THE NEWS THAT TRAVELLED SLOWLY
by Anton Wills-Eve
<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/break-the-silence/”>Break the Silence</a>
nothing to do with the prompt!
Well, as I seem to be number 2 in Jennifer’s new site and as she’s given me the words LUCKY LOSS I thought I’d tell you a true story.
THE NEWS THAT TRAVELLED SLOWLY
Many years ago, far too many, I was a war correspondent for a major news agency in Vietnam and Cambodia. Yes, yes, war’s hell and all that, but sometimes it isn’t, it’s simply unbelievable.
When the war spilled over into Cambodia in the spring of 1970 I was sent from Saigon to the Cambodian side of the Mekong to find out what was happening. I’d spent a month in Phnom Penh in 1968 as a guest of Prince Sihanouk as his son and I were students together in Paris four years earlier. Journalists were barred from Cambodia then, but I got in as a friend of the family. But when I returned in March 1970 the family had fled and civil war had broken out. It was considered only a matter of weeks before American troops would join in.
Well I dealt almost exclusively with breaking political and diplomatic news in those days, even if it was military, but nobody on any side had a clue what was going on. Then by luck I met Bertrand, a French friend from my 1968 visit who said he had unearthed a very good story and he had a car, gold dust in the jungle roads. He drove me for hours to a remote village where he said he had heard of an extraordinary commune.
I’ll say he had. I was confronted by a community of about forty people making up some six families who were either French colonials left over from before the second world war, or their first or second generation children. All ages from about seven months to seventy years. They were petrified of us.
My friend introduced himself and then me by name only. One fellow in his sixties thought I was Japanese and went to get a gun, before I reassured him in fluent coloquial French that I was a Scottish Australian. Soon the whole commune were surrounding us rejoicing in the news that world war two had ended. As you can imagine, this posed a problem for Bertrand and me because we knew we had to somehow arrange their return to safety and preferably in France. Then we got a shock. They didn’t want to go!
I explained how the world had changed, the looming danger of another war that would certainly kill them if it found them, as it would. But still they preferred to stay. I had to know why so asked some of the apparent acknowledged leaders of the group. And this was what I was told.
“Monsieur. We came out to Asia because we thought life in the colonies would be so much better than the amoral and immoral mess that Europe had become. We chose Phnom Penh because of its reputation for peace and tranquility and of course most people spoke French. But some thirty years ago the Japanese invaded and we fled into the jungle with only our easily portable belongings. We walked for weeks until we had to rest. We stopped here.Mon ami, we were so exhausted we just slept. There were seven of us then, three girls and four men, and we did not wake up for two days. We had no idea where we were and so decided to stay here until someone found us, praying they would not be Japanese.
“Well, here you are. The first people we have seen since we arrived and built a new life for ourselves. And it is lovely. Peaceful, plenty of edible vegetation and the occasional buffalo to eat. It is paradise. You are very kind, but we are staying. Oh, and all of us have agreed we are not giving you our names. We do not want to be found.”
Bertrand and I wished them god speed and were totally unable to decide what to do about them as we drove back over the rough jungle tracks to the Cambodian capital. Half way back a sudden mortar attack, about six shells, landed very close to the car and we were lucky to escape as it was first blown on its side and we scrambled out minutes before it blew up. Immediately several Cambodian irregular army guerrilas surrounded us but could see by our ordinary clothes that we were not soldiers. Luckily Bertrand spoke quite reasonable Cambodian. He told them what had happened and they escorted us to a nearby village where we got transport back to civilisation, of a sort.
What do you suppose happened then? Before we had a chance to talk to anyone who mattered Bertrand had a total blackout from the delayed shock of the escape from the car. He spent days in hospital, but even when I wrote to him last he could not remember a thing about our jungle discovery. And worse still, nobody would believe a word of my story. The company wouldn’t even publish it. So eventually I returned to Europe and just hoped that little commune was safe and happy. If it was then Bertrand’s amnesia really was a Lucky loss.