I’m old enough to have done National Service.  At the age of 20 I was a 2/Lt in the Royal Artillery on active service in Malaya.  When we went up-country I was sometimes in charge of four 25 Pounder Field Guns and 24 men, six per gun.  We used to drive in convoy, towing the four guns, from Singapore, over the Johor-Singapore Causeway into the Malayan Peninsular. 

Our destination was a preordained map reference somewhere in the Malayan jungle south of Kuala Lumpur. Finding the right spot on the map was up to me – a scary responsibility since a missed turning meant unhitching the guns from their carriages, turning them and all the vehicles 180 degrees, and reassembling the convoy; a task that took an hour or so and, in the humid heat, did nothing for your reputation or for the morale of the men. 

Having found the correct location, usually without mishap, we’d clear a space in the jungle, set up the guns and pitch our camp.  Typically we’d stay for a week or two before moving to another map reference.  Over a crackling radio we were given a schedule for firing shells at targets five or six miles away.  The idea was to shell an area in order to disperse Communist Terrorists prior to the infantry moving in.

On one such escapade I was in the observation post, a small hillock a couple of miles forward of the guns. This particular hill was rather parched and unusually free of foliage making it an ideal spot for an observation post. We had been warned that a brigadier, recently arrived from the UK, would visit us accompanied by our regimental colonel.  They duly arrived in a Land Rover, the brigadier with conspicuously white knees, and walked up the hill to inspect our observation post.  After a few cursory questions which I seemed to answer satisfactorily, the colonel and the brigadier wandered down the other side of the hill chatting together.  I have no idea why – there was nothing of interest to see once you left the hill top. 

Two miles back the 25 pounders were following orders and firing salvos at the targets they had been given.  Shells therefore occasionally whistled high over the observation post on their way to the target area some two or three miles distant.

Everything was going to plan when, ominously, a shell came over on a low projectory, making a strange yawing noise instead of the usual smooth swishing sound. The shell fell hopelessly short of its destination and exploded. The brigadier immediately fell to the ground clutching his chest.  With difficulty, we carried him back to the Land Rover.

We subsequently learnt that shrapnel had punctured one of his lungs.  He had been flown back to the UK and invalided out of the army. 

National Servicemen aren’t supposed to shoot senior officers.

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