Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Dennis Underwood, War Office - 'Y' Group

I trained in Douglas, Isle of Man. I had applied to join the Royal Signals, having been in a Signals Section in the Home Guard (under age really but many of us were - nobody asked awkward questions at that time) and after basic military training I was posted to Catterick Camp, Yorkshire.

 

A selection team visited and I and others were picked to train as Operators Special. My writing must have been much better then than now. The course lasted six months and we trained on German and Italian W/T procedures.

 

Douglas was quite a Signals training place there were two Naval Stations, HMS Valkyrie I and HMS Valkyrie II, training W/T operators as well as us. By the time I finished training there was only our male squad left all the others were ATS. That might sound like a possible heaven but it was the opposite we were on one duty or another almost every night, guard duty, fire piquet, kitchen fatigues etc and When the occasional night off came we were too exhausted to take advantage of the opportunities!

 

I was posted to Harpenden, Hertfordshire when training was complete and here switched to Japanese W/T interception. We had a huge antennae farm and could easily pull in signals from the more powerful Japanese transmitters. Life here was quite pleasant and our intercepts were quickly passed to Bletchley Park which was not far away. As ever we never learned what help anything we got was.

 

Late in 1944 I was posted overseas, firstly to India where, after the usual slow workings of the military movement system I found myself at the Indian Special Wireless Depot in Abbottabad on the North West Frontier. The small town was also a Ghurka training base and it was here that I developed an affection for these superb fighters (I now covenant to support a retired Gurkha). At the height we were Japanese signals came in loud and clear and work on their traffic continued until I was posted to "C" (Indian) Special Wireless Group in Burma.

 

After a lengthy rail journey across India to Comilla I flew into Burma joining the Unit at Monywa on the Chindwin river. Here we worked on lower level traffic with the Japs using low powered transmitters. The set room was a large tent and we lived under canvas. We were with 14 Army HQ and much better off than one or two of our smaller units who were somewhat nearer the fighting and living in far worse conditions.

 

Most of the Unit consisted of Indian operators who were extremely good and we white British Other Ranks were not many. I forget where the shift pattern started but the shifts we worked were: 8am 1pm, 1pm 6pm, 6pm 10pm, 10pm 3am, 3am 8am. We would work one shift and then have the next two off and so worked our way through them all and started again. Five hours was quite enough in the hot and sweaty conditions; after that concentration went.

 

We used HRO sets almost exclusively although there were a few AR88's and an odd "Skyrider". We had enough to use them occasionally for the BBC Overseas Service or the SEAC Radio network As the Japanese retreated we moved south and flew the Unit with all its equipment to Meiktila in Central Burma. This had been the scene of very heavy fighting and dead Japanese were only a little below the surface where dugouts had been bulldozed over.

 

Our latrine had a dead Japanese mounting guard over it as the body had been booby-trapped And no one wanted to move it. Here we carried on the same work under the same conditions until Rangoon was captured and we moved there, this time by road. In Rangoon we occupied houses that would have been the homes of westerners before the war and life was much better. We even had running water and crude showers.

 

The monsoon season arrived and life became much grimmer; constant damp, always sweaty, plagued with prickly heat message pads sticking to hands and wrists etc. The lightening would blow the fuses in the antennae feeds so that we lost our stations better than having the sets burned out though. This went on in a routine way, new frequencies to watch from time to time and time spent on general search as a change. We were preparing to move into Malaya and had become 310 (Indian) Special Wireless Section and were with the 12th Army, when the war ended. After monitoring the remaining Japanese stations until all closed down we transferred to Chinese traffic plus ca change!! And that was me.

 

I was lucky in a draw for home leave and when here my Chief Constable (I had worked as a civilian clerk for the local Constabulary after leaving school) managed to arrange for my Class "B" release so that I could join the Force and I never went back. I did however keep in touch with some colleagues who with one exception have now all died.

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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