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Snakes Alive!

by gmractiondesk

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gerard McAlinden, Private Harry Laffin
Location of story: 
South West Burma
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 July 2005

Story: Snakes Alive!
Story submitted by Gerard McAlinden on behalf of Private Harry Laffin 3781609.
Name of unit: D Column, No2 Group, King's Regiment.
Location: A jungle swamp in South West Burma.

When I was a small boy, my Uncle Harry, my mother's brother, was my favourite uncle. He was quiet and kind and he would always try to answer my endless questions about his time fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. But he would play down the hardships he was forced to endure and it was not until much later, when I was much older and had read the book by Orde Wingate, the general-in-chief of that campaign, known to his men as "The Chief Chindit", that I realised just what a horrendous time he and his comrades had suffered.
One story he told me has always stuck in my mind, a story that illustrates the thin line between death and survival for men and women on active service. He was on patrol, one of a column of eight British soldiers wading waist-deep in single file through the fetid waters of a jungle swamp. Intelligence reports had indicated that a Japanese unit was attempting to lay a minefield down river.
A flock of brightly-coloured birds suddenly took flight ahead, a sign perhaps that they had been disturbed by the proximity of the Japanese. At the head of the column, the sergeant put his finger to his lips and began to direct his men by hand signals. Nobody spoke as they came to a halt, listening for giveaway sounds in the dense undergrowth.
Uncle Harry, wearing his Chindit hat, buttoned up on one side and strapped under his chin, looked up and was transfixed by the black eyes of an enormous snake, its body as thick as the tyres on an Army truck, coiled around the overhanging branches of a tree. It was poised, its curved head back and ready to strike, and it was looking directly at Uncle Harry from just a few feet away. "Don't move", the sergeant murmured.
At that moment, there was a great explosion nearby and instinctively Uncle Harry ducked. When he looked up, the snake had gone. All eight men had seen the snake and they were looking at Uncle Harry. "Are you all right?" one asked. "We saw it strike you."
Uncle Harry didn't know if he was all right or not until his mate said "Look at your hat." He took off his hat and just above the brim were two small holes close together where the snake had struck.
"Two inches lower and you'd have lost an eye," someone said. "It wouldn't have mattered," the sergeant said. "The venom would have killed him anyway."
I was stunned by this story and thrilled to bits when he gave me the hat with the two yellow-tinged holes a souvenir.

Gerard McAlinden, 18 July 2005
Tel 01625 527398

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Message 1 - Snakes Alive !

Posted on: 20 July 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Gerard McAlinden on behalf of Private Harry Laffin

What would make this the best story on the site would be a photo of the hat in question to head the article.

Best wishes

Ron Goldstein


Message 2 - Snakes Alive !

Posted on: 20 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I think your uncle and his sergeant were needlessly alarmed. Burmese tree snakes are all of the boa and python family, non venomous, killing their prey by constriction. Your description of 'an enormous snake, its body as thick as the tyres on an Army truck' puzzles me as tree snakes tend to be slender and light for obvious reasons. Nor can I understand why a tree python attacked him in the way you describe, something is amiss here.

In Burma, cobras are a major problem because they live right in among the villages and farm fields. They probably kill at least 10,000 people a year, but fortunately they are ground snakes. I spent nearly three years in the Far East, one year under canvas. The yellow and black banded Krait was the most venomous snake I was aware of, but they seldom exceeded a yard in length and were quite slender, about the size of a European grass snake - fortunately, although quite deadly, they were non-aggressive.


Message 3 - Snakes Alive !

Posted on: 24 July 2005 by GERARD MCALINDEN

Dear Peter Thank you for the information. This story comes from the memory of a small boy sixty years ago. That's how I remember it. Maybe it wasn't in a tree, but I did have the hat with the two holes. When my uncle's son, also called Peter incidentally, was eight years old I passed it on to him. With kind regards, Gerard.

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