By Robb Edmonds Until we got used to seeing rikshas in both India and China, many of us marveled and commented on the stamina of underweight coolies that trotted or ran for long periods pulling those carts, sometimes with two healthy passengers. The two wheel riksha's axle served as a fulcrum. The weight of the passenger practically balanced the weight of the coolie. In this way he saved himself the effort by supporting his own weight on the shafts that he was between. When he ran, his steps seemed like slow motion seven league strides with the riksha making good speed. We, personally, saw many men that possibly didn't know the balancing scheme but still trotted, apparently without expending much effort. Our source of this intelligence doesn't say how he stopped. Maybe he never has.
The CBI From A to Z- June 2010
I struck up a friendship with Private Allen Eye (Private Eye, no lie), who asked if I'd like to ride into Chengtu with him to pick up supplies for the mess hall. I was off duty so I went along. We entered the compound - a central courtyard with four buildings around the perimeter. An office, warehouse and, I assumed, living quarters for the staff. Al went in and presented the paperwork and we waited outside while the truck was being loaded. A local citizen arrived in a riksha and he, along with the coolie, went into the office. I speculated that those two wheel contraptions probably rolled like a jeep with four flat tires. Al climbed aboard and I trotted him once more around the circuit, pausing to ask a GI to snap a photo. About that time the coolie came out and was sure we were stealing his rig and it took much pantomime and help, finally, from an interpreter to explain our antics. He understood, at long last, but that didn't mean he liked the idea. And, I was right. The thing rolled like a jeep with four flat tires. Plus spare.
And Then The Lights Were Turned On... A major East Coast staging area for overseas shipment of us was Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. When our turn came, we boarded a train for the short trip to Newport News, where a ship convoy was forming. I've tried to evoke the memory of seeing the Liberty ship, Leland Stanford, but all I can recall is that the train entered a warehouse- a building, at least- on the pier and we boarded. Lots of coffee and orange juice for breakfast and soldiers (or anybody) in need are soldier (or anybody) indeed, so, when we had been led to our quarters below and stowed our gear on our selected bunk, we all headed for the head. Hey, Navy! Why call it "The Head"? Why not "terlit" or "Potty?" Anyhow and at any rate, the lights had not been turned on so the only illumination was daylight through the open doors at each end of the room. Tin troughs lined all four walls. Sorry, "bulkheads", and many, many (read "all") of us faced all of them and let fly with it. An hour later, when we returned, light bulbs dispelled the gloom and we discovered the tin troughs at the end walls were for elimination and the lengthwise ones had faucets for washing, shaving, and like that. Oh, a major "fossy poo". (That's French). But we tried not to dwell on it for the duration of our voyage, but we were rather spoiled for choice.
What Would Have Happened, If...? The scene, a troop train from Fresno CA to POE (Port of Embarkation) in Virginia. The transportation sometimes stopped "in the middle of Nowhere", probably for a red block signal light. I was on the rear platform of our car chatting with the Conductor. We climbed down to the ground and I was throwing rocks at a phone pole just barely visible in the dark. Of a sudden the railroad employee hollered, "HEY!" I turned and our train had started to move without the traditional "Toot, Toot!" from the engine. We both sprinted (I could do it in those days) five yards or so and clambered aboard. To this day I still get a sinking feeling in my skinny gut to think what would have been the chain of events if the Conductor hadn't noticed our peril. Sob! Cry!
WARTIME HUMORA sentry in a dark hallway of a Burma field hospital hears running footsteps: "Halt! Who goes there? Friend or enema? Two that don't make the same mistake twice are Paratroopers and virgins. An African American youth went to a recruiting office to enlist and was given a choice of the infantry or mechanized cavalry. He chose the infantry, because, "If we gotta retreat, I don't wanta be hampered by no tank!" Supply clerks sometimes got a bum rap. Not always deserved, by guessing at sizes when issuing uniforms. One of my buddies said, "The only things that fit are my socks and necktie!" The rookie failed to salute. Lt: "Hey, soldier! Didn't you see my uniform?" Rook: "What are you bellyachin' about? Look at the damn thing they gave ME!"
General Orde Wingate, hero of the British Burma liberation from the Japs campaign, was the founder of the irregular, nearly guerilla force within the British Army, known as the Chindits. To his many critics he was self-promoting, insubordinate, and somewhat mad. "Somewhat?" He sometimes wore an alarm clock on his wrist, used a sock for a tea bag and had the habit of receiving people in the nude. Why? At the military academy during the initiation ceremony, he had to run a gauntlet, naked, and be hit with knotted towels. As he walked instead of running he stared at his fellow cadets with distain. Though he was only 5'6" tall, they backed off. Ever more, his nakedness was his way of saying, silently, "Don't mess with me." John Bierman and Colin Smith, "Fire In the Night, Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia and Zion", condensed from a New York Times book review by Joe Shupe, CBIVA Sound Off, Spring, 2000.
I have been a proud (and I do mean) member of the San Francisco Bay Area Basha (chapter) of the CBIVA since 1986. That's the China Burma India Veterans Association, now "out of business", but many bashas around the country still meet informally. The Fortune Cookie, monthly newsletter, was edited by Past National Commander Ray Kirkpatrick, succeeded by Roland "Nellie" Nelson, and I inherited the title and still continue. Not brag, just fact, but a digression. Sorry. For the February 1983 Roundup magazine, Ray wrote the following to explain how General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell got his nickname, thus: "'Twas in the early 1930's he was about 45 years old. He was described as being energized like a coil spring, with twice the endurance of officers much older than he. It has been a rough day of field exercises under his directions. Upon the final hour before dismissing the formation, he "chewed the men out. Good and proper." Then during the night hours one of the "chewed out" drew a cartoon of a crotchety old man in a campaign hat, rising out of a bottle, labeled VINEGAR XXX. The cartoon was titled "Vinegar Joe". It was posted on the bulletin board. Surprise! Stilwell got a laugh out of it and requested it be sent home to his family and classmate, Omar Bradley. Many officers of his rank, then Colonel, would have thrown the book at the cartoonist soldier, but not "Uncle Joe". He understood the feeling existed. He won the respect of many GI's under this command by giving consideration to such a matter."
In the scrapbook with all of my letters I find "Individual Clothing and Equipment Record", signed by Romolo Pellacani, 1st Lt., Sig C, Supply Officer. The list covers two full sides of the form, starting with Breeches, cotton and ending with sunglasses on page 2. I'm enclosing a copy with my full name and ASN covered, in case the S.O.S. wants to find me to return anything I thought I could take home when I was released "at the convenience of the government."
Many CBI-bound GI's crossed North Africa from the west coast to Egypt in 40 & 8 boxcars, the type used in France in WWII…..maybe the same ones. In Los Angeles, circa 1938, at a national American Legion convention, at least one Post had a 40 & 8 on truck wheels and with a trailer hitch. I remember how small it was, assuming it was full scale, and can now "feel for" the troops that barely had room to sit, much less lie down. Our detachment made the journey from Oran, Algeria to Port Said, on a British coastal steamer, the Durban Castle. I apologize to the long-suffering personnel who braved the far worse transportation and conditions than did we, who shouldn't have complained about our "hardships". That's supposed to help me sleep nights….and afternoons.
One cruel but hearty laugh that eased the tension of doing nothing while we hurried up to wait in a transient camp awaiting assignment to a base or camp somewhere in India (breath), Vernon and I were ordered to pick up debris, left behind items and trash, and generally make the area presentable for the next unit. Among some discarded papers we found a series of love letters from someone's dearest and judging from the text (we had no shame), "Ignatz" was a real lover, probably on a par with Errol Flynn. Before long we found a snapshot of him and his beloved, taken in the States. He wasn't quite as lovely as Abe Vegoda or Marty Feldman, but he had a gap-tooth grin, hawk nose…why go on. Atanyrate, the cruel part, Vern and I started laughing. He kept repeating, "Teet' like a pun'kin!", and that set me off again. To his credit, he destroyed all of the letters with a touch of his lighter so that no one else would, knowingly or not, invade Ignatz and Prunella June's romance.
Rain or shine (moon, that is), roof or no roof over the outdoor theater and stage, the show went on for we who were starved- well, anxious, for entertainment. Movies were well attended and live shows, though rare, were "sold out", even though there was no admission charge. ("Try and get it", right?). There were USO shows from the States, but none ever reached the airstrips in the Boonies that our Signal Detachment infested. Camp Kanchrapara, a transient camp just 28 miles north of Calcutta, had a soldier show (Special Services) and the MC sang, "Don't the moon look lonely shining through the trees?" And looked up at the pelting monsoon rain. Good for a laugh. Almost as good as his opening line when he came on stage carrying a fly swatter and said, "Leave the screens open. I feel MEAN tonight!" What screens?
The Broadfoot Sappers. Did recruits have to have a minimum shoe (boot?) size? Sounds like it, but, nay, Sa'ab and Memsa'abs. Not on your rattling mess kit. They were the British 7th Field Company Engineers, raised (formed) in India by Major George Broadfoot. When they merged with the Bengal Sappers and Miners in 1843, they got their present name. As that was over 150 years ago, very few of the originals are still extant. Living, to some, so we can't verify this as a true fact of the matter. I always thought a sapper was an employee collecting maple syrup from trees. My well-worn dictionary (which I should use more often) says a sapper is a military demolitions expert. Oh.
When I saw a rerun of "Wonder Man", with Danny Kaye, I was reminded of the first time I saw it in an outdoor theater in India. Some mattress covers were sewn together to form a screen, which was tacked to the outside wall of the mess hall. The laughter was often long and loud. I remember the show was stopped and an officer told us the Japs would surrender if they could keep their Emperor. We'd been having rumors and false alarms for a couple of weeks so we weren't very impressed. "We'd believe it when it was official. Get back to the movie!" The next sequence in the story, Danny Kaye as a Russian baritone with hay fever is preparing to start when a girl brings in a large bouquet in a standing wicker basket and puts it next to him. The sneezing presentation of (I wish it had been a song I could spell) "Ah, Chichornia" had the audience roaring with laughter and I literally almost fell off the bench. Not all war-year memories are unpleasant.
Can anyone clear up the following confusion, to me, from "Going Home", by George E. Pollock, UP, February 1979? "Then we waited at KARCHRAPARA (another B-29 base near Calcutta)- with a name spelled very much like KANCHRAPARA, a transient camp with no air base of any size? Or is that a double misconception like an unmarried mother of twins? If you're unable to answer that, forget it. Hardly important at this late date. Next!
Maybe it was the aftertaste of my lunch at Camp Kanchrapara when I awoke from a brief nap. (It was OK. I was off duty). I had dreamed (or drempt) I was eating roast alligator haunch and the taste was like a Jap Corporal had dragged (or drug) across my tongue in muddy shoes. This popped out of my memory vault recently when I read a former GI's description of monkey meat: "Not bad really. Tasted similar to veal, a little tough and stringy." No thanks. I'll stick to corn flakes. (Which even I can louse up in preparation).
On the Ledo Road- In a conversation with a British Army Captain with the District Commissioner's office, he said that the Kachins (a tribe in North Burma) have definite opinions of the four armies that have been through the Hakawang Valley the past couple of years. They fear and detest the Japs and are afraid of the Chinese. They respect the British but they love the Americans, "especially when you leave their women alone." (We think that was a compliment). 1905 E A Battalion Newsletter, O.J. Taylor, Editor.
Hugo Scramm, in this Ships Column, CBIVA Sound Off, mentioned that our Communications Detachment was one of the few that was transported by three ships from the US to CBI. The Liberty SS Leland Stanford, Newport News, Virginia to Oran, North Africa, the MV Durban Castle to Port Said, Egypt, and the MV Maloja to Bombay. Now we learn of another such odyssey from Howard Gorman, Sonora, CA. USS General Mann, the SS Winchester Castle and the SS Oranto. I'm sure Howard would agree, better to have delays while waiting for the next ship going to CBI than on the way home.