Making it Back

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Bert had to get back to his base

Submitted: June 12, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 12, 2019



Bert wasn’t in a hurry to get his trailer back, so it was a week after Henry’s missus was home with their infant son that he took it back. Bert already knew that the new baby was a boy, which was why he offered Henry a congratulatory drink, producing a bottle of the amber stuff and two over-sized glasses. Henry looked up at the sun, and found it still well above the yardarm, but he accepted the glass anyway, in the spirit as it was offered.

‘You were going to tell me how you got back from that Japanese train ride.’ Henry suggested.

Bert looked at Henry blankly. ‘I see Phil’s grazing the long mile again.’ He said deliberately changing the subject. ‘Some bugger’s going to have an accident up there one of these days.’

‘Yeah they jump out from the cocksfoot when you’re right upon them!’ Henry agreed. ‘That’s Perendales for you!’ Indeed, Perendale sheep were inclined to poke, and yes, Phil was a bugger for turning his sheep out onto the road when the feed in his paddock was getting short. The pair kept on about Phil and the rest of the Bennett clan until Bert had downed a couple of glasses.

‘Were wuz I?’ Henry didn’t respond because he knew Bert knew. ‘I wuz roused by a big fella kicking the sole of my boot. He held out a wad of US dough for me to take an’ I supposed it was my handout for the officers’ whiskey. He only spoke a couple of words, an’ I thought at the time he wuz Russian, but I don’t really know. They were in civvies anyway. The engine driver had gone off somewhere with his mate an’ the truck with the last of the whiskey on board took off in a cloud of dust.’

‘Why’d they give you the money?’ Henry asked. ‘You were fast asleep, they could’ve just up and gone.’

‘I’ve asked myself a hundred times,’ Bert agreed, ‘but I haven’t the foggiest idea! We were paid in occupation currency an’ I wuzn’t too keen on being caught with US dough in my pocket. Part of our job wuz to stamp out the black market. It wuz rife y’know, because everything wuz short, there wuz no food ’cos their whole economy had gone to the pack what with their war effort.’

‘What did you do with it then?’ Henry queried.

‘I thought of giving it to some of the starving kids, but I reckoned it’d be taken off them quick an’ lively, or the kids might be killed for it. So I thought I might bribe an engine driver to take me back to Yamaguchi. There was a water tower, an’ I thought a train from the north would stop to take on water some time or other, an’ sure enough four or five hours later, one did. They stopped an’ I decided, bugger bribing them, I’d wave my rifle at them instead and try to look important. It was getting dark so the fella turning the water on, didn’t see me coming, when I poked my rifle in his ear, he nearly shit! I nodded towards the cab of the engine, so he called to the driver who peered over the other side of the engine. In the gloom, I made out three Aussie fellas appearing in the cab, they must have been able to see me too ’cos they told me to climb up.’

‘That was lucky!’ Henry mumbled.

‘Oh they were drunk! They’d got down off the engine to take a leak.’ Bert explained. ‘They were ok, it turned out that two of them were supposed to be guarding the trainload of empty wagons. They picked the other fella up from wherever they came from because he had a few bottles of some local brew…’

‘Saki?’ Henry guessed.

‘Nah, something else, can’t remember.’

‘How’d they react to you?’ Henry asked.

‘For a start they were a bit suspicious,’ Bert replied, ‘I didn’t let on what I’d been doing because I wuz still worried about the US money. But they weren’t much different to Kiwis really, they were just there ’cos they had to be, so we yakked all the way back to Yamaguchi.’

‘What was it like there after the A-bomb?’ Henry asked.

‘Well the A-bomb didn’t effect Yamaguchi, an’ because there weren’t any military targets, the area wasn’t bombed either. It was green and I suppose most people were just poor, almost subsistence farmers, but they must have given, or had to give, everything they had for the war effort. Everyone seemed to starving and poor. Our job wuz to try and get them on their feet again.’

‘Oh I thought you were collecting up all the ex-military stuff.’ Said Henry.

‘Yeah we were,’ Bert confirmed, ‘but there wuz hardly any, only some of the repatriated soldiers had a pistol or a bayonet or something. We were supposed to help them get back into the swing of things and work.’

‘What happened when you got back?’ Henry asked.

Bert gave one of his breathless laughs, ‘I went back to my bunk and just mucked around with some mates for a couple of days and then thought I’d better report to the sergeant. He told me that the C.O. wuz looking for me, so we went to his office. After saluting and all the ‘how’s yer father’ stuff, he told me that the whiskey I wuz guardin’ hadn’t turned up, so he wanted an explanation. You know me, I generally say it how it is, so I told him it wuz stolen from under my nose, and that the thieves paid me a share. And I handed over the money. Just then, there wuz a kerfuffle outside ’cos two Yankee military cops were trying to get in to see the C.O. We didn’t much like the Yankee military police and anyway the guy on the door couldn’t let them in, ’cos the boss wuz dealing with me! Must have pissed the cops off, the way they were yelling! Yanks make a power of noise!  Obviously they wanted me! The C.O. ordered the sergeant to put on a show of marching me back to my quarters, then called the policemen in. All I know about what happened next, wuz from the guy on the C.O’s door, he wuz an Otago man and I happened to have the billet next to him once we were on the ship heading home. The C.O. apparently told the cops that they were out of their jurisdiction and to piss off. Anyway, I never heard any more about the episode.’

Bert’s bum was getting stiff sitting on the trailer, but he stayed seated until he’d rolled the tobacco for his pipe, he got up to light it. Henry stretched too, looked at his watch, ready to head home. They said their goodbyes. Neither of them spoke about J Force again.


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