Billy Mack's War

Billy Mack's War by James Roy

Book: Billy Mack's War by James Roy Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Roy
Some of the men were propping themselves up on their elbows, others rested their heads on crisp white pillows. Most were smiling. ‘These brave young chaps have been reluctant guests of the Imperial Japanese Army,’ the narrator’s voice said. ‘What an ordeal they’ve faced, but now at long last they can look forward to coming home to their loved ones. With the best care money can buy and the help of these lovely ladies’ — here a couple of pretty nurses in white uniforms grinned bashfully at the camera — ‘these fellows will soon be up and about and ready to head on home. Well done, chaps! It’ll be great to have you back!’
    A man sitting behind us snorted. ‘Don’t look all that crook to me,’ he said to his friend. ‘I thought they were supposed to be starving.’
    His friend agreed. ‘They looked a bit thin, but other than that …’
    Granddad looked down at me. I guess he must have sensed my fists clenching, because he said in a low voice, ‘Steady, Billy. They don’t understand.’
    â€˜Then we should make them understand,’ I said through tight lips.
    â€˜You can’t, mate,’ Granddad said. ‘Just leave it.’
    The men weren’t quite finished. ‘Give them a couple of weeks off and they’ll be right.’
    â€˜Yeah, well, like I said, they don’t look too crook. The paper said they were all skin and bone, but look at them! I mean, they could use a couple more pounds, sure, but at the end of the day —’
    â€˜All right, that’s it,’ Granddad muttered, rising in his seat and turning to face the men. The black and white light of the projector flickered on his face, and he ignored the murmured complaints from the audience. ‘Oh, I should have known. Morning, Darcy,’ he said. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the screen. ‘Did you think maybe they’ve had a few weeks to feed up? A few decent meals might make a difference when you’ve had nothing but rice and cholera for years, what do you reckon?’
    â€˜Steady on, Tom, we’ve all done it tough,’ someone called out.
    â€˜Done it tough? You wouldn’t know tough if it smacked you in the rear end, John Lowry,’ Granddad retorted. ‘Just spare a thought for those blokes, eh? That’s all. That’s all.’
    â€˜We are, mate,’ yet another person said, his voice rising above the murmur in the theatre. ‘We understand.’
    Granddad shook his head. ‘Is that right? Well, I hope the rest of you understand a bit better than these two lugs when our Fred gets home. He’ll be here in a few days, and I’d better not hear any talk about him and his mates bludging off while everyone else did the fighting.’
    The noise had died away as Granddad spoke. He was a popular and powerful man in Evansbridge, and it took someone very brave or very stupid to stand up to Tom Carlyle.
    â€˜Sorry, Tom, mate, we meant nothing by it,’ Darcy said.
    â€˜Yeah, Tom, nothing at all,’ his friend added.
    â€˜Come on, Billy, let’s go,’ Granddad said to me, reaching his hand towards me. ‘I’ve lost interest.’
    We stepped out into the sunshine, and Granddad squinted at the bank of clouds off to the west. ‘Sorry about that, mate,’ he said, taking out his pipe. ‘I don’t want you to have to hear that kind of talk.’
    â€˜It’s all right,’ I said. ‘I know that’s what they’re saying anyway.’
    â€˜Of course you do, but it’s still not on. Those boys on that newsreel have been having three meals a day for a couple of weeks now. They probably weigh a stone or two more than they did when the Japs scampered off.’
    â€˜Is my dad as thin as that?’ I asked.
    I’d say so.’
    The rest of that week was full of frantic activity, with my grandfather and

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