By Pte Len AC0Reynolds, 1st Btn Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regt, 16 Column - 14th Brigade Special Force, Chindits
Called up 18.1.1940. Discharged 25.11.45 Overseas to India 16.6.42.
On arrival at Bombay, Deolali after few weeks was sent to Chittagong/Cox Bazaar Monsoon season to await Japs who were approaching India after Burma had surrendered, but thankfully was returned to our barracks after a few weeks. Deolali at the time was a back-up post, troops being sent to different places after being kitted out and getting used to strange food, etc. However, in late 1943, our unit was sent on jungle training, courtesy of Gen. Slim, Lord Mountbatten and Gen. Wingate, some of our training was done at Ranchi, near Calcutta, also other places. However, this is where the mules/ponies story begins.
Our unit was supplied with approx. 30/40 mules, ponies and horses. Several of our lads were detailed to one - I, fortunately, was not, but very often helped out with feeding/watering and grooming. They were all extremely well fed and looked after, as we all realised that the time was coming and how much we would need their help.
After a few weeks, we first heard that word, “Chindits” being born and we would be the thick of it very shortly! At that time, had to report at 11am for devoicing of all mules, horses, etc. We all dreaded it, especially as, after a time, you get very attached to them, me being an animal lover!
We were taken to an open field with animals brought in one by one, first a mule which could account for all of them! Four soldiers were given short pieces of rope, approx. 8” long. Each piece was securely tied to the animals hooves and, with a loud shout, the poor devil went, without a sign or struggle, so surprised, in fact, that it didn’t know what to think. Should say that they all took it very well.
However, next round came the doctor with chloroform rag, put over the mule’s mouth or it may have been an injection, I don’t remember. However, one soldier had to sit on the mules’ head with a thing like a dunce’s hat as soon as the doctor cut into the mules’ sound box! The chloroform and blood was so unbearable that the bloke on its head could only stop for a few minutes as it nearly put the soldier to sleep; so all had to take turns. It was horrible — I took my turn!!
When the operation was completed, I saw the voice box. It was like a tiny piece of jelly. Doctor put on dressing and all told to undo our ropes and await the water man calling with his buckets. After one or two splashes the poor animal looked up, all glass eyed, struggled to its feet and tried to use its voice, I would say, with no sound coming out! The operation time was approx. 10 minutes; recovery was immediate, with no fatalities.
After this, the mules/horses/ponies, etc were well looked after by ourselves, dressings changed every day, with plenty of food and water for all. After several weeks, we commenced jungle training again, loading supplies, checking girths, etc, and getting prepared for you-know-what!
At the end of ‘44, the whole unit, including mules, was transported once again by lorries, to Assam aerodrome, as it was called in those days, where loading was commenced in Dakota aircraft.
From what I remember, 2 dozen soldiers and 3-4 mules/ponies per plane. The horses had wooden supports held by ropes and were pretty comfortable. The only thing was, during the flight they all tried kicking out with rear hooves, great strength as if to get out! However, we did manage to calm them after a time, although they did manage to split the sides a little, but landed OK. There were 4 airstrips made — Blackpool, White City, Broadway and Aberdeen.
Mine was the last one, very bumpy, crude landing, supplies off-loaded and taken to already prepared for us, thankfully gliders were withdrawn in Assam, due to heavy losses on landing! First night in the jungle I laid my groundsheet down and was soon asleep. However, on getting up I found a 3 foot long snake under the groundsheet! I must have laid on it all night — dead, of course!
Then we commenced march in jungle. One or two skirmishes with Japs on the way, although after a few days couldn’t worry about them, as we had enough to do to look after ourselves! At one point, we stopped at “Indawgi Lake” for nearly a week, eating our caught fish and K rations, swimming, etc. Didn’t want to leave as it was like a Hollywood movie!
RAF dropped our supplies including horse/mule feed at night. One night a whole box of grenades and ammo as broken and dropped on our fire beacons. T was like firework night with no Japs around!
However, we were left to chase the Jap “buggers”, and, after several months trekking, blowing bridges, destroying communications the monsoon broke and it was hell, especially for the animals. At times we had to unload the radios/supplies and carry them ourselves up and down the large ravines as the animals could hardly walk, let alone carry anything. Lost several mules on the way — and men!
The footpaths were so flooded that, on following elephant’s trails, we very often stepped in their huge tracks, causing us to overbalance. Also leeches through our bootlace holes sucking our blood. On removing our boot, we found they were about 4” long and had o be burnt off with a cigarette, otherwise, if the head was left in, they would turn septic.
By the time we had marched, and sometimes fought, our way to Mogaung/Myitayina was about as far as we could go, as we had lost a lot of our comrades on the way. We did take two prisoners, but both hanged themselves with our bandages, after we had helped them. We should have put a bullet through them, and saved ourselves the trouble — we had given them our food as well. Little did we know what they were doing to us fifty miles up the road on the bridge of the River Kwai. But we did hear that the Japs had been driven back by American, Indian and British troops, so our next problem was to get out as soon as possible.
We were aware that the deadly Burma Railway was near, so the RAF very kindly dropped us an American jeep which we found, when the tyres were removed, fitted the railway lines perfectly, travelling the opposite way to the bridge over the River Kwai — poor devils!
The only thing needed was a goods wagon, which we soon managed to scrounge. I remember clearly, the terrific heat at the time. Must have been 100-120 degrees. In fact, we were swallowing salt tablets the size of 10p pieces to avoid passing out! By the way, the special jeep dropped had flanged wheels enabling them to run on the railway system. The only thing was that they had no brakes whatsoever, but apart from one or two hair-raising escapes, we made it — about 30-40 soldiers on board.
Mogaung, where we were, was about 40 miles from the airstrip, and it was well worth our taking a chance. We could not bring the horses/mules out, and I am sure that they were eagerly taken by the Burmese people to help them out.
After 8 weeks or so with malaria and dysentery, I managed to get back to a hospital in India, and consider myself very lucky to be here at 82, and able to tell this true story.
By the way, I traveled nearly all over India. Some of the places I went to were Bangalore, Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, Bhagalpore, Bombay, Agra, Mussoorie, Poona, Dehra, Dune, Deolali, not forgetting Durban in South Africa.
Shortly after we learned of the Atom bomb on the Japs and did we give a cheer of relief.
But, to sum it up, I did see a lot of my pals shortly before they died, but, unfortunately, do not have any addresses. I think, at this stage, it would be most unfair to any relations involved, and can only repeat what we have heard many times before — what a great sacrifice they all gave.
I hope you find this interesting. I know we shouldn’t talk about the war, but think at least we owe it to the many hundreds of them.
PS — You may be interested to know that in Burma, the mules/horses voices returned with no problems!!