Sergeant Without Stripes

Battle Picture Weekly
6th September 1975 – 8th November 1975
Writers: Norman Worker, Gerry Finley-Day and Pat Mills
Artist: Giancarlo Alessandrini with Geoff Campion

Sergeant Without Stripes is fairly self-explanatory. Bill Saxon is an experienced Sergeant leading a platoon in Burma during 1943. His men capture a soldier of the Japanese Imperial Guard, who appears to be deserting. Saxon takes his captive to see his newly-arrived platoon commander, Lieutenant Flashley. Flashley is a typical upper class prig who believes he knows best, despite having no combat experience. When Saxon expresses his concerns that a Japanese never desert, let alone disclose the location of his headquarters so freely, Flashley ignores him, and plans an attack. It is, of course, a trap. Saxon and his men are lucky to escape with their lives, but Flashley accuses Saxon of disobeying orders by retreating, and strips him of his stripes for an act of cowardice. Saxon continues to lead his men as, despite his lack of rank, he still holds their respect, unlike Flashley. The lieutenant continues to be angered by Saxon, ignoring his experience in the belief that a Sandhurst officer knows best. He is always wrong, and Saxon is always right, which makes matters worse. The fact that Saxon continues to give orders despite holding the rank of Private is too much for Flashley to bear, and he does everything he can to make Saxon’s life a misery whilst taking credit for his actions.

Sergeant Without Stripes could probably have been called An Officer and an Arsehole, because Flashley was a classic stereotypical, Sandhurst-graduate toff who infuriated at every turn. Saxon was naturally some sort of Super-Sarge, who never got anything wrong, and perpetually saved the life of his antagonist. The script and art were workmanlike (although three episodes look like the work of Geoff Campion), but complemented each other well in what is an enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying yarn. The strip went into hiatus after the first ten episodes, promising that “Saxon will be back at a later date, lads – Watch out for him!”. Thirty-two years later and, at the time of writing this, apat from a couple of Holiday Special appearances, there’s no sign. Sergeant Without Stripes was never resolved, Flashley never got the come-uppance he so richly deserved and Bill Saxon never got his stripes back. Obviously, this is the ending that was destined, but for some reason the editorial team decided not to bring Saxon back, probably because the story polled badly with readers, and so this part of the war in Burma remains in limbo. Another Sarge, with stripes intact, would have more success eighteen months later.

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