THE BADGE OF THE BOLD
taken from The Hotspur issue: 978 August 6th 1955.
A great new yarn about doctors who had to save their patients
from the jungle—and the Japanese Army!
A heavy silence hung over the
matted jungle that covered the steep slopes of the Assam hills.
In the sky a fierce sun blazed down, but its light was cut off by the mass of
trees, so that a hot green twilight lay on the jungle. The dense undergrowth
stirred and rustled as a line of men pushed their way through. Their shirts and
trousers were stained and torn, their floppy bush hats shaded faces covered in
a stubble of whiskers. The men were like scarecrows, but the rifles and
automatic weapons they carried were bright and clean, ready in their hands.
Their eyes were dimmed with fatigue, but still restless and on the watch. The
year was 1943, and this was a patrol of the British Fourteenth Army, returning from
a raid deep behind the Japanese lines. At this stage of the Second World War
the conquering armies of Japan had
swarmed over the East from Manchuria to the
Indian border. They had pushed the British out of Singapore, and
in Burma the
Commonwealth forces had made a fighting retreat northwards through Assam and
Manipur to India. Along
the frontier of Bengal the
British had turned to make their stand. Short of men and supplies, they had
held the invader, and the Japanese advance had stopped. Now the Commonwealth
Armies were building up again, preparing for the day when they would sweep the
enemy back into the sea. In the jungle that separated the two armies, British
patrols were continually marauding, striking hard, and disappearing like
ghosts, an ever present menace to the invader, whose armies were now stretched
to their utmost to keep control of their conquests. This patrol was pressing on
quickly, forcing a way through the trackless jungle. A young lieutenant was in
the lead, his revolver in his hand. The man behind him stumbled, and the
officer turned. “Keep going, Jackson,” he
snapped. “The Japs aren’t far behind!” “I can’t, sir,” panted the soldier, his
face grey with tiredness. “You’ll have to leave me!” “We’re not leaving you for
the Japs to find!” said the lieutenant. He put an arm round the soldier’
shoulders. Another man took Jackson’s
rifle, and the patrol stumbled on. “How far to the airstrip, now, sir?” asked a
red bearded man wore sergeant’s stripes. “About half an hour ahead,” panted the
officer. “Keep the men moving, Sergeant.” The sergeant stood aside, watching
the soldiers struggling past him. At the rear were two men with sub-machine
guns. They were continually watching the jungle behind them—jungle that closed
in again immediately, as soon as the patrol had passed through. The sergeant
let them go by. For a moment he stood scanning the way they had come, sweat
trickling down his face in the hot gloom. He turned to follow the patrol.
Suddenly he swung up his automatic rifle. A burst ripped through the leaves as
he squeezed the trigger. From the branches of a tree a man crashed down, to lie
sprawling face downwards in the bushes. He wore the threadbare uniform of a
Japanese soldier. At the sound of firing, the other men in the patrol flung themselves
flat. Down on one knee, the sergeant peered through a screen of creepers.
The seconds ticked away as the
soldiers waited, lying motionless, their hands on their guns. Nothing stirred
in the dank jungle. The sergeant wriggled forward until he reached the officer.
“Can’t see another one,” he whispered. The lieutenant watched the wall of
vegetation that towered all round them. He did not answer for a moment. “He
must have been the advance scout,” he said. “You can bet the others aren’t far
away. Let’s get out of here before that firing brings ‘em running.” The patrol
stumbled on again. Fit men would have found it hard to travel fast through the
jungle, and these men were weak from days and nights of forced marches, of
fighting on the run. They were down to a few drops of water in their water
bottles, and they had not eaten for twenty four hours. They struggled on, urged
forward by the thought of the enemy closing in on them. They knew the fate that
awaited them if the Japs caught them. The enemy seldom took prisoners. The
lieutenant was still helping along the soldier called Jackson. The
man was dragging his feet, and his eyes were closed. “Keep going, Jackson,” said
the officer. “We’re close to the airstrip now.” He pushed aside another tangled
mass of bushes. Then, from ahead, came a rattle of firing. Jackson gave a
choking cry and went limp. The lieutenant flung himself down, dragging Jackson with
him. The soldier lay where he had fallen, a stain spreading over his tattered
shirt. Bullets ripped over the men as they lay flat, trying to peer through the
half-light. Another soldier gave a stifled gasp. The sergeant squirmed up
beside the officer. “They circled round us!” he muttered. “They were waiting
for us!” “We’re boxed in,” nodded the Lieutenant. “Jackson’s
dead. Who else is hit?” The sergeant looked round. “Brown’s had it,” he said.
“Couple of the boys hurt, as far as I can see.” “All right,” said the officer.
“They’ve got us, but they’ve got to come and fetch us!” Lying in the dense
undergrowth, the patrol formed a rough square. Grimly they waited for the next
attack. They could see nothing of the enemy, but the Japs had their position
pinpointed. Another murderous burst of firing swept over the trapped soldiers.
From the jungle came a chorus of savage yells, and the Japanese crashed in to
the attack, bayonets levelled. “Hold your fire!” shouted the lieutenant. The
enemy soldiers plunged forward in one of their typical suicide rushes, heedless
of their own lives. Coolly the British patrol waited until the attackers were
almost on them. The Japs thrust through the screen of bushes. Now, at last, the
patrol had a clear view of them. “Fire!” yelled the lieutenant. A searing blast
of lead met the onrushing Japs. The first wave went down like reaped corn. But
behind came another line. The patrol was far outnumbered. Then the Japs were
among them, hacking and thrusting. It was savage, hand-to-hand fighting. The
sergeant dodged a bayonet stroke, rammed the butt of his gun into his
attacker’s face, and turned to meet another Jap. There was a wild, crashing
confusion in the tangle of jungle. Then, suddenly, the Japs had melted away
into the jungle again. Their first attack had failed. Gasping, the sergeant
looked round. Half-hidden in the bushes, bodies lay all about the patrol’s
defence position, sprawled in the awkward attitudes of death. Many of them were
Japs, but the sergeant’s face was hard as he saw how many of his friends lay
there as well. The lieutenant staggered to his feet. His left arm hung at his side,
and his shirt was ripped away. “You hurt, Sergeant?” he gasped. “Gash in the
leg, sir,” said the sergeant. “I’m O K. What about you?” “I can still use a
gun,” grunted the lieutenant. “How many men have we got left?” “Six, including
us two,” said the sergeant. “And all wounded.” “They’ll get us next time,” said
the officer. “They only came at us from three sides,” said the sergeant. “We
might get away in the jungle before they re-form.” The lieutenant nodded. “Get
moving, Sergeant! I’ll cover your retreat.” The sergeant began to protest.
“That’s an order, Sergeant!” snapped the lieutenant. “The radio’s still
working. Call up Bandapur and tell them to put a plane down on that airstrip
fast. Tell ‘em you need medical help as well.”
A little fellow with a wizened,
Cockney face wriggled up to the officer. “I’m staying with you, sir,” he said.
“You get out with the sergeant, Hawkins,” said the lieutenant. “Can’t walk,
sir,” said the Cockney, forcing a grin. “Got a bullet through me leg.” “All
right, Hawkins,” smiled the officer. “We’ll give the Japs something to write
home about! What are you waiting fro, Sergeant?” Silently the sergeant held out
his hand. The lieutenant shook it briefly, then turned away. Cautiously the
sergeant edged away through the screen of undergrowth. After him came a man
carrying the portable radio transmitter slung on his back, followed by the
remaining two soldiers of the patrol. Inch by inch they wormed forward through
the jungle. Somewhere out there the Japs were lurking, gathering for the final
assault that would wipe out the patrol. The heavy silence had settled over the
jungle again. For all the British soldiers could tell, the enemy might be ten
yards away or ten miles. With every nerve taut the four men crept slowly away
from the spot where they had been ambushed. With a shattering suddenness firing
broke out again behind them. There was a confused uproar of shouting that rose
triumphantly, then died away. The firing stopped, and the silence fell again.
The four soldiers who had escaped looked at each other without speaking. The
sergeant rubbed the back of his hand across his red stubble with a rasping
noise. “Come on!” he growled. “Those two gave us a chance. Let’s make the most
The Flying Doctors.
Bandapur was an advance post of the
British Army, on the frontier between India and Burma. Round
an airstrip were grouped lines of tents and “bashas,” huts with a bamboo
framework. The largest building, a long, low erection with bamboo walls, had a
red cross painted on it. This was the advance dressing station, where men
coming in wounded from patrol could be treated before being sent farther back
behind the lines. On an office door in the dressing station were painted the
words— “Colonel Dudley, Senior Medical Officer.” Colonel Dudley was busy at his
desk. He was a lean, sunburnt man with smooth, grey hair. Between his teeth was
clenched a much-bitten pipe. He looked up quickly as the door communicating
with the next room opened, and a corporal came in. “Emergency call, sir,” said the
corporal, handing Colonel Dudley a slip of paper. The colonel took the paper,
stood up, and went over to a large map pinned on one wall. “Who are the duty
doctors?” he asked. “Captain Henderson and Lieutenant Pine, sir,” said the
corporal. “I’ve sent them a copy of this message.” Colonel Dudley nodded,
puffing at his pipe as he studied the map. He turned as two officers hurried
into the room. “Job for you, Henderson,” he said. “You’ll probably need Pine’s
help.” Captain Henderson was square-built and cheerful looking, while
Lieutenant Pine was tall and fair. They both stared at the map as Colonel
Dudley jabbed the stem of his pipe at it. “One of our patrols got mauled around
here,” he said. “The four survivors are making for the emergency landing strip
here.” “Jap patrols have been pretty active around there lately,” said Pine.
“You’ll have to get in and out fast,” nodded Colonel Dudley. “We’re like the
Mounties,” said Pine. “We always get our man! But I admit I’d feel happier if
we were armed.” “You’re doctors,” said Colonel Dudley. “Doctors don’t carry
arms, even in wartime. Our job is to get the boys out when they run into
trouble. They’ll do the fighting. We’re here to help them. That’s why this unit
was formed. That’s why we’re based so near the front.” “We’ll get started sir,”
said Henderson. “I’m
going down to the railhead,” said Colonel Dudley. “I want to make sure that
load of supplies is on the train, as base promised. But I’ll be back in time to
have a look at the fellows you bring in.”
The two medical officers hurried
out. In the passage, Pine grinned at Henderson. “Just
a routine job to the colonel, Don!” Henderson
nodded. “Any job the unit is asked to do is routine for him,” he said. “I
wanted some action when I volunteered for this special unit,” said Joe Pine.
“Well, I’m certainly getting it!” A small high wing monoplane was warming up on
the airstrip. The two doctors slung in a bag of first aid equipment and
scrambled in, with Don Henderson at the controls. The little plane hopped into
the air at the end of a very short run. It climbed in a banking turn, bumping
in the disturbed air over the hills. Below them the green slopes rolled away to
the horizon. Henderson
studied a map fastened to his knee. “Farther south,” he grunted, swinging the
plane round. The little plane droned on over the jungle covered hills. Joe Pine
stared down, scanning the forest for the clearing they were seeking. The plane
dipped between two hills into a narrow valley, and Pine pointed. “That’s it!” A
narrow, cleared strip showed up against the green of the jungle. Don Henderson
put the nose down, and the plane drifted in. The little plane slipped over the
treetops, bounced on the dusty ground, and slowed to a halt. Warily Henderson opened
the door and jumped out. The airstrip had been built by a British column that
had penetrated into the jungle to make this emergency landing field. The Japs
had not found it, but already the jungle was creeping back, spilling over the
edges of the strip in a confused tangle of growth. Henderson stared
round at the green walls surrounding him. It had been cool in the air, but now
the clammy jungle heat struck at him. “Think they’re coming?” muttered Joe
Pine. “We’ll give ‘em a bit longer,” said Henderson.
“They’re all wounded. They wouldn’t make very fast time.” He swung round. There
was a rustling at the edge of the jungle. A man burst out, a red bearded man
whose tattered shirt bore a sergeant’s strips. After him stumbled three other
men in scarecrow clothes. “Get aboard!” said Henderson. “We’ll
have a look at your wounds when you’re in the air.” The two doctors helped the
patrol survivors aboard the plane. Henderson
scrambled in and started the engine as Pine was helping the last man up. There
were shouts from the jungle. Japanese soldiers rushed out on to the airstrip.
Rifles cracked viciously. “Get going!” shouted Pine. The plane began to roll
forward. Pine scrambled for the door, and his fingers got a grip. The sergeant
leaned out and grabbed him. Pine hung there for a moment, halfway out of the
door, as the plane gathered speed. He fell inside, sprawling across the others.
The small plane was crowded tight with the soldiers and the two doctors. The
wall of jungle was rushing nearer, but the heavily laden aircraft showed no
sign of lifting.
There was another burst of firing.
More Japs were pouring out of the jungle ahead of them. Henderson gave
the engine full boost. “Hold tight!” he yelled. They were almost on the line of
Japs under the jungle trees. Henderson hauled
the stick back, and the plane jerked upwards in a staggering rise like a
crippled bird. Henderson had a
glimpse of the trees sliding past inches below. The plane seemed to hesitate,
the labouring motor straining to drag it upwards. Then the trees were falling
away. Faintly came another round of firing, but the plane was out of range now.
the aircraft round, heading the nose for Bandapur. “All right, Joe,” he
grinned. “Get out the first aid gear and have a look at these fellows.”
The New Officer.
The sergeant rubbed his smooth
chin. The red bristles had gone, and he was lying in a clean bed in a ward of
the advance dressing station at Bandapur. Sharing the ward with him were the
other three survivors of his patrol. “That feels better,” he smiled. “We’d like
to thank you for pulling us out, sir.” “It’s our job,” said Henderson. “All
the boys on patrol work know you medicos who go in and help the wounded,” said
the sergeant. “Gives us a lot of confidence to know you’re there if we want
you.” “Colonel’s jeep coming back,” said Pine, glancing through the window.
“Let’s go and meet him,” said Henderson.
“He’ll want a full report.” The two officers went outside. A jeep was racing up
the road from the railhead at Bandapur. It bore medical markings, and the
sentry at the entrance to the camp started to pull off a smart salute for
Colonel Dudley as it swung in. Then the sentry stared. It wasn’t Colonel Dudley
driving the jeep. It was a tall, thin young lieutenant who wore horn-rimmed
glasses. The jeep jolted to a stop in front of the dressing station and the
officer got out, unwinding his long legs from around the steering column.
Knocking dust from his uniform, he smiled at Henderson and
Pine, and pulled a valise from the jeep. “Lieutenant Davis reporting for duty!”
he said. Henderson and
Pine had been staring at him. Now Henderson
stepped forward and shook hands, introducing himself and Pine. “You haven’t
been an army doctor long, have you, Davis?”
asked Henderson. “This
is my posting,” replied Davis. “I
thought so,” said Don Henderson. “You should have reported at the guardhouse on
the way in. Don’t come bursting in again without stopping. The sentries have
orders to shoot at anybody who doesn’t halt. They’re pretty trigger happy, too!
It was only the fact that he recognised the S.M.O.’s jeep that got you through.
“Who’s the S.M.O.?” asked Davis. Henderson
stared. “The Senior Medical Officer,” he said. “Colonel Dudley. You’ve met him,
haven’t you? That’s his jeep you’ve got.” Davis looked
surprised. “I didn’t know that,” he said. “I saw this jeep with medical
markings outside the railway station, so I thought it must be for me. I just
hopped in, asked somebody the way, and here I am!” Captain Henderson took a
deep breath. “Let’s get this straight, Davis,” he
said carefully. “You’ve helped yourself to the colonel’s jeep?” “Afraid so!”
admitted Davis. “Do
you think he’ll mind?” Henderson and
Pine looked at each other. “Oh, no, I shouldn’t think so!” said Pine.
“Especially if the guard commander reports that you drove past without stopping
at the guardhouse!” “They say anybody who volunteers for service in this unit
must be crazy,” said Don Henderson. “You qualify all right, Davis!”
“Yes, I do seem to have put my foot in it,” mused Davis. “I
was thinking of something else at the time or I wouldn’t have done it.”
Suddenly a wailing sound filled the
air. “Air-raid warning!” shouted Henderson. Davis looked
about with interest. Men were racing to their action stations, ramming on their
helmets. With a whine of engines, a single Jap plane swooped down on the camp.
Attacking with the sun behind it, it had got close before being noticed. The
ground shook with the rumble of exploding bombs. The running men flung
themselves flat. The plane roared overhead and began to climb. Captain Henderson
lifted his head. All around him other men had flung themselves down. One figure
still stood upright. Drew Davis had not moved. He had one finger on his pulse,
a frown of concentration on his face. “Get down, you fool!” shouted Henderson. “I
wanted to find out how excitement affects the pulse-rate!” said Davis, in a
preoccupied manner. “The plane’s coming back!” yelled Henderson. The
Jap plane was diving again. Henderson
scrambled to his feet, raced across to Davis and
flung him down in a flying tackle. The ground shook again. The blast seared
across the two doctors as they lay there. The plane roared past. The camps guns
opened up on it as it tried to climb. Davis’s
glasses had been knocked off. He groped for them, pushed them on, and twisted
round. He was in time to see the plane hit. There was a sudden brilliant flash,
and a gush of black smoke came from the bomber. It turned over and dropped out
of sight. Another explosion shook the air as it crashed. Davis got to
his feet. A sudden wave of heat made him turn. The dressing station, hit in the
raid, was burning furiously at one side. Henderson began
to run towards the wing that was blazing. He stopped, gasping, as the flames
leapt out at him. “Get the pumps going!” he shouted. “There are four men in
there!” Drew Davis turned and raced back to the jeep, his long legs striding
loosely. Men were trundling up one of the fire pumps, and Drew shot the jeep
alongside. “Turn the hose on me!” he yelled. The men stared at him. “Quick, if
you want to get those fellows out!” shouted Drew. The soldiers holding the hose
swung it round, and the jet poured over Drew and the jeep. “Keep it on me!”
yelled Drew. He slammed in the clutch, and the jeep lurched forward. The flimsy
bamboo walls of the dressing station were flaring like torches. The heat drove
back the men who were trying to get near. The whole side was blazing now.
Trapped inside were the survivors of the jungle patrol. They had fought their
way home, to be faced with death in the flames. The jeep roared straight at the
blazing wall. Drew jammed his foot down hard on the accelerator and held on.
The fire fighters were trying to keep the jet from their hose directed on him.
Drew ducked down behind the windscreen as the jeep hit the flimsy wall. Pieces
of blazing bamboo flew in all directions. The jeep burst through, and Drew
brought it to a skidding halt. The room was full of smoke, and the heat was
Drew jumped out and peered round,
his eyes smarting behind his glasses. He heard coughing, and he groped his way
forward. A soldier with his leg in a splint was sprawled across a bed, and
another man with one arm in a sling was trying to lift him. “Get in the jeep!”
yelled Drew. He stumbled forward. He found the other two men near the door.
They had tried to reach the line of water-filled fire buckets, but one had
collapsed, and the other, coughing harshly, was trying vainly, with his last
reserves of strength, to lift one of the buckets. “Leave that!” shouted Drew.
“Get in the jeep!” He pushed the man through the smoke towards the vehicle.
Getting his arms round the soldier who had collapsed, he dragged him to the
jeep. Hauling and shoving, Drew helped the four soldiers to scramble aboard.
Then he turned and raced back through the smoke. The heat was getting more intense,
and he was breathing in heavy gasps. Drew came staggering back to the jeep
carrying two fire buckets. Putting them down, he twitched a blanket from a
nearby bed. “Keep down,” he shouted. Three of the soldiers were crouching in
the back of the open jeep, one in the seat next to the driver’s. Drew flung the
blanket over them, and hurled the water from the two buckets over the blanket.
Scrambling in, he sent the jeep skidding round, heading for the gap by which he
had entered. The steering wheel was almost too hot to hold. The jeep lurched
suddenly as one tyre burst with a bang. Drew steadied the vehicle and shoved
his foot down. The gap he’d made was hidden by the smoke and flames. Drew
ducked as the jeep charged forward. Beside him the blanket was steaming as the
heat evaporated the water on it. Burning particles showered around Drew.
Suddenly a gust of air blew the smoke away, and he took a breath that was fresh
and cool. The jeep was through the flame barrier. The figures of the fire
fighting squad loomed ahead. They swung the hose towards him, and the stream of
water poured over the smouldering blanket. Drew stopped and climbed out
stiffly. Captain Henderson ran to him, and Drew pulled the blanket aside.
Coughing and blinking, the rescued men slowly sat up.
Colonel Dudley sat in the tent that
had been put up as his temporary quarters. Opposite him stood Drew Davis. “That
was a good effort, Davis!” said
Colonel Dudley. “Thank you, sir,” said Drew. “You came very near to finding
yourself on the next train back to base,” said Colonel Dudley. “When I came out
of the station, and was told a new R.A.M.C. lieutenant had taken my jeep. I was
after your hide.” Drew said nothing. “By the time I’d hitched a lift up here,
the excitement was over,” went on Colonel Dudley. “But Captain Henderson told
me how you got those men out. Because of that, I’m going to give you another
chance.” “Thank you, sir,” said Drew with relief. Colonel Dudley picked up a
signal flimsy from his desk. “There’s another emergency call here,” he said.
“I’m sending you with Captain Henderson. Report to him now.” “Yes, sir,”
replied Drew. “And, Davis,”
called Colonel Dudley, as Drew hurried to the entrance. “It depends on how you
carry out this job whether you stay with us or not!”
THE BADGE OF THE
BOLD 13 Episodes The Hotspur issues 978 – 990 (1955)
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007