Another favourite passage: The Account of ‘Captain Grief’ IV

And after that stunning query, I imagine you will all be waiting waiting avidly to know what happened next. Well, your prayers have been answered. Read on……

~~~~ Just when I’d started believing he was all there. I glanced at Jones, but he was gazing stolidly at the wall.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” I said, and Grief repeated the question, with a hint of suspicion.

“I’m afraid I don’t know, sir.”

“You – don’t – know?” He seemed stunned. “Well,” he said severely, “you’ll have to find out by tomorrow, you know! Oh, yes! Damnit all, d’you think you can just walk in here off the street, without proper classification or even a note from Miss Tempest the games mistress? We have to know who we’re dealing with, for heaven’s sake! You find out, jildi, or there’ll be fire and sword along Banana Ridge, I can tell you! Understand? Right, fall out!”

He sat down abruptly, seized a map, gave me a dirty look, peered at the map intently, and gave a violent start: “”Here be dragons’, by God! But stay- can it be a minute shred of mosquito dung? Let us read on…”

When we were safely outside I turned helplessly to Jones: “What are you – a lurkin’ firkin or a peepin’ gremlin?” He gave me a look.

“Me? I am a tricksy pixie. An’ that’s not all, boyo. Soon’s he found out I was Welsh he wanted me to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. I told ‘im I cant sing a note, and ‘e says: ‘You’re no more Welsh than I am. You’re prob’ly a bloody spy. Spell Llandudno, or it’ll be the worse for you!’ Straight up, its what ‘e said. Oh, aye, some mothers do ‘ave them.”

“But… it’s just an act – isn’t it? I mean, for a minute he sounded perfectly normal. or is he really cocoa?”

“Don’t look at me, boy,” said Jones wearily. “Oh, ‘e’s all right, like…. well ‘e’s daft as a badger, but ‘e knows what ‘e’s doing – most o’ the time. Between you an’ me, I reckon ‘e’s due for leave, know what I mean? Aye, about two years’ leave. Come on, an’ we’ll get you settled.”

He had a little hut of his own, and I dumped my gear while he brewed up and got the bully and biscuits and put me in the picture. The unit, which was only of platoon strength, was composed entirely of Shan scouts, friendly hillmen from beyond the Salween; it was one of those little temporary groups which spring up on the fringes of most armies in the field and fade away when no longer needed. This one, Jones believed, was Grief’s personal creation.

“‘E’s an I-man, see – an Intelligence wallah – well, you can tell from ‘is patter, can’t you but ‘e was with the Bombay Sappers an’ Miners, accordin’ to what ‘e told me-“.

“I’m not surprised. You’re not an Engineer or an I-man, are you?”

“No bloody fears, I’m Signals, me. But I speak Burmese, see, an’ Grief doesn’t. Boy, you should try translatin’ ‘is sort of chat to a bunch o’ Shans! Yeah, I been out yere since ’37. Puttin’ up telegraph lines for the bleedin’ elephants to pull down. Aye, well, roll on demob!”

“But what d’you do – the unit, I mean?”

“Watchin’ the river. layin’ ambushes, at night, mostly, ‘cos that’s when Jap tries to slip past. ‘E ‘ad two armies up yonder, you know, 15th  and 33rd -“

“I’m aware.”

“Oh, at Meiktila, was you?” An’ Pyawbwe? Well, you seen ’em for yourself, then. They been swarmin’ down this way lately, keepin’ as far east and they can, see, but plenty of ’em uses the river, too, an’ we’ve ‘ad three or four duffies, an’ shot up their boats an’ rafts. A lot of ’em got by, mind you -“

“So that’s why he was on about boats! God, he must be harpic – what does he think a Piat can do against open boats that grenade launchers and two-inch mortars can’t?”

“Oh, we got mortars an’ launchers, but I s’pose ‘e figures a Piat would be more accurate, bein’ a tank-buster …. look, boyo, if ‘e e’eard somebody ‘ad invented a gun for firin’ Rugby balls under water, ‘e ‘d want it. An’ ‘e’d find a use for it, an’ all. You wait an’ see.”

The demonstration firing of the Piat took place on a…….

To be continued…….

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