Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A rumble in the jungle...

I have been humbled - well and truly humbled.

On Saturday I abandoned The Boy and the children and headed north for a rare night on the tiles. I put my nicest dress on and a pair of heels and, along with my lovely sister Stick, her husband and my dad, went to dinner with a bunch of nonagenarians and got to bed after midnight. How's that!

Chindit column, Operation Longcloth.jpg
A Chindit column crossing a river in Burma -
full of leeches and other nasties
The event in question was the annual reunion of The Chindits. For those of you who don't know, and that's probably most, The Chindits were an allied special force trained to work deep behind enemy lines in the Japanese-held jungles of Burma during the war. My grandad was one of these. They marched ridiculous distances through impossible terrain, often debilitated by malaria or dysentery and suffered from an extremely high casualty rate. I remember being cornered by Grandad one Christmas Day when I was about 14 and being told stories of being left for dead  in the jungle when his colleagues thought he couldn't carry on. He spent days on his own and eventually caught up with another column having seen unspeakable brutality on the part of the Japanese. As exciting as it seemed when I was a teenager, I didn't appreciate what he'd been through until Saturday night when I saw him with his ex-comrades and it almost brought tears to my eyes.

Clearly 90 is the new 40. Or 30 if you're younger than me and still under the impression that it all goes downhill from there on. I'd like to reassure you it doesn't. There were 26 of the original Chindits there, the oldest being 97, the youngest a sprightly 10 years younger. Grandad is 95 so at some point in the not too distant future he may inherit the crown of the eldest. They all chatted and enjoyed their wine and beer. The only difference between a nonagenarian get-together and one for the slightly more physically adept was that they all wore hearing aides. The conversations in the pre-dinner meet up in the bar went something like this:

Chindit 1; "Hello there"
Chindit 2: "Ey?"
Chindit 1; "I said Hello"
Chindit 2: "Very well thank you"
Chindit 1 "Busy, don't you think?"
Chindit 2 "Would I like a drink?"
Chindit 1 "No, I said it's busy don't you think?"
Chindit 2 "Half a bitter please"
Chindit 1 "Pardon?"
Chindit 2 "Ey?"

And so it went on......

Every year there are fewer and fewer of the original soldiers at these events until eventually they'll have all dwindled out and then they'll be forgotten which is incredibly sad. And I won't have any amazing stories of dering-do to tell my grand-children on a drizzly Christmas Day in 2052 when all they want to do is go and meet their mates on a street corner. Apart from that I used to try and manage 2 alcohol free days in a week and occasionally ran to the organic farm and back. Or that when Waitrose opened in Warminster I celebrated in their cafe with an extra shot in my Americano and a bacon roll.

But we had a great night and have signed up for next year. We managed to get Grandad home safely, handsomely bedecked in medals on the special Chindit blazer Nan had made for him in 1950. The only thing he complained about when he got home, apart from his teeth, was the fact that the organisers used to arrange a dinner dance and now there's no dancing. A sign of the times I guess.

So, something else new ticked off. I'm unlikely to get left in the jungle because that would involve setting foot in one in the first place but I'm going to join "Friends of the Chindits" and try to keep their name alive after they're gone.

And now, off for a run to the organic farm and back!

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