approached . Okabe made his way to the road and quite unconcerned he strode out onto it, his long sword dragging along behind him as he waddled along, his eyes searching for the enemy . With his clip board in hand, he looked like a housing agent surveying property. Apart from the noise of battle to the rear and the occasional shot from the front, everyone remained silent. Suddenly a monkey screamed out his defiance and a squirrel fell from its perch in one of the trees and Namura thought to himself, either the British are blind or the gunso has got a death wish. Okada returned to the cover of the jungle. Giving orders that one of the men should return to headquarters and inform colonel Saiki of the position, he then instructed that everyone should break out their rations and eat before going into action. They had hardly started to eat when the sound of tanks coming up the road interrupted their rest. The gunso shouted for everyone to gather round, explaining that the tanks would blast the defences for approximately half an hour after which every man was to attack the forward position, while the main party would make a detour through the jungle .
It sounded easy the way it had been explained, but several knew that nothing in war was easy and to prove the point Itu watched as the first tank was blasted off the road by a well aimed shell coming from the enemy lines. The enemy artillery now opened up, the sound of explosion after explosion caused the ears to sing for a while then suddenly go dead. The second tank had its turret blown completely off the chassis and it continued out of control toward the barricade, hitting a tree and turning over onto its side. No one seemed to want to leave the tank or they were already dead . The following tanks met a similar fate as all hell was let loose on both sides of the barricade. The battle had commenced about eight o’clock and by noon no quarter had been given either way. A battery of Japanese howitzers moved into position, firing salvo after salvo of 150mm shells supported by smaller anti tank guns and mortars. After six hours of continuous firing, the infantry were ordered to advance. As soon as they entered the enemy gun sights they were mown down like strands of wheat and Itu was grateful that he was not one of those chosen to go into the attack. The enemy must also have suffered he thought, as he occasionally raised his head and his rifle and fired of several shots in their direction. Most of the enemy casualties were from artillery and howitzer shells, while the Japanese had suffered heavy casualties from the withering fire of the enemy rifles and machine guns. Itu had secured himself a position behind a giant Tualang tree just off the road with a view of everything ahead as far as the enemy obstacles. Just immediately in front, the barricades had been blown away exposing a number of vehicles burning fiercely, the acrid smoke emanating from the area began to drift across, causing him to cough and splutter. Because mingled with it was the stench and taste of burning flesh. In turning his face to avoid the smoke, his eyes encountered a group of Seladang (wild cattle) and hiding among them a small Kancil deer and he marvelled at the fact that they had not taken flight away from the sound of the guns. Crouched by Itu’s side, Namura was having the time of his life, firing round after round at the unseen enemy. Over to the left and cunningly hidden in a recess of the jungle, was a machine gun nest. Several times Itu watched as it was hit by shell after shell, but somehow or other it had a charmed life, waiting until the barrage ceased and then spitting back its bullets over a wide arc bringing death to those unfortunate enough to be in their path.
Namura pulled at Itu’s bayonet scabbard to attract attention then pointing to the machine gun he shouted above the noise “I am getting tired of listening to that chattering gun, and the manner in which it keeps coming back to life”. He looked up to Itu once more “Why doesn’t some one take it out?” he asked. Itu did not }feel exceptionally brave, the bodies lying contorted in death along the road told him what he already knew, that the vast majority of heroes die, and he ignored Namura’s question.
Moving closer to Itu, Namura passed over his supply of grenades, ”Here” he said to Itu, “take my grenades and as soon as you see me reach the far side, throw them at the machine gun post” “I cant throw that distance you idiot” shouted Itu “I know” yelled Namura, “and I am not a bloody idiot”, he hesitated “your throwing will at least make them keep their heads down” his final words diminished as he threw himself into cover of the jungle on the far side of the road. Waiting just long enough to catch his breath, Namura ran out from the jungle toward the machine gun post. At the same time, the first of the grenades exploded well short of the gun post. From where, no one had taken any particular notice until the grenades began to explode just in front of a group of Japanese from 8th section who were lying in the jungle waiting for the order to attack. All hell broke loose as they all as one man, stood up and ran for better cover. This caused a further unintended distraction to the machine gunners and they swung the gun to meet a possible attack from that direction. The shift in position was enough for Namura to make a run and pour round after round into the gun position.
Itu had watched the whole action and he ran forward to assist Namura in dissecting the vicars machine gun. By now they had been joined by several others including the gunso “well done you two” he enthused, after the machine gun had been silenced. I will commend you to Colonel Watanabe as soon as this action is over” Namura beamed, but Itu was not all that impressed. Namura’s mind was in the clouds as he imagined the Emperor presenting him with a golden scroll. Turning to Itu he said “Maybe we will be promoted”, but his dream of heroism would have to wait, there was still a long way to go.
The fighting continued throughout the rest of the day and as dawn broke the enemy put in a counter attack, pushing them back along the road. The orders had been that should there be a counter attack, they were to offer no resistance and allow the enemy soldiers to go through.
Meanwhile the Imperial guards had completed their encircling movement and began attacking from the rear of the enemy lines.
Orders were passed down that the 11th infantry group must now make their way to Kuala Kangsar. As Itu joined up with the rest and started to move through the scene of devastation he realised that a large number of his former comrades were missing. Bodies lay singly or in groups. A number of Japanese were huddled together in a death like scrum, close by a group of British . Where they had been involved in hand to hand combat lay in a deadly embrace “Bafuu-ato-ni-tsuki-kyo shi” quoted Itu (after the storm the spirit rises) The body is only the casement for the spirit he mused. The aftermath of the battle was a scene of mud, splintered tree’s burned out tanks, vehicles, guns and limbers, twisted into grotesque sculptors. The bodies of at least a thousand Japanese troops now littered the jungle, and the noise of battle had now been replaced by the noise of the flies and blue bottles and other insects as they pillaged and desecrated the useless forms.
Itu tried to put the picture out of his mind as he joined the others, foraging their way through the jungle en-route to cut off the enemy at Kroh the next scene of battle. They travelled in haste without sleep until reaching the site of an old kampong.
Namura was the first to wake at dawn the following morning and he called out to Itu as he went with others foraging for food. They came across a small kampong similar to the one where they had spent the night, most of the huts were empty, just the odd pieces of clothing and scraps of food. As Namura was about to leave the hut he had been searching, he was pushed back inside by Itu, who had been following behind, and as they both fell into the hut, a shot rang out , the bullet passing over the top. Two more soldiers ran into the hut. “What’s happening?” asked Itu, “what’s going on?”. Both men started to speak at once, then one took up the story, “we were out looking for food, when we spotted a small group of British soldiers. The gunso gave orders for a party of men to cut the enemy soldiers off and try to bring at least one of them back for interrogation. We had followed the enemy soldiers quietly, but as we were about to spring a trap, we ourselves were fired upon by the enemy soldiers! We had been led into an ambush. We then turned and run. Namura reported the incident to Gunso Haito, who instantly called the men together deciding that he would go after the enemy soldiers, capture them and bring them back..
Following the trail along which the enemy soldiers had gone, and after just a short walk, the jungle suddenly became quite dark, it was as if the sun had suddenly gone down Gradually as their eyes became adjusted to the change, they could see that they were in a very dense jungle, the type they had never before experienced, with vines and creepers climbing as far as the eye could see. Pushing and slashing at the course undergrowth and following the trail made by the retreating enemy, they came to a clearing about the size of a football pitch. The first soldier stepped forward, a shot rang out and he fell dead. The rest of the party hit the ground fast, waiting. A second shot brought down a shower of leaves. The gunso shouted to his men telling them to return back along the trail. But the words had hardly left his lips, when from behind came the crack of a rifle and a further man fell. “Remain where you are”, snapped the gunso. Then motioning to Namura and Itu to follow him, he began to crawl toward where the first shot had come. Another crack and the three men clung closer to the wet earth and Itu prayed as he had never prayed before. Then came the sound of voices, which were most certainly Chinese. Everyone remained still and quiet. Time was passing and the gunso knew that he would be in trouble for this delay, but he still waited and hoped. After waiting for more than an hour, he assumed that whoever had been firing had most probably gone by now, and he gingerly moved forward followed by Namura, Itu and the others. Everything appeared normal as they moved forward to try to locate where the shots had come from then ping! A further bullet found its mark and another soldier died. At the same time everyone ran for cover, it mattered not who was in charge, they ran and it was not until just before sunset that the remainder of the party arrived back at the original kampong where they had started. From the jungle came the sound of many men who occasionally called out Japanese names including Namura’s. It was a group of about fifty men from the 8th section who had been alerted by one of the group fired upon that morning . A search later revealed that the snipers must have been either local people or Chinese irregulars and after a quick meal the party continued its journey toward Kro.
On the second day they arrived at small kampong, which they approached with greater caution, after which they surrounded it. Orders had been given that anything which moved should be shot, and as Itu and his section moved forward there was a clatter of rifle fire. A young Malay boy about six years old had run out to meet the Japanese soldiers and as he opened his mouth to shout a greeting. Six bullets pierced his small body and he was dead before he hit the ground. Not taking the slightest notice, the soldiers moved forward, their minds on other things.
The kampong consisted of about thirty rough dwelling huts with a larger communal building in the middle of a clearing at the rear. All those who had chosen to remain in the kampong were gathered round this large communal hut. There were about thirty women of varying ages, several small children, and twenty older men and women. Two or three of the old men came forward to meet the Japanese displaying a form of greeting with their hands clasped together. The gunso barked out an order and a dozen or more soldiers set about beating and belabouring the old men, who within minutes became a bloodied mass of dead men. The women and children were screaming and wailing, while the remaining old people clung together for protection. A further order from the gunso and several soldiers began herding the older ones outside and into the jungle clearing. The old ones by now knowing what their fate was to be, and they remained silent apart from the whimpers of the old women .
While this was happening the remaining young women and children continued to cry and wail, the younger children especially as they looked around in bewilderment, unable to understand that the security they had once known and taken for granted, was about to come to a sickening end.
The gunso walked to the group of old men and women demanding to know where the British pigs were hiding. The old ones with a look of fear had no idea of what he was saying let alone being able to assist. The gunso’s gesticulations alone was enough to create fear in anyone’s mind.
Several times he shouted and screamed at them for information, but to no avail. One or two started to try to speak, but their language was just as unintelligible to him as was the gunso’s to them. Finally losing all patience the gunso stepped back and ordered the men with the machine guns to kill them all.
The soldiers needed very little encouragement and within seconds had disposed of all of them. The remaining soldiers who had been looking on as spectators now started to fire their rifles into the pile of bodies.
Itu and Namura found themselves among these, feeling no sense of shame, sadness or remorse. Itu was thinking to himself how easy it had been to just pull the trigger and waste a useless life. He began to feel powerful. He was the master of other peoples lives. He looked at the dead bodies, which had once been living human beings, now they were heaps of meat and he congratulated himself on finally not being squeamish. It was not for some days before he became to realise that he was becoming that which he had despised in others, today however he was enjoying this feeling of power. He kept telling himself that what he was doing was right and that he was fighting for his beloved Emperor and Japan. He followed the other men of his section as they returned into the hut. The mothers and the younger women were trying to occupy the minds of the children by holding them tight or talking to them in hushed tones.
The gunso walked into the centre of the hut and pointing to the youngest and prettiest of the women he asked in Japanese “Do you have husband”, the woman unable to understand what he was saying, shook her head. He then pointed to the wedding ring on his finger and asked “You ka have husband” Once more she shook her head. Then turning to the men the gunso shouted “all men rest” at once clutching the young woman by the wrist he dragged her screaming and shouting into one of the empty dwelling huts, where through her screams and tears he raped her. Having satisfied his thirst for lust he walked out of the hut, eyes gleaming and a grin on his face like someone who had just won a top prize The gunso had now set an example which was followed immediately by his men. Three or four went into the hut he had just vacated, others grabbed the nearest female immaterial of her looks or the fact that she was carrying a child and took her into the jungle, where, because there were not enough females, they were systematically raped. The Japanese were now the masters and their Emperor had told them that they should avail themselves of all that they captured. Itu had followed Namura into the jungle and waited. He had no wish to indulge in sex with an unknown woman. He must remain true to his Fujika, However his natural Japanese instincts told him that he must prove himself a true warrior and follow the example of the others, and as Namura walked away from the woman he had just defiled, Itu took his place with the screaming sobbing woman. The screaming and shouting continued for more than an hour and strange to note that one or two of the younger soldiers faces were depicting the feeling of shame. There were the others however who wished to continue the acts of depravity and degradation . One or two of the women were taken further into the jungle and tied to tree’s, others were pegged onto the ground, where these brave soldiers urinated and then poured Gula mallaca (native sugar) over them. Knowing that within a very short space of time the area would be covered with ants and insects of all description, attracted by the aroma emitting from the combination of sugar and urine, the woman would die screaming in agony from millions of bites. Some of the women were tied to trees and used for bayonet practice, while others were given the chance of freedom and told to run for their lives then grinning soldiers fired their rifles at them. A number of children obviously in a state of shock also began to run into the jungle and they also were fired on. The gunso had by now regained a semblance of self control and he shouted for the men to fall in. “Now you have had your hour of pleasure , I expect each and everyone of you to give me your lives in return “ said the gunso. They all cheered as they followed his lead away from the scene of carnage and mass murder.
The village they had ransacked was just outside Kiap, having gone that way they had bypassed the British and were now heading for Kampar.
It had been many days since they had landed on Malayan territory and so far luck had been with them, in that they had mainly only been used for mopping up or distraction duties, but now they were forming part of the advance party leading the 11th 21st and 42nd infantry regiments.
At the kampong, they had pillaged all the food stocks, enough to last for several days and looted all the valuables. As night approached the gunso called a halt, fires were lit and the smell of cooking rice and roasting chicken filled the night air. As soon as Itu had produced his mess tin of rice, Namura appeared with a container of tea and some portions of chicken. By the manner in which they devoured the food, it was obvious that they had not eaten for a long time. After finishing his meal, Itu lay back day dreaming of Japan in general and of Fujika in particular. Namura’s voice destroyed the dream as he asked “Do you remember my telling you of the code of Bushido and Samurai?” Itu half nodded as he replied in the affirmative “Did you notice that in the last village, the gunso chose the first woman for himself, and it was not until he had chosen that the men were allowed to follow his example?” “Yes” said Itu. “That is the proof of what I had been telling you, that the Samurai code is false and their code derives from the early days, when the fiercest warrior demanded the first in everything, and the other warriors had to submit to his power or they would be smitten down by other warriors who were next in line” Namura did not stop for breath, he knew that he had a captive audience. “ I was telling you that at my fathers farm, the other Samurai would come along bringing presents of food , wine, and trinkets , others would bring along female slaves, which they had been awarded after a skirmish. Many were girls, who’s husbands or fathers had wanted to be rid of, so they paid the Samurai to take them away. When ever there was a party, the Samurai would compete against each other in various sports and finally they would barter for the use of each female slave. Should one of the females escape, so much the better. They would be hunted and when caught they would be disposed of in the cruellest manner possible”
“ I thought you said that you knew of this from personal experience, yet you are not of the Samurai” suggested Itu.
“My father who with my uncle was of the Samurai, was not one to boast or tell a lie and he has told me many stories, especially those which caused him great pain”. Namura paused to observe Itu’s reaction then continued. “My father told me of the games they took part in which would go on for several days at a time, sometimes on these occasions, the chief would be challenged for his position of authority. The chosen one would be required to dispose of the older chieftain. On one such occasion my grandfathers sister was taken by a group of Samurai and my father and uncle went in search of her. It was several days before they found her mutilated body impaled by a spear to a tree. She also had several metal arrows shot into her body, and at that time everyone knew that only the Samurai used metal tipped arrows” Itu could see that Namura was becoming emotional and was about to suggest that they move on when Namura continued “My grandfather searched out the leader of the group and accused him of the crime, but he denied responsibility. A few days later my grandfathers house and farm were burnt to the ground, and as each of my grandfathers family complained, their homes suffered the same destruction. Then rumours were spread that my father was in league with the false one, (the devil) and his friends began to desert him. Finally my grandfather was driven out of the area and he moved north to where he was unknown”. Namura sniffled “I can vaguely remember the fires” he stood looking down at the ground like one in disgrace.
“But I thought that you had said that the Samurai stood for right and honour?”
“Not so” replied Namura “Maybe they help their own, but not universally . Many have read of the Seven Samurai, which story relates to a young maiden being pestered and pursued by a rich merchant. Who had his followers take her, and prepare her to be his concubine. The young maidens father called together all his friends and relatives, to help fight for his daughters release. they were not powerful enough, so they sent a message to the Samurai, who sent seven warriors to assist. The warriors fought for five days and nights before succeeding in the release of the maiden”
Itu interrupted “I have always admired the men of the Golden Samurai, to whom the story relates”
“Bullshit and crap” said Namura “Only the merchants who could afford to pay, were able to have the services of the Samurai, and most of them were high priests of the Samurai”.
Both men fell silent as the gunso approached . “You two seem to be having a strong argument, is there anything which I can do?”
Itu was about to ask the gunso’s opinion of the Samurai but remained silent as he felt Namura’s hand gripping his biceps. “Oh it was nothing” he lied “we were discussing the merits of our armies against those of inferior quality”. The gunso walked away the glimmer of a smile on his face.
“Why did you start to tell the gunso of our discussion?” asked Namura, do you not still believe that he is of the Samurai ?. Did you not watch him with those Indians. His use of the sword, his grip, swing and fearless stance, each a sure indication of his membership of the brotherhood”.
Itu lapsed into silence, his mind in turmoil. Seeds of doubt were beginning to appear, not just doubts about the war or Japan, but also about himself, his own ancestry. His family had always been rich merchants, even today several held high positions in local government. While they were resting a runner had arrived from headquarters with instructions that the 11th infantry were to follow the Imperial guards in the attack on Kampar and Tapar.
The thought of fighting alongside the guards was a great honour and something to relate to their respective families when they returned after the war. Every man in the 11th infantry waited the arrival of the guards, some had gone out looting in the hope of finding liquor to help the celebrations. The arrival of the guards however was very disappointing, they had expected supermen with long swords and with scars on their faces from previous battles. Instead they saw men very much the same stature as themselves, small stocky built with the occasional unusual tall man and Itu felt cheated.
The guards had lost a number of men on their way down from Thailand, having fought every day without respite. On occasions the British and Allied troops had lain in wait and had butchered many. They had lost about thirty per cent of the original number of those who had been hiding in the jungle at Kangar since before the war. Their losses had been so great that at one time General Nishimura had contemplated suicide attributing the loss to his own muddled thinking.
Colonel Watanabe called all the officers and warrant officers under his command to a meeting in which he instructed that the 11th would remain behind the guards until the approach to Ipoh. They would then filter through the guards ranks and attack the enemy defences, making as much noise as possible in order to draw the enemy fire, thus creating a diversion for the guards to bypass the enemy .
As soon as the orders had been passed down to every man, the regiment began to move off. A number of men had acquired cycles, hand carts, wheel barrows and other means of lightening their load. Itu and his section had been positioned at the forefront of the column.
As they travelled quickly through the night having little time for sleep, the sound of gunfire began to increase in propensity in the distance, a sure sign of the trouble ahead. They knew that soon it would be their turn to move into the battle line.
The guards had crossed the Taiping Ipoh road and were being met with strong resistance. The gunso came to where Itu and Namura were re-securing their equipment, “Itu, Namura, Kunishi, Tsuji and Sosaku”, shouted the gunso. “You five are to move forward through the jungle, keeping the main road in sight you will come to the point where you will see several damaged vehicles. I want each of you to secure a position, where you can bring fire onto the enemy as soon as you can see that they are retreating. You will then be required to hold your position until you see the guards coming down the road. At exactly 0900 hrs our aircraft will bomb and strafe the area so keep your heads down. As soon as the bombing has finished the remainder of the 11th will be required to draw the enemy fire”. He paused then “A successful attack could cause me to recommend certain ones for promotion” A glow of enthusiasm passed through them as they made their way forward.
It was in the afternoon that they arrived at the place designated by the gunso, but there was no sign of the enemy. There was however some shooting going on to their right, along the road which the guards would soon be coming along. Sosaku took off his equipment and removed his shirt, puttees and cap, then standing he asked Itu “Do I not look like a Malay farmer?” Itu nodded as he looked at Sosaku’s tanned torso . “Then I will approach the enemy to see if they think that I am a native” with this he walked out into the middle of the road, nothing happened, so he started to walk up and down the road as if waiting for someone to come along. There was still no movement from where the enemy were supposed to be. Rejoining the group he quickly replaced his shirt and clothing, then lifting his rifle, he gave a nod to Itu “Sionara” he said as he started to walk into the jungle. “Have you taken leave of your senses?”, asked Itu. Sosaku turned and in an undertone he replied, “I have seen an ideal spot in one of the trees from where I will be able to observe the enemy “.Tsuji and Kunishi followed his example and each chose a tree to climb. Having found the ones most suitable, they then proceeded to secure themselves to the tree with their belts and ammunition pouches. In this manner should they be killed, the enemy would not have the satisfaction in seeing them fall. Itu dug in at the side of the road, his head level with the road surface, while Namura found himself an abandoned hut. Using pieces of attap and bamboo he quickly built himself a hide.
Apart from the usual jungle noises, every where was quiet for some time, then Tsuji signalled from his position in the tree, that there was movement along the road coming from KL. As it came closer, Itu could see that it was a small convoy of enemy vehicles, he knew that the five of them could do very little damage, so indicating to the others that they should hold their fire, he crouched below the road parapet watching them pass by and hoping that they would soon be dealt with by the guards.
The convoy of trucks stopped some two hundred yards away and dispersed on either side of the road. As soon as they were stationary, enemy soldiers started to erect camouflage netting. In the background the ever increasing sound of battle persisted gradually increasing in volume. The three snipers in the tree’s each selected a target, while at the same time a flight of three fighter bombers flew over, turned, then started to return. From his position Itu could see the planes and the men in the trees. He saw the flash from Sosaku’s gun muzzle, and wondered why he had disobeyed orders, than watched in amazement as several more flashes came from the same tree. The sound of automatic firing was now coming from the enemy positions and Itu watched as the leaves on the tree occupied by Sosaku began to shimmer and fall to the ground. It was as if autumn had arrived suddenly to that one tree. Then it stopped just as sudden as the fighter bombers began to discharge their bombs among the enemy, followed by machine gun fire. One or two of the small bombs fell uncomfortably close to Itu’s position and he watched as the planes swooped and dived miraculously missing each other as they made a final run, and he shivered half expecting to be the next target.
The planes dispersed just as speedily as they had arrived, and as Itu looked down the road he could see the enemy running about between several vehicles which were blazing. Others trying to rescue trapped comrades, while others were trying to regain some sort of order and control.
Itu decided that it would be a good time to check on the others, and at the back of his mind was the certainty that Sosaku would be dead.
He walked over to where Namura had been positioned and to his amazement there was a large bomb crater. He called out Namura’s name anticipating the worst. But from somewhere in the jungle he could hear Namura cursing and shouting and Itu wondered why it was that he was so relieved, when he considered that Namura was an ignorant oaf and a sadist, yet the sound of his voice had brought relief.
“What happened to you?” asked Itu
“O! I got a bit edgy when I saw the shots coming from Sosaku followed by the enemy shooting back at him. It was too close for comfort so I decided to get closer and kill a few of the enemy, that was until the planes came and I decided to keep my head down”.
“Have you seen anything of the others ?” Itu asked, but he was talking to himself. Namura had gone running to where he knew the others were dug in.
Itu moved quickly to the base of the tree where Sosaku had been hidden and looking up into the leaves he could see that Sosaku would never fire a rifle again. Namura came over and was about to climb the tree to release the body of Sosaku, but Itu held him back “Better leave him there until the main body arrive” he said as he began to mark the tree trunk with his bayonet.
Moving over to the trees which had been occupied by the others, they found that the first one had been splattered by shrapnel and what remained of Tsuji was in a bloodied heap at the base of the tree. Kunishi had fared no better, his body, hanging by the straps of his haversack was swinging backwards and forwards like the pendulum of a clock. Minus all his clothing his body looked disgusting covered in blood like a carcass in a butchers shop.
“Must have shit himself?” said Namura
“He did not shit himself, as you so politely put it “replied Itu. “He was killed by the blast from the bombs”
“Balls !” exclaimed Namura “his face is blue because he was hanging upside down and knowing him as I do, I say that he shit himself” Namura spat sideways through his teeth and continued “He was no bloody soldier anyway, the bastard couldn’t even shoot straight” as Itu looked he could see tears coming from Namura’s eyes and he turned away.
“This means that there is only the two of us remaining of the original section”
Namura didn’t answer, he had climbed the tree where Kunishi’s body was swinging and taking a knife from his pocket began to hack away at the straps which secured him. After a hefty struggle the body of Kunishi hit the ground head first. There were no broken bones not even a broken neck, just a heap of bloodied meat waiting disposal.
Namura picked up Kunishi’s rifle and bayonet and plunged it into the ground close to where his remains were already being attacked by the ants and insects of the jungle, “I hope they find him, because apart from being shit scared, he wasn’t a bad lad really.
At the tree where Tsuji had died they collected his rifle and bayonet as well and placed them upside down leaning against the tree trunk. As Namura bent to collect Tsuji’s dog tags, Itu suggested they be left on chance it would be some time before the remains were found. Then together they stood at the side of the road waiting for the arrival of the main party.
Itu made a report to the gunso which was duly noted in a small book which the gunso then replaced in his pocket. There goes the end of three of the Emperors soldiers said Itu. No epitaph, no condolence, not even a question asking why or when, just a note in the sergeants pocket book. He looked up at the pale blue sky and asked himself the question asked by many soldiers of all nationalities “What the hell am I doing here and why”. He realised that he was allowing his emotions to take over and cursed himself for a fool. . Then he walked over to the Gunso and springing to attention requested permission to speak, but the Gunso was an old soldier who immediately recognised the signs and refused to allow Itu to say a word, looking straight into Itu’s face he shouted “No you may not speak, instead you will report to Gunso Yashio and tell him that you are the replacement runner”. Itu was about to repeat his request and the sergeants hand went to the handle of his sword and Itu knew that he had gone far enough and went to find Namura to tell him of the move.