Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Bill Turnell’s Recollections of Wartime Service

Ex. CSM 7th Battalion,  Nigeria Regiment

5111331 2/7Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regt.

Ex. CSM 7th Battalion,  Nigeria Regiment

5111331  2/7Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regt.

 

I enlisted in the Territorial Army on May 1st 1939 and was at camp during the latter part of August 1939 at Arundel in Sussex as Lance-Corporal.

 

The day after arriving home from camp, I was immediately mobilized, promoted to Corporal and Guard Commander of the railway viaduct when war was declared. In Rugby, the L.N.E.R. railway crossed over the L.M.S. line, and so was considered quite an important target. We were ordered by the officer of the day to have live ammunition for the sentries but luckily no accidents happened and no one was killed.

 

We marched around Rugby quite a lot, but were then moved to Malvern in Worcestershire. After a short stay there, we were rushed to Northern Ireland ( Londonderry ) where we wired beaches near the city, making sure we stopped at the border of Northern Ireland and Eire, ( difficult to understand)

 

We did training all over Northern Ireland and I was very unsettled when called as Orderly Sgt to get volunteers for Africa. I was one of the first to volunteer and very soon found myself in Kano, Northern Nigeria. It was a long voyage of six to seven weeks, certainly not a direct trip from point A to B. On arrival I was posted to 7th Battalion, Nigeria Regiment as a Sergeant, and this promotion was enhanced by receiving Colonial pay.

 

In Kano the R.S.M. met us with instructions that we had 24 hours to get mess uniforms, but this was no trouble to the local tailors, and the cost was very reasonable.

 

In the first tour of duty, the Africans, who were recruited straight from the bush, were trained by British senior N.C.O.s. None of the recruits could read or write, but we soon got to understand their language, which was Hausa and " Pidgin English. The troops were wonderful fellows and were well respected. Their pay of 1 shilling a day, three meals, clothing and medical treatment made them rich compared to the civilians.

 

This continued until 1942, when I was due for leave from Africa. Luckily, I was sent back to the U.K. for 6 weeks, as the next ones due for leave had to spend it in South Africa. All Europeans had to leave due to climatic conditions, there was no air conditioning and very little electricity.

 

By this time it was known by the officers and N.C.O.s that we were going to Burma.

 

Another long voyage took me back to England and on the 29th October married my wife, Mary. At this time it was mandatory to publish the banns of marriage, and this took three weeks of my six week’s leave which was followed by another, never ending, sea voyage back to Nigeria.

 

The training and fitting out of the Battalion continued until we embarked for the Far East. We had quite a rough trip around the Cape but managed to get ashore in Cape Town and Durban. The Europeans were ordered to take groups of Africans ashore, but this was only permitted if all were unarmed. However, the reaction of the African troops to the modern cities was quite amusing. Even though they had been in the bush all of their lives, they were quite ready to learn all about the different things they were seeing. During the voyage one of my men asked me if the driver of the ship knew the way. When I assured him that he was going in the right direction, the African then asked me why he was taking such a bumpy road!

 

Another long sea journey followed and we eventually reached Bombay. The third West African Brigade was placed under the command of General Wingate and we proceeded to the Jhansi area where we lived and trained in the bush.

 

The crossing of India to Assam by train took 7 days. At our destination we again bivouacked in the bush near Lalaghat, and it was here that we collected the mules, and began another bout of training, long marches, with light rations and very little water.

 

We were shown how one would be evacuated if wounded, which was a "A snatch take up of a glider by a Dakota"

 

The day arrived when we were flown into Burma from Lalaghat by the 1st American Commandos, all objects of recognition being left behind. On arriving at the ‘take-off strip’ one of the African men drew my attention to the fact that some of the planes didn't have engines -  he was pointing to the gliders. The first wave of gliders was disastrous, having only one small strip on which to land, and with no room at all for the planes to take off again.

 

Dakotas were being used when it came our turn to board the planes, and when we landed we could see many glider wrecks and the crosses nearby. The mules traveled very well, even though loading them was difficult at times.

 

White City was our next destination ( named for the parachutes that lay around and about). Here Column 29 was given the job of roving around the block, removing any Japanese mortars and artillery which remained, and this continued for some time. The monsoons broke upon us and the blockade of road and railway had to be halted. No. 29 column helped cover the evacuation. We were ordered North, to relieve another blockade at Blackpool. This was never reached due to the horrendous terrain and physical condition of all personnel who were suffering malaria, typhus, malnutrition and every other disease possible. Even the mules were suffering.

 

We reached Indawcy Lake where we covered the evacuation of sick and wounded. Two Sunderland flying boats flew in and out until all causalities were cleared.

 

On now to Myitkyina to help the Americans capture and hold the town. General Wingate had been killed so we now came under General Stillwell, who used us as front line troops. After months of hit and run tactics the front line type of fighting was very hard on the troops.

 

By this time I was so ill with dysentery and malaria that I had to be evacuated by a small plane from a road in Myitkyina. Eventually I realized that I was in a field hospital somewhere in Assam. After a long spell I was returned to my 7th Battalion, Nigeria Regiment and then shipped back to England, my time overseas expired.

 

I was granted 6 weeks leave, and then sent back again to Northern Ireland where I remained until discharged to "Z" reserve.

 

1939 1946, turned out to be a long spell for a "Weekend Soldier" as the Territorials were then called.

When you go home

tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

we gave our today

Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945 Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
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