He is seated somewhere in the jungle of Ceylon holding up his Thompson rifle. His khaki is dirty and may have been starved of clean water and detergent for days. His uniform and face tell the same story; they are both rumpled, unprepared for a photograph, an indication that the photographer snapped an unsuspecting man brooding over the loss of something, perhaps even a friend. What retains any sort of dignity apart from his rifle are his firm boots and shimmering helmet, typical of an infantryman.
‘These and many more he brought with him’ grandma tells me, stroking the photo gently, smiling at it. Apart from his short time in the village which revolved around fishing, gaming, alcohol and daydreaming, no one knows much about my grandfather
Grandma tells me ‘ He was an outcast or maybe someone who needed more from life. So when the British came with their blasted war, we all knew your grandfather wouldn’t stay’
He doesn’t stay, he is the first to sign up in all of Ikibiri. As part of the African frontier force he goes to Ethiopia and along with other African comrades they halt the expansion of Missuloni’s empire
His war shifts to the theatres of South-east Asia, were as a chindit ( a long range penetration unit that operates deep behind enemy lines) he reunites with a former commander Ode Wingate, the first white man he claims to have built a strong relationship with. And every day, slouching in a Burmese mud or docked in an Indian forest or aiming at a Japanese target, he becomes increasingly haunted by a feeling of futility.
Grandfather always said ‘We were taught to do everything. The proper way to eat, to talk, to be a soldier and to hate a people we barely even know’
The war ended. And my grandfather came back home, twenty years older than he originally was. He couldn’t stay in the homestead in Ikibiri. For the village, far too backwards in his eyes, couldn’t contain him. He had drunk Jack Daniels with Major Wingate, held a gramophone, shook hands with Winston Churchill, made love to a white woman. How could small Ikibiri contain him?
Grandma tells me ‘He would go to the big cities. Boasting of his feats, swagger through life, womanize and drink heavily.’
In what I remember from his own stories. He would join little political and pressure groups, along with other returnees from south-east Asia. They would start another war, one that didn’t require rifles or rucksacks, one that was fought with integrity and pride and collective determination.
In this photograph there is a petite man with unassuming frame, calm facial features, an air of melancholy. Without the rifle, the boots and the helmet, he could have passed for a poet or a gardener. Though I would want my life to go far more differently than my grandfather’s, I think him immortal for his grave is one of the most sophisticated in Ikibiri with a powerfully written epitaph dating 1915-1985. I take the picture from my grandma and carry it along with me, telling who ever cared to listen that this small man in this photograph made a big difference to fade out Hitlers dreams of world dominance.



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