By JS Walley
My Regiment, the 1st Battalion the North Staffordshire, like many other line battalions had had very little time for jungle warfare training, we had been for many years occupied with internal security duties, along with intensive training still based on conventional warfare. However, in March 1943 we left Chittagong and went up the river to Cox’s Bazaar which was the assembly area for the Arakan adventure, I use the word adventure because this was our thoughts at the time.
After the usual pep talks and a Drumhead Service we were taken about twelve miles by truck, during this trip we were strafed by enemy fighter planes, to the best of my knowledge there were no casualties, of course the usual comments were flying about about the RAF, little did we know that their lads were struggling to prepare landing strips in intolerable conditions, often under fire themselves.
Our next hike was towards the battle area some fifteen miles away, the road was a dust covered track, at this time the only water we had was in our water bottles, We found out later that “B” echelon with food and back-up supplies was using the only reasonable road. The next morning we were briefed and told that the enemy were securely entrenched on a hill, this was our objective. The hill was being hammered by the R.A.F. and Royal Artillery, however, this had no real effect on the Japanese defenses. The Brigade Commander then decided that, because wounded could not be evacuated, it was not feasible to put in an attack at that time.
Two days later we were committed to take on the enemy, which meant advancing through a “Chaung”, (ALE CHAUNG), here we suffered our first casualties, to make us wake up to the fact that it was not training but war against a formidable enemy. However we did win this match, causing the Japanese to withdraw.
After a three day rest we were told the enemy had started to advance towards Maungdaw, and our job was to take and defend the high ground, at the northern end of the road tunnels on the Maungdaw/Buthidawng road, thus denying the enemy use of the road to Maungdaw. This operation continued for about five days during which time no supplies could reach my platoon. Prior to occupying this position we had been allowed to fill “Chaguals” with water besides our water bottles, apart from a tin of bully beef each and a pack of hard-tack biscuits, these were our victuals for a week.
I would like to point out here that a Battalion of “Frontier Force Rifles” was attacking Japanese strong points on the other side of the road. They suffered dreadful casualties, however this did riot stop the advance of these brave Indian Army forces.
Our efforts did not stop the enemy advance, and eventually my platoon was forced to withdraw under cover of darkness and covering fire from our battalion’s mortar platoon and their RA. I hope the mortars’ Sgt Jeff Cooke, from Tamworth, is able to read this, for his work and that of his men deserved extra mention.
The withdrawal involved moving in the dark along a chaung up to the knees in water, this trip took until dawn. We now reached the foot of the Nakedauk Pass with a narrow stony track at that time, reaching the top of the pass, we saw for the first time the broad expanse of the NAF river which marked the Indian/Burma border. The same day saw the start of the “Chota” monsoon. We received some food on arrival, tinned peaches and bags of figs, what a feast!! I had the doubtful honour of taking a recce patrol out to discover how far the enemy had followed up, the information gleaned resulted in preparing defensive positions. The following day however we were ordered to move out and march along a road some twelve miles to Bawli Bazaar, here we got a mug of char, and the usual bully stew, which we really appreciated. For this part of the journey we were covered by the South Staffs and Gurkhas, part of the 70th Division later to become the famous “Chindits”. At Bawli we rested for a few days, after this the routine consisted of recce, an fighting patrols, which again produced the inevitable casualties.
I cannot end this article without tribute to the eight Red Caps, who in maintaining the ambulances, near Butnidaung, brought in some 80 wounded under Jap machine-gun fire. They had little sleep during these eight hectic days without going to bed. The eight MPs were: Sgt CA Hill, CpIJR Whiteley, LJCpls F Joyce, J Dickenson, PKDriscoll, WG Murray, W Gibson and C Tinkler.