Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

WSgt Bill Clift MM, South Staffordshire Regiment

How Bill gained the Military Medal:


Action for which recommended:


Throughout the actions on HENU on the 17th March 1944, this NCO showed great gallantry bothin holding the positions under heavy fire and also in the attack on HENU HILL in the afternoon. 


In the counter attack, he was always at the front throwing grenades and killing several enemy with his sten gun.  When his platoon commander was killed, he rallied the platoon and still continued attacking until the position was captured.  In this action, he personally attacked an officer killing him and capturing his sword. 


On March 23rd again when the Platoon Commander was seriously wounded in the counter attack, again he assumed command and led his platoon. 


In all these actions this NCO’s splendid example was an inspiration to his men. 


It was signed by R. Degg, Major, OC 1 S.Staffords R. 31-3-44 




By J.M. Calvert, Brigadier


It was recommended that the award should be immediate and was signed by Major General Whitely Commander of 3rd Indian Div on the 9th May 1944. 


It was approved by General Gifford (I think that’s the spelling) C – in C 11 Army Group 


Bill was awarded the MM on the 27th July 44 


One Brave Man's Battles by Alwyn Graham 


Maybe it was a deeply personal defence against memories too harrowing to dwell upon, but, like most casual­ties of war, William Clift could never bring himself to talk much about his ordeal in the Far East . Or why he got the Military Medal.


His widow, Elsie, recalls how eagerly he spoke about the shared jokes, the times when the servicemen shared a common bond of laughter. But not of other things.


When Bill, who died in 1982 aged only 62, returned from the war he and his bride were married and set up home in Westhoughton, where she still lives in Cedar Avenue . Bill had been a super-fit PE instructor with the Royal Artillery - a man with a perfect physique - but Elsie noticed curious ridges in the skin on his back and asked about them. Reluctantly, he gave a quick explanation: During a brief period as a prisoner of the Japa­nese, his captors had wired him to a tree and each morning would tighten the wires one degree more. A comrade bad been wired to a tree with the wire through his tongue and around his hands so that any movement was excruciating and threatened to rip his tongue out.


Bill said little enough, but never would he buy any product made in Japan .


Now Elsie, tall and elegant still, looks with pride through the mementoes of her late husband’s service life; scraps of paper; his tiny “Soldiers Testament and Book of


Psalms” which has recorded on the flyleaf all the destinations to which he was posted, beginning in 1935 with Woolwich and taking in Ran­goon , Rawalpindi and thirty-odd more. The last entry, in 1945, is written with a flourish: “Blighty!” 


Jungle fight


Sgt Clift fought beside the Gur­khas and the Chindits and was flown by glider behind enemy lines - his pilot was Jackie Coogan, American child star and later film and TV performer.


Bill was awarded the Military Medal “for bravery in the field” after a spell in the thick of the jun­gle fighting when a Jap Lt Col Kol­boshi was firing a light machine gun into troops. Bill kicked him out of the gun and the Japanese lunged at the British soldier with his sword.


The blow was deflected by Bill’s bayonet and he went on to relieve the Japanese soldier of his weapon - thus winning a 200 rupee prize from General Wingate who had promised the sum to the first man to capture a Japanese sword. But the skirmish left Bill knocked sense­less by a grenade. The sword is now in the proud possession of Bill and Elsie’s grandson.


His Captain, “Lofty” Howard later described Bill as a man who could be “relied on to the utmost” and a man possessed of “a sense of humour that was a prime factor of your very existence”.


Bill’s fitness took him through the torture after he was captured in Rangoon and enabled him to escape by swimming several miles to free­dom, but jungle life took its toll on his health. Notwithstanding, he was in action on the Burma Road and elsewhere in the region, the only one of a whole detachment to sur­vive one skirmish.


In Civvy Street , he became a col­liery manager and training officer for the NCB, but suffered badly with malaria throughout his life.


His death from emphysema was difficult and painful and his former captain wrote to his widow express­ing grief at the hard last hurdle Bill’s had faced: “...he did not deserve it — you lost a man, Elsie, a real man.” But Elsie knew that.


She says today: “It is nice to talk about him — brag about him a bit. He was a brave man.” 


Won General Wingate’s Award


Since joining the forces in 1939 Sgt Wm. Clift R.A. Car Bank-sq, Atherton has had many exciting experiences. He was captured by the Japanese at Rangoon early in 1942, but escaped by swimming several miles.  He got to India and was in the activities on the Burma Road.  Here in a skirmish he was only one of a detachment of 92 men to get back safely.  He was taken by plane to Chung King and from there has resumed operations against the Japanese.  He has written to his relatives that General Wingate under whom he was serving, offered 200 Rupees to the first man to capture a Japanese sword.  Sgt. Clift won that money and still has the sword.  He writes "A Japanese officer was firing at us with a light machine-gun from behind a pagoda.  I was lucky enough to get close without being hit, and I kicked him out of it.  He got up and tried to cut me with his sword.  He took a swipe but it hit my bayonet and bounced off so I slit his body and then hit him with the butt. He stayed dead but his pal threw a grenade and knocked me stupid and so I will be here in hospital for a few weeks.  I think I can safely say '"Bent" this Christmas'.  One never knows, it may be Jerry scrapping soon. God knows I've seen enough of these slit-eyed beasts out here but they look better dead that alive".  Sergt Clift is 25 years of age, attended Leegt and Hesketh Fletcher Schools and was formerly employed at St. George's Pitts, Tildesley.  In the Army he has won several cups for boxing  and swimming. His younger brother James is a first-class stoker in the Royal Navy.

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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