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Look back at us in mercy

Walter Baxter

The first Japanese groups were approaching from the south through the morning fog. The advance guards were marching at extraordinary speed, not bothering about the possible menace from an ambush in the thickets. They were conscious about the fact that a good posted ambush was difficult to recognize. Their calculation was therefore very simple. Were they advancing rapidly, they would possibly die fast of an enemy bullet, but not going forward (or not fast enough) meant death by the hands of their own officers ... When there was enough daylight to see a few meters in front of him, the officer stopped. It was so common that he was stiffened by the night's coldness and the whole body was full of tiredness, that he wouldn't think about that when he was noticing a strange taste in his mouth. He got hungry too. He rushed to the next creek to quench his thirst at least. His seargant was ordered to lead his men towards the path, whilst he went to the dark spot on the dusty path, of which he already knew from last night, that it was a dead English soldier. Perhaps in the jungle around them there were more of their bodies.

Simply because of his habit he drew his revolver, despite that he was sure that there were no enemy alive in the vicinity. He turned the stiffend body on its back, inspected it thoroughly, and put all the things he found of value into his knapsack. Then he followed the bloody tracks into the jungle, but didn't find anything. His men, already waiting, bowed to him. With indifference they listened to his orders. When he finished, he moved to the column's head to lead them onto the height. His men were of no special selection to get a higher wage, but nevertheless their task was more dangerous than those of average Japanese infantry unit. In spite of this, there was enough envy amongst other units. According to their common view, they inflicted greater bloodshed on the enemies back with the effect of becoming an anxious enemy, when finding their bloody track. It was astonishing and funny to see how the Englishman dies in the same way, how to hear in which way he kneels in front of you and pleads for mercy, pleads for the disgrace named captivity. On the Japanese side such a man would deserve death ...

... After half an hour the main work was finished. The two cooks have made some tea and brought it to the two gravediggers which ditched some heap of earth here and there. In the meantime the driver was successful in opening the door of the forester's chat. He walked into the dark rooms, where sometimes sunbeams shone in through the small windows. Only some old furniture was in it, somewhere lay one old, ripped edition of the Blackwood magazine dated from 1926! On the veranda he sat in the armchair, sipped tea and smiled as he read the old articles. He heard some noise and looked in direction of the truck. He thought that one of the injured said a word, but there wasn't anything like that. He went on reading until he noticed, that there was some movement beyond his Blackwood. Immediately he looked up ... In front of him 3 men in uniforms appeared, of whom the one in the middle, a young man, had a revolver in his hand. At once he saw that those were Japanese and he stood up, happy to have left his rifle on board of the truck. They would not shoot on an unarmed man. In these moments he felt no grudge against the enemy, but against his own people, who had left him to drive with a lorry full of dead and injured without preparation on the way, … and now had fallen into captivity. The officer placed himself on the lowest step of the veranda and said something to him. The driver shook his head: "Don't understand Japanese". After they watched themselves a few seconds, the officer showed him with his head to step forward.

After he stepped forward, they showed him to walk in front of them. They made their way to the group at the graveyard. Dobson looked at them astonished and for a moment he thought that it was probably forbidden to dig graves in the garden of the foresters chat. Perhaps those are policemen ...
"What is happening ?", he asked.
"Don't know", replied the driver. "They are Japs".
What followed was a moment of silence, after which some heap of dry earth fell into the grave. Then one of the two cooks turned around and hurried in the direction of the trees which hid the river. He ran straight forward and everybody gathered to him. He reached the trees when it cracked. He fell forward and rolled to the stem of a palm. Now the officer growled something and pointed to the truck with his revolver. They were too confused to resist. Their rifles were very near to them, but any move would mean death and dying would be without sense in this situation.

Burns died because he tried to escape, but they will not try to escape and will live for that. They heard cries and watched more Japanese soldiers appearing behind the truck throwing a human body to the ground. They approached and noticed that it was Rasby whose bandages were ripped off and who was pricked with sort of short sticks. One pierced his mouth with a long piece of bamboo and pressed it through his throat. Rasby cried. The officer gave them an order and they stopped, they withdrew some steps and watched Rasby who rolled on the ground. After that the officer again said something and one of the soldiers grabbed the driver's shirt and undressed him. After that he wrapped the shirt lengthwise, wound it around his open mouth and tied it together. Some Japanese climbed up on the lorry and started to throw everything out that came into their hands. Others began to rip blankets in strips and bound the captives. Myler's and Rasby's uniforms were torn from their bodies and both were chained to a thick palm, behind the truck. No one resisted, because they really thought they were not to be killed. Dobson was convinced that the Japanese didn't know that they are deep behind the British lines and that they wouldn't have time to bother with prisoners when they will meet infantry on the way.

He couldn't explain why the Japanese had undressed two of them and tied them to the trees and why this didn't happens to him. In the meantime the truck was completely cleared out and the Japanese were busy with the preserved meat, which quickly went into their knapsacks. Then they grabbed Dobson and pushed him very hard to climb in the truck where he had to lie down and was soon followed by the others. Before they realised what was going on the Japanese threw the ripped blankets on them, followed by other heavier things, finally the boxes.

They tried to free themselves from the load and succeeded in rolling away to the sides, where it was easier to breath. After that they heard whispering, laughter and someone unscrewing the cover of a ten litre fuel canister. The driver first realised what would happen, but when they started to douse the truck with fuel, he didn't suspect that they would roast them alive. Then great fear overcame him, he cried and his fear spread to the others. The explosion showed them that this was the end of all and flames surrounded and overwhelmed their bodies. In his last attempt to escape the flames the driver succeeded in moving out from this hell. In spite of his hands and body burning like torches, he tried to get out, but he stumbled and fell down. This was the last thing Myler saw, because the fuel tank of the truck burst in the very next moment and the flames reached the tree above him.

(Walter Baxter, Look back at us in mercy)       

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Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942