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

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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Americans – Introduction

Introduction – Journal 38  Americans

This issue’s cover theme draws from the Centre’s archive on American service personnel.

In our first article, Texas- born Willard Korsmeyer recounts his introduction to the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, describing himself as ‘one of the more diminutive pilots… assigned to the largest fighter’. He flew escort for bomber raids and top cover for carpet bombings until shot down during a mission over Germany. Captured and sent to Stalag Luft 1, Willard attributes his moral and spiritual survival as a POW to his mentors, one of which was an African-American Tuskegee Airman. We also have Frank ‘Kirby’ Cowen, a radio operator and gunner from Arkansas, aboard the B-17 Flying Fortress, ‘Horn’s Hornets’, which was hit by enemy fire. Kirby was rescued by the French Underground but betrayed by the notorious double-agent, Jacques Desoubrie, and interred in Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

Henry Ford’s B-24 Liberator production plant is the focus of Ford’s Willow Run. The factory produced an astonishing fully-built aircraft every fifty-five minutes during its peak production. George Martin Bauer from Central Illinois, pilot of the indomitable B-24 Liberator, ‘Fairy Belle’, recounts a few of his missions including the Gotha raid during Big Week, for which his Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. George describes the ‘utter confusion’ of the catastrophic Friedrichshafen mission on 18th March 1944 when 44th Group was attacked by Messerschmitts, resulting in the loss of fourteen aircraft. George also discusses training and mental toughness, and he gives a candid account of the sheer mental exhaustion (known as ‘flak happy’) which he experienced after an extended period of combat.

D-Day 75th Anniversary

2019 is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Previous journal issues on this subject include D-Day (issue no. 09) and Normandy (issue no. 19). To commemorate this anniversary, we have Radio Operator Theodore ‘Ted’ Stebbins, 6th Engineer Special Brigade, USAAF, who landed on the infamous Dog Green Sector of Omaha Beach in support of the 5th Rangers. Ted’s eye-witness account tells of the ‘melee and confusion’ of the landings, the ‘nightmare’ scenes on the beach, and of how he managed to join up with the Rangers despite being under continuous mortar and sniper fire. Also on Omaha Beach we have an insight into the German perspective from Franz Gockel, who at barely eighteen-years-old was a machine-gunner in the notorious strongpoint of WN-62 (Resistance Nest 62). In Good Luck & God Speed Private Richard Harris, a young infantryman in
the 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment, recounts his experience of landing on Sword Beach and the assault on the enemy gun emplacement codenamed Morris, and 736 Grenadier Regiment HQ. One D-Day event that Richard describes as ‘never to be forgotten’ was the arrival of the airborne forces.

Airborne forces

James Goulty’s article Argonauts of the Airborne introduces the establishment and training of the airborne forces, while Colonel David Wood of the 2nd Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry tells of his experience of Operation Deadstick, the airborne operation which took place in the early hours of 6th June 1944 as part of the Normandy landings.

Moving on to March 1945, we have Flight Lieutenant Ken Scolding piloting a glider during the largest and last airborne operation of the war, Operation Varsity, part of the British- American push into Germany. Ken’s article centres on the German village of Hamminkeln which is also the subject of American-born John Kormann’s article Be Merciful. A letter to John from his German mother, imploring that he be merciful to the enemy, resulted in John saving the lives of fourteen women and children of Hamminkeln. The legacy of the Be Merciful story lives on, serving to educate the schoolchildren of Hamminkeln and to honour the fallen, thanks to the efforts of John’s daughter, Andrea Kormann Lowe.

To finish we have Aircraft Salvage by Reg Redford, a driver working for 54 Maintenance Unit, recovering and stripping downed aircraft in the area of East Anglia and the south- east coast. Reg gives a detailed explanation of the work of the unit and the incidents he attended at RAF stations of Tangmere and Manston, illustrated with his own wartime sketches.

Research

In addition to the American section of the archives, the Centre has a wealth of material in the Cooke Collection. This collection consists of original hand-written letters and memorabilia collected and donated by the late Emeritus Professor and military historian, James Cooke. James served in the United States Army during the Second World War and the Gulf War. His published articles in Everyone’s War include D-Day and the Americans, The Songs Behind the Stars and Stripes and The Americans and VE Day.

Amanda Herbert-Davies