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Death on the Route Colonial 4

First Chapter

Dedicated to my family and to all who lost their lives in the bloody battles along the R.C.4

route colonial 4 mapIndonesia map

Chapter 1

Two burly Military Policemen pushed a shocked looking Legionnaire through the wooden door from the room. 

“A five-month sentence for mutilating enemy bodies. You got off lucky you bastard. The Major must be in a good mood today.” I heard a Military Policemen sneer. My heart began racing, my mouth was dry. They would be coming for me next.

  I stood staring alternatively at the ceiling fan in the corridor above me slowly turning and the open doorway to my left. The Military Policeman standing close to the open door shot me an evil grin. He was itching for an opportunity to use the heavy wooden truncheon he incessantly twirled in his hand. 

In the midday heat of Hanoi in summer I was sweating profusely. It did not help matters much that I was forced to wear the suit and tie I had been wearing when I was arrested last night. An orderly walked down the corridor balancing a silver tray in one hand. A jug of ice-cold water and four glasses clinked as he entered the courtroom. My nerves were frayed. It felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. How long would they keep me waiting?

The two Military Policemen returned after securing their previous prisoner in a small, airless, and dark cell in the courtyard outside. Without warning they gripped me tightly by the arms. Roughly pushed into the courtroom I instinctively snapped to attention.

It was a large room with a painting of General Rollet who led the Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion in Africa and during the First World War and beyond. He served for fourty one years in the Military, of which thirty-three were in the Legion. One tough old bastard. 

 I stood staring alternatively at the ceiling fan in the corridor above me slowly turning and the open doorway to my left. The Military Policeman standing close to the open door shot me an evil grin. He was itching for an opportunity to use the heavy wooden truncheon he incessantly twirled in his hand. 

To the left hung the French Tricolour. To the right was the green and red pendant of the French Foreign Legion. My heart sank when I noticed the stylized insignia of the Disciplinary Company of the Far East. The Grenade with seven flames representing the Legion, the Asian junk on which the sails were set which meant that the island of Tange in the   Bay of Cam Ranh could only be reached by boat. The inscription read “Dura Sed Lex” which translated from Latin read “the law is harsh but is the law” My hands trembled. I had fought in the jungles of Indochina and along the dreaded Route Colonial 4. At least there I could defend myself. Here, I knew that here I had no hope.

Behind a dark mahogany desk sat the Major. He was to be the judge. To his left a thin, dark haired Adjudant poured a glass of cold water from the jug. His eyes bore into mine as he sized me up mentally. The Adjudant was the prosecutor. To the right, an overweight Sergeant from the Military Police lit a cigarette while browsing through the local newspaper. He did not bother to look up when I entered the room. He was to be my Legal Counsel.

“Damn it, nearly time for lunch. What do you gentlemen think?” Folding the newspaper, the Sergeant tapped his fingers on the desk.

“This shouldn’t take long. It is a simple case of desertion. I have a reservation at the Bistro on the corner. They make Cassoulet almost as good as in my region in Toulouse. Let’s get this over with.” 

Nodding his head, the Major pointed in my direction. 

“Date of hearing, 26 of June 1949. Place of hearing, Hanoi. Can we proceed?” 

“Presente Vous!” The Adjudant ordered in a shrill tone.

“Corporal Terence Jackson”

“Deux ans, trois mois de service”

“Martricule 42894”

“Deuxsieme Section”

“Troisieme Companie”

Premiere Battalion Etrangere de Parachutistes”

“A vos orders Major”

Rattling off the regulation stipulated introductions I stood to attention shouting out my rank, name, amount of service with the Legion followed by the section I served in, the company and the Regiment. 

The charge was read out. Tapping his pencil on the desk the Adjudant looked me up and down with an expression of disgust on his gaunt face. 

“I call on the first witness, bring him in Corporal.” The Adjudant ordered. Moments later a smartly dressed man in civilian attire marched briskly into the room. I recognised him as the bastard who had followed Natalie and me from the Opera house to the Café where I was arrested. 

“When confronted by you and your men did the accused provide you with a fictitious name and false papers Sergeant?” Firing the question to the witness the Adjudant leant back in his chair.

“Yes Mon Adjudant, he did. When challenged, the accused stated his name to be one John Smith. He then produced a British passport to confirm his statement.” Out of the corner of my eye I watched the German sounding Sergeant recounting the previous night’s encounter.

“Would this be the passport the accused presented to you?” Casually flipping a well-worn passport onto the table, the Adjudant grinned slyly. Marching two steps forward the Sergeant picked up the passport flipping through the pages.

“Affirmative Mon Adjudant. This is indeed the document produced by the accused” 

“And what led you to suspect the accused was not a civilian Sergeant?” Asked the Adjudant.

“He stood out from civilians in his immediate area even though he was dressed in an expensive looking suit and tie. The short hair, the almost arrogant way he sauntered down the street, all the Legionnaires have that walk. Then there was the way in which his eyes constantly scanned everything around him, that hypervigilant infliction many of the combat soldiers suffer from.” 

Glaring at me the Sergeant added. “May I add that the accused resisted arrest. When confronted the accused struck one of my men in the face with his elbow. Immediately afterward the accused punched me in the face.” 

To my satisfaction I noticed a bruise below his left eye. 

“What did you do after this incident Sergeant?” 

“I had two more men on duty outside. We then managed to subdue the accused and arrest him.” He shot me a smug glance before smartly turning and marching out of the room.

“Can we reach a conclusion Gentlemen?” The Major looked at his watch.

“Does the Defence Council have anything to add?” 

“Why did you have a passport on your person? Were you intending to try and leave the country? How long were you absent without leave from your unit for?” Muttered the overweight Military Policeman who served as my defence

“The passport was simply a joke. Natalie bought it on the Black Market so we could walk about town without worrying that the Military Police would arrest me. My leave ended four days ago but I was about to return to my unit the following day. There I would have been given a few days in the jailhouse for being absent. This is being blown out of proportion.” I replied insisting that I be allowed to re-join my unit and be court-martialled by the Parachute Battalion. 

“You insist!” Screamed the Major. “He insists, what a joke.” Throwing back his head the Major let out a loud guffaw. 

“I know that you lot in the Para’s are dumb enough to jump out of perfectly good aircraft, but you have to be the dumbest of the lot!” Slapping his hand down on the desk the Adjudant laughed but his eyes were cold and merciless.

“I sentence you to a term of one year and six months for desertion and assault on a Non-Commissioned Officer. The term of the sentence will be served in the Disciplinary Company on the Isle de Tange. Your time spent in the Disciplinary Company will not count as time served on active duty. Therefore, when, and if you are released, you will continue from your current time served which is two years and three months.” 

My heart pounded furiously, a cold sweaty broke out as I listened to the verdict. It was almost a death sentence as far as I was concerned. The Disciplinary Company fell under the command of 2 R.E.I or the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment. We had all heard rumours of how the men were treated by the guards on the island. 

“God damn it! We will be late for the reservation at the Bistro.” Looking at his watch the Major sneered. “Let’s make that an elastic term of imprisonment. It’s hard to get a decent table and you have made us late. Get him out of here!”

I was so bewildered by the speed of the trial, the lack of any defence. I felt like a lamb led to the slaughter. Bundled roughly out of the room by two Military Policemen they pushed me through a narrow corridor reeking of disinfectant. Down a sharp flight of stone stairs where the fetid air stank of unwashed bodies and sewage before coming to an abrupt halt in front of a heavy wooden door. 

“Last one for the day, get him a uniform. That fine suit he is wearing is needed as evidence.” Winked the Military Policeman to a pair of eyes watching us from the other side of the door through a slit window. 

From the opposite side of the door came a long rasping noise as the jailer slid back the heavy iron bolt. Entering a dimly lit subterranean world I stood before the jailer in his sweat-stained fatigues. He curtly demanded that I place all my possessions into a large brown envelope then rummaged around in a metal locker. Combat jacket and fatigue trousers landed on the floor at my feet. I hurriedly changed into the badly fitting and well-worn uniform. Lastly a pair of battered combat boots two sizes too big and minus the laces dropped beside me. My suit, along with the envelope were given to the M.P. 

I could hear Hanoi through a tiny ventilation shaft. Knowing the location of the cell I could almost imagine the outside world. People were going about their daily business. Some were cursing their luck for having to be at work in an office where they were at liberty to take lunch breaks. What a luxury!

Others finished off their day by catching a rickshaw back to their home where their loved ones await, do they ever realise how lucky they are?

Confined to a seven-foot by four-foot cell for the night I lay on the wooden cot unable to sleep. Sometime before sunrise a strong cup of coffee and a plain bread roll were pushed through a narrow hatch in the door.  

Almost immediately the prison erupted to a deafening roar of commands accompanied by the sounds of wooden truncheons beating on the cell doors. Shoving the bread roll into my pocket I attempted to gulp down the coffee burning my mouth in the process. 

For the first time I saw my fellow prisoners. Five Legionnaires stood beside me facing the dank prison wall. One of the prisoners was the Legionnaire sentenced for mutilating enemy dead prior to my hearing. He stared serenely at the tiny water droplets running down the stone wall. How could he be so calm in a situation like this?

Marched upstairs we boarded a covered military truck all the while threatened and beaten by the guards. Our hands were cuffed with fetters attached to our ankles. Driven to the station in Hanoi at sunrise we waited in the truck. A troop train ran supplies and reinforcements down to Central Indochina. We would head South toward Nha Trang and from there to Cam Ranh Bay. 

We boarded a type of cattle car toward the rear of the train where the cuffs and fetters were removed. The guards shoved us into individual wooden cells measuring roughly ten-feet by eight-feet, straw covered the wooden floor, in the corner stood a filthy smelling metal bucket. Guards attached a shackle with a length of chain to my left ankle, the other end of the chain was locked onto a metal ring at the far end of the cell. 

We travelled for three nights and four days in total stopping countless times. Troops embarked or disembarked at railway stations along the coast. We waited in the sweltering heat while supplies were loaded. Once, the train sat idle for most of the morning waiting for the tracks to be repaired after a Viet Minh group had cut the rail with explosives the previous night. The seriousness of my situation, coupled with the meagre rations of food and water tormented me. Noticing a small gap in the wooden boards between my neighbour on my left I peeked through. Sitting cross legged on the straw covered floor was the Legionnaire bust for mutilating bodies. 

“What are you looking at you bloody voyeur?” He muttered. I felt terribly guilty.

“My apologies, I did not mean to be rude my friend. All I wanted was to see who was next to me.” I replied.

“Save your strength brother. Separate your mind from your body. Relax and concentrate on the moment at hand. What is meant to be will be.”

“What is your name?” I whispered through the gap in the boards.

For a moment he continued his rhythmic breathing then replied. 

“I am Corporal Illya Samiolenko 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment, formerly a member of the Asano Detachment. Before that, a long time ago I was from a village near Kiev in Ukraine. Now let us rest.” He returned to his meditative trance.

Natalie slipped into my thoughts. Was it worth it? Two weeks leave in Hanoi after the bloody battles against the Viet Minh along the Route Colonial 4 felt like being transported to another world. 

Ricky Balona's picture - Ricky looks forward and smile.
By Ricky Balona

"As a Veteran I feel that some of our experiences were life changing. Writing helps me put that part of my life into perspective and appreciate the present and excited about the future."

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