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A Letter to my Son (Part 7)

by David Irvine

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Archive List > World > Burma

Contributed by 
David Irvine
People in story: 
Leonard Charles Irvine, Flt Sgt (Nav), 4393843 (Deceased)
Location of story: 
Passage to Burma 1945
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 August 2005

Now we will take another walk in the jungle and look at some of the small things to be found there. Firstly there are mosquitoes, which are quite small insects that can fly, and these are nasty things because they sting people. They come from tiny eggs laid in dirty ponds by the lady mosquito, these hatch out after a time and fly away as baby mosquitoes. Now there is a very bad thing called Malaria which makes people very ill indeed in hot countries, and this is caused by the lady mosquito first biting someone who is ill with this disease, and then going along and biting someone else who is quite well. When this happens, a germ, which is a very tiny thing indeed, so tiny that you can't see it, gets into the blood of the healthy person, and perhaps will make him, or her, have malaria too. A very clever doctor though, found that if people took a rather nasty medicine called quinine regularly, then this germ could’nt do very much harm. Now quinine comes from the bark of a tree called cinchona, and unfortunately for quite a long time all these trees had been captured by the Yellow Dragon; so if another clever doctor had'nt found something else the malaria germ did'nt like, then perhaps Daddy, and lots more people too, would have been very ill. However, this clever doctor found a medicine called Mepacrine, which is yellow in colour, and is made into pills so that they can be swallowed with a drink of water. Daddy and everyone else takes one of these pills every day, but does'nt like mosquitoes to sting him even then, because sometimes the germ is too strong for the Mepacrine - and then of course malaria sets in. These pills make people's skin yellow like Chinamen — particularly it they have to take a number of them, but some people don't get yellow at all, and this is quite interesting is'nt it? During the day of course, in our walks in the jungle and at work, we can stop the mosquitoes stinging us because they make quite a loud buzzing noise which we can hear, and of course we can also see them. At night time though we have a net over our charpoys which is tucked in under the sheet and blanket, and this net only has very small holes in it so that we can breathe, but stops the mosquitoes biting us, because they can't get into the net. There are many other sorts of flies too — some small and some big like dragon flies, which are very pretty indeed, and there are also some very big black beetles which can fly too. These make a very loud noise indeed but are quite harmless. They fly about till they get tired and then suddenly fall on the ground or floor — with quite a bump! There are two very interesting things about this beetle and the first is that it is very strong and if you put quite a heavy weight on his back he will try to lift it up, and if it is not too heavy you can actually see him moving it. The other is his eyes which shine like two little rubies even in the day time, and at night of course they are very bright indeed. You will have seen many butterflies, and as I have told you there are a great many of these here, some looking like small birds, and very beautifully coloured. There are also hornets which buzz around looking for spiders which are quite big in these parts, although of course there are also some small ones like those in England. Naturally in such a warm place there are countless other insects, small and big, some of them very nasty indeed, but I won't tell you about these now.

I have already told you quite a number of the birds one sees in India, and of course there are also pigeons, woodpeckers and lots more, some brilliantly coloured. I expect Mummy can show you pictures of these in her book. Daddy does'nt know a great deal about birds, except game birds, so perhaps you will be able to read about these later and tell him all about them. Like the ants and many other creatures, they all lay eggs which are hatched out by the lady bird, and when they are ready a little bird pops out of the shell. I expect you have noticed already that most birds build their nests high up in trees and that while the lady bird stays behind on the nest — just like Mummy does at home — the father bird goes out looking for worms, and other things, and brings them back to the lady bird and the little birds. You will have also noticed that some birds eggs are very nice to eat, and you have eggs which have been laid by chickens, for your breakfast.

There are also many other things which creep about on the ground out here, and under the ground, and some of these are'nt very nice either — but lets go along now and look at some of the bigger animals, which, although they don't swim in the sea like Mr Shark, are also called mammals. Firstly, and the biggest animal of all on land, is the elephant. I expect you know him better as Jumbo. He is a very useful animal indeed, and can be taught to haul great trees out of the jungle, after they have been cut down, and many other things. Daddy will take you to see him one day at the Zoo where there are lots of animals, birds and fishes, but plenty elsewhere. Now we come to something we have got in our jungles, quite close to the camp. This is Mr Leopard, also Mr Cheetah and lastly Mr Tiger. These are very big indeed — and with the exception of Bruin the Bear are amongst the biggest animals anywhere. Now these are all members of the same family as the cat, and are called feline. If you can imagine a cat which measures up to twelve feet long from the tip of his tail to the end of his nose, then you have an idea of the size of a fully grown tiger, which has yellow stripes and is a very fierce animal indeed. The panther is a little smaller and near here is black like the cheetah who is smaller still — the panther is also a fierce animal. These great cats, with the exception of the cheetah, don't worry to attack men unless they are either annoyed or very old — too old to catch their usually helpless prey. However if we go in the jungle at night time we carry a bright light as they don't like this very much, and keep out of our way. There are also several varieties of wild dogs and creatures akin to them, such as the hyena, and. these are very cowardly creatures indeed, and only attack other things when they are quite sure they won't be hurt themselves. At night time they howl loudly in the jungle, and this annoys us until we get used to it. The dogs I mention are called pariah dogs out here, and this curiously enough is pronounced "pi-dog". Funnily enough there are also rabbits. You.would’nt think, would you, that with all these fierce creatures such a very timorous little thing like a rabbit would care to make his burrow in the ground? There is another creature who can run very swiftly indeed, and he is the mongoose, of which there are also a number about these parts. He is a very useful animal indeed, because he lives on Mr Snake who nobody likes at all. These are most of the larger creatures who live quite near Daddy's basha, and there are, in addition, several varieties of rats — some with bushy tails just like a squirrel. These last live like the squirrel in trees, but none of them is such a pretty animal as the squirrel, and they do much harm in eating up anything they can get — particularly in warehouses storing wheat and other crops. These warehouses have a very queer name out here and are called "godowns".

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