Winnipeg Grenadiers. Where are they? Why did the Lieutenant choose me to go back to Headquarters to relay a message? Why didn’t they give us enough radios? Where is my unit? Belanger’s mind was racing faster than he was across the small stretch of Hong Kong. His unit may have been overrun during the night. The Japanese finally decided to attack and invade Hong Kong, one of the jewels of the Royal Crown’s empire. He reached a clearing, from a thin pocket of jungle.
The reservoir! Just below the Wong Nei Gap! This must be it! he thought.
He ran forward to the hill, he still had quite a ways to go.
He noticed a few bomb craters ahead of him. Movement in one. He dropped down in a prone position, aiming his rifle. A nurse climbed out.
A nurse? Here? Where on God’s earth am I? His optimism from finding the reservoir now vanished.
He ran towards the crater. He noticed a small berm of raised earth created from whatever it was that made the crater. There was a field surgeon, two nurses, and several wounded behind the berm.
He ran up to them, asked if they knew where his unit was: D Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. The medical staff looked at him, dumbfounded.
“We have a lot of work to do here. These men are from Canada, same as you, they came from that way during daybreak while we were making our way to the field hospital.” one of the nurses replied, pointing towards the Southeast.
Southeast, that’s where the Royal Rifles are supposed to be. Canadians yes, but not my unit. Belanger thought.
He stood there watching them work on the wounded men, trying not to become nauseated by the sight. Another nurse glanced at him after putting a needle from a plasma bottle into a wounded man’s arm. She motioned to the surgeon to talk to him, to get him to go elsewhere if he was going to stand there and be of no use.
The surgeon, frustrated, stopped his work and walked to Belanger.
“The Canadians we know of are currently either up on that hill over there or over to the Southeast where these men came from; please help us dress their wounds or go find your unit.”
Belanger was taken aback by the man’s cold, callous tone. He nodded at the man and ran past him, the nurses, and the wounded into the thin line of trees below the hill the surgeon motioned at.
A berm and a bomb hole, fine place to set up a makeshift aid station. He though as he left them.
He jogged forward. The top of the hill, his unit was sure to be there. The sound of battle was ahead of him, far off still but he could get there within the hour if he did not stop running.
A destroyed building a few hundred yards in front of him began to take shape.
I might be able to see everything if I can climb up there. Belanger thought to himself.
He jogged towards the building at a cautious pace trying to be aware of his surroundings as best as a single man in his position could be.
Where the hell is the rest of D Company? Belanger thought, panic beginning to set in. The distant sound of rifles cracking in the distance became louder, closer now. Rifles, mortars, and the other tools of war exchanged their snaps and cracks at one another.
He stopped beside the remains of a building that had been destroyed during the initial Japanese bombing. He pulled out a crude map he had drawn earlier of the lines and fronts of the island.
“This building isn’t on the map. This isn’t the police station. Good Lord. I—“
Belanger heard movement from behind him. His head snapped to the direction, eyes wild. He ran and hid in a bush just outside of the destroyed building. He raised his rifle, aimed at the rustling, nervous but ready to fire.
A single Rajput soldier emerged from the vegetation.
Christ Almighty. Belanger thought. The Crown truly has the whole empire on this island.
“Rajput! Hey! Rajput!” he whispered loudly.
The Rajput soldier gripped his rifle, surprised. He looked around, saw Belanger. The dark man dashed towards Belanger. The two ran towards each other.
“Where is D Company? Of the Winnipeg Grenadiers?”
“I do not know friend. My unit was nearly overrun yesterday. I ran to Battalion Headquarters during the night. I am trying to find what is left of my men.”
His unit? Belanger thought. They gave him men? He looked at the dark man’s shoulder; chevrons.
“Sergeant.” Belanger said unenthusiastically, the statement reluctantly left his mouth.
“It’s ‘Havildar’ friend. My rank is ‘Havildar’. There is no need for formalities now. The whole island may have fallen through the night.”
“Yes, Havildar.” Belanger replied, surprised by the intrepid tone of the man’s voice.
They sat there for a moment.
“You’re Rajput aren’t you? Aren’t you all supposed to be posted to the Northeast of the island?” Belanger asked trying to piece together the enormity of the situation.
“Yes.” the Rajput soldier replied, in a stern tone.
“Wait, you’re supposed to be well ahead of us by the coast. We’re not even at the Wong Nei Gap yet, if you’re all the way back here then that means—“
“You two going to sit there having tea and biscuits all day?”
Belanger and the Rajput soldier aimed their rifles at the question above, a cheeky smile looking down.
“How long have you been up there?” Belanger asked, the adrenaline falsely pumping through his body.
“Long enough to see you running around like a child that lost his mum and long enough to smell your friend here. What’s that then, curry and chips? Those yellow bastards will be able to hear and smell the two of you from miles away.”
Belanger noticed the man’s weapon, a scoped Lee Enfield. He then realized the danger of the situation and felt the burn of embarrassment. Had this man been a Japanese sharpshooter, he would have been dead long ago, probably even as he was leaving the medical staff he ran into earlier, never knowing what hit him.
“That is Havildar Ahuja to you sharpshooter. Of the 7th Rajput Regiment.”
“Right then. Havildar. Apologies.” The British soldier gave a sarcastic half-hearted salute to Ahuja.
“We’re both lost and—“
“Both our units may have fallen during the night. Can you see any of the lines through your scope sharpshooter? Any troop movement?” Havildar Ahuja interrupted Belanger, the act making Belanger even more uncomfortable with the dark man’s confidence and permitted authority.
“Nothing up here all morning. Only smoke to the East and rifle fire to the West. All the action seems to be getting closer by the hour, Havildar.” replied the sharpshooter.
“Nothing but smoke…” Ahuja repeated to himself, his eyes looking off to the East, wondering what became of his men through the night in his absence.
Belanger looked at him, then the sharpshooter. Belanger and the sharpshooter looked at each other, concerned.
“I must leave you now friend.” Ahuja broke the short silence. “I should have never left my men in the first place.” Ahuja ran towards the East, into the jungle.
A few moments later, the sharpshooter broke the silence.
“Right. Shall we try to find your…our units then? I’ve been up here since yesterday evening. Would like to stretch my legs a bit. Company football player you know. Forward, best in the battalion.” his chest puffed out, proud of the words leaving his mouth.
Football? Belanger thought. A fine time to be talking about that.
“I think I saw a ladder on the other side of the building. Be careful.” Belanger replied.
“I got this. Here, catch!” the sharpshooter threw his scoped Enfield rifle down to Belanger without warning. The scope hit Belanger in the face.
“Asshole!” Belanger couldn’t help but call out.
“Move! Out of the way!” the sharpshooter said getting ready to jump.
“No don’t do that! Don’t jum—“
The sharpshooter jumped.
He landed with a loud dull snap.
“Agh!” the sharpshooter cried out. “My leg!”
Belanger stood there looking at the man’s leg in revulsion. The sharpshooter’s right foot was pointing away from his body at a right angle, his leg broken at the shin.
“Are you going to stand there and gawk at me all day?” the sharpshooter hissed at Belanger through clenched teeth, nearly yelling.
“Why’d you do a stupid thing like that? That was almost 5 meters up! There was a ladde—“
“Fucking help me up!” snapped the sharpshooter. “I’ve jumped down from higher before, since I was a child, never with so much as a bruise! Of course I go and break my leg right here and now in the middle of war! Damn it all!”
Belanger was at a loss, he helped the man up. The man was grunting and groaning.
“I saw a surgeon with a few nurses about a half kilometer behind us in the direction I came. I’ll take you there.”
“Well thank the Crown for that.” replied the sharpshooter, seething with rage.
They turned to the direction Belanger came from. Then, in the near distance to the East, three quick rounds from an Enfield were heard. A series of other rifles replied, higher pitched. Arisakas. Two more cracks from an Enfield were met with more snaps from Arisakas. Then silence.
Belanger and the sharpshooter both looked in the direction the noise came from.
“There goes our smelly friend. ‘Havildar’.” Belanger mockingly said out loud, echoing the sharpshooter’s words from before, adding a distasteful bite to them. He still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that an Indian was in any kind of command in the Royal Army.
“I took the piss out of the two of you earlier but one of those darkies is worth five Tommies and ten of those Jap yellows. Deadly, fierce warriors they are. My father fought with them at Flanders in the Great War. Saved his life they did. If you were paying attention you might have noticed that man alerted us to the fact that we are about to have company. You Canadian auxiliaries aren’t worth the Queen’s shilling. Oh! My leg!” The British soldier’s scolding was interrupted by sheer pain. He struggled to figure out how to balance on his one good leg.
Belanger felt a wave of regret flow through his body.
The sharpshooter was struggling to stay conscious through the pain. The color in his face was slowly turning to white.
“We have to go. Now!” Belanger said.
“Right.” replied the sharpshooter, his previous brazen nature now replaced with growing weakness.
They set out to the bomb crater Belanger previously saw the medical staff at. When they arrived the medical staff was still working on the men from earlier.
“You again. What happened to this one?” the surgeon asked.
“Mr. Forward jumped from the top of a building.” Belanger said.
“Piss off lad. I’ve jumped from higher.” the sharpshooter replied, even weaker than before.
“Put him here.” the surgeon pointed at an area on the ground next to other wounded men.
“Nurse; compound fracture. Morphine.” the surgeon called the nurse over then pulled out a pair of medical shears and began cutting away the British soldier’s trousers. The extent of the sharpshooter’s injury was now fully evident. His shin bone was protruding from the skin. The nurse took out medical bandaging and other tools of their trade. She gave the sharpshooter morphine and he seemed to drift off into a semi-conscious state.
Belanger began feeling nauseous at the sight and felt sympathetic for the loud mouthed British soldier. A truck drove up to their location and began loading the wounded men. Belanger left the sharpshooter’s side to help the medical staff place the wounded in the back of the truck.
Moments later Belanger returned to the British soldier’s side and looked in horror as the surgeon had clipped away at the flesh around the bone that was protruding from the British soldier’s leg. The sinew and soft flesh holding together what was left of the obtruded bone was gone.
“What have you done?” What are you doing to him?” Belanger asked in a mixture of anger and confusion. His medical knowledge of how to treat injuries and sprains was limited, but even he knew what do if someone broke a bone.
“You set the bone when it’s fractured!” Belanger berated the surgeon, now in question.
“It’s going to have to go; irreparable.” the surgeon motioned to his nurses. “Hold him down.”
“Go?” the British soldier barked. “What do you mean ‘go’? I’m a forward! Battalion football! Oi! Get off of me!”
Belanger was infuriated with the surgeon, nearly to the point of tears.
The nurses and surgeon were fighting to hold the sharpshooter down, who now seemed to have the strength of five men.
“You! Hold him down! If you want your fiend to live, hold. Him. Down!”
Belanger was shaking. He placed his hands on the British soldier’s shoulders and held him down. The British soldier was now almost wrestling with Belanger, the surgeon, and the two nurses.
“Give him more morphine for Christ’s sake!” Belanger shouted at one of the nurses.
“If we give him more, it will kill him.” one of the nurses replied, grunting to hold down the sharpshooter’s other leg.
“I need that leg! I’m going to play professional football after this war! I’m not going to have a scratch on me like the others! Get off you bleedin’ bastards!” the sharpshooter was now screaming.
Belanger had to lie down on the man’s chest, his body lying perpendicular on top of the sharpshooter’s. The two nurses were holding him down as best as they could. The man was fighting now with the strength of ten men. He was fighting for his survival. His leg. The hopes of a post-war football career.
“I’ll kill you all! With my hands I will! Don’t do this! I’ll kill you all! No!” shouted the sharpshooter.
Belanger had to turn his head to his left away from the British soldier’s face. He couldn’t look at the British soldier’s face, twisting in futility and anguish. To his left was the sight of the surgeon sitting on the sharpshooter’s good leg, one hand above the man’s bad knee, a bone saw in the other. Belanger turned his head to his right as the surgeon pressed the saw in the sharpshooter’s leg.
“Stop it! For all that’s holy, stop it! You’re killing me! My leg! My football! Stop! Please! No, God no!” the sharpshooter was crying like a feeding infant separated from its mother’s breast.
“Talk to him!” the surgeon commanded Belanger.
“Don’t scream! It’s ok.” Belanger tried talking to the man. The sharpshooter was losing his sanity with every pull of the surgeon’s saw. Every drag of the saw through his soft pink flesh was pulling him further and further away from his humanity. His life was over. The life he wanted for himself. Belanger knew this. He would never be a football star. His days of running were over.
“You won’t have to buy another drink again you crying limey. You’ll get the Victoria Cross for this! It’s ok. You’re a hero now. A hero of the colonies.”
It was futile. Belanger’s words were useless. The British soldier was crying and screaming like nothing Belanger had ever heard in his worst nightmares. He had never heard any living thing exist in that much pain. He thought about the man speaking of how good he was at football just earlier.
“You’re going to be—oh God. It’s ok. Please. Be quiet.” Belanger was crying now. Crying with the man whose life was over. Whose sanity was now gone. Belanger was cradling the man’s head with one hand and cruelly holding him hold with his other arm and body weight. He was holding the man’s head to keep him from fracturing his skull on the hard ground below him as he slammed his head down every time the surgeon dragged the saw through his leg. Belanger was trying to give him any comfort he could. Trying to give the man any piece of comfort at all with his ultimately empty, hollow words.
“Please God kill me! Please God stop them from killing me! God! They’re killing me! Where are you Lord? Save me! Mother! Mummy! They’re killing me mummy! Mummy, they’re killing me! Stop cutting!” the sharpshooter was choking on his own snot, tears, and words.
“Finished.” stated the surgeon. “Bandages; dress the wound.”
He threw the man’s leg to the side. The thump of the severed limb hitting the hard ground broke Belanger’s heart.
“They’re done sharpshooter. They’re done.” He tried comforting the British soldier.
“I hate you. Get…away...from…me.” The sharpshooter told Belanger through white lips. His head slumped over to the side.
Another medical truck arrived.
“Get more plasma into him and get him on the truck!” the surgeon yelled to the nurses. “Get him out of here! He needs to go to the battalion hospital now!”
Belanger helped them put him onto the back of the truck. Another vehicle drove up with two other Canadian soldiers. The whole scene became surreal to Belanger. His head felt like it was swimming, his body light, as if he was floating in the ocean. He felt his consciousness leave his body, almost as if he was viewing himself from behind. Every step he took in assisting the medical staff felt weightless. He lost the sensation in his body. His arms were numb. Was he dreaming? Was this all a vivid hallucination his mind created? Would he wake up back home early on a Sunday morning to his children jumping up and down at the foot of his bed shouting “Daddy! Daddy! Wake Up!”?
One of the Canadian soldiers shouted at him, stirring him from his clouded state, “What the hell are you doing way back here? The fighting is that way!” He pointed toward the hill Belanger was originally heading to.
“Where. Where are. The…” Belanger could barely speak.
The Canadian soldier angrily grabbed Belanger’s shoulder and looked at his unit’s patch. “The Winnipeg Grenadiers? You mean C Force? We’re over there now! They relocated through the night! Come with us!” the soldier shouted, angrier now.
Belanger climbed into the vehicle in a haze. His mind disassociated. The war was over for the sharpshooter, but not for him.
Belanger would survive the Battle and Fall of Hong Kong. He would survive the inhuman brutality of Japanese POW treatment and their camps. He would live on. When the war ended, he would go back to his hometown of Stonewall, just north of Winnipeg. The living hell the Japanese created for him during the rest of the war would never go on to affect him in his post-war life as much as the screams from the sharpshooter did. The screams would wake him up at night. He would dream of the sharpshooter dragging himself on the ground, leg missing, to Belanger’s feet begging for an answer as to why he let them lop his leg off. During the first few years after the war; the sharpshooter’s anguished face twisting into horrible shapes of torment and misery was all Belanger could see when he closed his eyes to go to sleep. It took Belanger most of his life to forgive himself for holding that man down and taking part in ending the British soldier’s football career. The worst part of it all, Belanger would think to himself through the years, was that I never learned the poor fellow’s name. He would wonder what became of the man for the rest of his days.