Combat is [according to the editor] a magazine with “true” war stories and a sprinkling of fictionalized war stories, and a combination of truth and fiction. The editor was Leslie Syddall.
Son of Albert Syddall (born 1899) and Rosannah (Rose) H. Stott (born 1893), Leslie was born 1922, and like his parents, in Bolton. Albert moved to the United States in 1926, with an occupation listed as “tin plate” worker and final destination initially entered as Philadelphia. This was crossed out and Wooding, Connecticut penciled in. No such place exists, so I’m not sure what the Wooding refers to. His English home address was: 84 Union Street, Bolton. I don’t think the residence exists today (online street images are interesting). Early 1927, Rosannah and son Leslie traveled to the United States. They returned to England that same year, then returned again in 1929, with a residence given as Philadelphia, PA. Rosannah left her son in England when the pair returned later in 1929, placed him in school, and then she returned to her husband Albert in Philadelphia. The 1930 United States census gives his occupation as a metal sheet laborer. Rosannah’s occupation in 1927 is given as that of a “hosiery winder” in 1927; as housewife in 1929. Leslie Syddall married Frances Johnson in 1956 in his hometown of Bolton. The pair had two children: Julie Syddall (1958) born in Farnsworth, and Barbara Syddall (1961) born in Bolton. Just how Leslie Syddall got into publishing is unknown to me.
The magazine was published by Vernon Publications but is generally considered Dalrow Publishing. If the cover format and layout looks familiar to British science fiction fans, that’s because Syddall clearly was working with the assistance of Peter Hamilton, editor and founder of Nebula Science Fiction magazine. Hamilton used the same format from 1952-1959, a tall digest magazine with the title and price and number up to with a white backdrop, the illustration squarely below that, and a thin white strip at the bottom often advertising the authors or a comment. Combat used that same formula. Don’t think so? I’ve posted both here for comparison! The connection is strengthened once you spot ads for Nebula inside issues of Combat. The artist for all illustrated covers was R.W.S., short for Ronald W. Smethurst.
The lead story is Tim Carew’s Gurkha Soldier, and it’s as authentic as they come. Despite that, I’d love for someone from India alive during WW2 to read this story and comment about the accuracy. The author notes that the story is “substantially true”, but the characters and regiment is a work of fiction. So, would you label this as a true story (as FictionMags Index has) or a fictional short story? I lean heavily toward the latter. Jitbahadur Pun is convinced to enlist in the British army during WW2 by a local surviving wounded veteran from the Great War. His experiences range from exposure to hot shower water, being forced to use soap, trim his lengthy hair to near baldness, and dress in military attire. Learning the various use of arms, hand-to-hand combat, tossing grenades, formation, and even riding on a train add to his new life experiences. A very different life to that of a dirt hill farmer. He and his new fellow Indian friends are sent east to battle the Japanese and during trench warfare he witnesses the brutality of life and death. His friends and superior officer are shot down. Snatching up his friend’s machine-gun, sans orders, he leaps up and moves forward, covering dozens of yards. He’s eventually shot but keeps going, mowing down the enemy and tossing a grenade. The next-in-line of command orders the men up and onward after seeing Jitbahadur Pun taking the offense. Our hero ends up losing a limb, recovers in hospital, and by 1951, returns home and is a celebrated hero. The story is filled with numerous terms from India and local flavor, etc., lending further authenticity. Searching online, the protagonist’s name should likely be spelled as “Jit Bahadur Pun”. Tim Carew was born 8 July 1921 at Bury St. Edmunds. Searching the Birth-Marriage-Death UK site I found a Carew died 1980, however, Tim Carew wasn’t his real name. The Library of Congress gives his name as John Mohun Carew. This I confirmed against the UK Birth-Marriage-Death Index, matching his surname and birth info; he died 3 September 1980. He indeed did serve with the Gurkhas down in India and other nearby countries. I am left to wonder if the above short story was excerpted from his autobiographical novel, All This and a Medal Too (1954). If not, it certainly first appeared in the British Army Journal no. 3 (January 1950) as by Captain J. M. Carew.
Next up is A Mission for Odette by W. F. Cousins. This appeared (per FictionMags Index) in London’s The Evening Standard, 4 May 1955 as part of their Did It Happen? series, but in fact is a work of fiction. As to the identity of W. F. Cousins, he ranked as a Captain and was an army PRO in Austria from 1946-1953. Captain Cousins became a staff member of Soldier magazine. This magazine debuted March 1945, but I’ve not had access to it to substantiate his full identity. In 1959, he was still with Soldier magazine and a co-winner of the Sir Harry Brittain Coronation Trophy (along with Sydney Spicer). The story takes place six years in the future after Germany loses the war, in a series of brief flashbacks before returning to the present and culminating in the protagonist completing his assignment: the delivery of a ring to a Jewish concentration camp victim. While in a concentration camp and slated for death in the gas chambers, Odette Churchill is given by Frau Knopf her gold ring. Somehow Knopf had managed to safeguard it past Nazi authorities and into the camp. Despite the Nazis knowing they were losing the war and the end was near, they continued to gas their victims. Realizing her number was likely up, Knopf gives her ring to Odette for safekeeping. If they both survive, Odette is to find a way to return the ring. If Knopf dies and Odette survives, make the most of the ring’s value. Odette survives but is not certain as to the fate of Knopf. Years pass, and discovering that Knopf may be alive, Captain Cousins (the protagonist) must cooperate with authorities in tracing her down and delivering the ring. He succeeds in locating her and after having her describe and sketch the ring, he extracts from a sealed box the very ring she sketched. To say she is shocked and surprised to be reunited with her ring is an understatement, especially since she is homeless and impoverished. The ring will help. It’s a feel-good story and apparently the second time the story has been told, the first time by Odette Churchill’s husband, per a blurb of this story in the Singapore Free Press, 6 September 1955. Bizarrely enough, there sort of really was a real Odette Churchill, only this was an alias; her real name was Odette Sansom, and her background is quite interesting. However, nowhere on her Wikipedia entry does it mention this story nor Captain Cousins.
One Eye, One Hand, One V.C. is by David Lampe Jr., and is the true story account of Belgian officer Carton de Wiart. Not making the grade in university, de Wiart enlisted in the Second Boer War and lost his eye. He would go to earn numerous injuries but always return to the front. He served in The Great War and various other campaigns. He lost his hand when it was blown to a pulpy mess, but not before extracting his own fingers when the doctor refused. The hand had to go shortly thereafter, regardless. The author provides a wonderful, partially fictionalized account of de Wiart and it is damned good fun. His capture during World War Two after his plane crashed led him to be locked away at the Castello di Vincigliata, and his subsequent escape through tunnels that took half a year to construct reminds me of the classic movie The Great Escape. I suspect this article originally debuted in an American “men’s” magazine, as he contributed to 1950s magazines such as True, Swank, and Flying Magazine, etc., but I’ve failed to nail it down.
Biscay Cruise by Stanley Maxted is another article in the Did It Happen? series that appeared in The Evening Standard, 24 June 1955. The table of contents page for CCM mistakenly gives it as Biscay Bay. The tale involves the narrator bringing along a Canadian Naval HQ friend aboard the HMS Onslow. The mission: discover whether the German’s shore guns along the Bay of Biscay were still being manned. While the tale does not provide any concrete dates, the real-life HMS Onslow did traverse this tract of water from July to August 1944.
Ray Carr brings us a short fiction story entitled Back Room Boy. Carr’s real name is Emile Charles Victor Foucar; born in 30 May 1894, Foucar rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant during The Great War and earned a Military Cross. He became a barrister and moved to Burma, residing there through World War Two and enlisting, rising to the rank of Colonel. While in Burma, he was instructed to write an account on the Burma affair. A decade later, Dennis Dobson published I Lived in Burma (1956). This short fiction story involves the “safe” adventures of Archie Fordingley, a good-looking, intelligent, self-made young businessman in his late 20s. The second world war is in full swing, and his unintelligent underling Jack Smith goes to war. Fearing the war will destroy his business by avoiding conflict, Archie eventually joins the war effort purely as a “back room boy”, an intelligence officer that sees no conflict. He bounced into Africa, then India, and now is sent to the Burma front, to gather intelligence on Japanese movements, etc. Arriving by Jeep, he is to meet with Major Denham but discovers a Jap sniper took him out. He’s introduced to the next gentleman in command, one Lieutenant Smith. Naturally, this is his old subordinate, Jack Smith. Only, he seems fresh, alive, lost a lot of weight and enjoys both the command and the war. Archie is woefully out of his class and realizes his ranking insignia matters little to the warrior before him. Jack shows him the rounds, all the while instructing him to be careful, duck, don’t rattle the bush, etc., Jap snipers, ya know! Well, the Japs cut them off and Jack takes command of one unit only to find the young man covering their other flank has been killed. Sitting on his duff, Archie digs up an ounce of courage, and lifting up a rifle, takes over the unit whose last ranking officer died. Holding out, the night passes, and come morning, all is silent, and Jack is glad the conflict is over, his first real action. Rising, he decides to check in on Jack, only to hear someone holler: “Careful, sir, snipers!” Archie smiles at the edge of the trench back at the young man as a bullet rips through the air and knocks him dead. Foucar would go on to have 15 stories published in Combat. Bizarrely, not a one are recorded as reprints. Was Foucar providing the magazine with original stories, or had these appeared elsewhere in some unknown English newspaper?
Sino-Japanese Incident is by Jack Borg, his first of three stories within the pages of Combat magazine. Borg is the alias of Philip Anthony John Borg, predominantly an author of a few dozen western novels as Jack Borg and nearly 30 more under two more pseudonyms, marking the trio of war stories as unusual entries. This a fictional account during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Lieutenant Ugimoto is ordered by his Japanese commanders to seek out organized Chinese bandits creating havoc upon Japanese troops and use whatever means at his disposal. Coming upon a poor starving village, he interrogates the villagers, but they feign ignorance. The lie is in their eyes and after discovering two hidden rifles, he orders the entire populace to be slain and the village burned to the ground. Marching out, Ugimoto’s ragged troops are foot-tired, sleep deprived, themselves starving and thirsty. Eventually, one of his reconnaissance men spots a lush, secluded farm. On the property, an old man and young lovely girl. The man is interrogated but he just smiles at them. Angered, he’s tossed aside and they try the girl. She gives them no information on the rebel bandits. Ugimoto decides he’s going to spend the night inside, with the girl. Next day, a frantically frightened sergeant enters. Ugimoto dresses and steps outside to find the old man on his knees, the clothes stripped off and now he knows why the thirsty village and rebels have not ransacked this tiny farm. The man has leprosy. He’s shot dead. Turning on his heels, Ugimoto re-enters the home. The girl exposes some of her flesh, smilingly showing her spots. He shoots her dead, too, then extracts his honorable sword to disembowel himself. The sergeant bows out and runs away from the dreaded leprosy, only to find himself and his ragtag Japanese men riddled by lead from the hidden rebels. They’d been there all the time.
Bevil Charles supplies The Brief Return…, which centers around the protagonist (Reuben) being an archaeologist and unearthing a four-foot Mycenean statue of Aphrodite on the island of Cyprus. To protect it, he secretes the treasure in a crumbling church to the goddess on the island’s hill. He wishes to obtain a military truck to safely remove it to Nicosia, only the girl he is dating (Janet) is daughter to Major Holliday, in command of local forces. It’s unclear whether soldiers or terrorists recently attacked one of their own. Regardless, they are withdrawing from the area, as it is unsecure. During the process, the Major is ordered to investigate the island; rumor is the assailants have a stash of arms cached nearby. So, the Major informs Reuben he may not have a truck, nor can he go rescue the Goddess of Love. Janet wishes to see Cyprus and all her beauty, but her father has continuously blocked her interests. She knows Reuben is making covert plans to somehow rescue the statue. So, Reuben waits for the patrol and rolls his wheels into the procession. Nobody notices the extra truck. He then drifts away from them, being the tailing truck, and eventually hears movement in back of his truck. Someone is moving forward towards the curtained partition. Stopping and jumping out, he gruffly calls to the stowaway, who he expects to be a murderous soldier or terrorist only to find Janet inside. Unable to return her to safety, the two proceed to the crumbling hillside church and she is in awe of the beauty of Aphrodite. Reuben’s love for her admiration of the workmanship behind the statue’s history rapidly turns to horror as he realizes the enemy has been there ahead of him, and deposited crates of arms, dynamite, and grenades. Surely they will return, and double sure, they know the Major is to investigate the island. Cleary the rumor of their location was a plot to attack Janet’s father and crew, to murder all of them. Reuben must somehow run down the hill and intercept the Major before he hits the most likely point, a bridge-crossing! Instead, he hears voices outside and while Janet is inside packing up the smaller artefacts for Reuben, he watches in horror as a couple of killers approach. One splits away while the other gets closer. His stengun is still in the church, on the floor. All he exited with was Aphrodite, to place in the truck. He knocks out the man with the Goddess of Love! Then trusses the unconscious man. Heads down the hill after Janet’s father. Time passes and she is mortified to see the enemy moving in. Reuben can’t possibly make it in time, so she does the only thing possible to arrest everyone’s attention: she pulls pins and hurls two grenades into the church! They detonate and all the arms, dynamite, grenades, everything explodes. She’s thrown back by the concussive blast, but the earth-shattering explosion has done the job. The Major and men stop and turn their guns upon the enemy who are now spotted in rapid retreat after losing all their weapons. But, they are running directly towards Reuben and his stengun. He returns fire. They are all mopped up or captured. Hurrying up, Reuben finds Janet on the floor and professes his love for her, etc., and the Major walks in and learns all of what happened. He’s angry with the pair and naturally would court-martial them if they were under his command, but learning that Reuben sacrificed the Goddess of Love to save his daughter, he accepts that Reuben might actually be man enough to marry his daughter after all…then departs and chews out his N.C.O. An action-packed story that must have appeared elsewhere, I imagine…but where? Bevil Charles’ only claim to fame is that he also contributed the short story Night Flight to the Creasey Mystery Magazine which was adapted as Flight to the East in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series. This aired on 23 March 1958 and was reviewed and blogged by Jack Seabrook on his site concerning The Alfred Hitchcock Project, in which Jack is actively reviewing every episode and attempting to track down the source of inspiration. I was glad to assist Jack by providing him with a copy of the original story and suggestion as to the author’s actual identity. In my opinion, Bevil’s wartime action story is the more competent tale of the two, and not only ages well, but could easily be adapted to film. Bevil committed suicide at the age of 33. Perhaps someone will obtain his obituary (if one exists) which may clarify his life history and why he died so young. In case you are wondering, his full name was Bevil Charles Bertram Nance-Kivell. The latter part of the hyphenated name had struck an immediate chord; one Felix Kivell also appears in issues of Creasey Mystery Magazine. It was an easy guess that this was an alias. Eventually I’ll read, blog and review his later works, too.
Private Ted Hollows has just made his first kill, and one of them was a young, beautiful Malayan girl mixed amongst the armed bandits. The world blurs and later he’s in his tent. It’s nighttime and he’s not handling the situation very well. Under the cover of darkness Hollows slips away and staggers towards a distant coastal village, tired, thirsty, delirious. He collapses at the end of town and wakes the next morning. Walking in, he enters what essentially is a bar, orders a drink, and is accosted by two of the enemy. They order him to step outside. Unarmed and clearly a dead man whether he fights it out or not (after all, he is a deserter, so his fate is sealed either way) he calmly accompanies the pair outside. They raise their guns to shoot him down in the back and he flinches as the guns go off, mowing him down. Realization that he’s unscathed, causes him to eye the situation closer. Were they toying with him, teasing, only to still him? No; they are both dead in the dirt. His sergeant and another soldier step forward, reclaim Hollows, and inform him they are shipping out, going home. His asshole of a sergeant has a smile on his features, something nobody has ever seen prior. What’s more, a wink and a fatherly nod, he informs Hollows that none of this transpired. The story is entitled Ambush and written by George Sayce. I’ve no further record of this writer, but he could be English journalist George Ethelbert Sayce (1875-1953) who turned into a newspaper proprietor. He edited for a time the Brecon & Radnor Express.
Frank McKenna’s Bread is a humorous wartime story. It begins years after The Great War when two former POWs run into each other at a restaurant, and the one ribs the one dining on bread. He’s baffled as to the bread remarks until he reflects back to the war, when they were captives of the Germans. While out doing manual labor, a non-soldier German calls to him. Looking to and fro in case it is a trick, he approaches the hidden German who offers bread in exchange for money. Is he kidding? The POWs are poorly fed and vastly malnourished. He lacks the funds, so involves his friend. They investigate the German, find out he is legit, and with much pooled cash, obtain a few loaves of bread! The pair then set up a bargain system with the other inmates, and soon have tons of items to barter for bread. But what if the German tricks them, steals the goods, and keeps the bread? Our “hero” approaches the German and then screams “Unterofficer kommen.” The man flees for his life, while our two guys crawl in and discover a bag filled with loaves of bread. Too much for them. So they must share with the entire POW camp. Every man hides a loaf or two in their clothes and march under their German guards to the camp. But when one loaf, then two, fall from under the garments of one POW, they freak out until the guard snatches up each loaf and himself secretes them in his clothes! The climax is the next day all the POWs have bloated faces and bellies and arms for some bizarre reason. Allergic reaction? When the guards call them outside, they are mortified. The sentries call over Lt. Klaus, and he reprimands the captees, stating no German would ever look so…that is, until the German that snatched two loaves comes outside with the same bloated features! I’d sure love to know where this story originally was published.
Payment Deferred by H. M. Fisher originally appeared in the pamphlet-magazine called Lilliput (March 1943). It’s a short vignette. A man is promoted. In the newspaper, instead of 1942, there was a typo. It states promoted in 942. His cronies suggest he write the royals for a thousand years of backpay. In a drunken foolish stupor, he does just that, and posts it off. Next morning, he realizes to his horror what he has done. He receives a letter in kind, agreeing to the request! The flipside of the paper, however, shows someone has a sinister sense of humor, as they relate that since he was the only promoted officer a thousand years ago, he’s to be held accountable for missing stores of equipment and property during the Norman invasion. Said costs slightly outpace what was owed him, to the effect they request he pay them!
Graham Fisher relates History’s Most Fantastic Jail-Break, reportedly related to him by Wing-Commander R. W. Iredale (Robert Wilson Iredale) of the Royal Australian Air Force. While the name of the secret operation is not given, this true story concerns Operation Jericho. Interested parties may click on the link to read the recorded history there. I located via New Zealand digitized newspapers this tale was printed 7 January 1956 in The Press as History’s Most Fantastic Gaol Break. It was translated into Norwegian and appeared in the magazine Luftens Helter # 33 (January 1958) complete with photos, published as Amiens-raidet by Graham Fischer (sic).
During December 1944, our unnamed protagonist has escaped a poorly guarded makeshift concentration camp: a farmer’s stable. He’s got but a few Reichsmarks in his pocket, not confiscated by the Nazis. On the run, he makes it to a small town but can’t travel by rail too far. Anything more than 100 miles requires a police passport. So he must take short rail trips. But when he arrives in Amstetten, a small northern town in Austria, the ticket lady denies him on the ground that he is a foreigner. He realizes his accent gave him away, and to avoid arousing further suspicion from The Angel of Death, he leaves. He is forced to walk all night to the next railway station, to avoid capture. Afterall, the blonde bitch is suspicious and might call in the police. At the next station, he walks up and requests a ticket, only to be sold a return ticket to Amstetten! He’s mortified. He can’t ask the agent to cancel it and get a different one, in the opposite direction. It would clearly be a red flag. Then inspiration! He asks the same seller if he can have a return-ticket for when he is through being in Amstetten, so he does not have to obtain one at a later date? Yes; he succeeds but must settle in for the night and then take that second train. The author is George A. Floris, and his protagonist, now years after the war has concluded, wonders if the evil blonde, The Angel of Death, is still on duty at the ticket office, or married with a family, or realizes that she may have been his or someone else’s executioner. Floris has at least one article in The Contemporary Review no. 1053 (October 1953) entitled Hungary Under Horthy. He also wrote various articles and letters in The Economist, Sight & Sound (The Film Monthly), Blackfriars, and in US editions of Newsweek. His real name per 1956 British naturalization records is Gyorgy Sandor Schäffer, originally from Hungary. His real name turns up at least once in this foreign newspaper from 1929, the Budai Napló (7 January 1929). I wonder if this tale is a real-life account of his own escape from the Nazis, ergo, an excerpt from a book, or some other source?
This next entry is pure fiction. When Johnny Robins Flew… by Miles Tripp involves a young 18-years old Aircraftman, Second Class, overhearing Canadian flyers arguing about a leaflet-drop they are about to embark on. Seems their rear turret gunner is AWOL with some dame, late for their flight. Johnny Robins realizes this is his opportunity and steps forward. Casually explaining he can handle the gun and has experience, they finally acquiesce. He obtains a jacket and gear, but while in flight, discovers his gear is not enough to properly protect him from the freezing cold elements. He also lacks a parachute. And his helmet-gear does not have the proper apparatus to obtain oxygen. A simple flight goes awry when he suffers from oxygen deprivation and in delirium we see him interact with his girlfriend in various scenarios. Meanwhile, the Nazis flak is peppering the sky and planes take off in pursuit. The Canadians run into trouble and are screaming at him to return fire. He snaps briefly out of his reverie to return fire and takes out a plane sure to kill them. He then faints away from lack of oxygen. One of the crew checks on him and makes the discovery, and they rapidly blanket him with anything possible to save his life, but his fingers and toes are clearly frostbitten. The fictionalized scenario of their landing and having to move his body without anyone noticing is insane, and worse, he’s not permitted to admit he was on that flight. Despite harsh interrogation, he never confesses. The military thinks he merely smuggled aboard to see some action, not realizing he replaced another man. That other man, meanwhile, is brought up to speed and must rehearse his false role in the conflict. He earns a medal, and the now mostly fingerless Johnny Robins, married to his girlfriend, reads of the report, conflict, and medal. She too knows the truth and keeps it secret. He never earns a pension from “self-inflicted injuries” and years later, in the mail arrives the medal, with a note stating that it really belongs to him. I’m not sure where the story was first published, but I managed to trace an earlier edition in Chambers’s Journal (June 1953). Miles Tripp is an English mystery writer and novelist, born 5 May 1923 and died 2 September 2000.
No Bouquets for These by Arthur Catherall is the first of five serial installments. Suspecting it may have appeared previously, I discovered that Tempest published the full serial years earlier as a novel under the byline “Third Mate” in 1951 (per Whitaker’s Index). This alias is not listed anywhere online, as far as I can see. I located a single edition for sale on ABE. The seller only offered up a pitifully reduced quality scan (see here) so I wasn’t able to blow it up and identify the artist. Arthur Catherall’s novel is not recorded on his Wikipedia entry. Nor is a single copy held by any major English libraries, nor found on WorldCat listings. I don’t own a complete run of Combat’s serialization, so I beg your pardon and won’t delve any further.
Assuming, that is, that anyone actually survived reading up to this point !!!