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My friend Eddie Breeze

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The end of childhood
Brian Aldiss Writer
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Three years of West Buckland and meanwhile the war went on and I went... there was a recruiting office in Barnstaple, just a little… a little hut really, and I went into there and volunteered for the Army, or to serve in the war. And the sergeant there had a book in front of him and he looked it up and he said, 'Ah, hmm, yes, well… you could do well in the submarine service – plenty of people wanted there'. So I said, 'No, I can't say that appeals to me'. Turned over the page and he said, 'Hmm, Royal Signals, no, they don't want anyone', and turned over... and I thought – ah, Royal Signals? So I said, 'Yes, fine, thank you very much', and I volunteered for Royal Signals.

And I was sent to train, oh yes, in Norwich, that's right, the barracks in Norwich, which were huge, and curiously enough my father had trained there in World War I because they'd lived nearby in Dereham. But I had come all the way from Barnstaple and I still went into those barracks. And I had the advantage over many of the chaps that, having been in a public school, I was trained in various degrees of bullshit, like smartening up a uniform and getting out the gates and going down into town with my friend Eddie Breeze. And yes, Eddie Breeze and I had quite a good time, in various ways.

And so, then there came a time, when we had gone through the course and we were going to be distributed among the Armed Forces, and so we went on parade and the captain in charge of us said, 'Right, now men, we're going to have volunteers. Which of you will volunteer for Italy?' And to my horror, my friend Eddie Breeze stepped forward. I said to him, 'For Christ's sake, you're going to Italy!' He wanted to go to Italy. He went to Italy, and he was killed.

So the next thing was, 'Which of you want to go to India?' Well, by this time, there weren't many of us left, so I stepped forward. You see, they said India, they didn't say Burma, because Burma was the name of terror; India sounded okay. I mean, it belonged to the British, anyhow. And so, I went out to Burma.

And that, really, is the end of childhood.

Brian Aldiss (1925-2017) was an English writer and anthologies editor, best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and West Buckland School, Devon, and served in the Royal Signals between 1943-1947. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller in Oxford, an experience which provided the setting for his first book, 'The Brightfount Diaries' (1955). His first science fiction novel, 'Non-Stop', was published in 1958 while he was working as literary editor of the 'Oxford Mail'. His many prize-winning science fiction titles include 'Hothouse' (1962), which won the Hugo Award, 'The Saliva Tree' (1966), which was awarded the Nebula, and 'Helliconia Spring' (1982), which won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Several of his books have been adapted for the cinema. His story, 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', was adapted and released as the film 'AI' in 2001. His book 'Jocasta' (2005), is a reworking of Sophocles' classic Theban plays, 'Oedipus Rex' and 'Antigone'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Burma, Royal Signals

Duration: 3 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015