The CBI From A to Z- December 2010

By Robb Edmonds

My paternal grandfather was a drunkard (Read, Alcoholic) and had passed on long before I was born. He was subject to the DT's and Dad sometimes had to go find him yelling in the woods on his way home from town. That was enough to cause most kids to be a la carte- on the wagon- for life. And Dad was.

Therefore, the following episode was never described nor mentioned in a letter home and I'm sure I spared Dad some dismay. And Mom too.

His descriptions of Gramp's behavior gave me something to think about after I passed my 21st mile marker, when my halo threatened to slip down and chose the be-junior outta me.

And it did.

Quite often.

For a few years.

Even after I was in CBI I was still pure.

Who said, "Pure what?"

I dismiss you with a wave of my hand.

I didn't smoke nor drink, as in "alcohol".

Three of us were befriended by Lance Corporal J.T. "Blondie" Ashford of the BWAFF- British West African Frontier Force- and were invited to their mess hall, which became their evening recreation room.

Paige had told them I didn't drink so, when they offered me a native concoction, called Zhu, they told me it was non-alcoholic. And I believed them.

Aside: When War Correspondent Eric Severeid bailed out over the Hump and walked out, at a native village he was served, his spelling, "zu".

Whatever. It tasted to me like unsweetened, non-carbonated 7-up.

Severeid called it rice beer.

Finishing my second canteen cups worth, I turned to put it on the table behind me and found myself sitting on the floor looking up at everyone and they were laughing at me.

I joined them. Why? I didn't know. Nor care.

Everything from that point on became extremely funny.

Three of the chaps got up and, arm in arm, sang a music hall ditty, bending their knees in rhythm like an out of synch piston engine.

The gist of the lyrics was: I went to the circus and there was a dancing elephant. I was invited to dance with it, he slipped in something, as did I, and he sat on me. And:

"I saw the rest of the show through the hole in the elephant's bottom."

In 45 minutes or so the effects wore off and I was sober. Best, next morning, no hangover. This was my introduction to a life of debauchery and innocent fun. (from my diary)

Test your memory (and stop reading where indicated before looking at the answers)

What were the top five melodies derived from movies, March, 1945?

No sneaky peeks til you make an honest effort at a wild guess:

They were: "Over the Rainbow", from the flick about the successful racetrack tout, "The Wizard of Odds"; (back to serious): "As Time Goes By", from "Casablanca"; "White Christmas" from "Holiday Inn" and "Ol' Man River"/ "Showboat".

How many did you get right? Me neither. I wouldn't have guessed right….and I have music in my shoes squeak. OK, "soul".

Something that may not have occurred to you, unless you drove the Ledo Road under construction back in 1944-45:

"Long China-bound convoys pass through here everyday."

This from the daily diary of the 1905th Engineer Aviation Battalion.

"Our work schedules are such that morning convoys go right through, all road work stops while they pass. In the afternoon the schedule is different. The wait is never more than an hour. We find out a lot of what's going on from people waiting to pass through."

O.J. Taylor, Editor, Fresno CA (Now, not then)

More from the always interesting 1905th Battalion daily diary:

"At the Company B traffic control stop, a couple of quartermaster guys told us something we never thought of before. Almost everything we eat, as well as all replacement clothing, comes from farms and factories in India."

"This is true for the American-trained Chinese troops as well. We just assumed all of our stuff was shipped from home."

K-rations and Spam notwithstanding?

We were challenged to a touch football game by a unit in a nearby tent row, during which we saw a group on the sideline in a huddle. Soon they chanted their rehearsed cheer:

Bing, Bong, Bee!
     Kick 'em in the knee!
Bing, Bong, Bass!
     Kick 'em in the other knee!
Twenty Second, Twenty Second,
Go-o-o-o-o Gettum!

They did. We lost because we had the fewest points.

When I was about 12 years old (weren't we all?) somewhere I heard someone talking about the Caterpillar Club and asked my older brother what it was.

He told me that anyone who parachuted to Earth becomes a member of the club. I've also heard that if the airman or woman has a parachute ring in hand when found they have proof positive they're eligible.

For several years I worked beside a Navy Air Force vet who qualified for two clubs in one day.

Returning from a mission above the Pacific, his plane had been shot up and, as he landed on the carrier deck, half of his landing gear collapsed and the plane veered off into the ocean.

Like it or not, he was now a member of the Goldfish Club, established in 1942 and comprised of airmen who took an involuntary swim and were rescued to fly again.

The beginning of that flight was when he and his craft were catapulted into the air, qualifying him for the Oh, My Achin' Ass Club.

In my eleven months in China I learned a few (clean) words in Mandarin "The Common Language" just for the fun of it. Occasionally I made use of my limited vocabulary.

In asking for cold, boiled (for safety) water I could say "Ling kai shway" (Phonetically. I always spoke phonetically). Kai means "opened", so, whenever water was "opened" it was OK for consumption.

One evening I was in the back seat of a jeep in the nearby village and a light snow was falling. Three or four boys came up to the rear of the vehicle and I looked out through an opening in the convertible top.

One kids with two top front teeth missing grinned, pointed upward and said "Shu shway" several times.

I noted he spoke in phonetical talk. End of Mandarin 101 Lesson #1.

In 1943 Calcutta was attacked by Japanese bombers that were based in Burma. By the time our detachment arrived in July of 1944 their airfields had been captured and the enemy was beginning to lose planes and thus, air superiority.

The only visible reminder of those raids was sandbags piled high against a building on Chowringee Road, reminiscent of newsreels and movies where towns and cities in Britain had storefronts similarly protected.

In Calcutta, a narrow passage between the stacks of bags led to, we presumed, the main entrance and windows were striped with tape in crisscross patterns to minimize injury to pedestrians should they shatter.

The window, not the people.

One of the few remaining reminders of a war thankfully moving farther afield.

In watching movies where India is the locale, "Gunga Din" ("Who Did?"); "The Rains Came" and the sequel, "The Sewers Backed Up", etc., in many of them "Sahib" is pronounced "sah-HEEB". In my 7 months on the Sub-Continent, I don't recall hearing it that way.

Almost universally, it was "Sob"...not the initials, but "Saab", like in "automobile".

Only one place did it differ. I heard a child say "Sy-YEB".

A regional dialect? A dirty word? (Don't rule it out). Or was it something the others picked up when another said it to be funny?

Go back to "dirty word".

Ever since I was a little shaver- even before I started to shave- I've heard that "the quick brown fox...etc" uses every letter in the alphabet from A to Z.

Now, I read in a Letter to the Editor of Ex-CBI Roundup (magazine) from Perry Schwartz, Southfield MI, a longer sentence, thus:

"Parts of India are covered with extensive jungles in which wild animals roam and lizards dart quickly among the shrubs."

OK, so lots of letters appear more than once and, if you have the time and inclination, you can check to see that all 26 from A to Z are there.

I'll take your (and Perry's) word for it.

Bob was Pat's- my child bride's- husband who passed away 15 years before we were wed. He and I were Hollywood High Schoolmates and when we got together back home we discovered we had both terrorized India though many miles apart.

He spent a lot of time as a train guard, riding with equipment on flat cars and in boxcars.

On a multi-day journey from Calcutta north the most comfortable place to sleep was atop the canvas tarp over the bed of a 6-by truck and he awoke one night to find the train had stopped.

He heard a low conversation between two sneak-thieves.

Simultaneously (as well as all at once) he racked a cartridge into his carbine, yelled at the top of his voice and jumped down beside the miscreants.

He said they both turned pale enough to be seen in the dark, but I believe he exaggerated a bit, as they "jao'd" as they had never "jao'd" before.

Or since, probably.

Elmer Short of Joplin MO and Houston TX went to the hospital the hard way.

A sudden, middle of the night sharp pain in his lower stomach-al area told him "Oops! Appendix is acting up." And he sloshed through the monsoon downpour of the base hospital.

The CQ (Charge of Quarters) asked him where his duffle bag was.

"Go get it."

Elmer, with mounting pain, waded back to his tent and returned with the heavy, now soaked baggage.

A doctor was standing at the reception desk and asked why Elmer had brought THAT?

"Numb nuts, here, told me to go back and get it, Sir."

Doc advised NN to admit Short post haste.

When he eventually checked out there was a corporal on duty and the former CG was probably at the post tailor shop, getting the seat of his pants patched.

The discordant (to my Glenn Miller-tuned ears) blare of horns and clanging of cymbals and gongs heralded the approach of a funeral to pass on the path past our communications building at Hsinching.

Not knowing if they would approve if I took a picture, I hurried into the shed housing our generator and snapped one through the open window.

After they passed I followed at a discrete distance.

When they arrived at the burial ground, the clamor ceased and the "musicians" and hired mourners (wearing white) departed.

Then platters of food appeared and were placed on the coffin and, much as we do at the reception following the services, they reminisced (I assumed) about the deceased's life and with more laughter than tears.

Later the bier would be encased in a crude cement and covered with earth, which would form a mound.

The whole interesting experience was well worth remembering, as I do now.


Q:  While visiting China your tour guide starts shouting, "Poo! Poo! Poo!" What does it mean?

A (George Gobel):  Cattle crossing.