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Try Independent Premium free for 1 month See the options. You can form your own view. Subscribe now. Roy Welland intends to travel to Japan to meet Japanese veterans on Remembrance day. Enter your email address Continue Continue Please enter an email address Email address is invalid Fill out this field Email address is invalid Email already exists.
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Please try again, the name must be unique Only letters and numbers accepted. Loading comments Please try again, the name must be unique. Cancel Post. There are no Independent Premium comments yet - be the first to add your thoughts. Follow comments Enter your email to follow new comments on this article. The India of the 's was ruled by a generation of British who had remained largely in a Victorian time warp.
The American servicemen serving in the Burma campaign were to bring a familiar attitude toward the frosty Anglo- Indian relationship. They swept aside the social formalities based on colour and caste that the British had used so efficaciously in their successful divide and rule policy. The unceremonious Americans created a new generation of Britishers that would finally warm to the concept of a free India. There was a feeling that with the destruction of the axis powers that fall of colonial power in India would finally end. Yeats-Brown, The Burma Campaign.
As the Allies gradually received reinforcements, the RAF and the 10th AF were able to win air superiority over the Japanese in Burma and medium bombers and fighter bombers undertook energetic campaigns against enemy river traffic, bridges, and railroads. In March , Allied transport aircraft saved a large British force along the Indian border near Imphal by flying in more than 10, reinforcements and more than 20, tons of supplies after the force had been encircled during a Japanese offensive.
In the same month, Allied troop carrier units and an AAF air commando group carried out a daring operation far behind enemy lines in central Burma. Using gliders and Cs, they landed 9, British "Chindit" raiders under Major General Orde Wingate, 1, pack animals, and tons of supplies and airfield construction equipment forces, supported by the 10th AF and RAF combat and cargo aircraft captured Mandalay in March and Rangoon in May, as they drove back the remnants of the Japanese force. Such long-range penetration ground forces, supplied entirely by air, struck at vital enemy communications and supply lines, keeping the Japanese forces in Burma off balance.
Merrill, sustained mainly by airdrops, seized the airfield at Myitkyina in northern Burma in May and reopened the Burma Road to China in January However, the total tonnage brought over the road by truck until the end of the war did not equal that flown over the Hump in a single month. Anglo-Indian note from Burma : "It was a dramatic scene, amazingly still, with a full moon high in the sky, as the Japanese were working their way forward through the jungle to the attack.
The self-confidence of the Sikhs was most inspiring, and the Japanese could make no headway. Before dawn they withdrew back to their positions further south. Birdwood OBE. The Kohima Epitaph. In March , the Japanese 31st Division moved northwestward in Burma , swept through the Naga hills , invaded India , and fell upon Imphal and Kohima. Confidently, the Japanese planned to press toward the India Plains.
The Allies in the CBI Theater faced a disaster of monumental proportions unless the enemy was stopped. A crucial battle ensued at Kohima where some 2, British Empire troops came under siege. They fought a formidable Japanese force numbering 15, soldiers supported by 10, ammunition laden oxen.
For weeks the belligerents sparred in bloody artillery duels interrupted only by hand to hand skirmishes and bayonet attacks. Finally, after 64 days, amid terrible losses on both sides, the Japanese were beaten back. They withdrew from Kohima. Understandingly, the determination and gallantry shown by allied troops in the Kohima siege was quick to become the subject of poem, song, and legend.
Today in the Kohima cemetery, among the 1, grave markers, is the famous Kohima Memorial with its historic inscription:. Tell them of us, and say,. For your tomorrow. We gave our today". The National Chairman recommends that whenever possible the Kohima Epitaph should be included in Remembrance Services organized by local authorities or by the Royal British Legion. This is a decision made with the agreement of all parties involved. The Japanese were holding deep trenches and fox-holes, well hidden and impossible to spot at any distance. Along this track Naik Nand Singh lead his section.
Reaching the crest the section came under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, and every man was knocked over, either killed or wounded. Nonetheless, Naik Nand Singh dashed forward alone under intense fire at point blank range. He was wounded by grenade as he neared the first Japanese trench. Without hesitating he went on, captured the trench, and killed the two occupants with the bayonet. Under continuous heavy fire, Naik Nand Singh jumped up and charged it.
He was again wounded by a grenade and knocked down, but he got up and hurled himself into the trench, again killing both occupants with the bayonet. He moved on again, and captured a third trench, still single-handed. About Viscount Slim. The General stood on an ammunition box. Facing him in a green amphitheatre of the low hills that ring Palel Plain, sat or squatted the British officers and sergeants of the 11th East African Division. They were then new to the Burma Front and were moving into the line the next day.
The General removed his battered slouch hat, which the Gurkhas wear and which has become the headgear of the 14th Army. But I am the Army Commander and you had better be able to recognize me - if only to say "Look out, the old b. His mug is large and weatherbeaten, with a broad nose, jutting jaw, and twinkling hazel eyes. He looks like a well-to-do West Country farmer, and could be one: For he has energy and patience and, above all, the man has common sense.
However, so far Slim has not farmed. He started life as a junior clerk, once he was a school teacher, and then he became the foreman of a testing gang in a Midland engineering works. For the next 30 years Slim was a soldier. He began at the bottom of the ladder as a Territorial private. August 4, , found him at summer camp with his regiment. The Territorials were at once embodied in the Regular Army, and Slim got his first stripe as lance-corporal.
A few weeks later he was a private again; the only demotion that this Lieutenant-General has suffered. It was a sweltering, dusty day and the regiment plodded on its twenty-mile route march down an endless Yorkshire lane. At that time British troops still marched in fours, so that Lance-Corporal Slim, as he swung along by the side of his men, made the fifth in the file, which brought him very close to the roadside.
There were cottages there and an old lady stood at the garden gate. In her hand she held a beautiful jug, and on the top of that jug was a beautiful foam, indicating that it contained beer.
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She was offering it to the soldier boys. The Lance-Corporal took one pace to the side and grasped the jug. As he did, the column was halted with a roar. The Colonel, who rode a horse at its head, had glanced back. Slim was hailed before him and "busted" on the spot. The Colonel bellowed "Had we been in France you would have been shot. I lost my stripe, but he lost his army. Bill soon got his stripe back. I understand the British soldier because I have been one, and I have learned about the Japanese soldier because I have been beaten by him.
I have been kicked by this enemy in the place where it hurts, and all the way from Rangoon to India where I had to dust-off my pants. Now, gentlemen, we are kicking our Japanese neighbours back to Rangoon. Slim commanded the rearguard of the army that retreated from Burma in He is proud of that.
His men marched and fought for a hundred days and nights and across a thousand miles. But this retreat was no Dunkirk. Says Slim, "We brought our weapons out with us, and we carried our wounded, too. Dog-tired soldiers, hardly able to put one foot in front of another, would stagger along for hours carrying or holding up a wounded comrade. When at last they reached India over those terrible jungle mountains they did not go back to an island fortress and to their own people where they could rest and refit.
The Army of Burma sank down on the frontier of India, dead beat and in rags. But, they fought here all through the downpour of the monsoon, and they saved India until a great new Army - which is this one - could be built up to take the offensive once again. In those days, if anyone had gone to me with a single piece of good news I would have burst out crying. Nobody ever did. He tells another story. One day he entered a jungle glade in a tank. In front of him stood a group of soldiers, in their midst the eternal Tommy.
Assuming an optimism which he did not feel, Slim jumped out of the tank and approached them. He adds "And within quarter of an hour it did. The General who had been fighting the Japanese for more than three years tells this young division what the enemy soldier is like, and how to beat him. He dissects the anatomy of the Japanese Army, its strategy, tactics, and supply.
He explains its strength and puts a sure finger on its weakness. He analyses, also, the British soldier. Training consisted of weekly route marches starting at 10 miles and building up to 30miles in a day in full marching order. Normally, a Piper would head the marching column, and the officer on one march was drawn from the London Scottish regiment, under a service transfer.
Battle dress was normally worn for all ranks on route marches, but the officer wore a plain Kilt of Hodden grey, and was English born. When the Piper stops playing, you can take a 10 minute rest after 50 minutes marching, but the officer was adamant that the troops should march for a full hour and ordered the men to carry on marching. At the next due break, the Piper studiously ignored the pleas of the officer to stop, and as the officer couldn't be heard over the Pipes, they had an extra 10 minutes marching.
In future, the officer allowed the Piper Big Fergie, a reform school graduate to keep time. In early , the 9th were sent to join the Northumbrian Division, as the threat of invasion waned in the Orkneys. Ports of call were Alnwick, Morpeth, Newcastle and a tented camp at Gunnerton, a small village in the Cheviot Hills, prior to embarkation for foreign climes. When based in Newcastle, the Troops had an evening pass and were at Almouth for dancing and refreshment. A German Lone raider, having missed his presumed primary target at Newcastle, dumped his bombs over the Town on his way back to the Fatherland.
The pilot may have been trying to dump the bombload at sea, but the effect of the two bombs dropped on Almouth was terrible with heavy civilian casualties. Local troops were commandeered to assist with evacuation of casualties and making safe of structures, using any materials they could commandeer. House doors were used as makeshift stretchers for example. They laboured long into the night and returned to camp with an officer to explain their absence in the guardroom, at Gam.
This was the first time the war had been up close and personal for most men, and the lesson was salutary. From Gunnerton, overseas vaccination were given along with the customary feinting spells then leave for 2 weeks was granted in May Beside them in the Convoy was the SS Orion, holding Queen Alexandra nurses, their grey, red lined cloaks could be clearly seen.
The convoy layoff the tail '0 the bank at Greenock for 4 days as the convoy formed up, and was so big you could see neither the start nor the end of it. A convoy from Belfast joined them, and they steamed straight out into the Atlantic to confuse enemy observers. Once again a Butcher on board in HQ Company, cookhouse duties were the road to good feeding and guard duty avoidance. Also, the ships crew were a better source of information than the formal lines of communication.
Accommodation was spartan, and crowded at night. Keeping the troops occupied was a self help exercise with some breaks for PE and kit cleaning. Aboard ship, Crown and Anchor was the favourite game. The English officers had a yen for Potted Hough, which is made by boiling cheaper cuts of meat for hours until it jellifies. Poetic justice of a sort. First stop on the voyage was at Sierra Leone for refuelling and reprovisioning. Although not allowed ashore, a small armada of small local boats arrived and all manner of goods could be bought for little money by the troops onboard.
If the Soldiers obliged and threw over a Glasgow Tanner 2. The ship stopped once again for refuelling and provisioning at Durban, South Africa. Over the 4 days in Port, leave was granted in phases to the restless troops. Amongst the throng heading through the door of the first pub, was a coloured trooper called Joe Parker, from Glasgow. Being the last in, it was not at first noticed that he had almost immediately been tossed back out again, on account of the colour of his face.
The 9th Gordons then decided to take the Bar apart, again along with the objectionable doormen, on the grounds that those who fight with us, drink with us, and sod the colour of his face. When the shore patrol arrived, the Gordons had scampered, and no amount of searching could find them. When the gangway guard was questioned, he reported that no-one from shore leave had yet returned. The shore patrol posted a guard of their own to catch the bar room redecorators on their return to ship. Given that the gangway guard was another yet another Shottsman, and that all his cronies were already safely onboard, they had little chance of catching them.
The next 3 days, unfortunately, were spent keeping a low profile aboard ship. He replied that back in Shotts, they had 50 bob tailors …. They did and he pointed to a streetlight. Sure enough, it said "Made in Shotts Ironworks" on the base. The ironworks boast was that they "Lit the World". They're probably still there. Once at sea, the convoy passed Madagascar and they realised that they were headed for India. Finally the ship docked, and 9th Gordons and many others disembarked at Bombay.
Here it was that the Brass hats announced that they would forevermore be known as Independent Indian Tank Brigade, comprising 3 regiments and be trained in Tank Warfare. A time of surprises. And so onto the train at Bombay bound for a 5 day journey to Sialkot. Here we discovered the Batta shoe company which makes drumskins and spares for Pipe Bands, so they stocked up as they passed for the Pipe Band, which as a matter of course was with them throughout the conflict. Andrew Hare from Tannochside was the Pipe Major, having replaced the original Territorial Pipe Major who was considered too old for overseas service.
Andra' was a Tank Commander, and played the Pipes hanging from his Sherman Turret as were rolling down the main street of Rangoon, having liberated it, as well as any other opportunity which presented itself. Andra' was famous for playing the Pipes from his turret as they advanced and was once rebuked for it as the Japanese Soldiers would hear them coming. Andra's reply was that he was sat on top of hp of roaring engine, and that anyway, they wanted them to know that they were coming, as if the Japs had any sense, they would have legged it before they got there With a Scots regiment, Gurkha infantry and Indian support troops, he had a point.
At Sialkot they learned about radio operations in the field for a few months, and learned how to keep vehicles operational in a tropical climate.
All the Troopers who could drive were tasked with teaching everyone else to drive on any vehicles they could procure. These were usually ex civilian cars and Trucks. Armament practice was also carried out on Small arms and Bren Guns. Basic Gunnery practice was carried out on main guns removed from old Tanks to demonstrate the first principles. Radio technique was practised using No.
If you couldn't learn to drive, it was back to the PBI poor bloody infantry for you. Once more onto the Train to Secunderabad for another 4 or 5 days in the humid heat. Secunderabad is the white cantonment area of Hyderabad on the Deccan plateau. Here they were introduced to Grant and Lee tanks from the armaments depot at Amadnaggar and a course of intensive training in how to fight with armoured vehicles began. The Grant tank had a 75mm gun in a sponson on the side and a turret mounted 47 mm cannon along with a 0. The Lee had a 75mm gun in the Turret, coaxed with a machine gun, and a 47 mm cannon on a ball mount for the co-driver.
They had a 9 cylinder Wright Cyclone aero engine to deliver the necessary horsepower, and the flames from the exhausts were memorable, as was the noise. The Indian drivers in the area were a source of amazement, as they were used to spare parts being in short supply. This meant they regularly changed gear without the use of the clutch by carefully timing gearchange and rpm, to save on Clutch wear.
This was a 2 storey building with the 1st floor open to the skies, and was popular with the troops on evening leave. He had transferred to the Indian Corps of Clerks after his marriage to remain with his wife, who also worked in the Corps. Even by wartime fIeecing standards the bill was high, and Sgt. McBurnie told the troopers to fetch 3 tongas a small horse draw cart and leg it over the low wall. He followed a few moments later with the complete dinner service wrapped in the table cloth, after sending the waiter away with the Cash to pay the bill ….
On the road again to Puna where the monsoons broke, then on to Dewass, where the road was submerged and lost 2 men when the roadbridge assumed to be under the water turned out to have been washed away. One was killed by the impact with the steering wheel, and one died subsequently of pneumonia, only Gordon Reid having escaped unscathed. Website links show the Grave. Next stop by road was Lucknow, then Ranchi where they stopped for 3 weeks prior to a move into Burma itself.
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At the end of 3 weeks they moved on to Calcutta where they were introduced to their Sherman tanks,. These fine, hardy machines were armed with a 75mm main gun, an Oerliken 0. This model had engines with 5 banks of 6 general motors petrol engines slaved to a common shaft to give sufficient horsepower. Tracing a spark plug fault on 30 cylinders could be a long job ,but an inventive Signaller called Baxter found an easier way, which comprised a handful of wires and neon lights. When connected to the ignition system, a "Pink Mouse" would run all over the engine banks, as each cylinder fired in turn.
In this way, the faulty Plug could be traced and replaced easily. An officer noticed it, took it to Brigade for evaluation, and the invention later turned up after the war as a standard piece of Army Kit. The inventor did not apparently receive credit for his innovation, as it was invented in Army time. The Shermans were fine machines, given their intended purpose, and although sometimes outgunned in the European theatre, the best the Japanese could muster could be opened up like a bean tin by the main ' Sickness was always a worry in these hot sticky climates and Hannah went down with a bout of Dengue Fever, caught by being bitten by the Dengue Fly, most likely by brushing against the undergrowth wearing only Short trousers.
The symptoms are like Malaria, but fortunately do not recur. Giving a medical history of past diseases as including Dengue Fever still causes raised eyebrows with the Local Doctors at home today, and has them scrabbling for medical dictionaries but rather that than Malaria.
Dengue fever does not recur, Malaria does. Other troops were suffering with an outbreak of Typhus, but at least the threat of Malaria was held at bay. Every day the troops had to swallow Mepecrine tablets which slowly turned the whites of your eyes yellow, and presumably made your blood taste unfit for sucking. Salt tablets were also issued each day to replace the salt lost by sweating, and two tanks with a chain strung between them used to clear all the scrub, to minimise troop losses from disease.
Other precautions were the use of mosquito nets, and as a defence against termites, anything of value was placed with its' legs on tin cans filled with paraffin. Every week in rotation, the troops bedding and bed was boiled in a large tank filled with dilute Lysol to keep disease at bay. After extensive training, the tanks were finally loaded onto rail flatcars, and set off for Gauhati in Assam. Once there they put the Tanks onto transporters, and moved down to the th milestone on the road to Imphal, south of Kohima. On arrival drivers were sent back to Calcutta to ferry new trucks and Jeeps back for brigade use in the campaign ahead.
Kohima 1944: The battle that saved India
By this time, ' was driving a Chevrolet 15 cwt truck which provided good sleeping accommodation meanwhile, but which was to be replaced the workhorse of the campaign, the Willys Jeep. Just after passing Kohima, heard the story of the Japanese army carrying a small field artillery piece in sections to the top of a hill, and digging in to a Cave. Every time allied troops tried to move down the road, the artillery piece would emerge from cover and shell them.
Given the angle involved, the allied tanks could not silence the gun, so a bulldozer was tasked with hauling a tank up the hillside in stages, using his main winch. In this way, the tank could get sufficient angle to engage the Japanese field piece, which it did, successfully. Further down, in the Gangaw Valley, a story was carried of a similar situation, where a transportable field piece was engaging allied troops from a high cave. Finally a detachment of Gurkhas were sent up the hill and one, with a rope round his waist, a sten gun and some grenades, was lowered head first over the cave mouth.
The Japanese gunners would not oblige by coming out to fire, so a truck was sent down the road as bait.
The gunners came out to engage the truck, and the Gurkha despatched the whole lot. According to the tale, a VC followed that action. The tank was left in position, and later was painted and turned into a Memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives in the actions in the area. It is still there today, and a photograph is on the Burmastar. As the Japanese were at the end of a long logistics tail, and had to prevail to gain the supplies to go on, this was the beginning of the end for them in Burma.
Nevertheless, the Japanese surrounded and cut off 7th Division at Imphal for a period and had to be supplied by airdrop. Some of including Hannah volunteered to fly with the American Dakota aircraft dropping supplies to our beleaguered troops, and the low altitude of the crop usually resulted in the planes returning with more ventilation holes than when they began. Fortunately our troops were relieved at Imphal but not before the Japanese had bayoneted the wounded soldiers and the Princess Alexandra Nurses in the field hospital. It was uncommon for allied soldiers to hear a plea for surrender from the Japanese soldiers, but after this atrocity the offer was not often made.
To the Japanese soldier, death is preferable to capture, and to die for the Emperor was a straight ticket to paradise.