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Tales of the Superpower Empire: Episode 01



What? Speak up, son. Mi hearing’s not war it was. What? Oh? Aye, why not? Does you a power of good at my age, at any age, hah. Ah…that’s berra. Can barely taste th’ chlorine and chuff they put in t’watter these days. That’s a rum old lot: mi old dad used to say they used it to gas t’Jerries in t’first one. An’ now they stick it in our watter. You can’t mek it up.

What? Aye, our Andrew. Come here, what’s tha rantin’ and ravin’ abaht? There’s no need to go raising thi voice like that when there’s kids in t’house. Tha’s been at t’devil’s brew again, eh? Well, nowt wrong with a bit of what tha fancies. But there’s no call for – what was that? WHAT?

You – wash yer mouth out, sonny! I won’t have that kind of language in t’house. And I won’t – have – anyone – have a go at t’Chinese, either. What? Oh, that gobsmacked yer, did it? Sure yer old uncle would back yer up, eh? All oldtimers are bloody what does tha call it, racist, eh? Tha’s been at t’idiot’s lantern too much. As far as t’Beeb are concerned, onyone alive afore t’Yanks landed on t’bloody moon is a chuffin’ caveman, eh? No, you’ll never get ony of that from I. Not after what happened, in t’last war.

Oh, don’t give me that. If tha truly wants to understand, then tha’ll listen to tha elders like it says in t’Scriptures, fer a change. What? Speak up, our Sheila. Ah – no, I don’t normally talk abaht it, like. Nor would thee, if tha’d been there. But tha has to understand. Listen, then, an’ I’ll tell thi all why I’ll never let anyone diss t’Chinese under mi roof.

It were end of forty-one, in t’middle of t’last war. And reight about then, things looked pretty grim for t’free world, as they say. ’Itler an’ his cronies ’ad ovverrun all o’ Europe and it looked lahk they were gonna take Moscow an’ all. And after Moscow it an’t such a long way to t’Yakutian border, and then ’e really would have all that – what was it those Nazzies called it? Livingroom? Heh, they’d have saved everyone a load of trouble if they’d just gone ter that Anji place, eh? All furnishings on half price this weekend as well, they tell mi. Not that that had been invented yet, tha knows. Shut up, our Andrew. You’ll have yer chance to speak at t’end.

And, any road, there were precious little us could do abaht it. Oh, they may have played up Dunkirk, a load then and a load more now, but in t’end it were still a retreat. I joined up during t’Battle o’ Britain, when it looked like t’Nazzies were gonna come ovver t’Channel at any moment. They say it were impossible, now. Easy wi’ ’indsight, eh? At t’time, it seemed all too possible, tha knows. I were almost relieved when they sent me out east instead, ’bout a month afore Pearl Harbour.

Some bloke told mi once that it were because t’Japs ’ad grabbed French Indochina, as was, an’ o’ course pantywaist Pétain in’ Vicky would bend over backwards for onything ’Itler wanted, so there were no resistance. An’ suddenly t’Japs were all ovver t’papers. Mi old dad couldn’t believe it, tha knows: ’is brother had fought alongside t’little buggers in t’Pacific in t’first lot. ’E used to say that they’d shoot t’white men on their own side unless they wore women’s togs though. That should have been suspect in t’first place, in my oh-pinion. On t’other hand he always were a drinker, my old uncle. Aye, our Andrew, I think ’is been reincarnated in you, as they say in t’Hindoostan. Pity, but maybe tha’ll be promoted to cow next time round, eh?

But I’m gettin’ sidetracked. Any road, ovver t’seas went our regiment, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry tha knows, KOYLIs. Aye, and we were more than a bit coily ourselves, as we used to say. I never said it were a good joke. But we were all lads from t’pit, all worked dahn there wi’ blasting and dust and rockfalls burying mates and chuff, and whatever war were gonna be like, surely couldn’t be worse than that. We were wrong, o’course. I should have listened to my dad, ’e were twice t’pitman I were, but ’e maintained that there were nowt worse than day three at t’Somme. Tha wants to listen to tha elders, our Andrew, an’ maybe tha’ll avoid bein’ shot at by t’Japs. Hah! If t’Yanks and t’Chinese even trust ’em wi’ one gun between t’lot of ’em these days…

We all assumed we were bein’ sent to Australia, but I didn’t see Dahn Under for a lot longer, an’ when I did, I wa’n’t in a position to appreciate it that knows. Any road, t’troopship – and it were a horrible old converted cruise liner, t’Princess Charlotte, with all t’comforts ripped aht an’ a bunch of new and exciting discomforts fitted – t’troopship came through t’canal at Suez, rounded India and we first stopped at Sumatra, in t’Dutch East Indies, as was.

It were crossed wires, turned aht, and we were soon sent on to Singapore – but we ’ad a couple of days leave while we were there. Might as well not have bothered. That place were a jungle hellhole and half of t’natives seemed to be Jap sympathisers. Maybe because t’Japs were allied with t’Jerries and they’d ovverrun Holland back in Europe, I dunno. I daresay t’natives would have changed their tune if they’d ever actually seen what Jap occupation were like. But they didn’t, did they? Lucky for them, and for us, too. I’d have hated to try and fight t’Japs in that lot. Malaya were quite bad enough, and at least they were more or less loyal to t’Empire.

Any road, we got to Singapore. Fantastic little place, tha knows. Oh, ah know it’s covered in sky bloody scrapers now, capital of new Malaya. Yes, our Andrew, and full of t’Chinese. We were damned lucky it were full of t’Chinese. Otherwise Emperor Kang meight not have been so eager to help us defend t’place. What? Oh, tha knows what I mean. We all called ’im Emperor Kang then, and why not? Well, I tells a lie – at t’start we just called ’im Kang. But by t’end of that lot, most of us had decided t’man deserved a little respect.

But Singapore then were a funny old place, fine old British hotels and houses alongside Chinese architecture, that’s afore you saw t’stuff everywhere of course. No Anji onywhere then, eh? As I were saying. And there were Indians there as well: not come from India with t’Empire, but there long afore then. I were quite surprised at that. O’ course, it were afore there were all them pictures and progs on t’idiot’s lantern from t’East abaht their voyages of discovery. As far as we were concerned back then it were just Columbus, Magellan and what’s his name, John Cabinet, tha knows what I mean. Mi mind’s still on bloody Anji, hah. But there were no pictures about Jeng Hee and his lot back then.

We were only there for a week or so before t’whole caboodle went up. Tha knows tha history, or tha should, despite t’Tories messing abaht with t’schools an’ all those bloody Yank pictures that give them credit for everything back to chuffing Trafalgar. Aye, well, not even Nelson could have done much about what happened to Pearl Harbour. I met a Yank soldier just after t’war who were there at t’time. You know how they exaggerate, but he said t’sky were filled with Jap planes, Zeroes as they used to call ’em, though I know they ’ad another name. Nippy little things, pardon my pun, could outrun onything in t’world and outturn onything except a Spit. T’Yanks had no chance with their bloody big hulking things, even if they could take more of a pounding. They certainly needed to, ’cause they allus did. I only saw Yank planes in action against t’Japs once, and it wa’n’t pretty…but any road.

T’Japs put most of t’Yank fleet on t’seabed and then they went for us. Seemed madness at t’time, heh, probably was. They were already at war with China, and I doubt they could have ever won that even if they hadn’t got themselves another umpteen enemies in forty-one. Even if it had still been a shambles, like it was in my dad’s time afore t’first lot, afore Emperor Kang, t’first one, came along – even then, I bet t’Japs would never have won it. There are just too many of them. What? Aye, well, our Andrew, it seemed like a blessing to us, and you’ll never convince me otherwise. Half of you wouldn’t be ’ere without t’Chinese, ’cause nor would I.

So aye. T’Japs attacked us and t’Yanks. Not Yakutia as half of t’cleverclogses in t’regiment were convinced. Outflank t’Chinese and link up with t’Nazzies in Russia, they said. Well, that’s all fine and good, but Yakutia didn’t have oil, or at least we didn’t know it had at t’time. And t’Dutch East Indies, with no Holland left to fight for ’em, had tons of oil and rubber and stuff. They tell me that’s what it all came down to, afterwards. Like I told thee, t’Japs were fighting a losing war in China, and their what do you call it, war machine, was running on empty. So they wanted t’Dutch East Indies for themselves. And thank Christ they never got them, or t’war meight have dragged on longer than it did. And we’d have had to fight them there too, and as I said, it would have been murder.

Any road, t’Japs attacked Malaya straight after Pearl Harbour. And it were a shambles – us, I mean, not them. Even after all t’improvements they made ’cause of using them in China for t’last few years, Jap tanks were crap. But ours were bloody nonexistent. High Command decided it were impossible to use tanks in t’jungles of Malaya. Me, I reckon we must have inherited t’same High Command that told t’Frenchies that it were impossible for t’Jerries to send tanks through t’Ardennes. About as true either way, not very. Made you want to either weep with frustration or, better, shoot someone: my cousin Jim told me afterwards that our tanks in North Africa couldn’t allus stand up to t’Jerry cans, as they called ’em, hah. But our tanks would have made mincemeat of t’Japs’ efforts. And we had none.

Our regiment, fortunately for us, were deployed near t’rear. As it turned out, most of Malaya fell very rapidly like, and a lot of our troops were taken prisoner. And you don’t want to know how t’Japs treated prisoners. White or Chinese, it were all t’same to them: foreign devils. I had a mate in one of t’other regiments, fine cricketer even if he were from wrong side of t’Pennines: he got captured and he were t’only one in his company who survived those camps. ’E managed to hold on by getting in with a group of Chinese t’Japs had taken prisoner, and some of ’em lasted until t’end. They were lucky they weren’t shot on sight – I heard that happened a lot, especially to t’Chinese. Almost worse than t’Nazzies in some ways: they just did it to Jews and that, but t’Japs did it to onyone who wasn’t a Jap.

But there were one thing that meant it wa’n’t a complete disaster back at base. I reckon General Percival were about to have a breakdown at one point. Poor bloke: it were his first command and it were nearly a disaster. T’parts that ’e were in charge of were a disaster. But no-one ever splits hairs like that, fortunate for him.

No, it ’appened at t’very start of t’invasion, on tenth of December, though we didn’t find out for another few days – I didn’t, I mean, I reckon Percy found out straight away, o’course – t’Japs sent planes from land, I think, against our ships which were out trying to sink their convoys. Bloody load of Jap planes there was – I had another mate on t’ Prince of Wales and I saw t’ciné film afterwards as well. And we all knew what t’Jap torpedo bombers could do after Pearl Harbour. Our backs up were against t’wall. Admiral Philips were in command, and ’e wa’n’t bad, but ’e didn’t have much to shoot back with. There were supposed to be an aeroplane carrier there, Indomitable, but she ran aground or something on t’way to Singapore and didn’t get there until after this fight. I tell thi, we could have been sunk there, literally, hah. And what would that have said to t’world? What’s Britannia if she don’t rule t’waves? I shudder to think.

But it didn’t happen like that, thank Christ. No; because t’Chinese, yes, t’bloody Chinese that ye’re always moaning abaht for taking our jobs, our Andrew, they bloody well took t’jobs of our pilots stuck back with t’Indomitable. They were launched from land as well. Motley assortment – I saw some of ’em later with my own eyes. Most of ’em were copies of French planes, a few years old. In a fair fight I don’t know if they’d have beat t’Japs, but they had no intentions of fighting fair, eh. They came down out o’ sun onto t’Jap force as it were closing on our ships – and o’ course t’Japs didn’t have radar, I found out later – and threw ’em all into confusion. That were worth more than those they actually took out. Whole formation thrown into disarray. Oh, a few Jap bombers managed to chuck torpedoes at our ships. Repulse had serious engine damage, I recall. But nowt were sunk, and in t’end, t’Japs retreated. Tom Philips, he brought t’fleet back to Singapore for repairs, and in t’end, that made it.

No, t’Japs took t’rest of Malaya in a month or so, and without tanks there were nowt we could do to stop ’em. And Singapore itself were all aimed at stopping an attack from south, from t’sea. Didn’t have many defences for stopping an invasion over land from Malaya, from t’north. But that was when things started to change, tha knows. T’damaged fleet were back in port, and with them they brought their big guns o’course. Repulse, what with her engines, stayed there for months, and Prince of Wales were there for a while as well. Aye, we might not have had much on t’island itself, but t’battleship guns certainly helped tear up t’Jap infantry, and not much they could do abaht it, either. We had plenty of our own planes in Singapore defending it and t’ships against air attack, and t’Jap fleet were mostly off fightin’ t’Yanks in a bunch of Godforsaken Pacific islands, or tryin’ to take t’East Indies after all. Tryin’ bein’ t’operative word, as they say!

An’ then when it come to final battle at Singapore, well, by then t’Chinese expeditionary force, as they called it, had arrived, an’ Indomitable had come at last too. Just as well, ’cause t’Chinese brought more planes than we ’ad airfields, and they had no carriers of their own then, or none near us at any rate. But they brought a load of troops under General Yao Fu-Jang. Funny bloke, he were – saw him in action a few times later on – had fought t’Japs before o’course. We used to call him Yeah Who-Rang, ’cause Percival was on t’phone to him every day with his latest plan for defending the isle. I think we may even have used a few of ’em.

T’Yanks sent some ships as well, destroyers, an’ they helped, but honest to God I don’t think we could have lasted without t’Chinese. Wa’n’t just t’troops, either – it were t’supplies. Singapore were a regular fortress but that’s no good if we were cut off. We could have run out of ammunition and fuel easily enough, tha knows. But thanks to t’Chinese, we held on, we beat off air attacks every day – we had London regiments there who said it were almost worse than t’Blitz had been t’year before. But t’Japs couldn’t break us, though they besieged us. We had our battleships and t’Yank destroyers to shell them, we had a regular supply of aircraft, some airfields and a carrier. They couldn’t break us, not without bringin’ in a fleet, and what with t’Yanks massing ovver Hawaii way, they couldn’t afford to.

An’ then it all changed, ’cause t’Chinese managed to get through another convoy, only as well as supplies and troops, this un carried tanks. I allus said that Emperor Kang and his generals had their heads screwed on reight. Oh, they were old American ones, built under license, they told me. Cousin Jim had fought with ’em in North Africa, where they called ’em Lees, and t’Chinese saw no reason to change it. I asked – afterwards – and it turns out Li were t’name of one of their generals as well. Funny old world, my dad used to say.

Reight funny looking things they were, wi’ a gun at t’front and a turret on top. These days all tanks look t’same to me, when I see who’s been invaded this week on t’Beeb. But our Jim said good things abaht ’em and t’Chinese knew how to fight ’em and all. They’d been good enough against some of t’Jerry tanks in t’desert and so they were more than enough to fight those dinky Jap jobs in t’jungle. And when I think about how we were retreating from ’em before ’cause of High Command – makes you sick.

So at t’beginning of February, when t’Yanks were driving t’Japs back west of Hawaii and t’Jap landings in t’East Indies were being repulsed by t’Aussies, then we made our move. Chinese tanks at t’fore, us foreign devil infantry in support, aye, our Andrew, t’irony weren’t lost on me, either. I think it were then that we first started to take ’em seriously, love ’em or hate ’em.

I don’t want to talk about what came next. Be glad that tha’s never had to go to war in tha lifetime. It’s a dirty business, and any of t’old glory they sing about is few and far between. I were lucky in that I had a decent officer, Lieutenant Carmichael his name was – Ulsterman o’course but no worse for it. Some of t’officers we had…but never mind that. Any road, t’Jap position in Malaya collapsed, they told us later. Didn’t seem like that at t’time, not to muggins fighting it. T’Japs never surrendered, you know. Don’t believe them Yank pictures. Mister Carmichael, he had an education, but he were no worse for it mind, and he once told me that he remembered something one of t’old kings had said – William – William t’Third, that’s it. "T’way to never see tha country come to ruin is to die in t’last ditch". Well old Carmichael said that t’Japs fought as though every inch o’ ground were t’last ditch of their home islands. He were reight and all.

But they couldn’t stand up to those Chinese tanks, and that broke ’em. Oh, a bunch of ’em ended up in jungle and tried to ambush our convoys – what was it old Carmichael called it, gorilla warfare? – but they never did much damage. What? What’s that, our Sheila? Aye, they did didn’t they? Found one of them hiding out in t’jungle there just a year ago, didn’t know t’war were ovver. I’m not surprised: most of ’em wouldn’t have known t’war were ovver if their bloody Emperor had raised a damned white flag in front of ’em, or that’s t’way it seemed.

And in t’end that’s what did for ’em, o’course: never managed to land enough men in t’East Indies to make a difference, never got that oil and rubber, an’ their war machine as they used to call it, it just ground to a halt. But that were months, years away then. At t’time it didn’t seem like we were doing any more than holding on. Aye, they used to say that t’best defence is a good offence, tha knows.

An’ that’s where it come to it. I were in t’jungle near a place called Cota Baroo. Aye, I’m not surprised you an’t heard of it, I daresay it’s got a Chinese name now. Any road, that were where t’Japs had first landed, apparently, and they were fightin’ tooth and nail to keep hold of it. Not that you could tell t’difference, ’cause as I say they’d fight tooth and nail for owt. Sometimes I wonder what they’d have been like on t’front lines in t’first lot, where mi old dad were, at t’Somme and hellholes like that – they’d have outlasted onyone.

So I were there wi’ mi Lee-Enfield and mi company and that were abaht it. They told me afterwards that t’Aussies and t’Yanks – and more Chinese o’course – were landing in Singapore and moving up behind us. Didn’t seem that way at t’time. Seemed more like we were t’last fighters for t’Allies in t’world, and if we messed up t’Japs would have t’whole world. Fighting in t’jungle gets to you that way. It even got to t’Chinese, and I daresay it got to t’Japs. That were another thing. When we were there we found out that all that stuff about ’em bein’ implacable and having no emotions like were a load of cobblers. They didn’t like to show it, and nowt wrong wi’ that. But we didn’t have much choice out there. It would drive onyone mad.

Well, when it came to it, it were house-to-house fighting in Cota Baroo, and there’s nowt worse, especially when t’Japs would torch onything they couldn’t hold on to. Scorched earth, t’papers called it. Sounds a lot more pleasant than it was when you were there. Flamethrowers and bloody chemicals…

Don’t get me started or I won’t stop. All tha has to know is that there were this one house, grand place, not t’governor’s residence but obviously home to someone important. And by accident or by design it were well set up to be defended, and t’Japs had turned it into a reight strongpoint, a bugger. T’Chinese wouldn’t bring their tanks into t’city to tackle it. They said tanks were easy prey to troops holed up in houses with anti-tank weapons. Turned out they were reight, o’course, as t’Jerries found out later that year – it were forty-two by then – in Stalingrad as it was then. T’Chinese ’ad found it out much earlier, when they were fightin’ t’Japs a few years back in Kaifeng. It might have been much hairier for those fightin’ t’Nazzies in Europe – like your dad, our Andrew – if t’Nazzies hadn’t had their heads up their backsides and refused to learn from onyone who weren’t white. Don’t ask me how they could be allies with t’Japs, who seemed to hate whites themselves. Old Carmichael said war makes strange bedfellows, he were vulgar that way. Well you couldn’t get much stranger than that.

But we were tryin’ to kick one of ’em at least out of bed. And so we attacked that house. Not straight on of course, like they might have done in my dad’s day. We might as well have just lain our heads on t’axeman’s block. But even though we came from t’side and we had old Dick Attersley and Sam Utterthwaite, who’s dead now, layin’ down coverin’ fire…it still got hairy, I’m tellin’ thi. There were too many Japs, they seemed to have gunmen at every window. We lost a couple of good men, more than a couple, more than I care to think about. An’ old Carmichael were tryin’ to rally t’rest of us when he took a bullet straight through t’shoulder. Were lucky to survive really. Wouldn’t have done, without – well. I’m just coming to that.

Thing was, t’Japs were never satisfied with just holding on. If tha ever gave ’em t’slightest opening, they’d be out and after thi. And they had an opening this time all reight, with our lieutenant down and half our men dead. So they came out, after us, and what were I to do? I were standing ovver t’body of old Carmichael, and ’e were still breathing. Were I supposed to just abandon him? I don’t think I could have got behind cover in time even if I had.

And I thank Christ that I never had to make that decision. Because a bunch of Chinese troops with a machine gun showed up just in time, raked t’Japs just as they were comin’ out, and so they killed abaht half of t’Japs that had been in t’house. As for me – I knew it were t’only chance we’d get, so I went in among t’Chinese and, while I heard t’Japs from other side of t’house coming around to face us all, leaving old Dick and Sam, I chucked mi last grenade through t’empty window. And that were last that we ever heard of those Japs.

Turned out that one of t’Chinese knew a bit of English and I’d got a bit of Chinese from those weeks in Singapore, so we managed all right. Turned out that their officer had also been shot down, a little while before, and they’d been taking him back to t’field hospital when they ran into us. So we all went back together, with Carmichael and their man. Both lived, as far as I know. And while we were back at t’field hospital, afore we were sent out again, I talked with that Chinese who knew English some more, and I found out that he were an NCO or whatever they call them just like I was, and had taken over when his officer were killed. His name were Ying Lufeng – what? Oh yes, our Sheila, I’m sure you remember now. ’Cause I’ve been writing to him on and off for t’past thirty years, ever since t’war ended. We both survived it, tha sees. After Cota Baroo that were t’end of t’Japs in that part of t’world, and then what was left of both our regiments were sent to Indochina to clear t’Japs out of there, and that were a much easier job, ’cause t’Chinese were moving into it from t’north as well. I still remember old de Gaulle complaining abaht that in t’papers.

Any road, there were some scrapes, but we both survived, and been keeping in touch ever since. He says it’s to improve his English, as though he’s been anything less than word perfect for t’past fifteen years and more. I reckon I have more need to improve mi Chinese, ’cause China’s everywhere these days. What? Oh aye, our Andrew. But tha’s got no reight to complain. Without t’Chinese I wouldn’t be here. Tha can’t even claimed they didn’t earn it, like some fowk say about t’Yanks, that they came in late. T’Chinese were fighting t’Japs long before we were, so don’t give me that.

So that’s it. And now, our Sheila, if I could trouble thee for a cuppa tea? Thanks love. T’Chinese invented that as well, tha knows.



To Episode 2


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