by Richard DeR Channer
From the Winter 1991 edition of Dekho!
“You’re dropping the shells on my man!” shouted Major McLean, commander of a Company of 6th Rajputana Rifles. Their attack up the narrow ridge was bogged down. I was a 22 year old Lieutenant, the FOO for 158 Field Regt, Royal Artillery. Visibility in the jungle was eight yards and around me riflemen were blazing away while 100 yards ahead their forward men were locked in battle on the perimeter of a Jap held mountain top 4,500 feet high. A few minutes earlier MacLean had yelled out, “Up front it’s steep. They’re rolling grenades down. We’ve got to pull back. Can you help?”
Beneath the massive canopy of trees I couldn’t see a thing. During the preparation barrage two guns (25 pounders) had been dropping their shells on the perimeter where our men were now at grips. A swing left of 100 yards would be the minimum for safety and the fire might cut into enemy activity and reinforcing efforts. Putting the shells down further away would be dear and safe but less effective. Those men up front were pinned down and in peril. Although there was no margin for error I decided to take the risk. “Left one degree 20 rounds gunfire!” (Total 40). There was a ‘whoosh’ like the sound of an express train whipping through Clapham Junction. Then the shells thundered in.
Suddenly MacLean was back with his terrible accusation. Bombardier Clifford Moore on the radio tried to shade his microphone. But the crash of the shells and the din of battle interfered. He had to transmit, “STOP”, four times. The awful moment dragged on and on before the gunfire finally ceased. I was loaded with despair as we moved back half a mile to base. I gave MacLean an hour while he sorted out his men, then my stomach in knots and dreading his reply I went over to him to ask what the damage had been. “It’s OK My mistake, it must have been their grenades”. An indescribable load fell from my back.
Major D.C. Miara, the 2nd in Command of the Raj Rifs Battalion was in charge. Overnight he brought up a fresh Company commanded by Major Bunny Dubois. I fixed up another 12 gun concentration on the Jap position and my HQ ordered me add two heavier guns from the 8th Medium Regt for good measure. There was a huge pall of smoke and the shells seemed to rip the hill apart. The Raj Rifs in a tricky manoeuvre traversed round the steep side of the hill and gained a wider ridge on the far side, where they fixed bayonets. The attack took the enemy in the rear as Dubois led with a Tommy gun under his right arm and a Gurkha kukri in his left hand. The surprise worked. The objective was taken.
I joined the forward platoon facing down the wide ridge. There was a lower knob a short distance away, from which the counter attacks might come. Twenty minutes later two guns had just finished registering, their shells falling fifty yards in front of us, when we went to ‘gunfire’ against the attack. Such accuracy was only possible because the line of fire from the gun position was directly across our front. Shells would not drop more than five yards off line and there was no danger from any that might fall short. Over a period of two hours the Japs mounted three counter attacks but the Raj Rifs and the gunfire ground them down. At dusk Dubcis felt secure and went to check his layout. He returned saying, “We’ve counted 88 Japs dead. We’ve lost 30 dead and 30 are wounded, (out of 100). The forward platoon has only nine men left, (out of 30).” It was 22nd June 1944, Shermm Ridge, Inphal. Mqjor Misra was awarded an MC, as was Bunny Dubois. It was Dubois’ second.
Forty years later I ret ‘Denny’ Miara in Bangalore. He was a retired Major General When I told him that I prayed for guidance on that hill, he said, “So did I.” In answering questions about his career this was part of the astonishing story he related. Commissioned in 1938, he was in Hong Kong with the Raj Rifs in 1941. Just before the Japanese attacked he was posted to Delhi. His battalion along with thousands of other troops were taken prisoner. Sane weeks later in Delhi he met a Colonel of the Medical Corps, who had been a surgeon in Hong Kong for twenty years. Misra and two others flew with him over the ‘hump’ to Chiang-Kai-Shek’s forces in China. They then infiltrated into Hong Kong. The Colonel spoke Mandarin and knew the city like the back of his band. They began slipping messages through to a Captain Ansari in the POW camps. Prisoners were being used as labour and there were loopholes in the Jap security. Men escaped one by one and were flown back to India. One day Misra collapsed in the street. He was a big man and conspicuous. He prayed for help.
A nun appeared and he was dragged through a nearby door. He went into delirium and the nuns set up prayer round the clock over him. Ten days later he was on his feet. In the end the Japs suspicions were aroused. A message went to Ansari saying it was time he made his own escape. But he continued to dispatch others. Finally he was arrested. The Japs made him an offer, “Join the NA or die.” A final message from the team told him to join up and that they would square it for him. Ansari refused to join and was executed. How long was that team in Hong Kong and how many men did they rescue? When the General gave me his reply, I was stunned, “Eighteen months — about 400 men.” For some time silence fell between us before the General added quietly, “Our recommendation got Ansari the George Cross.”
Back in London I found it in the record. Executed 21.10.43. George Cross gazetted 18.446. It was still not the end of the story for me. Earlier this year I was watching the TV replay of the VC and GC Memorial Service in St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. Half a dozen portraits were flashed on the screen. Suddenly I heard the words, “Exhausted for resisting the Japanese while a POW in Hong Kong,” and there I was locking into the face of Amari. It was a moving moment, one I shall not forget. The Rajputana Rifles were a great regiment, and they still are. To think that I was with them when they fixed bayonets, and even picked up one of theirs for my own rifle and those counter attacks! Surely one of their very bravest soldiers was Captain Ahmed Matreen Amail, 7th Raj Rifs Having helped four hundred men to escape, he refused to compromise his loyalty and the principles he believed in. He said ‘No’ to the Japs. And in doing so he gave his life and his today, for our tomorrow.
(Richard Chenner wounded in the 2nd assault on Rajput Hill and by nightfall was unable to walk.
He was awarded an MC. So three MC’s were awarded for one hill. Perhaps it was because that deep Japanese incursion had become a base from which their patrols one night set fire to Hurricane Fighters on the Palel airstrip and on other harassed General Ouvrey Roberts’23 Div HQ).