Introduction Journal 48 – Far East

Everyone’s War  Far East

This issue of Everyone’s War focuses on service in the Far East, beginning with Leslie Beswick of King George V’s Bengal Sappers and Miners, 5th Indian Division. Leslie was in action with his unit on the Imphal to Tiddim Road. He describes bridging operations, the infamous ‘Chocolate Staircase’ section of Tiddim Road, and how troops coped with the constant threat of enemy attacks, disease and death by developing a morbid sense of humour: ‘One either laughed or cracked up.’

Nicholas McClintock also fought with 5 Division in Burma, serving with 18 and 28 Field Regiments. He depicts an enthusiastic race to Rangoon; continuous movement; admiration for the Punjab regiments; and the inevitable ‘war weariness’ of troops who had been in continuous action for months on end while living in rough conditions, and whose only contact with the outside the world had been letters from home.
The stress of jungle warfare is candidly described in the memoir of Tony Rose who was seconded to 2 Royal Berkshire Regiment of 19 Indian Division. Tony gives an account of his treatment for ‘battle exhaustion’ while serving in Burma at the age of twenty. Discharged from medical care after five nights’ sedation, he was immediately returned to the front to lead an attack on Mandalay where he was shot in the leg, patched up, and promoted to captain. Tony also tells of how his wartime experience had an adverse effect on his post-war life as a civilian.
Russell Weight’s Captured at Singapore represents the experience of Far East POWs in this issue. He was captured by the Japanese while he was serving as an officer with the 1st Mysore Infantry. He recounts his time spent in forced labour on the Thai-Burma Railway, suffering from illness and starvation, and a poignant moment whilst seriously ill in a jungle hospital camp when he made the decision that he was not going to die. Against the odds, his health improved, and at the end of the war he returned to Britain on the repatriation ship MS Boissevain.

Moving to India, the Siege of Kohima, one of the bloodiest battles of the war, is told here through the eyes of Charlie King of 4 West Kents who, despite being wounded by shrapnel, continued fighting against overwhelming enemy forces until Kohima was relieved by 2nd British Division.

Britain’s Secret Island reveals the little-known story of British troops who were stationed on a remote tropical island in the Indian Ocean. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands acted as a Y-Station for the network of British signals intelligence. Thought by the enemy to be destroyed, the wireless station remained secretly in action throughout the war. N. Clarkson, Indian Artillery, details his posting to Cocos in a memoir based on hundreds of letters he sent to his parents during the war.

Our other articles in this issue include an eyewitness account of the fierce battle of Château de la Londe in Normandy, part of Operation Mitten. Lewis Morgan- Thomas of the 1st Suffolks gives a graphic description of this two-battalion front which cost a fighting brigade a third of its strength in forty-eight hours.
At Bir Hacheim (Bir Hakeim), RASC driver Ian Harper was trapped at the besieged garrison of the Free French in North Africa, 1942. His memoir tells of his hair-raising escape, riding exposed on the running board of his lorry through heavy fire as the breakout convoy drove through enemy lines.

German machine gunner Guenther Wein recounts his experience of being captured by the British at Arnhem in 1944, and the humane gesture of being offered food and drink by his enemies which made a lasting impression on him.
Walk to Freedom details the POW experience of John Muir of Durham Light Infantry, a serial absconder who attempted multiple breakouts from captivity. Along with Rhodesian pilot Hugh Baker, he jumped from a moving train, and with the help of Italian civilians they made their way to Switzerland and freedom.

We conclude with Brian Sutton who served in 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards. When submitting a claim for a War Disability Pension in the 1990s, he was asked to provide evidence that he had suffered explosions and physical trauma during the war. In response, he detailed the events he had encountered in action as a twenty-year-old corporal, including landing on Gold Beach on D-Day in an amphibious M4 Sherman Duplex Drive ‘Donald Duck’ tank and fighting across Europe and into Germany until the end of the conflict.

Amanda Herbert-Davies

Journal 46 Further References

Admiralty Historical Section, NAVAL STAFF HISTORY: SECOND WORLD WAR Battle Summary No. 52 THE TOBRUK RUN June 1940 to January 1943.Admirality London S.W.1,1956.
Anonymous, ” Engagements – 1942: Axis Counter Offensive (January-February 1942),” The History of the British 7th Armoured Division’ website: http://www.desertrats.org.uk/battles1942.htm.
Anonymous, ” The Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade,” website: http://www.polandinexile.com/icrb.html.
Anonymous, “Issue 14: Tobruk,” Images of War: Eyewitness Accounts Of World War II, Marshall Cavendish,c1989-90
Anonymous, The Tiger Kills: The Story of British and Indian Troops with the 8th Army in North Africa.HMSO,1944.
Anonymous, “Tobruk: AWM-Research file 581,” Australian War Memorial website: https://www.awm.gov.au/sites/default/files/awm-research-file-581.pdf.
Anonymous, ” Unofficial Rats of Tobruk medal,” Australian War Memorial, website: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C137686
Biermann, Andreas. ” The Tobruk Run – Loss of HMS Auckland 24 June 1941,” Rommelsriposte 12 April 2022,website: https://rommelsriposte.com/2022/04/12/the-tobruk-run-loss-of-hms-auckland-24-june-1941/.
Biermann, Andreas. ” D.A.K. War Diary Entry 8 April 1941,” Rommelsriposte, 10 April 2016,website: https://rommelsriposte.com/2016/04/10/d-a-k-war-diary-entry-8-april-1941/
Biermann, Andreas. ” D.A.K. War Diary Entry 10 April 1941,” Rommelsriposte, 11 April 2016,website: https://rommelsriposte.com/2016/04/11/d-a-k-war-diary-entry-10-april-1941/
Cox, Peter ” THE NEW ZEALAND DIVISION IN OPERATION CRUSADER – AN OVERVIEW,” website: https://www.sidirezegh.co.nz/Operation-Crusader-An-Overview/ .
Davidson, Ian. “THE SECOND BATTALION THE BLACK WATCH AT TOBRUK,” website: http://www.blackwatch.50megs.com/tobruk.html.
Forty, George. The First Victory O’Connor’s Desert Triumph, Nutshell,1990.
Forty, George. The Desert Rats at War: North Africa, Littlehampton Book Services Ltd,1975.
Goodenough, Simon. War Maps: World War II from September 1939 to August 1945, Air, Sea, and Land, Battle by Battle, TBS The Book Service Ltd, 1984.
Hill, A. J. “Morshead, Sir Leslie James (1889–1959)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University, website: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morshead-sir-leslie-james-11180/text19923
Messenger, Charles et.al, The Middle East Commandos, William Kimber & Co Ltd, 1988.
Miller, Ward A. ” The 9th Australian Division Versus the Africa Corps: An Infantry Division Against Tanks-Tobruk, Libya, 1941,” US Command & General Staff College,1986, website: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/CSI/CSI-Tobruk/miller.asp.html.
Miskimon, Christopher. “Easter Victory at Tobruk: The Australian 9th Division defeated the Africa Korps at the Libyan port city on April 13-14, 1941.,” Warfare History Network,2011,website: https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/article/easter-victory-at-tobruk/.
Murphy, W.E. ” The Relief Of Tobruk,” The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945 ed. by Monty C. Fairbrother, Wellington: Historical Publications Branch,1961), website: https://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/
Palmer, Rob ” 2 ARMOURED DIVISION (1940-41),” British Military History, website: https://www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/124/2020/09/2-Armoured-Division-1940-41.pdf
Playfair, I.S.O. et.al, The History of the Second World War Series: The Mediterranean and Middle East Volume III ,Naval and Military Press edition,2004, website: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/NHC/NewPDFs/UK/UK%20MME-3.pdf
The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regimental Association, “The Queens in the Middle East Tobruk.”website:https://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/ww2/middle_east/qme010.shtml
Riches, Leah, ” The Patrolling War in Tobruk,” Australian War Memorial, 2012, website: https://www.awm.gov.au/sites/default/files/ssvs-riches-2012-tobruk.pdf
Rommel, Erwin, The Rommel Papers, ed. B.H. Liddell-Hart, Collins, 1953. website: https://ia803100.us.archive.org/25/items/ROMMELPAPERS/ROMMEL_PAPERS.pdf
Saunders, Hilary St George. Combined Operations; The Official Story of The Commandos. Macmillan Co,1943. Website: https://archive.org/details/combinedoperatio0000unse
Thomas, Nigel. Men at Arms: 316 The German Army 1939-45(2)-North Africa and Balkans, Osprey Publishing,1998.
Thompson, Julian. Forgotten Voices Desert Victory. Random House, 2011
Turner, John F. VCs of the Second World War. Casemate Publishers, 2004.
Wilmot, Chester, Tobruk 1941, Penguin, 1993 (Australian War Classics edition), website: https://archive.org/details/tobruk19410000wilm/
Wright, Michael, The World at Arms. Reader’s Digest,1989
Zaloga, Steven J. Men at Arms: 117 The Polish Army 1939-45,Osprey Publishing,1988.

Introduction – Journal 44 – Arakan

In this edition of Everyone’s War we share first-hand accounts from those who served in the Arakan Campaigns in Burma. Dr Rob Turnock introduces Arakan (now known as Rhakine State) with an outline of the three campaigns….

…from the failure of first offensive on the Arakan front in 1942/1943, to the renewed offensive in late 1943, and the successful, third Allied attempt in 1944/1945.

During the first Arakan campaign, 14th Indian Infantry Division’s advance to take the strategic position of Akyab Island resulted in defeat. One of the casualties of this campaign was 6th Brigade Headquarters, based at Indin, which was captured by the Japanese. The last action of 6th Brigade’s Commanding Officer Brigadier Ronald Cavendish was to order an artillery assault by his own guns, knowing it would cost him his life. His brave action is retold here from an account donated to the Centre by his son.

West Africa, Gambia and Nigeria

We have three individuals who served with the Royal West African Frontier Force in the 81st West African Division. From 6th West African Brigade, we have accounts from the Gambia and Nigeria Regiments. David Cookson served with the former in the 1st Battalion. His story focuses on the action at Frontier Hill in May 1944, during which he stayed steadfastly at his post despite having been shot. For their defence of the hill, the Gambia Regiment received the unique battle honour ‘Mowdok’. J. Cherns of 4th Battalion Nigeria Regiment recalls the forced retreat of 81st West African Division out of the Kaladan Valley in March 1944 during the Second Arakan Campaign. From the 5th Brigade we have Captain Philip Poore of 7th Battalion Gold Coast Regiment, who details two of the battalion’s operations in the Kaladan Valley.

Indian Divisions

Brigadier Colin Cowan of 28th Field Company, Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners, 26th Indian Division, describes the challenges of building and maintaining mule tracks and roads in the exceptionally difficult Arakan terrain, and problems with bridging during the monsoons. In his interview for the Centre, Colin continues with the amphibious assault on the Japanese-occupied island of Ramree, followed by the landings at Rangoon. Throughout, his devotion to his men and respect for the Indian Army is clear.

Our Arakan cover theme concludes with an extract from the memoir of Harold Rose who served with 160th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, 26th Indian Division. Harold
describes his experience of the Allied reoccupation of Ramree Island, an event which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s greatest crocodile massacre due to the high number of Japanese allegedly killed by crocodiles in the island’s swamps.

Elsewhere in the world

The following articles cover a range of topics from our Army, RAF, and Polish archives.

Captain Robert Lyle of the 15th Indian Infantry Brigade in Singapore gives a gripping account of his escape from the Japanese. After his ship the Dragonfly was sunk, he faced a gruelling swim to land, surviving the gauntlet of machine gun fire from Japanese aircraft, sharks, and a disintegrating lifejacket. Also in Singapore was Captain Forde Cayley, a doctor of the Royal Army Medical Corps, who became a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway. His account describes the improvised medical treatments and equipment which helped save lives.

In Operation Table Jam, Canadian navigator Clarence Fry recounts an ill-fated SOE mission to drop an Intelligence agent in Denmark. After being shot down over Zealand, Clarence miraculously survived, evaded capture, and escaped to Sweden – thanks to the help of Resistance workers. Another extraordinary story is that of Ireneusz Sidorowicz from Lida, Poland, who, as a sixteen-year-old mounted rifleman in the 26th Regiment of Lancers, Polish Home Army, rode his horse in attacks against German units and, on one occasion, a tank. On the arrival of the Soviet Army, Ireneusz was forced into hiding. When he returned home, he witnessed the public execution of Polish Home Army members.

Major-General Donald Isles of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment donated to the Centre a series of Intelligence reports. These German documents and intelligence operational and interrogation summaries relate to 721. Jäger-Regiment and 1. Fallschirmjäger-Division. These are particularly revealing for the obvious reluctance on the part of Luftwaffe personnel to volunteer for the paratroops. One report, notable for its humour, recounts the story of a German paratrooper who wandered drunk into 1st Battalion Duke of Wellington’s lines one afternoon.

Finally, we conclude with an article by historian Graham Bebbington on American service personnel at 12th Replacement & Control Depot, Yarnfield, Staffordshire.

Amanda Herbert-Davies

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