Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Ted Gibbins' Memories

Ted was born in London , England in 1919 and later emigrated to Canada with his family. In 1938 Ted returned to England and was accepted at the Royal Military Academy as a Cadet. After graduation and commissioning, Ted found himself in India . He served with the 15th. and the 5th. Field regiment R.A. Later with the 7th. Rajput Regiment and still later with the 625 and the 628 Indian Field Security Sections. 

 

While with the 5th. Field Regiment Ted took part in the Waziristan operations on the North West frontier of India in 1939/1940. 

 

At the outbreak of war with Japan , the 5th. Field Regiment was sent to Malaya . When Singapore fell Ted was among the few who escaped via small boats and found his way back to India via Burma . 

 

Later 'Ted took part in the first abortive advance on Akyab and the bloody repulse at Donbaik. While serving with 4/7 Rajput Regt. (part of the 161 Indian Infantry Brigade) he also took part with the relieving force at Kohima. 

 

Ted later commanded the 625 Indian Field Security Section as Port Security at Calcutta , prior to Indian separation. 

Xmas Story From Somewhere East of Suez 

 

On 21st December 1942 British and Indian troops of 14th Indian Division crossed the border and began the disastrous offensive against Akyab in the Arakan. 

 

To begin with all seemed to be going well and Xmas Eve found us at the little port of Maungdaw . That night our battalion lay in the pouring rain awaiting "H" hour to assault the port and, as we thought, our first major engagement with the Japanese defenders. There was little of the Xmas spirit, and lying beside me in the mud the company commander expressed the feelings of all of us when he muttered "Peace on earth and goodwill towards men! If there are any shepherds watching their flocks tonight I'll bet they have one eye cocked to the sky in case somebody drops a bomb on 'em." 

 

But we were to be spared a battle on that day of peace on earth. The Japanese had decided not to defend Maungdaw, and except for a few men left to harass us as we entered the little town, and, apart from many booby traps that cost us some casualties, we were unopposed. One of the buildings had been occupied by the Japanese Intelligence staff and it contained a piano. On it was a note in English from one of their officers asking us to take good care of it, as they would like it to be still there when they returned. Whether it was or not I do not know, but I doubt it. During our occupation the Japanese air force bombed the little town unmercifully, and after they reoccupied it our R.A.F. returned the bombing with interest. Little remained of Maungdaw by then. 

 

Further inland the decrepit L. of. C. had no extra capacity for Xmas stores, and Maj. Gen. Lloyd sent a message to his forward brigade, in a style reminiscent of Hitler's admonition to pre-war Germany ,:

 

“WHICH DO YOU PREFER GUNS OR BUTTER?"

 

Our Brigadier replied  "GUNS ALWAYS COME BEFORE BUTTER." 

 

Alas for Xmas comforts 

 

"Investing in Yourself"?

 

Many factors affected the flight of a shell, all of which had to be taken into account. The state of wear of the bore, the temperature of the propellant, the barometric pressure, wind direction and strength, humidity, all these could throw out the range or direction of the projectile. To assist gunners in making the necessary corrections the army had a meteorological section which sent out regular "Meteor Reports" for the information of the gunners. But most of the old, regular battery commanders distained the use of such new­fangled scientific claptrap and issued their own corrections. Our battery commander would crawl out of his tent, his first cigarette of the day clutched in one hand and his mug of gunfire (tea) in the other, and after sniffing the air and observing the smoke for a moment would announce "The correction for today will be Left 20 Minutes and up 150 (yards)". My pointing out that this was completely at variance with the Meteor Report was greeted by a snarl and a frosty glare. The odd thing was that when the results of the day's shooting were analyzed they were better than if we had gone by the Meteor Report. 

 

Adventures In Rawalpindi :

 

As Field Security Officer for Rawalpindi District, my area included Chaklala, where some of our Canadian Air force personnel were undergoing training for Burma and Malaysian tasks. I had cadged the occasional flight with them and in return thought it appropriate to invite some of their officers to dinner in our mess. I was a paying guest in a battalion of the Dogra Regiment, and I had the agreement of the President of the mess to do so. 

 

The guests had adequately fortified themselves before arrival, and the mess hospitality reinforced this. At the conclusion of dinner, seated tailor fashion on the mess table, with knives and forks stuck in the joints as controls, they attempted to fly the table off the floor!!. At that point the president suggested it was time my guests left. 

 

Calling up the section truck I loaded them aboard and saw them on their way back to Chaklala, while I got on my motorcycle, intending to call in at Section H.Q. to see if there was anything new in the counter-intelligence business. It must be confessed that I, too, had enjoyed the mess hospitality. 

 

The Horse, part 1

 

When I arrived in India my first posting was to 15th Field Regiment, which was a horsed regiment then in Kohat. The reason for my being given that posting was made evident when I reported to the adjutant who, after looking at my papers and then me, announced "Ha. A bloody cowboy." It seemed at that time that the know­ledge most English personnel had of Canada , especially Western Canada , was that all the inhabitants of that region could be categorized into three classes, to wit, lumberjacks, red­skins or cowboys. From my complexion I was obviously not a redskin, and my modest physique did not qualify me as a lumberjack, I had there­fore to be a cowboy and suited for a horsed regiment. 

 

I tried to explain to the adjutant that the only time I had ever been on a horse was when I rode a docile Shetland pony in Prince George as a page to the May queen during the May Day parade there. This was dismissed as unbecoming modesty and I was dispatched to the remount depot to be allotted to a horse. At the remount depot I was greeted with suspicious enthusiasm that should have alerted me, and I was intro­duced to my mount. This turned out to be the most vicious, ill mannered horse in the whole depot which was still there because nobody else would accept him. But they reasoned that Canuck cowboy would soon show him who was who in the horse/rider hierarchy and they would be happy to be rid of it. 

 

I should mention that in horsed units all of the stallions were converted to "its" on the theory that it would be most inconvenient for a stallion to become enamoured of a mare while the battery was trying to get into action. 

 

A bridle was put on my horse and I was told to take it back to the battery lines to begin the process of getting to know each other. I set out dragging my mount behind me, it protest­ing every foot of the way and obviously in no way willing to get to know me any better, a feeling mutual to both of us. I saw no sign of comradeship in the wild glare with which he regarded me. But eventually I got him back to the stables and firmly closed the bottom halves of the doors on him while I proceeded to give him what I thought were soothing strokes of the carry comb. 

 

There was a sudden "thud" and I found myself sailing over the doors to land in the dirt outside. Unknown to me the depot had allotted to me the only horse in the army capable of kicking in all directions at once with all four hooves off the ground. Luckily for me in my ignorance I had been standing close to his hind quarters so that his hooves did not have the space to gain momentum, and the effect was to lift rather than strike. Otherwise I could have been seriously hurt. The horse looked at me and snickered. 

 

I was not taking this from any horse, and picking myself up I charged back into the stall intent on getting my revenge. The horse looked at me with obvious pleasure at being granted a second round. I hauled off and kicked him in the belly as hard as I could and broke my toe as I was only wearing chaplis. This required a visit to the M.O. who naturally wanted to know what had caused it. By now I was a bit more wary over army rules and regulations, and figured that it was quite all right for a horse to kick a man, but was probably a breach of some rule for a man to kick a horse, so I told the M.O. I had stubbed my toe in the stables. In view of the fact that various other portions of my anatomy were by now assuming a rather multicoloured aspect from the first round, this explanation was accepted with some skepticism. 

 

I was given light duties for two weeks but was tortured by the fact that I would have to return for round three. At the end of three weeks I gathered my courage and went back in. This time I was wearing boots and armed with a good riding crop. But he seemed to have decided that he would be a good soldier horse, and although we were never friends there was an armed neutrality. 

 

The Horse, part 2

 

In the horsed artillery all commands while in column of route were given by bugle call, which the horses recognized as well as the men. This enabled the rider to have a nap or think of a pint of beer in the canteen that evening, secure in the belief that the horse would alert him to anything that needed to be done. But my horse recognized only two calls - walk and halt. Any others it would ignore except that at times, entirely on its own, it would break into a wild gallop in an effort to get to the head of the column, at which point I would fall off. 

 

It became obvious to even the most skeptical that, cowboy or not, I was in need of further training in rider ship since there was nothing in regulations covering the situation where the rider arrived on foot at action stations and separated from his mount by some hundreds of yards. It was decided that I would have to attend riding school. As there was some lingering doubt of how competent I actually was, I was sent to a course that was halfway through. 

 

Riding school was staffed by instructors who had been rejected by the military police, or the military prison staff, as being too sadistic for even those postings. The problems with the instructors were enhanced by the saddlery  which was provided. Western saddles are, I believe, designed to substitute for an arm chair during the day. British military saddles on the other hand are designed to keep riders alert by ensuring the maximum discomfort with the minimum use of material. This provoked the doleful song sung by all horsemen (cavalry and artillery) on evenings in canteens, the first verse of which went as follows: 

 

I've been in the saddle for hours: and hours,

I've stuck it as long as I could.

I've stuck it and stuck it and now I say (f…. it)

My arse isn't made out of wood.. 

 

Its verses proceeded with increasing obscenity as long as anybody could think of anything more to add to it. 

 

One of the exercises was crossing the stirrups over the horse's withers and the rider sitting facing the horse's rear depending only on the grip of his thighs to hold him in place. In this condition the horse was led by another rider around the course which included several jumps. The rider of the led horse was not, of course, able to see these jumps and many, even good riders, were thrown when they occurred. 

 

On one occasion the leading rider dropped the reins of the led horse which took off  at a full gallop for the stables. The rider, unaware at first what had happened, could not make up his mind whether to throw himself off or stay with the horse. Unfortunately he elected to stay. 

 

As the regiment was about to be mechanized the stable doors had been enlarged and divided into four quarters to accommodate the guns and Scammel Matador tractors that would be using them. The top quarters of the doors were closed the bottoms open. The horse ducked and went in full career into the stables, the top quarters of the doors catching the rider, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. 

 

Undisturbed by the death, the instructors ordered us to remount our horses and run the course again at once. "We can't stop the war because one man gets killed." was their rationale. 

 

At the conclusion of my course it was officially announced that the regiment would shortly be mechanized and the horses disposed of. As they all had the army brand and Indian civilians were not noted for their good treatment of animals the method of disposal was harsh. Another factor entered into it. The army needed boots as the Indian Army mobilized. No Hindu could possibly wear boots made of cowhide. And a Muslim soldier would die rather than wear boots made of pig skin. This left the horse about which apparently nobody cared. They were all taken out and shot, the  hides being sent to tanneries for army use. The impact of this decision on the regiment was profound. Men openly wept as their mounts were led out by the veterinary officers to be shot. 

 

I must confess that although I regretted the necessity of disposing of them that way, I felt no overwhelming grief when my own was taken out. There had never been any great affection between us, and his rigid determination to do things his own way regardless of rules had not made him a popular animal with any of the others. For some reason or other he had acquired an unreasonable antipathy towards the colonel and the adjutant. He would not use the exercise yard to dispose of his waste, the way the other horses did. Instead he would save it all up and on stables inspection by the two officers he would deposit a wheelbarrow load of fertilizer within inches of their highly polished boots. This did not endear him to them, but nothing could break him of doing this, so that on stables inspection he would be kicked out into the exercise yard until inspection was finished. 

 

In view of his toughness I have often wondered at the trials of the poor infantry recruit who had to wear boots made from his iron-stiff hide. His ghost was probably gloating over this opportunity of getting back at the army. 

 

Shortly after this I was given a posting to the 5th Field Regiment in Nowshera which had been mechanized for some time. And which unha­ppily was one of the first regiments to be rushed to Malaya when war broke out with Japan. 

 

 

War Journal and Arakan Park

 

Some of our members recently attended the ceremony at Duncan and Arakan Park in commemoration of the battles for Maungdaw and the V.C. won by Major Hoey there. Some might not be aware of the significance that Arakan and Maungdaw played in the battles for Burma. Most of the attention was centered further North at Imphal and Kohima. But Arakan and Maungdaw made those victories possible. 

 

Maungdaw was the most fought over place in Burma. It changed hands four times. In May 1942 the Japanese occupied Maungdaw without a fight. There were, literally, no troops available to defend it, as the only field formation in our army, a single brigade was in North Burma. There were no other forces south of Calcutta. On 21 Dec. 1942 14th Indian Division moved south into Arakan and on Xmas Eve reoccupied Maungdaw. The Japanese had decided not to defend it and the expected battle did not materialize. The weather was wet and miserable, and we were waiting at our start line in the rain to, as we thought, fight our way into Maungdaw. My company commander expressed the thoughts of all of us when he snarled "Peace on earth and goodwill to all men. If there are any shepherds watching their flocks tonight they probably have one eye cocked to the sky in case somebody drops a bomb on 'em." 

 

In March the Japanese launched a counterattack, defeating 14th Division at Donbaik and driving the British back, again capturing Maungdaw. On 18th July British troops inconclusively raided Maungdaw without taking it. On 9th January 1944 a major British offensive into Arakan with 4 Divisions began. 7th and 51st Indian Divisions forward and 26th and 36th Divisions in reserve. Maungdaw was captured, for the last time. 

 

On 4th February 1944 the Japanese again counter-attacked, and while they were initially successful in driving the British back, they were confronted with new British tactics where the troops formed jungle boxes and did not retreat, being supplied entirely by air. The result was a disastrous Japanese defeat in which 5000 to 7000 Japanese were killed, the first real defeat they had suffered in Burma. 

 

In all this, Maungdaw was almost completely destroyed, but the strange thing is that although it had been contested for four times, virtually none of the damage was caused by ground troops. Its destruction was the work of Japanese and British air forces. But why was Maungdaw so important that it required this enormous, long sustained effort? 

 

There were two main reasons. First AKYAB. When 14th Division launched its attack, the objective was to capture Akyab. It was hailed by propagandists as the first move in the reoccupation of Burma. But this was nonsense, as no general in his right mind would have contemplated reoccupying Burma by way of Arakan, as anyone with any knowledge of the topography would realize. The only way back into Burma was from the North by an incursion into the central plains. Arakan was impossible to do so. But Slim, who was planning his own campaign in the north required that Arakan be held to tie up Japanese troops and secure his right flank as he advanced into Burma via the central plains. 

 

Also he knew that he would have to rely very heavily on air supply, and as he advanced lie would be out of reach of his air forces in North Burma for short range aircraft. The answer was in Akyab in the Arakan, which had an excellent airfield and was well within reach of Central Burma for his aircraft. It had to be taken for this purpose, and was. But to get the troops down to take Akyab was a problem. There was no good road south from Chittagong, the railhead, and there was no bridge over the Karnaphuli River which had to be crossed. Maungdaw, damaged as it was, was the only port bypassing this problem to which supplies could be sent by sea, and for the attack on Akyab to succeed it had to be captured and put into use. After it was finally captured its docks were repaired and supplies started to flow in to support the attack on Akyab which, when it was captured, took over the task and also the air support for the troops in Central Burma by short ranged planes until airfields could be developed in central Burma. This was the reason why Arakan and Maungdaw were so important in Slim's plans.

 

Further memories: 

 

Every unit had one the man who simply could not stay out of hot water and almost had squatter's rights on a cell of the guard room. Such a man was Gunner Wilkins. For example one day the colonel and some of the senior regimental officers were sitting on the sidelines watching a soccer match between the officers and N.C.O.s on the playing field where the normal rules of discipline did not apply.

 

Suddenly the colonel was electrified when two hard objects were poked into his back and a voice announced "Bang, Bang. You're dead." Gunner Wilkins was rushed off to the guard room, his feet hardly touching the ground by two regimental policemen, protesting loudly "I didn't know it was you Sir. I thought it was the R.S.M." which was not calculated to lessen the offence. 

 

The next day he was paraded before the outraged Colonel who, rising from behind his desk with both arms and forefingers extended announced "Bang Bang. Twenty-eight days. March'im out"

 

***

 

After the Imphal - Kohima battle I was, for a time Field Security Officer in command of 625 Indian Field Security Section at Santahar, which was an important rail junction on the L. of C. to Dimapur, the railhead for Imphal and Kohima. We received a report that the nonarrival of a carload of beer from Calcutta at Dimapur was causing pangs of anguish among the British personnel in the Northern Front. This was not an Intelligence matter, but as we had a few men to spare at the time I detailed some of them to assist the Military and Civil police who were investigating the case. At one time there were nearly a hundred men from the three forces trying to solve the mystery and recover the beer. We never did find the beer. And what is more strange we never found the boxcar either. A boxcar loaded with beer is a difficult thing to make vanish into thin air, like an Indian rope trick, but that is what happened. You may propose any solution you want to it, but it didn't happen that way. We tried them all without success. Even today after many hours pondering the case I have no tenable theory on how it was done. How in Heaven can you make a carload of beer, and the car itself vanish completely? 

 

***

 

When I was District Security Officer for Rawalpindi District one of the installations under our supervision was the oil field and P.O.L. distribution center at Attock, a few miles north of Rawalpindi on the 'Pindi­ - Peshawar District Border. "Empty" drums were received and after passing through the barrel washing plant were refilled and sent out. The water from the barrel washing plant passed in a ditch under the perimeter wire to a point about a mile away where it soaked into the ground. One day near the end of the run a small shack appeared, and at the same time a small pond formed. As it was well outside the perimeter nobody paid any attention to it. One day for, the sake of curiosity, a couple of the men went out to see what the shack was and why there was a pond. Inside the shack there were a couple of Indians busily skimming the top of the pond and passing it though a cream separator of the type dairy farmers use. As the oil from the barrel washing plant was floating to the top they were able to skim off and separate several gallons of oil a day. sold on the black market. They were rapidly becoming rich men. As they seemed to be breaking no law as far as we were concerned, and we rather admired their enterprise, we left their little oil refinery in peace.

 

***

 

The unit was authorized to hold 32 Vickers-Berthier machine guns. During an inventory taking it was found to be one short. Despite the most rigorous enquiries the missing gun could not be found. Owing to the propensity of the tribesmen to steal guns and ammunition from us and use them against us on the Frontier, and where even the loss of 15 rounds of ammunition was the subject of Court of Enquiry, the loss of a machine gun was a catastrophe. The Q.M. decided to make good the loss, and indents began to go through for a bipod damaged; for a gas regulator to replace one too badly burned for use; for a worn out spare barrel and so on. Eventually there were enough spare parts to assemble another gun, which was placed in the armoury. 

 

The Ordnance Inspection Team in due course arrived to check the unit's holdings of arms and ammunition. there were 33 Vickers-Berthiers. Somebody in the meantime had found the missing gun and replaced it in the armoury. 

 

The Inspection Team who could read duplicated serial numbers as well as anybody, let the Lieut. Q.M. down lightly, and eventually he received the Army Commander's Displeasure for holding unauthorized automatic weapons, surplus to establishment, knowing that other units were short of them. 

 

The Mystic East 

 

Everybody has heard tales of the mysticism of the East, and the occult powers of the various yogis, sadhus, maharashtas and so on. But do any of them actually have such powers? Here is an incident that might make you wonder. 

 

Our unit was resting a few miles behind the front after the Donbaik horror in March '43. There were still many Arakanese and Maug civilians around despite the battle, among them the usual fortune tellers to whom Field Security gave very short shift.

 

One day one of them approached me for alms and I gave him a couple of Indian annas, and told him to get going as he was not welcome. As he left he told me that the omens for the spot where I was standing in front of my little 40 lb tent were extremely bad for the next day, and, in effect, I had better not be there. 

 

As it happened the next day I was sent back to Division H.Q. a couple of miles south of the Maungdaw - Cox Bazaar road junction to pick up some new cipher keys. While I was there a formation of 9 Japanese bombers passed over on their way to bomb Maungdaw, and we could clearly hear the crump of their carpet bombing of the little town before they returned overhead. 

 

On my return to the unit I found that my little 401b tent had been the recipient of a direct hit by what appeared to have been a kilo bomb which had killed and wounded several men. Had I been there I would certainly have been among them. The front line troops had not been much bothered by the Japanese air force, and that was the only bomb that had dropped away from Maungdaw. It was thought by the RAF that it was one that had hung up and not fallen on its proper target, but had shaken loose and fallen randomly on my tent. 

 

But how did the sadhu foretell this? Did he REALLY know or was it just part of his usual patter? Wild coincidence? Or real premonition? I really do not know to this day.

 

War Journal 

 

I am not going to talk about Burma, a subject about which many of you know as much or more than I do. Instead I am going to talk about the longest war ever fought by British arms. Most of you probably would make the wrong guess if I asked you what that war was, but a lot of you have been in the general geographic area where it was fought. I am referring to the war on the northwest frontier of India which went on for some sixty years. Most of the well known names in the British armed services served there. Kitchener fought a battle there and thought he had won until time proved him wrong. Alexander, the second of that name to fight there commanded a brigade. Lt. Churchill served for a while with the Malakand field force. Wavell, Aukinleck, Slim and Lt. Gibbins all sharpened their military teeth there and were happy to escape with their martial reputations more or less intact. Kipling elevated Bhisti Gunga Din to a status higher than that of the British sergeant he helped before he went on to displace Mandalay, the Moulmein Pagoda and the Irrawadi flotilla in a manner shocking to geographers and map makers.

 

Victor McClachan and Erol Flynn achieved immortality in dealing with the wicked emir up there with the Bengal Lancers, despite the fact the British sergeants and privates never did serve with that illustrious regiment, and it didn't have any Bengalis either. They were all Sikh: Punjabis or Rajputs. So what was it really like? 

 

There were many tribes on the frontier, Wazirs, Mohmands, Aurekzii, Pathans, Ahmedzies and so on, but they all had much in common. For instance they were all fanatical Muslims. And most of them spoke a common language, either Farsi or Pushtu. So they were grouped together under the common name of Pushtoons. They all looked on warfare as the highest expression of manhood and were the finest guerilla fighters in the world. They would have regarded chairman Mao as a mere amateur. 

 

Of course it was inevitable that such warlike people would be engaged frequently in war against each other. In fact most of their time was spent in trying to grow meager crops in that infertile area, and when they were not doing that they engaged in settling complicated clan vendettas, the original causes of which had long been forgotten, or going to war for loot, kidnapping for the sheer hell of it. Being Muslims they were easily led by someone who preached jihad or holy war against unbelievers, or from sheer necessity. When they did, they would group themselves into Lashkars or army in Pushtu, or more properly a commando, and would raid southwards into the northwest frontier province of India to prove their verve and daring. In 1930 one such Lashkar under the Faqir of  IPI set out to capture the city of Peshawar which was garrisoned by regular troops in divisional strength complete with artillery and armour. And they damned near actually did it. In 1937 the Mohmands ambushed a large government convoy and inflicted on it heavy casualties including a battery commander of my own regiment. 

 

In 1938 they attacked the town of BANNI even though it was garrisoned by a complete brigade and got away with 30,000 pounds sterling from the treasury. When I joined the regiment the Ahmedzies were taking their turn ,and the government of India, faced with raising troops for W.W.2  which was now raging had just about run out of patience. 

 

The government of India would indignantly react to these incursion; by mounting a punitive expedition to punish the offenders and levy a fine, often expressed in rifles to ensure their future good behavior. The rifles surrendered would be the old worn out ones that the tribesmen would quickly replace by new ones made in one of the many village gun factories which could turn out a very passable copy of a Lee-Enfield. At other times the government would decline to commit ground troops and instead would try to bomb the offending villages into submission. A flight of ancient bombers would set out from Risalpur or one of the forward airfields and bomb the offenders. Lest there be any misunderstanding of the ruthlessness of this method it should be pointed out that the villagers would be notified several days in advance of the intention to do this so that they could evacuate themselves, their livestock and their goods to the hillsides from where they could enjoy the spectacle in safety. It is said that' they would comment very favorably when one of the bombs actually scored a hit. As only tiny 20lb bombs were used, the damage caused was very quickly repaired, and nobody was ever hurt by these savage attacks. Actually the tribesmen considered these demonstrations a bit unfair but they bore no ill will because of them. 

 

After these demonstrations by both sides a period of relative peace would descend on the area. The tribesmen would come down to the towns and compare notes with the troops. One British battalion Commander was actually complimented on the improvement his unit had shown since the last time they met. 

 

The tribesmen loved to ambush a juicy convoy, and consequently during operations, as they were called, no vehicles moved over the roads except under the protection of a strong force of troops. The tribesmen were dressed in a dirty, dusty shirt of indeterminate color, and baggy Muslim trousers to match. The camouflage effect of this was outstanding, and a hillside apparently devoid of life could very easily have an unseen population of very warlike tribesmen. Consequently whenever it was necessary for a convoy to move from one place to another special tactics were employed to protect it from such invisible enemies. 

 

A force of troops would set out from either end. At every high spot overlooking the road and within rifle shot of it the column would halt and a section of infantry would race to the top of the hill and build a small stone sangar. Then under its protection the column would move forward to the next spot where the same thing would happen until the whole route was protected. Word would then be flashed back and the convoy would go hell bent for leather to its destination. At the same time the column of troops would withdraw picking up its picquets as it went, but this was much more tricky. 

 

Frequently the sepoys, emerging from what they considered the danger zone and relaxing would walk into a nasty ambush at the one spot where its supports on the road could not see it. Of course such tactics would work only against amateurs, and the sepoys were very far from that. Often they would quit the sangar only to run around the hill and reenter it from the back just as the opposition had arrived panting at the top to occupy it. Or they would check just below the sangar and after a pause dash back up again with rifle and bayonet and grenades just as the new occupants were settling in. There was no end to these small, but expensive tactical games. 

 

I was artillery of course, and the role of the guns in all this was purely defensive, but there was nothing routine about it. When things happened they happened quickly and demanded fast shooting and nice tactical judgment. Walky-talkies were not yet in use in India and the gunners had no vocal contact with the piquets. Instead they were marked by a small flag, and the last man out grabbed this and brought it out with him. If none of the usual little games were planned ,the next sign of movement on the top of the hill would be greeted by a burst of shellfire, slap on the target, with no pause for ranging, the data having been worked out well in advance 

 

The equipment we were using was laughable, with one exception, even by the standards of the day. We were equipped with W.W.1 eighteen pounders which we left at home because they did not have the elevation needed in mountainous country, and 4.5 inch W.W.1 howitzers which we used for shooting uphill. The exception was the little 3.7 inch mountain howitzer with its 20 pound shell. It was broken down into pieces and carried on six mules. This sounds slow and cumbersome, but in actual fact it was a very poor gun crew who could not unload the mules, put the gun together and be ready to get off its first round within three minutes. It had a range of only 6000 yards but within its normal fighting range I think it was the most accurate field gun in service. At Kohima, 24 mountain regiment was stopped at Jotsoma,  4000 yards from the tennis court, but was dropping its shells with pin point accuracy on the Japanese at the other end of the court from the garrison. 

 

On the frontier, one of the big problems was the evacuation of casualties when the troops were operating crosscountry away from the roads. Nowadays this would be accomplished by helicopter, but they didn't exist then. So camel silladar companies were brought into use instead. These were sort of rent a camel agencies, each man providing his own camel and paid a daily rate for both. The camel carried two wounded on baskets slung over the hump. It is easy to understand why they are called ships of the desert, because carried that way, sea-sickness was guaranteed. Once on maneuvers I was tagged as an abdominal wound case to be carried in this fashion some five miles to the casualty clearing station on the road. If I was not a genuine casualty when I started I really was when I arrived at the C.C.S. 

 

It is very difficult to compress sixty years of warfare into a twenty minute talk. But there have been so many, largely fictional accounts of war on the northwest frontier that I thought I would tell you from my own experience what I found it to be like.

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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