EARLY MEMORIES: A smorgasbord of characters (2)

On board a small ship travelling from Singapore to Fremantle, my second-class fellow-passengers included ex-servicemen from 3 nations. The oldest was an Australian, one of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces sent to Japan after its surrender. He had remained in Japan after the withdrawal of these Forces because he had married a Japanese woman. As he was not allowed to take his wife back with him, he stayed – working on the family farm.

One of his stories was how the locals came to admire his chest of greying hairs when he worked shirt-less. He was a big man. Since a number of Japanese wives had settled successfully in Australia (indeed, reportedly they had been readily accepted), the Aussie was returning home to plead his case. We wished him success.

He confirmed to me what I had read earlier; that some Aussie troops, on arrival in Japan with the BCOF, had raped women and otherwise attacked other civilians. They, reportedly, saw themselves as retaliating for the deaths in battle of their relatives!

Two of my fellow-passengers were ex-National Servicemen from France. They had fought in the war of independence in Algeria; and had not liked being shot at. They were of my age, and looking forward to a peaceful life (as I was) in Australia. They were terribly jealous of the Englishman, also of comparable vintage; and were not amused at his claim that Malay women are more attractive than white women.

The Englishman, also an ex-National Serviceman, had been based in Malaya. He had not fought anyone, in spite of the attrition provided by communist Chinese terrorists. Subsequently, it was (General?) Templar who had driven these communists out of Malaya (to Thailand?).

What irked the Frenchmen was that the Englishman had been allowed to spend each night with his Malay girl friend in the adjacent kampong; provided he hopped back over the fence in time in the morning. Naturally, he left the Malay girl behind, then claimed that he missed her. However, by the time we reached Fremantle, he was changing his mind about white women. He may have been just a randy youth.

What I saw of the British troops guarding the train that my Aussie wife and I were on, going north from Singapore, was not encouraging. By about 10 pm, some of the soldiers were clearly drunk, and staggering about. That was in spite of the reality that, a week or so before, the communists had blown up the main track. While our train was apparently protected by some sort of vehicle preceding it, we wondered what would happen were the communists to shoot at the train after it had been stopped.

It was time for the British to protect their own troops by sending them home. They were notable characters in their own right.

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