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