BY the time war broke out in 1939 James Upton already had a dozen years' service under his belt, a seasoned regular soldier who had served in some of the hottest, dirtiest places the army could find to send a man.

But even he becomes visibly moved when he talks about a time in the fighting in the Far East about which the full story has never been told - the time when a British soldier's life was valued at a handful of silver rupees.

"The First World War had only been over eight years when I joined the army, but in all that time the memories of what happened in Burma are with me still," says James, now 94, but lucid and sharp and with the crisp, no-nonsense speech of an old soldier.

"I was with the 13th battalion of the King's Regiment when we went into Burma under General Orde Wingate as Chindits with the job of disrupting the Japanese lines of communication.

"One day our luck ran out and we were ambushed by the Japanese. In those early days the Japs had the edge on us in this sort of fighting.

"Two men died in the ambush and several were wounded. Such was the nature of the work that it was impossible to take our wounded with us."

James Upton turns his head slightly, for he is close to tears.

"Obviously it was a terrible thing to have to leave them behind, but had we not done it we all would have been trapped.

"The arrangement was that the injured would be left in the care of the nearest village head man, who would be given some silver rupees to take care of the soldier and hide him from the Japanese."

James looks up, the pain of the memory etched on his face.

"Of course, everyone knew what that meant. The head man would bury the money and hand over the soldier the minute the Japs came. Almost certainly he would be killed where he lay.

"I remember as if it were yesterday one man from North Wales, who spoke Welsh as his first language. He'd been injured and there was nothing for it but to leave him behind with a few rupees.

"As we walked away I heard him cry, 'Don't leave me! Don't leave me!' but there was nothing else we could do.

"Some of the men who were left like this had been evacuated at Dunkirk and fought all through the war. When news of what was happening got out it caused a lot of despondency back home."

Crindau-born James had worked for a Dock Street electrician before signing up for the South Lancashire Regiment, first for garrison duty in occupied Germany, and then the 'hard soldiering' of the north-west frontier of India and the Khyber Pass.

"I was demobbed in 1935 and put in class A of the reserve, and in 1936 married Dorothy Bowen, a Caldicot girl.

"Just before the outbreak of war I was recalled to the regiment."

After their initial mauling at the hands of the Japanese James' unit was told to disperse and make its way back to India across the Irrawaddy river.

Racked by malaria, hungry and footsore, he marched as men fell by the wayside. About 60 dirty, starving and bedraggled men made contact with the first British outpost, where they were fed.

"We gorged so much we were sick. Eventually, we made it back to India and were taken to Karachi, ready to take part in the assault on the Japanese, who were on the run. By this time the British were every bit as good at jungle fighting as the once-invincible Japanese.

"I was in Karachi when we heard the news of the German surrender in Europe. It was good news, of course, but I can't remember anyone being wildly excited.

"There was much more rejoicing when the Japanese gave up. Myself, a fellow called Freddie Haslem and a Private Greenough went into Karachi and got drunk on beer and brandy."

Already 34 by the war's end, James was one of the first to be demobilised, at Hereford, he rushed for the train to Newport, and on to Caldicot, where in their cottage Dorothy was waiting for him with their sons, Derek and Brian, and little daughter, Janet.

Two more children, Gerald and Susan, were to come in the years following the war, years in which James worked in the building trade. It's been a full life for James. Dorothy died 23 years ago, but he is surrounded by a large and loving family. Life is quiet and comfortable.

Except for the cries he can sometimes hear in the night.

"Even after 60 years I can hear those men. 'Don't leave me!' they cry. "I shall hear those voices for as long as I live."