- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Dave Chambers,Cecil James Harris(Jim),Cyril Grimes
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- 10 January 2006
I REMEMBER DAVE CHAMBERS
Mid morning, every Remembrance Sunday, my father would stop whatever task he was doing, and we would gather in the kitchen for coffee. He would sit and stir his drink in that precise way of his, carefully placing the spoon back in the saucer, and say, “I remember Dave Chambers”. We knew the story, and although I cannot recall its first telling it seeped into my very childhood memories and has lodged there ever since.
“What rotten luck, to be killed right at the end of the war. We were together right from the start, called up at the same time. After our training we all thought we were going to the North African Desert, but instead we were sent to Burma in the Far East. To keep the Japs out of India.
We were in the jungle, dug in ,expecting an attack. Dave went out and told his men that if they saw any movement ,heard any noise, they were to fire instantly. Later that night he went to make an inspection. They heard him coming, thought it was the Japs, He was shot and killed by his own men, he who had given the order” This last point was always heavily emphasised, as I suspect it was later amongst the Army hierarchy. For the benefit of those who did the deed.
I never knew if that was the night that my father and Captain Mote got drunk on the platoon’s rum ration. I rather think it was, but from a very early age I was acutely aware that death in wartime did not necessarily come from enemy fire .
Of all his experiences, this was the one that seemed to haunt my father. I was curious to know more. Did this Dave Chambers have any family?, I recall asking .My father told me that when finally demobbed and back home, he had often thought of looking up Dave’s folks He never had done, even though ,I later discovered, they only lived a short bus ride away.
Looking back now I realise that in hearing this story out, I was actually helping my father by listening to him. Today we would call it Counselling, but we never got beyond Stage One. All his efforts to tell me his Army tales were cut off or interrupted by my mother who changed the subject. I wanted to know more but she had her own reasons for not wanting them told. After all should a young daughter have to hear such dreadful tales? Sometimes I think she was right, not so much because I heard the story but because it never had an ending that seemed to end in any kind of closure. Well I suppose that’s what happens when men get shot by their own comrades.
But this story escaped, and did so at regular intervals .And now, I am left with a sense of unfinished business. My father could not bear visiting Dave’s family as a survivor. What do you say? He, like many men of his generation would not have been able to face or cope with the emotions that would emerge from such a visit. He may have feared facing anger as well as sorrow. The guilt of the survivor hung about this story and since the day it was first told, I became involved , curious and occasionally haunted.
Any Remembrance Sunday, every parade and Service commemorating the Second World War, or the end of it, and this is what I think about.
Reminders of the incident and Dave Chambers’ s life and death emerge in small ways which add up to something greater than their parts. After my father died, my mother wanted to erase many wartime memories and began to dispose of some of the militaria brought home from the War. Included in this Were some Regimental histories. In one” recorded in the margin, in my father’s hand opposite a description of a certain campaign are the words” Dave killed near here“. There were also photographs which we had not really been allowed to see before and hidden in a text book a small list of men who had paid their subs into some soldiers fund, including Dave Chambers ’name written in my father’s careful script.
More curious in a way were the Reunions, which he attended in the latter years of his life. How do you go back and speak to men who by mistake killed one of their own? Well I suppose they had learned to live with that out East, but time plays odd tricks and distance distorts previously held mantras “He gave the Order“
Cyril Grimes’ another Sergeant ,had a personal diary that was never supposed to have been written. It was not allowed for soldiers to keep diaries in case they were captured. Cyril did. Did he describe what had happened ? We know that up until his death he kept his diary safe. That’s another tale. But Cyril’s poetry, published by the Pinwe Club and Burma Star Association, lives on. Perhaps when he wrote this ,he was remembering Dave Chambers too.
By the road and the hills lie the scatter seed
A bamboo cross on each lonely grave
Shimmering silence and jungle weed
Enfold and touch lightly-here sleep the brave
Not yet the fruit of your dying be tasted
The sun and the rain no harvest unfold
But rest, we shall see that the seed was not wasted
The living remember, the tale shall be told
And what about official records?.
Yes he is there, for anyone to find in the Commonwealth Graves Commission Register,-died 25th February 1945,but no words to explain how he died. At that point the Battalion was advancing on Myitson, by the Shweli River. None of the Regimental Histories that I have read, refers to the incident. Perhaps there is some detail in the Battalion War Diaries, which, were only discovered in private hands years after the end of the War.
Well perhaps one day I will seek these out, but somehow it seems like Pandora’s Box. Would it be best to keep the lid on it just like my father did?
Whichever path I choose I know that I will always remember Dave Chambers.
Sgt David James 6404933 Chambers
Sgt Cecil James 6407906 Harris
Sgt Cyril Grimes
The Shiny Ninth ,9th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment: 1940-1946,by Murray Gillings
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