Sketch by Jack Chalker

Chapter Two

 BOFUU ATONI

After the Storm

 

The morning of the 7th December 1941, and the Japanese cargo ship Sanjo Maru was proceeding in a south westerly direction, ahead Malaya, to the starboard Cambodia, and Itu Nakahama was standing with his new found comrades at the ship’s starboard rail. Most of them ignorant or completely oblivious as to where they were going, but all aware that they would most possibly be going on a one way journey. All that Itu knew was that he was sailing further and further away from his wife and family. He was one of those unfortunates. Imprinted on his mind the 7th day of October his wife Fujika’s twenty first birthday, which they had celebrated with their parents and several friends, each of them accepting that this evening could possibly be the last that they would share together.  The night had gone well, considering that the following morning he was to report for training at Kogashima military camp. It would not be too bad he had told her. The railway service between Kogashima and Nagasaki was quite reliable and “If I behave myself and carry out my duties quickly and efficiently, my commanding officer might be disposed to reward me with a pass occasionally so that I may return home”. Itu had been green, with no knowledge whatsoever of army discipline and it was with great trepidation that he had presented himself for duty at Kogashima. Within one hour of entering the establishment he had been totally stripped of any resemblance to being a human individual. His hair was shorn completely, the immaculate suit,  shirt and underclothes were folded into a bundle and placed inside a canvas bag on which his name and address had been stencilled for delivery to his wife. In return he received an ill fitting second hand uniform with patches at the elbow and knees. A soft cap with a brand new yellow star on its peak, a leather belt which required a further two holes to make it fit. A ragged patched shirt, cloth shoes and a small canvas bag containing certain articles of toiletry. The whole issue had seen better days and had been worn by a much larger individual. Although clean in every respect, it was not what Itu had imagined the uniform of an Imperial Jap to look like. Clutching a bed roll he had also been issued, he was marched, pushed and shoved into a large room, where a soldier first class informed him that this was to be his future home. 

The room was completely bare of furniture with the exception of a large wooden rifle rack, which had been placed in the centre of the room. With, around the walls several wooden forms on which were seated many more unfortunates who had been called to defend the Emperor against the Imperialists. Each one resembles a farm worker was the thought which came to Itu’s mind as he glanced round the room. Because of the hurry and bustle in changing from train to bus and vice a versa, meeting up with other conscripts in similar plight and finally arriving at the training centre, he had not had time to think let alone observe the others who had been called upon to volunteer their services and show allegiance to the Emperor and Japan and to pledge their lives to the same.  It was not until he had made his way to the mess hall that he finally began to look around and take notice of the others, and realising that they were all in the same predicament. After collecting his ration of rice and fish, he took a seat at the side of a very tough looking character, whose manner and dialect indicated that he was a farmer or similar from the district of Hokkaido. “Ohio”(Good day) said Itu making a cautious bow in the direction of the farmer. The farmer looked up and replied with a nod of the head and a grunt. He could not have done otherwise as his mouth was bulging with rice and dried fish, which he was devouring as if there were no tomorrow. After clearing his bowl, the farmer again nodded his head and half standing half bowing said “I am Namura and like you, I have volunteered to give my life for the Emperor and Japan”. He paused “I feel honoured to have been chosen to fight in the eleventh infantry under colonel Watanabe”. Itu stared blankly, he had been a student, placed in the University by his wealthy parents, who had expected him to have at least been offered the rank of junior Shoko(Officer). He had never been allowed to mix with persons of such low background, and just watching Namura clear his food in such a gluttonous manner made him feel uncomfortable, and he pushed his own bowl of rice and dried fish away.  Namura immediately seized the discarded bowl, and began to shovel its contents into his mouth with the aid of chopsticks, not once pausing for breath until the last grain had been swallowed down, followed by several large gulps of water. All the time Namura’s eyes darted from left to right, searching for any other unwanted food. Itu stood up and looked around at the other misplaced souls who had been commanded to defend the Japanese Empire, hoping that he might recognise someone from his home town or the university, but they were all strangers. He was about to strike up a conversation with one of the men close by as the gunso(Sergeant) Walked into the room,  followed by private first class Nasu. “Chioski” (Attention) shouted private Nasu.  Every man in the room jumped as smartly as possible to attention. That is every one except Namura. He was too busy filling his mouth with even more left over food. Nasu was the first to spot the luckless farmer, he sprang across the room.  Smack! Went his hand across Namura’s face, at the same time knocking the rice bowl and contents across the floor. Namura made a slight movement of resentment, but before he could move even a finger, Smack! Went the gunso’s hand across the other side of his face. The blood and embarrassment could be seen rising to Namura’s face, for as much as his instinct was telling him to strike back, his brain was telling him not to be so foolish. Within an instant the gunso and private Nasu would have had him stretched across the floor big as he was. Both had been in the Imperial Japanese army for some considerable time and they knew all the vital spots. “Stand to attention when an NCO walks into the room” yelled Nasu.  Namura stood rigidly to attention, his face blood red with indignation and anger at the thought that such a little man like Nasu could get the better of him, just because of his rank. Underneath he knew that he must let his temper cool. He had heard stories about the consequences of hitting back, so he stood and he smarted, contenting himself with a promise that he would get even one day. The room was deathly silent for what seemed an eternity with everyone remaining at attention, the silence finally being broken by the gunso, who began to read out the rules and regulations which applied in the Imperial Japanese army. “You must first all realise that you are all less then third class soldiers. As such you are all scum, rubbish, gun fodder, lackeys and boot lickers. When you entered this establishment, you shed your rights to be considered a human, and took on the roll of trainee soldier. As such you will be drilled and disciplined in the manner of true Samurai warriors. You came here as scum, If this was not true you would have already been serving your Emperor, without having to be called to do your duty. So it is our job to rectify this error and try to make you into good soldiers instead”.

The room remained silent as he went on to lay down the law.  No one will be allowed out of this barracks until he has completed six months training and even then only when he has passed all the requisite tests. Any man found outside camp will be considered a deserter and will be summarily executed. On receipt of your pay, each man will contribute twenty per cent to cover breakage’s and losses caused by your recklessness, negligence and ignorance; this will be collected by private Nasu. Anyone wishing to avail himself of my experience, may attend my special training classes every evening from six until seven at a cost of five yen per lesson. The provision store will be open for one hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening, anyone requiring purchases after these times may do so in my office when a small percentage will be charged for your incompetence”. The lecture went on for one and half hours, with the occasional thump on the table for emphasis. After which they were handed over to private first class Nasu, who had been waiting all day for the opportunity to show off his know how. “Chioski” shouted Nasu, “ Kiri” (bow) Each man bent almost double in order to show obedience, the type of Kiri which was normally extended to persons of high rank. Gunso Saburo Okabe gave a slight bow in acknowledgement then left the room, leaving Nasu in command. Private first class Nasu then gave his pep talk on how he had  joined the army as a very young boy and how he had fought for the Emperor in China and Mongolia, also how he had killed many of the enemy and had risen to his present rank. He went on to forecast that one day he would achieve his ambition and be accepted into the Samurai order, to which he had pledged his faith and loyalty. After this Nasu ordered each man to make his peace with his Kami (God) and ancestors after training was completed and they must then attend their own  funeral prayers in advance of what would be their glorious death. Each recruit was instructed to write to their parents and families informing them that as from that day they must be assumed dead. Itu shrugged his shoulders as he recalled that he had already visited the grave of his ancestors, asking for guidance, and for the spirits to give him the courage to face whatever fate should present in the future. Private Nasu dismissed the assembled men and received the same low humble kiri which they had bestowed on the gunso before he left. They will learn, he thought to himself as he left the room with a conceited smile of self satisfaction. The memories came flooding back to Itu as he stood at the ships rail. He took a snapshot of Fujiko from his pocket and tried to recall the thrill and happiness of their last evening together. That was the night before he was to report to Kogashima barracks. The mere thought filled him with rage and bitter contempt for the Japanese military of which he was now a small part. Scenes came flooding to his mind of the beatings and solitary confinement, for the slightest misdemeanour lying in a stinking wet cell for days with no sanitation. On being released, being made to clean up the stinking excreta with just his bare hands and a pail. Homosexuality forced onto the many timid recruits in the name of the Emperor and Japan. The first occasion on which he had been confined to the dog kennels was two days after induction, for failing to salute an NCO in the proper manner, which brought seven days of complete torment and humiliation. The taunting from the regular soldiers and the beatings for the slightest cause were etched on his memory. Never before had he realised that his country was so steeped in such acts of homosexuality and bestiality in so many ways. He had always assumed that his countrymen were courteous, caring, civil and obedient. The last three months however had taught him otherwise. He had observed a side of Japan which he never knew existed. Bushido and Samurai were just figments of high minded people who had never had to experience that which he had in such a short time. He felt ashamed. Ashamed that he too had eventually in his weakness to ingratiate himself with the gunso and private Suma, had gone along with the torment and humiliation of several other weak minded recruits. He excused himself in the fact that he did not go all the way in the acts of buggery bestowed on these recruits, but there was no reason in his mind to justify his having assisted in the holding down of the reluctant ones. Just the thought of what he had done caused him acute embarrassment and he felt useless and angry. Suddenly the ship’s alarm bell shook him out of his day dream and back to reality. The bell sounding action stations created immediate panic, everyone dashing from one position to another, trying to find their allotted station. Itu had been assigned to a small anti aircraft gun mounted on the stern of the ship and fell in alongside his comrades, many seemingly wanting to be heroes. However there were no medals to be earned similar to other nationals, your medal was in the knowledge that the Emperor would be aware of whatever sacrifice you made plus the fact that your Kami would be watching over. The senior soldiers seemed to be crowing with self importance, reaching a crescendo of ecstasy when they spotted a small single engine plane approaching from a southerly direction. Private first class Nasu recognised the plane as a Brewster Buffalo a type used by the British as a spotter plane but far too slow to be used as a fighter. He seemed to glow with self pride as he crowed to all and sundry that it was a British reconnaissance plane. The pilot was either very blind or very stupid or both not to see the muzzles of more than fifty anti aircraft guns pointing in his direction and following his every move. The plane began to lose height, coming closer and closer yet seemingly oblivious of the presence of so many ships. Suddenly fifty cannon fired within seconds of each other, and all hell broke loose as shell after shell spewed out in the plane’s direction. The pilot tried to veer off and take avoiding action, but he was much too late. It must have seemed to him that he had flown into a hornets nest as within seconds the plane became a mangled burning wreck, which suddenly exploded. There had been no sign of a parachute. Even if there had been one, it would have been shot full of holes. Thirty thousand Japanese voices filled the air with their cries of Banzai! Banzai!. The cheering continued from one ship to the next, as each ship claimed the responsibility for the kill. The mood quickly changed however as the officers and NCOs ran among them slapping and shouting for silence. In between the cheering and shouting of commands from the officers, Itu had thought that it sounded more like a nursery school. An officer close by was shouting for silence and explaining that there might be enemy submarines below and that they would hear the cheering, which would in turn give away their position. Itu remained at his post long after the order to stand down had been given. He stood at the rail watching the ships of the convoy as they manoeuvred to various positions. He thought of Fujika, wishing that he were at home again, trying to imagine what she would be doing at that precise moment. A heavy hand came to rest on his shoulder, jerking him back to reality. Anagowa his section leader stood beside him with a perplexed look on his face. “Nanda?” (What’s the matter) asked Amanagowa, “what is it that lies so heavy on your shoulders, that you forgot to assist in the removal of the ammunition boxes?, I have been watching you for some time, and you seem to be in a spirit world with your ancestors”. Amanagowa was the leader of twelve section , a private first class, strict, tough, but very understanding. He had seen action in Mongolia, Tiensen, Shanghai, and northern China and at twenty five years of age, he had most certainly done his share of killing. But for all his warrior like exterior, he knew how to get the best from his men without trying to instil fear, or the use of bullying tactics. He was loath to discuss his own exploits, like a number of his countrymen he accepted that his bravery was created by his ancestors and his Kami. Without them he was as nothing. Itu tried to excuse himself by putting it down to bad seamanship and promised to be more observant in future. He knew that he had been very lucky to be able to excuse himself in this way, for had it been any of the other section heads, they would almost certainly have given him a good beating and humiliated him in front of all the others. Itu followed Amanagowa below decks and into the cargo hold, where he joined the rest of the section preparing equipment ready for the landing, the exact location of which had not as yet been divulged.

The Sanju Maru had been built as a merchant ship in the early thirties but had now been converted into a troop carrier. She was coal fired, with one stack which spewed out black acrid smoke among the troops for most of the voyage. Before conversion she had been mainly a dry cargo ship, now her cargo holds had been modified and shored up with scaffolding, so that each could carry around five hundred men. Her complement was now well over two thousand . As they were mostly infantry men there was no heavy equipment being transported, which left the Sanjo Maru light on draught, her fresh water ballast was now nearly exhausted, making her buoyancy more akin to a wet cork, which did little to please the captain and crew. The landing instructions had been drilled into each man, and each individual knew his position along the ship’s rails. Itu collected his equipment including his rifle a 1928 Lee Enfield, two ammunition pouches each containing twenty five rounds of . 303 ammunition and his dress bayonet to which was attached a small doll, a lucky mascot given to him be Fujiko. He also collected his mess tin water bottle and pack, plus a further package containing cooked rice, dried rice, and dried fruit. There had been a shortage of battle bayonets, but he had been assured by one of the officers that arms and ammunition would be plentiful where they were going. There was a hint that he would be able to collect any  amount from the dead British soldiers when they landed, which gave a hidden message that they were going to attack the British in either Malaya or Singapore. Itu looked round at his comrades in arms before descending the ladder, trying to realise if he really did know any of them. There was Amanagowa. A second class private talking to a long legged bespectacled lad from Yokohama name of Sugiura, then there was the rest of the section, who were all raw recruits like himself. In his section were Namura, Takuma, Ando, Harada, Washabe, Kunishi, Okada, and a further Nasu. The gunso Saburo Okabe was a man to be respected, because his temper was similar to that of a caged animal once he was roused, as Itu knew from recent experience. Although it was a calm night the ship was rolling and swaying, every passing ship would send her bobbing round like a cork. Very few of the men had ever been to sea before this voyage and the constant movement plus the ordeal of waiting, not knowing where or what was happening seemed to increase the biliousness and it was not unusual to see or hear some unfortunate individual come slipping and slithering down the stairway, only to land in a heap on top of some unfortunate sleeping at the bottom. Twelve section had been lucky in obtaining accommodation near the transit door on the top deck of the hold, which allowed a slight draught caused by the ship’s movement to blow through, keeping every one on the deck cool. “I have been told by the gunso that all letters home must be handed in by not later than midnight” said Kuishi to everyone in general. Kuishi was the know it all in the section. “Only one letter from each man is allowed and he must not indicate where we are or where he is writing from, in case his letter should fall into enemy hands”. No one took the slightest notice, each man was deep in his own thoughts as to what would happen to the letters once they had been collected. Today was not the time for writing,  their thoughts were in trying understand how what they were doing would effect their immediate future. As Itu went up on deck, he was followed by Okada, who shouted to the others “come on lads, we might be able to get a look at the Shoko’s(officers) comfort girls before we leave”. “Why do you want to look at the gropers” shouted Nikao “you would not know what to do with one even if she lifted you on top”. Okada didn’t reply, he was too eager to get on deck, and to start an argument would only delay him.  Okada was the sad sack of the section, nothing ever seemed to go right for him. It was just after midnight when he emerged from below. Large gatherings of men who similar to himself could not get to sleep, were congregating in groups round the deck. This was going to be their baptism and they knew not if it was fear or the adrenaline which was building up. Ships of all shapes and sizes were silhouetted on the horizon. Nearby two destroyers were circling on an anti submarine sweep and as one of them went past, the Sanju Maru shimmied and wallowed like a young duck in the mating season. Overhead came the drone of planes and as they came closer Okada pushed his way to the chain locker and concealed himself among the ropes. Discretion he believed was the better valour than a thick head. He had always been told and readily believed that a ship always sank stern first, because it was the heaviest part of the ship, so with this assumption he felt safer in the forward chain locker. The planes passed overhead and hearing no bombs or shooting,  Okada came back out of the locker and rejoined his comrades, he suddenly noticed however that his trouser legs were wet. Looking down he suddenly realised that he had pissed himself out of fright without noticing. He cursed himself for not having had the courage to stay on deck like the others, and made his way to the area allocated for bathing. Stripping himself completely down to his fendoza (underpants) he turned on the water tap, completely soaking himself with salt water , as he bent down to wash his clothes the bugler sounded action stations. The voices of a hundred officers and NCO’s could be heard shouting out orders for the men to prepare to disembark. Pandemonium ensued. Bodies rushed hither and thither, some to obey orders others trying to avoid having to go over the side. Several tried various excuses, knowing full well that eventually they would have to go. Okada made a dash down the stairway leading to his section area in order to find some dry clothes, while at the same time, everyone else seemed to be determined to come up the stairway. The inevitable happened. Okada was lifted bodily into the air and was tossed roughly down the stair well, landing at the bottom in a heap. There was no time to check for injuries, he must dress as quickly as possible . He remembered well the last time when he had been late for parade. He had to run the gauntlet of his comrades, who had thoroughly enjoyed the humiliation which they had heaped upon him, kicking and belting until he bled. Okada returned to the deck, dressed in a fashion. His rifle was slung over his left shoulder,  interwoven with his ammunition pouches and water bottle sling. His hat was slung to the back of his head and his bayonet scabbard trapped by his belt to the centre of his back.  

The various regiments were lined up at their departure points, with the men of the eleventh infantry in the mid forward section starboard side. From the flying bridge colonel Tsunak Watanabe addressed his men.

“In a short while you will begin the fight to defeat the British and American imperialists, in order to create a new east Asia. The Empire of The Rising Sun must take its proper place as leaders of the world . Never again will the Imperialists be allowed to imprison the peoples of South East Asia. Our divine Emperor has decreed that every man must pledge his life in this sacrifice. In the knowledge that you will show glory and honour, in the fight for freedom and a new Empire I command you all “Sonno Jor Chu”(revere the Emperor, expel the barbarian). Every man bowed his head toward the national flag at the stern of the ship and muttered their respect and vows to fight to the death for their beloved Emperor. The speech had lasted almost an hour, during which time several squadrons of planes had soared overhead. In the distance was the coast of Malaya and Siam, from where came the sound of bombs and gun fire. As each section lined up for final departure, each man was instructed to take a full box of ammunition ashore with him, with orders to take it to the quarter master’s area which would be identified by a banner.  Itu realised that the landing in itself would be hazardous without the added cumbersome ammo box. The higher rank had declared that this should be done, so who was he to argue. Several men began to disappear back down to the mess decks below to forage and collect anything which might be useful. Others hung about the ships rail feigning bravado, but underneath knowing the fear that comes to all men who suddenly realise that it takes just two ounces of metal, two seconds to bring to reality the fact that man is not infallible, and that God is not the shield and protector which humans are led to believe.  Itu was deep in thought. It was all right for colonel Watanabe to talk of being brave and giving your life for your emperor, surely he must realise that by doing his bidding, that they would be depriving a wife of a husband, a child of its father and a mother of her son. If I die, what will become of Fujiko?. Will she mourn or will she also die by seppuka hari kiri, will she find a new lover and quickly forget me. What of the pain and discomfort should I be hit, will I be able to feign bravery, or will I cry like a baby, and who will notice anyhow. These thoughts went through his mind as he looked round at the others, did they have the same doubts he asked himself.  Gone were the cheerful faces of yesterday, now everyone seemed grey and sickly looking as if suffering some ailment. They seemed to have the look of animals who have somehow sensed that they are about to be slaughtered. Fortunately no one could read the mind of others and no man could bear the stigma of being branded a coward by asking.  Hadn’t they been taught that the acts of a coward are seen through a larger telescope. Why must it be necessary to kill and maim each other. If there is a God, why does he allow all this suffering to go on. The truth was that Itu was scared , the one thing in his favour was, that a scared soldier makes for a good fighter. He stopped thinking long enough to look around at the others and wondered if they were having the same doubts and he decided there and then that there were no such thing as Kamis or Gods, no superior beings in fact no one to depend upon at all.  So he would be his own Kami and be responsible for his own destiny, suddenly he had realised what it was all about, and suddenly he had become a man. Self preservation was all bullshit and can go to hell, if I get into a situation which I do not like I will look after number one and sod the rest . As an English student had once quoted to him. “Dun Spiro Spero” (While I breath I live) This then would be his motto, he would be his own Kami and be responsible for his own destiny.  He was disturbed from his reverie by Namura calling and beckoning to him to come to the ships rail, and as he joined Namura he felt refreshed as if waking from a good nights sleep. “I wish we would soon get moving, I hate all this hanging about” moaned Namura, anxious to be off the ship, he hated sailing . “Come and stand beside me” said Namura, putting an arm round Itu’s shoulder “Are you scared of going over the side Itu shook his head.  “Not any more”, he assured Namura, placing his equipment on the deck.  Itu had too much on his mind to want to become involved in mindless conversation, he just wanted to be left alone with his thoughts. 

Namura felt rebuffed and his face showed his displeasure. Itu had not wanted this to happen and he quickly made an effort to apologise, then stopped and said, “I was just trying to remember if I had given my letter to the gunso, so please do not think that I am being obstinate”. Just then the bugle sounded assembly, relieving him of the necessity of further apology. The men began to shuffle toward the ship’s rail where the scramble nets had been lowered, or toward the gang planks which had been secured alongside. There was no pushing, because each was desirous of being the last to leave. The ship bucked and bounced while below and alongside the small landing craft bumped and sheered against the ship’s hull. It is doubtful if any man would be able to remember just how he managed to scramble down the nets and into the small craft. The waves heaved and lifted splashing and cascading against the side of the ship. Almost every man now drenched through, especially the men of twelve section who had unwittingly gone to the stern of the craft imagining that by doing so they would be the last to have to leave, not realising that they would be leaving over the side by any means available. At one time during their training, they had been informed by the gunso that the English soldier was the greatest fighting machine after the Japanese and that their accuracy in shooting was one hundred per cent. The landing craft packed to capacity headed for the shores of Malaya, not one man had so far questioned where they were or why. They knew that they were about to go to war against the British and American allies and that they would be going ashore at either Malaya or Siam. Some one had mentioned the names of the places where they would be landing, but such names are unnecessary. The craft headed for the shore line at Khota Bahru,  haphazardly making for various points along the shore line, hoping to find the point of least resistance. The firing from shore started a little haphazardly at first, but the closer to shore they got the louder and greater became the field of fire. Itu looked up to see a small British plane flying overhead and he waited with baited breath for it to attack, then with a sigh of relief he watched as a small stick of bombs fell among the landing craft closer to the mother ship. As he looked back he could see that there were other planes attacking the convoy and the Sanju Maru must have taken a hit, because she was belching smoke and flame from the mid section, where twelve section had been congregated, where there had been a line of small boats, the line had been severed and the wreckage of one or two could be seen floating. The noise of battle was now reaching a crescendo and the hum of ricochets sounded like hornets. The bodies of dead and wounded Japanese soldiers were suddenly appearing as if from nowhere. Soldiers were screaming for their lives as they tried to swim ashore or back toward the mother ship. Men who just a few moments ago appeared brave and heroic were now scrambling for the boats and screaming to be pulled aboard.

The occupants however instead of trying to help them, were using their rifle butts to repel them. The pilots of the planes were now using their machine guns, occasionally dropping much smaller bombs, possibly grenades, into the small craft. Itu watched mesmerised as the nearest boat erupted throwing its occupants into the air then dropping them into the sea, yet no one from the boats seemed to want to fire back at the enemy. He had never heard men scream in pain so loudly before, not this kind of pain.    

He had heard of the young recruits who had been knocked about by the seniors, who were trying to teach them how to withstand pain, but this was so much different. Men who just moments ago were physically fit were now trying to swim back to the mother ship, minus an arm or a leg. It was peculiar to watch as they tried to maintain buoyancy. How they sank and then rose again spluttering. He had always been taught that Japanese nationals had a far higher pain barrier than most other nationals, but now he realised that no matter how high the resistance, pain was consistent. He had also been taught that Japanese do not show their true feeling in front of strangers. What he was seeing and hearing now was like the screaming of animals in distress, the screams of hopelessness. Contrary to his conviction that there was no God he found himself praying, yet only a moment earlier had he not said that man was his own God. He prayed that he would not be hit and that if it was so designed that he was,  that he would not scream or cry out. He would, he told himself, rather be killed outright than have to suffer from wounds or be left screaming like those poor wretches he had seen in the water. The craft on which he was being propelled ashore had so far been lucky, not having received any attention at all. The waves and the current were taking the craft towards the shore line where he could just make out the silhouette of buildings in the background and even as he watched he saw them being pounded by shells from the Japanese navy. Immediately in front, the sandy shore where they would be landing, was filled with smoke and wrecked boats and vehicles. The breeze seemed to extenuate the stench of cordite. Across the bow of the boat tracer bullets whizzed and arched around like hundreds of fire flies. The shore was about two hundred yards away now and a feeling of despair ran through his mind as it most probably did among the others and he told himself not to allow the fear that was in his heart to shown in his face. The thought of leaving the comparative comfort of the landing craft and running naked into the jaws of the enemy caused one or two to ease to the rear. Suddenly a wind began to push the small craft south away from its objective. Orders could be heard being shouted from other craft but the sound of the waves and the engines shut them out. Men began to curse and shout as the approach seemed doomed to failure and disaster beckoned from the shore. Just then a small motor boat banged alongside and an officer standing in the forward end ordered the gunso to change course and head for the beach lower down . Itu looked in the direction indicated by the officer and could see that the main artillery fire was coming from this direction. This would make the landing twice as difficult he thought, and was about to make his observations known to the gunso, but the direction had been changed and there was nothing anyone could do now except wait and wish. Caught up in the tide and with the breeze coming from the stern the small craft was being pushed across the enemy’s line of fire. Suddenly with a jolt, the landing craft hit a sand bank about fifty yards from the sandy beach. “Every one out”,  ordered the gunso. Itu allowed one or two heroes to jump out ahead and seeing that they had not been killed instantly he followed. “Charge!”  shouted the gunso as he threw himself over the side and into the water. The men seemed to look at each other for what seemed an eternity, each waiting for the other to be the first to advance. “Khura ! Charge!” shouted the gunso repeatedly. “Get the hell out of here you lily liver’d cowards” he screamed. Suddenly everyone sparked into life. The screaming gunso had finally hit the mark as each man remembered the type of punishment that the gunso could dish out. It would be better to meet a hundred of the enemy than face the gunso when he was mad. They tumbled,  slithered, jumped and fell into the water, not knowing where they were heading, all they knew was that they had to get out of there fast. Suddenly the water was full of floating bodies. Bullets began to slap and thud into running bodies the increase of gunfire from both rifle and machine gun now reached a crescendo and Itu was scared. The gunso began to shout encouragement to his men as he led them ashore, while to the rear could be heard the distinct voice of-private first class Nasu shouting to them all to keep moving but to keep their heads down. The bullets and mortar shells fell among them, each searching for a living body to enter, and each with its own brand of pain and death. The whining of thousands of missiles and the stench of cordite seemed to go on endlessly. Itu managed to reach a small mound of sand, from where he was able to crouch with his back to the enemy and look back at the sea. The Sanju Maru was burning fiercely now and he could see men jumping into the sea and swimming away from the now abandoned ship. Closer to the shore the corpses floated in the water. The waves would push them endlessly towards the shore and every now and again the waves would toss one or two onto the sandy beach, only to be picked up by the next receding wave and taken out to sea again, to be deposited later on the beach lower down. The sea was claiming the right to do as it wished with each lifeless body. Itu began to laugh but there was nothing funny to laugh at, so he started to cry,  and wished that he was back home where it was safe and where his mother and father would be able to tell him what to do. He was afraid to lift his head to peer over the hillock toward where the enemy were, because he knew that one of them would shoot him. His fear was such that he knew that as soon as he put his head above the top of the dune, he would be dead. He felt sick and he pulled the loose sand round him to give greater cover. While he watched other landing craft arrive and as a shell hit the nearest one he gagged and became violently sick. Weary and tired, he wished that he was a million miles away. From his position he could see some of the men he had recently become acquainted with come tumbling from other boats, some falling into the sea, never to rise again. It was not so much the suddenness of their deaths, but the grotesque manner in which they died which had caused him to be sick. There was nothing heroic about it all, nothing humane, just splat! Then either a scream or a moan and a further life became forfeit. Nothing was as he had imagined it would be. It was vile blood spilling into the sea, bodies, arms, legs, excrement and vomit. Then there were the wounded, trying to swim through it all to the safety of the sand dunes. No one seemed to want to help them as they floundered in the waves. Just occasionally he could see one of the wounded trying to assist another who was also wounded, ignoring the order every man for himself. Itu felt that he had been sucked into hell, a hell which changed men into beasts and he knew that he must overcome his fear and try to become a man. Those men who had managed to get ashore and dig themselves in, were now beginning to return the enemy’s fire and he risked a quick peep over the rim of his position. In front he could distinguish the outline of trucks and heavy guns. He watched the occasional flash coming from the muzzle of the guns, but he could not make out the shapes of the men who were the enemy. Realising that he had to overcome his fear, he slowly pulled his rifle from beneath him, then taking careful aim at the outline of what must surely be an enemy soldier, he squeezed the trigger just as he had been taught!. Nothing happened,  he squeezed again, again nothing. Then he realised that the safety catch was still on, so clicking to the firing position he again took aim and squeezed the trigger. There was a deft click as the firing pin struck into an empty magazine. He had forgotten to load the bloody thing. Quickly pushing five rounds into the magazine he turned to take aim once more only to find that the intended target had disappeared. No further shots were coming in his direction, so he gingerly chanced his head above the parapet. Scanning the jungle edge for enemy troops he cautiously brought his gaze nearer to himself. 

He was amazed to see a shell hole about ten yards away and in it, four of his own section. Heaving himself over the top of the dune, he crawled lizard like and joined them, setting himself alongside Namura, as he did so, he could feel the deadly silence which prevailed.  No one greeted him, there was no friendly banter or chatter, just a heavy glum silence. “What are we going to do now”, asked Itu directing his question at Nikao.

The only answer was a shrug of the shoulders, followed by a whimper, “The last order we got from Gunso Okabe was to stay down, and I am more than willing to obey”  He took a deep breath and his lips quivered as a big sigh escaped and close to tears “Men can get killed around here just by breathing”. “Bullshit” shouted Namura “your just a stinking coward, you know what is expected of you and yet you just lie there shivering “ Namura wiped the back of his hand under his nose “Our job is to attack the enemy, yet you are just prepared to lie there wallowing in self pity, hoping that some how it will all go away and it won’t unless we make it. Nikao was too small to argue with Namura. Country bumpkin or not, he was big and he was also tough. At least the silence had been broken and each one posed the same question, if not by voice then by look  What do we do now?. Namura seemed to have taken charge, “we must go forward and join the others” he exclaimed as he lurched over the top of the shell hole carrying  his rifle and spare box of ammunition in one hand and a further box of ammo in the other.  He seemed to have been the only one to have remembered the instruction about each man carrying a box of ammunition ashore. Itu looked guiltily around hoping to see a box which had been dropped, but the only ones who had got rid of their boxes were those who had been hit as they came ashore and dropped them in the sea, Itu followed Namura out of the shell hole. He bent double even though there was no sound of further action, he felt safer keeping his head down.  Arriving at a position where the sandy beach merged with the grass and foliage, he suddenly realised that they had been walking up a gradient and as they reached the top, ahead he saw hundreds of Japanese soldiers milling around. Some cooking, others digging holes and trenches. A separate section were tending the wounded. Over to the right more troops were eating, drinking and smoking as if on a family picnic. Finally locating the gunso, he informed them that they had lost fifteen of their section during the landing and that he would be assigning a further ten to other duties. Their role as infantry men was now finished.  He did not go into details as to which men had been killed, his attitude being similar to discussing a packet of cigarettes which he had lost. Some of the section set about preparing a meal, but Itu was so exhausted and bewildered by it that he did not even open his pack.  He just lay down and dozed. A half track appeared from nowhere, carrying a number of high ranking officers. As it ground to a halt, one of the officers stood on the front end of the vehicle and proceeded to make a speech, in which he congratulated the men on the success of the landing, and to say that they were witnessing the beginnings of the end of British Imperialism in East Asia. The beach on which they had landed was named Patani, not Singora which had been their intended landing point. He went on to say that the Guards division were at present taking Singora and meeting with stiff resistance. Your task will be to press on to Alor Star, every man will be required to push forward through the night, he ordered. It was eleven thirty on the morning of the 8th day of December 1941. Itu lay back down and allowed his thoughts to travel back to Fujiko.

 

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[All The Madmen] [Chapter One] [Chapter Two] [Chapter Three] [Chapter Four] [Chapter Five] [Chapter Six] [Chapter Seven] [Chapter Eight] [Chapter Nine] [ChapterTen] [Chapter Eleven] [Chapter Twelve] [Chapter Thirteen]

 

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