'Tojo can't beat a man who's served time on t' Corporation bus!'
'Tojo', denoting the mighty Imperial Japanese Army - that's the authentic voice of a soldier of the 14th Army fighting in the Burma campaign. Readers of George MacDonald Fraser's brilliant memoir of his Burmese experiences, Quartered Safe Out Here, will recall that he and his comrades invariably refer to the enemy as 'Tojo'. It cuts him down to size in typically British manner.
The soldier quoted above was one of those featured in an affecting documentary on Channel 4 last night, Messages Home: Lost Films of the British Army, built around a cache of filmed messages from soldiers, mostly Lancastrian, of the 'forgotten army', recently rediscovered by chance in Manchester. A film unit had given the men the chance to speak to their loved ones, who would, with any luck, be watching when the footage was shown in a Manchester cinema. In the documentary, we see the reactions of the men's descendants - and a couple of veterans - watching today. The emotional moments are lingered on rather, and it would have been nice to have a bit more on the campaign itself - but the messages themselves, messages from what now seems like another world, were given due prominence.
Naturally they are often stilted - these men were not used to being filmed - and they are invariably upbeat, despite the horrors they had lived through in this extraordinarily brutal campaign. The same phrases keep cropping up - 'In the pink', 'Keeping well', 'Best of luck to you all', 'Well, cheerio for now' - phrases that date the film, not just by their language but by the chin-up attitude. These men, who have been through hell, put on an extraordinarily cheery show. At one point they even treat us to a song - what else but Lassie from Lancashire (as performed here by the incomparable Sam Sherry).
When they finally came home - those who did - these men never said anything about what they went through. No post-traumatic stress counselling for them. They resumed their lives without a word, job done.