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