In Burma, the British Fourteenth Army had got across the Irrawaddy and secured the bridgehead on the other side. They were now preparing for an advance south, which would take them to Meiktila and Mandalay.
George Macdonald Fraser was a young soldier who had just joined his platoon of infantry. The Border Regiment were drawn from men living on the borders between England and Scotland, many from Cumbria, with its distinct dialect. They were veterans of the Battle of Imphal and he was very much the junior man on the platoon, with little experience to compare with theirs.
While out on a 20 man patrol it was his privilege to carry a large tin of fruit, which would be shared amongst them that evening. Losing his footing he dropped the tin down a 15 foot mud ravine – a nullah – and of course he felt compelled to retrieve it.
Down in the nullah he discovered three bunkers. Feeling embarrassed to call his fellow soldiers to help him investigate some deserted bunkers, he discovered that the first and the third were definitely empty:
I came out of that bunker feeling pretty heroic, and was retrieving my fruit tin when it occurred to me that I ought to go into the second one, too, just to make a job of it.
And I was moving towards it when I heard a faint, distant whistle from over the top of the bank — little Nixon, for certain, wondering where his wandering boy had got to. I ran up the nullah, and found a crack in its side only about twenty yards farther on. I scrambled up, heaving the tin ahead of me, clawing my way over the lip to find Nick standing about ten yards off, and Sergeant Hutton hastening towards me with blood in his eye.
“Where the hell ’ave you been?” he blared. “Wanderin’ aboot like a bloody lost soul, what d’ye think yer on?”
“There were bunkers,” I began, but before I could get out another word Nick had shouted “Doon, Jock!” and whipped up his rifle.
How I managed it I have no idea, but I know my feet left the ground and I hit the deck facing back the way I had come. Whatever Nick had seen was in that direction, and I wanted to get a good look at it — I suppose it was instinct and training combined, for I was scrabbling my rifle forward as I fell and turned together. And I can see him now, and he doesn’t improve with age.
Five yards away, not far from where the bunkers must have been, a Jap was looking towards us. Half his naked torso was visible over the lip of the bank — how the hell he had climbed up there, God knows — and he was in the act of raising a large dark object, about a foot across, holding it above his head. I had a glimpse of a contorted yellow face before Nick’s rifle cracked behind me, three quick shots, and I’d got off one of my own when there was a deafening explosion and I was blinded by an enormous flash as the edge of the nullah dissolved in a cloud of dust and smoke.
I rolled away, deafened, and then debris came raining down — earth and stones and bits of Jap, and when I could see again there was a great yawning bite out of the lip of the nullah, and the smoke and dust was clearing above it.
“Git doon!” snapped Hutton, as I started to rise. Suddenly, as if by magic, the section were there behind me, on the deck or kneeling, every rifle covering the lip, and Hutton walked forward and looked into the nullah.
“Fook me,” he said. “Land mine. Fook me. Y’awreet, JocK?” I said I was.
“Wheer th’ell did ’e coom frae? The booger!”
I told him, no doubt incoherently, about the bunkers: that I’d checked two and been on the way to the third when Nick had whistled. “It looked empty,” I said.
“Well, it bloody well wasn’t, was it?” he shouted, and I realised he was not only angry, but shaken. “Duke, giddoon theer an’ ’ev a dekko! Rest o’ you, git back in extended line — move!”
Nick was recharging his magazine. I realised that I was trembling. “Land mine?” I said. “Did you hit it?”
“Nivver,” said he. “Ah hit him, though. Naw, he would have it wired. Suicide squad, waitin’ to blaw oop anyone that cam’ near ’im.” He grinned at me. “Might ha’ bin thee, jock boy. Ye shoulda give us a shout, man.”
I explained why I hadn’t, and he shook his head. “Nivver ga in on yer own, son. That’s ’ow ye finish up dyin’ Tojo’s way. Ye wanna die yer own fookin’ way.”
“Git fell in, you two!” It was Hutton again. “Standin’ aboot natterin’ wid yer thumbs in yer bums an’ yer minds in neutral! Awreet, Duke? Ad-vance! Coom on, it’ll be bloody dark in a minute!”
There is a memorable end to this account of one of his first infantry patrols but you will have to read George MacDonald Fraser: Quartered Safe Out Here to discover more. As vivid and entertaining as any of his Flashman novels, this is the work of a born story teller.