Posts Tagged ‘Japanese soldiers’

The nature of courage – by conscript H. Ferrar, 94

August 2, 2009

My father, 94, muses by the Cherwell river about the nature of courage. As a very civilian teacher, he was not pre-ordained to deal with such matters. He did not want to join the British Army. He had to. He was called up in World War II and sent to fight the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. Today’s lessons:

– The first time I came into physical danger, I had to pull myself together with a great effort. After that, it comes more easily. You are scared, but everybody else is too, so you are all in it together.

– My moment of weakness was when I was seized with panic about going into holes in the ground.

– I made up for this by bravely crawling out under fire to cut the telephone wires of Japanese attacking British headquarters.

– I thought my last moments had come when I was sent in an elderly plane to reconnoitre Japanese positions in caves overlooking a valley. The pilot was pissing himself with fear. I could hear bullets cracking past and thought sooner or later one would hit me. I returned safely, and the next day the commanding British general ordered a napalm attack and roasted the Japnese alive in their caves. I wish it did not have to be like that.

– The African troops I commanded relished hand-to-hand combat. The Japanese were scared stiff of them. But the Africans themselves were afraid of mortars raining down from the sky. On several occasions, I found myself alone in the line. They had  run away.

– What do I make of all this? War is wrong. Never again.

My father never thought  his exploits in Burma worthwhile. As a post-war intelligence officer, he questioned Burmese political leaders about their aspirations for the future. He received one surly answer: you British must go.

My father did his bit. He did not choose to make war. But when he had to, he stood up and met the challenge. He  discouraged me as a little boy from considering him as a hero. For Britain to make war in a place like Burma served little useful purpose. It did not add up.

Is Afghanistan much different?

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