Tag Archives: Royal Berkshire regiment

The graves registration unit . . . (episode 96)

Veteran soldier (war in Burma, 1943)

Veteran soldier (war in Burma, 1943)

1A The Hole
Hope End Street
CARPOOL C87 4AZ

July 24 2000

Hello Auntie

I have just been over – after quite some hiatus – to see Granddad and Grandma, who are resident on a housing estate on the outskirts of Carpool.

The hiatus occurred subsequent to a conversation that I had with Granddad on the subject of immigration. Granddad is dead set against it and wants to ‘send them all back.’ And I, as you know, have a rather all-embracing attitude towards the nation’s newcomers.

So I said to Granddad – some moons ago now – ‘Well Granddad. You are one quarter Belgian aren’t you? When are you going back?’

Granddad, of course, went rather puce about the chops and retorted, ‘I FOUGHT IN THE WAR.’

The story he then related was rather an interesting one. He had apparently served in the Royal Berkshire regiment and, at the age of 18, had been sent to Burma, where he formed part of the Graves Registration Unit. The job of the Graves Registration Unit was apparently to depart up river – the Irrawaddy and tributaries – with the purpose of enquiring about the location of any British dead languishing in the vicinity of hill villages. Once they had ascertained the location of dead bodies, their job was then to mark the position of those bodies – with white crosses – before returning down river to Rangoon. A separate unit then went to collect the bodies for burial in military cemeteries.

Granddad ably described the suffocating heat and humidity in the Burmese jungle and the soldiers’ endeavours to sleep on simple charpoys fitted with mosquito netting. He also rendered up a rather rapt description of the virtually-naked Burmese women bathing under water falls in the Chindwin hills. ‘Ah. Those were probably the days,’ he said.

I didn’t actually know he’d done all that Auntie. Maybe he thought I was too young to cope with the graphic description of the stench from the rotting corpses he also spoke about.

On this visit to Granddad (and Grandma) however, things were a lot more pacific. We studiously avoided all mention of immigration and Granddad treated me to a tour of his garden shed instead. This environment was a virtual Aladdin’s cave of lathes and woodworking tools, and I have enclosed a couple of snapshots of them:

GRANDDAD2016 051

Granddad is somebody – as you can tell – who has a real shed with a collection of tools going back for nearly a century. But although his lathe is still standing proudly, in one corner, I don’t think it works now. Granddad says that they don’t make the narrow drive belts any more and the ends of his, I notice, are connected together by pieces of wire.

WALLYANDDAD2016 052

Anyway. I’d actually rattled over there (on the bus) in the hopes of securing some funds for tailored clothing to wear about the hospital. (It had occurred to me that I might better secure the romantic attentions of Thule, if I was able to promenade up and down the corridors in natty bow ties and fine woolen suits.) Sadly, however, neither Granddad – nor Grandma who, sadly, is camera shy – mentioned funds, and I had to make do with a plate of fish and chips instead!

Your loving nephew

Ralph

P.S. How about you Auntie? I couldn’t touch you for a tenner could I?

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