BRITISH COMICS

(The Hotspur Homepage)

THE BADGE OF THE BOLD

First episode, 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!

Jungle Patrol.

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 of it!”

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. Henderson swung 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 choking.

 

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