Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Bob Croton's Story

We boarded the ship on the 16th January 1943 at Liverpool Docks, where we had been in the transit camp for about a week. Ours was a very small draft, twelve in all. We all came from the same Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, though I did not know the others very well, as I was the only one from “H.Q” Company.

 

It was a Dutch ship the ‘DEMPO’  of about 20,000 tons. There was plenty of room to walk about in, and to have a certain amount of sport. Also, I was very lucky in having a comfortable berth on the promenade deck instead of being below, sleeping in hammocks.

 

After a slight mishap, in which we came into collision with a tug, we left Liverpool on the 18th January 1943, and the last I saw of England was a piece of rugged coastline gradually fading out of sight.

 

The job I was given to do, and which lasted practically the whole of the voyage was salvaging the empty food tins, smashing them down and then putting them all in sacks to take down to the hold of the ship. Two others were on this job with me, and although it was hard work we only did two hours of it each morning, and we were exempt from guards and other fatigues, so we had quite a lot of time to ourselves on the trip out here.

 

We ran into some very rough weather, about two days out from Liverpool, and quite a few on board were “sea sick”, but fortunately I was not one of them, although I did feel a bit “green” once or twice.

 

Our first stop was Freetown on the West African coast, and this was our first taste of tropical weather. By this time we had taken to wearing shorts during the day. “Getting our knees brown.”

 

We did not go ashore at Freetown, as there was no port to take large ships. We dropped anchor just outside, but from the deck, Freetown did not look a very large place. Just one or two brick buildings and the rest bamboo huts. Natives came alongside in their small boats with plenty of fresh fruit. We lowered a small bucket over the side with cigarettes in it and pulled it up full with fruit.

 

We left Freetown and after about three weeks at sea, during which time we had plenty of the usual P.T. and sports, and for the rest of the day just lay about in the sun.

 

We arrived at Durban, South Africa. Here we were allowed off the boat, and after taking a rickshaw into town, pulled by a very brawny native with bells on his feet, we proceeded to find our way around. Durban surprised me very much with its fine, tall buildings and numerous cinemas. There were quite a number of forces clubs and places of interest to visit interest to visit and I was very sorry when we had to leave there, as I think it is the best place I have been to, and certainly we were never more welcomed by the people. Here by the way we experienced our first tropical downpour. When coming out of the cinema one evening, we found it was coming down in “bucket full’s” and as we could get no transport to the docks we had to walk all the way. By the time we reached the ship we looked like “drowned rats.”

 

The journey across the Indian ocean was uneventful, the sea was like glass most of the way. Eventually we arrived in Bombay, the “Gateway to India.” Bombay may be a larger city than Durban but it was certainly not as clean and there were not so many Europeans about there, although quite a number of troops.

We were dealing in Rupees and Annas now instead of shillings and pence, and it took us quite a long time to get used to the value of the Rupee. We did not know about bargaining with the Indians at first and I expect we were badly stung once or twice, but soon we could get an article at half the price the Indian first asked for. After three days in Bombay we left by train for Deolali, a distance of about 120 miles.

 

At Deolali there is a very large reinforcement camp and there I stayed for the next three weeks. Here we lived in tents and I well remember the first night, trying to put up my mosquito net, until one of the old hands showed me how to do it. There is a small town near the camp but nothing to speak of, and in the camp itself was a small cinema with a tin roof, so that when it rained you could not hear what was going on. I did not like Deolali at all, and was not sony when the time came for me to leave. I was picked out with quite a number of others to join the Royal Sussex Regiment at Poona, but the rest of the draft who came with me from England were left behind. After a train journey at night in a carriage that was so crowded it was impossible to lay down, we arrived in Poona, and after going about 15 miles by transport outside the city we came to Karakvasla, the place where the Royal Sussex were camped.

 

This was more or less a hill station being 2000 feet above sea level, but even so it was hot at times, but I rather liked the place and also the chaps in ‘D’ Company, and we had some very good times there.

 

The training was very hard and if we were not climbing the hills in full pack with the sweat pouring off us, we were down in the lake in L.C.A’s, making landings at different points. Once or twice we went to Bombay to do boat schemes along the coast and were sometimes able to the town for a few hours.

 

We left Karakvasla in early June ‘43 and went to Juhu a place on the coast not far from Bombay, to do some more Ian4ings, and mud marches, but we were able to get quite a lot of swimming in, in the sea.

 

We came back to Karakvasla in the middle of July, and by then we were well into the monsoon, mud everywhere, and one of the first things was to build paths with stones from the hillside. In August ‘43 I had my first leave, 10 days of which I spent in Bombay, and had a very good time. At Xmas time ‘D’ Company had quite a party and there was plenty to eat and drink for all, though we suffered from it the next day, but as it was a holiday it didn’t matter and we were able to “sleep it off.”

 

Early in the new year we were making preparations to move, dyeing clothes and equipment a jungle green, so there was not much doubt where we were going. We left Poona in February ‘44, by rail, and eventually arrived in Calcutta, but there was no time to look around the city as we went almost straight onto the boat. We were very crowded on the boat and after two days of sailing on this ‘Aitmark’ as we called it, we reached Chittagong.

 

We moved up by road to Cox ‘s Bazaar and from there to Bawli Bazaar in the Arakan, and it was here that we first started to live rough so to speak. We were about 20 miles or so from the front line here, but we moved up in easy stages until, at last we were facing the Japs. The first night we were all on tenterhooks and 4uite a few rounds were wasted, but we soon got used to it, or as used to it as you can get, to that sort of thing, and after a time our Regiment captured the ‘Tunnel’ on the Mungdaw/Buthidaung road. We pulled out of the Arakan early in May.

 

At first we were told that we were going back to India for some rest and leave, but plans were changed and eventually we landed up in Shillong in Assam. The town of Shillong is about 6,000 feet above sea level, and is just like an English climate, even having frost in the mornings. At first we had a few days rest, but then came more training, and it was here that I came down with my second dose of malaria, my first being back in India when we were at Juhu.

 

After about six weeks we moved to a place called Margerita, still in Assam a few miles from Ledo. This camp was made up of a number of long bamboo huts situated in a clearing in thick jungle country with a large river running close by, in which we used to swim although the current was very strong.

 

This was in the early part of July ‘44 and of course, the monsoon was on, and there was a terrible smell of rotting vegetation about the camp. There were lots of monkeys that used to swing from tree to tree and make plenty of noise. I went down with another illness after being here a few days, and was taken to Digboi Hospital with jaundice. Meanwhile the Battalion was getting ready to move and then I heard that while I was in hospital, that that they were flown into Burma from Ledo airstrip, and landed at Myitkyina.

 

After a few weeks in hospital I was sent to Shillong for two weeks convalescent and from there I went back to Ledo and was eventually flown into North Burma, and rejoined the Battalion at Thaikwagon. It was August and the monsoon was nearing its end but invariable, on patrols we would go through water up to our waists and we had to keep picking the leeches off our legs, or burning them with cigarette ends. After two weeks we moved five miles up the line to a place called Pinbaw. My abode Was a railway wagon in the station, and as we were being supplied by air at this time there were plenty of parachutes for making a fairly comfortable bed. The front line was about five miles away where the 29th Brigade was advancing against Jap opposition. Our work at the moment consisted of patrols, and also making the roads easiest for transport, cutting logs and putting them down where it was very bad.

 

About the end of September I went down with jaundice and malaria and after a few days in the M.D.S. Was flown out by ambulance plane, and once again arrived in Digboi Hospital. I was well again after five or six weeks, and was sent to Shillong for convalescent. I spent Xmas ‘44 at the 36th Division rest camp where I stayed for a week and from there to Dibrugah, the reinforcement camp. I was at this camp for a week during which time I was very “browned off’ and was not sorry when I was put on a draft with some other chaps which I knew, to go up to the “front.”

 

We flew in from Moran airstrip and eventually rejoined the Battalion at Marligong, which had just been taken from the Japs. It was here that I learned that about two days previously one of my pals had been killed in action and another seriously wounded. After a week or so, during which we did patrols, we moved up to the banks of the Shweli River, where the 26th Brigade had just forced a crossing and were fighting a battle for Myitson, a small village on the opposite bank of the river. We experienced very heavy shelling here, but were well dug in and felt pretty safe. After a few days we crossed the Shweli and took up positions on the other side.

 

That night we were told the plans and the next morning, after a bad setback where we were nearly cut off, we started out on the advance. We advanced fairly quickly against not very heavy Jap opposition, and our casualties were very light. After twelve days of this we were relieved by another Battalion, not far from Mongmit. We rested for a few days here, and moved to Mongmit in easy stages, and from there over the mountain road to Mogok. After two or three days at Mogok during which we had a cinema show, we moved to Mogok airstrip where we were told we were flying back to India. Again plans were altered, for we flew to Mandalay and stayed at the fort, but only for one day, and then we moved to a place about 15 miles outside the town. Here we stopped about three days, and then went by transport to within 20 miles of Meiktila, which had been taken earlier by the 14th Army. Our job here was to cut across country and mop up the Japs that the 14th Army had by-passed and who were trying to escape across the hills to Siam.

 

We advanced against slight Jap opposition and after quite a lot of marching reached the main road from Meiktila and Thazi. We stayed here while another Battalion was clearing the Japs out of the surrounding hills, and were eventually relieved by the 29th Brigade who were also in the 36th Division. We went back to Meiktila airstrip and were at last flown back to India in the middle of May 1945, and we landed near Imphal.

 

From there we made our way back to India and Poona, but on the way I was taken ill with malaria and went into hospital again. I was a week in hospital and after spending some time in a transit camp in Calcutta, during which time I was able to see quite a lot of the city, I arrived back with the Battalion who were in a decent camp just outside Poona. I went on leave from there and spent 21 days in the Y.M.C.A in Bombay, my second leave since I had, been abroad. Leave over we went back to Poona and, after a few weeks training went by train to Coimbatore, near Madras.

 

The camp was right out in the wilds, and although it was the beginning of August we had very little rain, but a strong wind was blowing most of the time, making everything thick with dust inside our huts. We stayed here two or three weeks having a fairly easy time, although we were getting ready for an invasion somewhere, which we afterwards knew to be Malaya.

 

Just at this time we received the news of the Japanese surrender and of course, we were all very pleased.

 

The operation went through exactly as it would have been before the Japs surrendered and we boarded the boat at the port of Cochin, on the west coast of India about the 28th August 1945. We were in a very large convoy protected by the Royal Navy, but the trip was uneventful and we landed on the beaches near Port Swettenham, Malaya on the 8th September 1945. There was no opposition from the Japs, and they were quickly rounded up and disarmed. We spent the first two or three nights in a rubber plantation and managed to have a swim in the sea nearby.

 

We left Port Swettenham and after about a day’s trip on a L.S.T we arrived at Port Butterworth opposite Penang, and went inland taking over the different towns and villages from the Japs, but after a few days I went into M.D.S with malaria once more.

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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