In the depths of the Burmese jungle the Chindit’s 111 Brigade still hung on at the Blackpool strongpoint. 2000 men were isolated and under attack by a strong Japanese Force, well equipped with Anti-Aircraft guns that made re-supply from the air dangerous, if not impossible. The acting Brigadier, John Masters, had sent a Most Immediate message requesting permission to withdraw. He had still not received a reply.
Now Masters reached a decision. They would withdraw. The worst that could happen was that he would face a Court Martial for disobeying orders.
Yet this was not the last difficult decision that Masters faced, he had to face up to what to do with men who were too badly wounded to be moved. There must have been other Allied commanders who faced the same problem. Masters was rare in being a man who was subsequently prepared to write about it, in detail:
I went to the mule lines and saw Maggy quietly eating bamboo, a red gash in her belly and her entrails hanging out of it. She seemed to be in no pain and I hugged her neck, then Briggs shot her for me.
Henning reported 90 Column in position astride the water point. I looked through my binoculars at the westward ridge, which the Japanese had occupied during the ﬁrst battles. If they held it now we would have a bad time, as it dominated the Namkwin for at least a mile. Mortaring from it we would have to grit our teeth and bear as we trudged past. No, I could cover it with machine guns, for a time at least. I sent a man back with a message to Alec Harper, to be sure to put strong protection on that ﬂank of his layback.
The men passed and passed, walking, limping, hopping, supporting others, carrying them. Tim Brennan reported that he thought he could break contact when I ordered. The Japanese were not pressing their advantage, and at the moment seemed to be under shell ﬁre from their own artillery.
A doctor spoke to me – ‘Will you come with me, sir?’ I followed’ him down the path. It was clear of moving men. The whole block was clear, except for a part of 26 Column.
A little way down the path we came to forty or ﬁfty ragged men, many slightly wounded, who had carried stretchers and improvised blanket litters from the Main Dressing Station as far as this. Here they had set down their burdens, and now waited, huddled in the streaming bamboo, above and below the path. I noticed at once that none of them looked at me as I stopped among them with the doctor.
The stretchers lay in the path itself, and in each stretcher lay a soldier of 111 Brigade.
The ﬁrst man was quite naked and a shell had removed the entire contents of his stomach. Between his chest and pelvis there was a bloody hollow, behind it his spine. Another had no legs and no hips, his trunk ending just below the waist. A third had no left arm, shoulder, or breast, all torn away in one piece. A fourth had no face and whitish liquid was trickling out of his head into the mud. A ﬁfth seemed to have been torn in pieces by a mad giant, and his lips bubbled gently. Nineteen men lay there. A few conscious. At least, their eyes moved, but without light in them.
The doctor said, ‘l’ve got another thirty on ahead, who can be saved, if we can carry them.’ The rain clattered so loud on the bamboo that I could hardly hear what he said. ‘These men have no chance. They’re full of morphia. Most of them have bullet and splinter wounds beside what you can see. Not one chance at all, sir, I give you my word of honour. Look, this man’s died already, and that one. None can last another two hours, at the outside.’
Very well. I have two thousand lives in my hand, besides these. One small mistake, one little moment of hesitation and I will kill ﬁve times these nineteen.
I said aloud, ‘Very well. I don’t want them to see any Japanese.’
I was trying to smile down into the ﬂat white face below me, that had no belly, but there was no sign of recognition, or hearing, or feeling. Shells and bombs burst on the slope above and bullets clattered and whined overhead.
‘Do you think I want to do it?’ the doctor cried in helpless anger. ‘We’ve been ﬁghting to save that man for twenty-four hours and then just now, in the M.D.S. [Main Dressing Station], he was hit in the same place.’
His voice changed. ‘We can’t spare any more morphia.’ ‘Give it to those whose eyes are open,’ I said. ‘Get the stretcher bearers on at once. Five minutes.’
He nodded and I went back up to the ridge, for the last time. One by one, carbine shots exploded curtly behind me. I put my hands to my ears but nothing could shut out the sound.