Mr Brenton was interviewed by the local radio station. A girl journalist met him in his residential home. Mr Brenton was a wizened, shrivelled old man with sunken cheeks and dentures far too large for his mouth. He splashed as he talked and his loose teeth clattered like castanets every time he worked his jaw.
She was a little slip of a girl, fresh out of college. She knew nothing of the war, and cared less. However, as his story unfolded, she found herself being gradually drawn into the tale, like a helpless insect into a funnel spider’s web.
Mr Brenton was at Dunkirk. Wounded in the leg by a German bullet, he crawled and swam half-a-mile to a fishing smack to be rescued. He said to the young girl that it was the song The White Cliffs of Dover that had kept him going through his privations. He said that Vera Lynn sung it with such intensity that the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. He added that the song gave him hope, and if one had hope in life, one had life. Its message of hope was reinforced by Churchill’s typically ironical British statement that he was not a lion, but a man called upon to give a lion’s roar.
With the Battle of Britain won and Corporal Brenton fully recovered, he was posted to Burma and there, in that dreadful place, with the stench of death all around him, his squad held a jungle enclave against a Japanese advance for three days and nights. On the last day, Mr Brenton came across a Japanese soldier hiding in a hole in the ground. He shot the soldier in the head.
‘I hoped you would die this way,’ he remarked to the corpse.
(c) R.T. Hardwick