Shorty Pays a Debt

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7 mins read

Editor’s note: The following account by “NX125132” is extracted from Jungle Warfare: With the Australian Army in the South-West Pacific (published 1944).

He was lying back in a hospital bed when I first saw him. Pale and weak, he still had a tough, wiry look about him. He couldn’t sleep, seemed to have something on his mind, and after a bit it came out.

Shorty and I — it’s always been that way. Seems funny here in this hospital bed — oh, I guess I better start at the beginning….

Way back, when this war first started, Shorty and I were two average young Australians, not much interested in wars, but after a while, you know how it is — the chaps around joining up — we joined too, together, as we always have done things.

In time I got two stripes, but Shorty, well he never did seem to worry about promotions or things like that. For four years now we have been together, through Greece, Crete and the Middle East, then up to New Guinea….

Two weeks ago with seven other chaps we were out on patrol when we ran into a Jap patrol coming our way.

We slipped into the jungle on either side of the trail and blazed away at them with every thing we had for a while, then they stopped firing back, and we thought maybe we had got them all, so we scouted ahead.

We counted six bodies, and it seemed as though the rest of them had moved out; back to base or somewhere. Anyhow, it was about the limit of our patrol so we turned back, Shorty being drag-man.

I was a bit worried about those missing Japs; just as well, too, because I looked back in time to see one taking a bead on Shorty, who hadn’t seen him.

I gave that Nip a quick long burst with my Owen just as his finger tightened on the trigger, so Shorty only got a grazed shoulder instead of a hole in the head.

Shorty didn’t say much except “Thanks, that’s one I owe you.”

A week later I got mine as the Japs tried a counter-attack, a bad leg wound it was, so bad I became pretty weak and couldn’t even crawl back to the boys.

So I just lay there by the side of the trail, hidden by the jungle from the Japs up front — not far in front, either. I could hear them talking as they set up a machine gun not twenty yards away.

My leg was throbbing pretty badly, and I’d lost a lot of blood, which was slowly seeping through the field-dressing. I guess I must have faded out for a while, because when I awoke it was just getting dark, and raining like it does in New Guinea.

Shorty was due as soon as it got thoroughly dark — I knew that, because never yet has Shorty forgotten a debt — not that he wouldn’t have come without that.

Half an hour later I heard someone moving along the trail from our line. When he got level with me I whispered, “That you, Shorty?” There was a grunt and a hand groped in towards me.

“Can you move?” he whispered back. When I told him no, he says, “Oh, well, I’ll have to carry you, I suppose.”

After a bit of a struggle he got me out on the trail. I don’t know why the Japs didn’t hear us, I guess it was the rain on the leaves; anyway they didn’t.

Shorty lifts me up and starts back. The track was muddy and slippery, and he had a lot of trouble keeping on his feet, but he managed all right till about half-way back when he must have trodden on a root or some thing, because he went crashing into a growth of bamboo.

Maybe you don’t know how much noise bamboo can make, but I can tell you it makes a noise that can be heard through the heaviest rain.

Anyway, the Nips must have heard it, because after a second or two they started to spray that track with quite a bit of lead.

We waited till they’d finished, then Shorty lifts me again and starts to stagger back.

We got another ten yards when suddenly the Nips decide to shoot again.

Shorty gives a lurch and almost drops me. I know he’s been hit, so I tell him to leave me and go back by himself, but he says he’s O.K. only there’s something warm and sticky dropping down on me that gives the lie to what he says.

But he keeps on till a couple of chaps step out and take me from him.

Then he sort of folds up and as he goes down he says, “That’s quits, Jimmy….”

That’s the last I remember for a long time, but when I wake up I’m in this bed and they tell me Shorty is gone.

“Quits,” he said, but lying here, I wonder.

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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