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My Father - A Soldier in Burma

by Tuppence

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my father
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09 November 2003

My father, Fred was the youngest of six brothers. He was born on April 21st 1921. The brother nearest to him in age, Herbert had died in 1929 of scarlet fever and so Fred was very much the little brother. It was a close-knit family, Fred being particularly close to his eldest brother, Frank, who was the local Scoutmaster.
When World War 2 broke out the three oldest sons undertook civil duties, but Fred and his nearest brother Sydney, who was born in 1915 both joined up. Sydney joined the RAF and distinguished himself as a navigator, whilst Fred went in to the Durham Light Infantry and in 1943 he was posted to Burma.
Fred was never able to talk about his experiences to either my mother, who died in 1969 or to my brother and me. I was always frightened of the moods of really black depression which he suffered during my childhood in the 1950s and I remember vividly going with him to a local football match, when he was suffering from a recurrence of malaria. It was only when my own children did a history project on the war at school that I felt I began to understand what had happened to my father.
Fred was in his early twenties when he was taken away from his family and everything he knew and loved to go to the other side of the world to fight in a hostile and unfamiliar terrain. He had to march through the jungle with rounds of ammunition round his neck and hand grenades in his belt, he saw his friends and comrades cut down in front of him and he suffered from such severe illness that he was eventually hospitalised in Northern India, but not before he had seen action at Kohima and Imphala.
When he came home he tried valiantly to shut it all out of his mind and go back to civilian life, not collecting the medals to which he was entitled or being prepared to tell the story of his experiences. For much of the information I have I am indebted to my father's best friend, who I knew as Uncle Tom.
In 1995 it was the 50th anniversary of VJ Day and, out of the blue my father received a telephone call from a lady who used to lodge with my grandparents and who wanted to thank my father for what he had done during the war. My sons and I thought this was quite amusing at the time, not having been in the habit of considering my father a military hero, but as I look back at what I have written now I see more clearly just what a hero he was and how much we owe to him and to the many thousands of ordinary men and women like him, who gave up so much on our behalf.
In 1996, in time for Fred's 75th birthday we managed to get back his medals for him and they now take pride of place on the mantelshelf at his home, the same home where he used to live with his parents and his brothers. He lives there now with his second wife and my stepsister and her two sons, so the house is still full of family and that is how Fred likes it. After all, that's what he fought for, isn't it?

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