Sunday, January 1, 2012

Coward or Hero


The story of Thomas Darling –  Was he a Coward or Hero.


Recently I watched a program on television, Alan Cummings a British actor was on his quest to find out more about his grandfather who seemed to have died very mysteriously during the 2nd World War. His mother and grandmother knew that he had died with a single shot to the head, but that is all they knew.

Alan wanted to find out the reason and made enquiries as to whether anyone who might have known his grandfather may still be alive. Through the Burma Star Organisation a man by the name of David Murray was contacted and Alan arranged to meet with him.  David now 89, spoke highly of the man he had come to know as Thomas Darling, when David met Thomas he was a decorated sergeant. David  a 2nd Lieutenant and therefore Thomas’ senior, said that Thomas was a very likable chap, much admired and highly respected as the back bone of his battalion at the time. David told Alan the story about when he and Thomas fought against the Japanese when Thomas was severely injured.

During the war Thomas Darling was sent to India. The war in that part of the world was treacherous in the jungle. Thomas Darling was a sergeant  in the British army and in a battle in Kahema(sp),  400 British soldiers were in the front line fighting the Japanese, when all of a sudden the ground beneath them seemed to open up as they walked straight into an ambush, the shrieks and  loud noise made by the Japanese was apparently deafening, he said he would never forget it as long as he lived. In the battle 105 soldiers either died or were seriously injured, Thomas Darling being one of them, he was admitted into hospital in Dehra Dun, India on the 18th May 1944 with serious injuries from shrapnel, mortar or a grenade. He was then moved to another hospital in Deolali almost 1000 kilometres away near Mumbai where he stayed for 2 months before returning to duty, but in his official records there seemed to be some documents missing, whether deliberately or not isn’t known, the only documents available after 1944 was in 1946. It was speculated that during that time he was in a psychiatric ward in a Deolali hospital. These documents were often systematically destroyed because of the stigma attached to what was called Combat fatigue or mental illness, later in psychology referred to as PTS. Alan asked David  if he ever suffered with Combat Fatigue and David denied it, however he did recall an incident after the war when his young daughter walked up behind him to give him a fright. He jumped up and swung around, and in that moment his daughter said that she knew that he could have killed her. 65 years ago people didn’t talk about Combat Stress but it did exist and was very real to those who suffered from the condition.

Thomas Darling went back to Britain , to his wife and two children after being released from hospital but he wasn’t there long when after only a year as a civilian he abandoned his family. He worked for awhile in an administration position but he couldn’t handle it. He applied for a position with the Malayan police force, back to a brutal colonial war. Malay was part of the British Empire since the early 19th century. The vast rubber and tin resources had been a huge part of the British economy. He gave up what could have been his comfort back in Britain. In 1948 Malayan communist gorilla parties started murdering the plantation managers and attacked the British businesses in a bid to overturn the British Colonial rulers. Thomas had this nice comfortable job but he chose to go back to the war in the jungle.

Many soldiers chose to go back into battle which wasn’t unusual. There is a very powerful sense of missing the intensity of the life he had in the military. Thomas went back to Malay to take over one of the villages, with the intent of combating the communist gorillas.  Surrounding the village was barbwire and entrance into the village was through check points. The purpose of the check points was to cut the terrorists off from the local population who might give them food and supplies. Almost half a million people were forced into these villages, some were secret communist sympathisers , while others were simply glad to be protected from the intimidation of the gorillas.

It was an extremely difficult position to be in because Thomas had to win over the confidence of the local people, if they didn’t like him they could easily betray him. Within 7 months Thomas Darling at the age of 35 would be dead. He died of a shot behind and level with his right ear.

Alan Cummings went to Cha-ah to find out more, this was a major hotspot for terrorist activity during the war and had to be policed by Thomas Darlings security forces. Alan tracked down Ray Sampson who knew Thomas as he was also in the Police Force at the time. Thomas had to maintain the security in the village while Roy patrolled  the surrounding jungle killing communist gorillas who were brought back to the Police to be displayed for the locals to view as a deterrent. The police were decorated for their achievements.  Thomas at that time was playing Russian roulette for quite some time and his superiors and friends knew but chose to say nothing as he was highly thought of and they chose to close their eyes to what he was doing. He was playing with the local people who really liked him and Thomas would collect when he survived the bullet.

Allan met with two of the local men whose father knew his grandfather. Thomas was a hero in their eyes. When he died they named a street and a park after him which still stands today. Thomas’ wife, Alan’s grandmother was asked if she wanted his personal belongs, which she did. His personal effects were sent to her in Britain, but she was unable to collect them from the Post Office due to lack of funds. Alan’s family did eventually recover his belongings but that is all they received because Thomas’ death was deemed not in a manner that was within the call of duty under police regulations.

Alan made the comment at the end of the program that his grandfathers death was not so shocking given his life experience at the time, the level of PTS that he must have suffered and many more soldiers who are in the military, but that we don’t value the after affects of war.

Thomas Darling was a considered a coward in the military and a hero in the local community.

To speak the truth can be painful but to remain silent can hurt even more. Alan’s grandmother and his own mother had no idea how Thomas Darling died.


1.      Often an abusive partner is charming, and extremely engaging and persuasive in the beginning. Once the victim is committed to the relationship and the abuse begins. The victim for all the reasons that are mentioned on my website may find it very difficult to leave, often being persuaded to return if she does leave. Thomas may have been attracted to the money and the excitement of the war. Remember he left and went back.

2.       Part of the reason he left his wife and children could have been that they didn’t understand him and he couldn’t be normal around them. Often when we leave an abusive relationship out friends can’t understand and we feel alienated, it just seems easier to go back to what is familiar. The abusive partner is likely to lay on the charm, promise to change etc etc.

3.      Who will suffer from PTS, some soldiers suffered worse than others and it is the same with the victims of Domestic Violence. There are many reasons for that, family history, personality type and support from friends and family after the divorce or break up of the abusive relationship.

4.      65 years ago men who struggled with Combat fatigue felt alienated and there was a stigma attached to the condition, nothing much has changed. We are often told by friends and family to ‘get over it’.

5.      Thomas started playing Russian roulette; he more than likely drank a lot or took drugs. Many victims of domestic violence also do the same thing. They might jump into another relationship far too soon, drink heavily, party hard with friends, spend money they cannot afford and some may even attempt suicide.

6.      Friends of Thomas knew what he was doing and didn’t try to stop him. Some of our friends will betray us, by remaining friends with our abusive partner, some may even have an affair with him. Some may even betray our confidence by telling our abusive partner what we are doing or thinking of doing.

7.      Thomas obviously felt isolated and alone and feared seeking further treatment.

8.      If the victim leaves she may decide to help other victims, she may speak out and break the silence. Some people will think she is a coward for exposing her abusive partner and others may consider her a hero if she leaves, stays away, starts a new life and helps others.

9.      If the victim dies at the hand of her abuser or through suicide, will people consider her a Hero or a Coward?

10.  If you are a victim then only you can decide.

Only we can decide which we are going to be.     

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