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Literature / Quartered Safe Out Here

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George MacDonald Fraser's memoir of his World War II service in India and Burma as a trooper in the 9th Battalion of the Border Regiment, one of the multitudinous units serving in the British Fourteenth Army.

Can be considered a prequel to the McAuslan stories.

This memoir contains examples of:

  • Agony of the Feet: Generally averted once a trooper gets used to marching, but still possible if one fails to take good care of his feet. To avert this, one either takes good care of his socks, or forego socks entirely and fill his boots with tallow, which is what Parker usually does. The author tried it once, but never again thereafter; it apparently stinks up to high Heaven.
  • The Big Guy: Grandarse, a ruddy, ponderous man who was a forester and volunteer mountain rescue worker in civilian life. His bulk is applied to good effect in Cumberland wrestling, at which he has few equals.note  Likewise Wattie, who joins the squad shortly before Kinde Wood and is described as being a "miniature Grandarse".
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  • Big Brother Instinct: Parker, who acquaints himself with the author after he guards the latter's winnings after a card game. Parker shows the author a picture of his little brother, who he'd supported through medical school via sending his pay home for twenty years.
  • Blood Knight: Sapper commander "Captain Grief". Fraser was detailed to deliver a PIAT to the man's outpost to help him blow up river barges carrying escaping Japanese troops. Fraser makes special note of the man's more... unhinged tendencies, and expresses dread at the prospect of meeting him again in a civilian context.
  • Cultured Warrior / Hidden Depths: Among the squad, only the Duke and Fraser have had rigorous formal schooling, and Fraser himself asks his parents for reading materials to keep himself entertained in the field. However, the other squad members all possess a lot of low cunning and are much smarter than they appear.
    • In some instances, the squad also shows that they may be more educated than they appear. On one occasion, Grandarse starts reciting Kipling's poetry, even if it's with more profane interjections than the originalnote . At another juncture, Sergeant Hutton "borrows" the author's copy of Henry V. Fraser assumes that the sergeant will not "get it" and will return it within a day or two, but Hutton keeps it much longer than expected, and when he returns the book to Fraser, he states with conviction that Shakespeare himself must have served in the military at some point, so well had he captured the nature of war in the play.
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  • Due to the Dead / If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: A blend of both happens after Corporal Little (real name Ike Blakeney) gets killed during the first attack on Kinde Wood. The remaining squad members each exchange a piece of Little's standard issue gear for one of their own, taking exceptional care not to claim any personal effects. The author, for instance, exchanges his own enameled mug for Little's, as the latter's mug is less chipped. Forster claims Little's sewing kit, while Nixon gets Little's rifle.
  • The Eeyore: Nixon, whose Catchphrase is "we'll all get killed" or some variation thereof. In fact, most of the characters in general, since Cumbrians are described as being predisposed to (mostly good-natured) complaining, which has a lot of similarity with Jewish Complaining despite the troops being all gentiles.
  • Friend or Foe: One night on observation post duty outside the perimeter, the author notices several short Asian troops moving quietly in their direction. He almost fires the flare pistol, but Nixon stops him: they are a returning Gurkha patrol. Nixon instructs him that one can distinguish Gurkhas and Japanese troops in the dark by observing their lower legs: slim and high profiles from high puttees means Japanese, while lower profiles mean friendlies. This comes back to bite Nixon later during the night battle, when the author almost shanks him in the kidney in the confusion: Nixon had tucked his trouser legs in higher than usual for a routine night patrol previously, and did not unroll them before turning in for the night.
    • A tragic example in the Duke. One night, a brief miscommunication involving confusing the friendly Jat machine-gunners guarding the unit's flank and Japanese troops leads to massive concentrated fire being directed at the flank. The Duke, who had been conversing with the author before going to sleep, had not been sleeping next to his own foxhole, and upon awakening, became confused and blundered into the line of fire of the machine guns. In the morning, his body is discovered to have been almost sawn in half from machine gun fire.
  • Homage: The title of the book is quoted from the Kipling poem "Gunga Din". At one point, Grandarse starts reciting it (complete with his own coarse modifications), turning it into a Title Drop.
  • Honor Before Reason: Fraser tells a story of one Gurkha officer candidate he met at officer's school. Usually a very jovial fellow, on one occasion a fellow officer candidate insulted him severely. The man stood up and left for his room without a word. Fearing the worst, his remaining roommates follow him to see him drawing his kukri from his kit. It took four men to hold him down, and many hours of reasoning and pleading with him to talk him down from being dead-set on avenging the insult with lethal intent.
    • Gurkhas in general. If they say they will do something, then that thing will be done come hell or high water.
  • Instant Death Bullet: It was, for Corporal Little. Averted by an unfortunate Indian soldier in the same attack, who doesn't die instantly but bleeds out soon thereafter.
  • Kukris Are Kool: Standard issue gear for clearing jungle undergrowth, the alternative being a machete. Fraser preferred the kukri himself. And, of course, a permanent fixture among the Gurkha soldiers, who prefer using their kukris in close assaults rather than fixed bayonets.
  • No Man Left Behind: During a confused night battle, Stanley and a comrade standing observation post duty become stranded outside friendly lines when the Japanese attack (actually, more or less blunder onto) the perimeter of the patrol detachment the squad is participating in. In the heat of the attack, Stanley makes it back inside the wire, then finds that his partner did not return. He goes back outside of the wire, and finds the man dying of multiple bayonet wounds. He stays at his side so that he will not die alone. Fraser is strongly impressed by Stanley's composure and courage.
  • Oh, Crap!: When one of the local mercenaries almost drops a mortar round down the tube head-first during the attack on the Japanese river barges, nearly blowing the entire ambush party sky high. Captain Grief manages to avert disaster at the last moment, however. The author notes that time seems to slow down in such moments.
  • Old Soldier: Parker is a professional soldier of fortune, who has fought everywhere from China to Spain (on the Nationalist side).
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Parker gets hit in the chest during the initial attack on Kinde Wood. He is taken out of the fight, but eventually recovers none the worse for wear. Averted by Steele, who gets hit in the shoulder; the aftereffects of the wound leave him unable to re-enter the workforce as a construction worker after the war.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: Discussed in the context of altering the crimping patterns on grenade safety pins to make them easier to pull—including accidentally. Fraser notes that if a certain British actor (Victor MacLaglen) known for doing this trope in his movies had done so during his own army service, he would have left his incisors in Mesopotamia.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Border folk are noted as being a "martial race of men", though in a very roguish way. Played straighter by the Gurkhas—the expression "no better friend, no worse enemy" seems very apt for them.
  • The Quiet One: Stanley.
  • Screaming Warrior: Gurkha troops, on assaulting an enemy position, let loose a blood-curdling yell at close range and charge home with incredible violence. Fraser notes that such behavior is extremely dissonant in contrast to the jovial nature of the Gurkhas in a friendly context.
  • The Scrounger: The Border troops are this compared to other British troops, and the squad is no different. However, Forster is noted to be this even compared to the rest of the squad—which says quite something about his skills.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Natural in a context where long periods of boredom are the norm. The narrative is punctuated by short interludes of conversation on all sorts of topics, like the comparative virtues of Susanna Foster or Lucille Ball against Louis XV's mistress Madame Du Barry, or whether Sikhs are known to jump out of aeroplanes, or whether Conrad Veidt was a Nazi. (He wasn't - he fled Germany from the Nazis, but they didn't know that.)
  • Sergeant Rock: Sergeant Hutton, though again in a more roguish fashion than the usual depiction of the trope. He knows his troops' minds very well, and has a way of making grueling, thankless tasks sound less arduous. In addition, he is not above getting people to do what he wants them to do via (skillful) bribery and manipulation.
  • Spot of Tea: The primary use of the general issue enameled mug. The author is noticed by the rest of the squad for being able to prepare a particularly "cunning brew".
  • Stealth Expert: Gurkhas on night patrol. Nixon and the author get one better on them, by remaining unnoticed on observation post duty while allowing a Gurkha patrol to pass them by.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Fraser notes the advantages of exercising this trope as a frontline soldier, as it allows people to compartmentalize their reactions to the unpleasant things that inevitably happen around them and move on, rather than dwelling on such things and allowing them to fester and traumatize.
  • Tempting Fate: The warrant officer in charge of the supply drop, who mentions a Noodle Incident involving some troops of the Border Regiment who apparently stole a massive pink elephant bar sign as part of a bet. The squad, vexed at his cheekiness, proceed to rob him blind right in front of his eyes during the supply drop with no one the wiser: even the author himself never noticed anything until the very end, when the squad starts unloading pilfered contraband from all over the insides of their uniforms after the warrant officer and his subordinates have left. In the grand tradition of military forces everywhere, much of the contraband gets used for bartering.


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