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British 14th Army7025 Reads  Printer-friendly page

World War III've not much memory for accurate dates. I know I received my call up papers in early 1939 and with the assistance of Maples, where I was working at the time on MOD work, cutting out and making black out blinds by the hundred, I managed to get a years exemption.
That decided us to get married. Eventually my exemption was extended until the MOD contract was finished, which was about October 28th.1940. I received my call up papers shortly after, and with a railway warrant, was told to report to Slough Station en route to Northwich, to join the 6th Battalion of Ox n' Bucks Regiment (Oxforshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry). It seems about a million of us were for the same destination, escorted by a toffee-nosed Military Police Warrant Officer ,who proved to be a right bastard and gave us our very first taste of military bull-shit! At Northwich, we spent six weeks in appalling conditions, pouring with rain day in day out, in tents 12 to a tent, in part field, part wood. With hardly time to think we were quickly issued denim fatigues, gaiters and boots and broom handles instead of rifles. From then on it was rush everywhere from reveille at 5am until dusk, with hardly time to eat or wash or shave all in cold water. Our drilling area in the field quickly became a quagmire, so our platoon sergeant being a decent sort and knowing the Army's law for everything to be done with a snap and stamp, and everybody at the same time, and seeing the impossibility of achieving this ankle deep in mud, requested permission from the Company Commander, to practice in the road outside the camp. At first, with all the bawling and shouting and stamping and the clattering of broom handles, we felt a lot of fools in front of gawping civilians, but we soon got used to it. As we were a light infantry regiment, our marching and trotting rate was shattering at first, I think the pace was 120 to the minute, and when we would arrive at our destination on route marches, our legs would be practically paralysed. So far all this was being done in light weight fatigue uniforms, little did we realise that there was worse to come, as we were very soon issued with rifles and all the equipment...2 suits of horrible khaki woollen shirts/trousers, pants, vests, a great -coat, haversack (2) large and small, and all the bits and pieces of webbing equipment, so that we ended up harnessed like horses. All this we were informed weighed about 50 lb and as yet we had no ammunition, which was still in short supply. Why they issued us with a great-coat I don't know, as despite being in the middle of winter, we never received permission to put them on! With all this equipment on we stamped and were bawled and shouted at, until we flopped exhausted on the ground in our tents on the groundsheet, an item I forgot, that we also had to carry with us (and a blanket too). In all that appalling weather we now had to polish brasses, and blanco webbing every night, for parade next morning. The worst job was boot cleaning, the toes in particular, they had to sparkle or we'd be on "jankers". It grieved us to have to buy all our cleaning equipment out of our measly 11 shillings per week. One item of equipment I forgot was something our sergeant would insist on calling "Hussif" and it was some days before we learnt he meant "Housewife", which was all our needles and cotton and wool for stitching things like badges etc., and darning woollen socks. For those lads who could not darn for a toffee, and once I'd passed out at the end of the training session, I'd darn theirs for 1 shilling a time, but that's some time in the future, we haven't got to that part yet. Training proceeded apace with the next hurdle to overcome being the Battalion Commander's parade and inspection,prior to our first church parade, during which I first heard the Army's bawdy version of popular hymns and had the hardest job to stop laughing out loud. Needless to say we were told off by our Company Commander and confined to camp for the rest of the day. The next few weeks passed all too quickly with the end of our initial training and a passing out parade during, when we received orders to proceed to the Isle of Wight, a journey which took 2 days due to bombing of the railway line ahead of us. We eventually arrived at Portsmouth Station to find it completely wrecked by the bombing and still smouldering. Twelve hours earlier and we would have been wrecked too. We arrived on the island to take up guard duties, build anti-tank defences all round the coast, take part in battle training exercises etc., which entailed our first taste of sleeping out in the open. For this we were given an extra blanket and were issued with the contents of Red Cross parcels, containing such things as gloves, scarves, balacavas etc., items we were sorely in need of in the freezing weather.... nothing like that was ever issued by the Army. We were allowed to wear our great-coats at last for the first time on sentry duty. We were in civilian billets during this time and what a filthy mess they were in having been used by the Yorks and Lancs, who were a disgustingly filthy lot, even using the fireplace as toilets, so we had to set to cleaning and scrubbing to get rid of the filthy smell. It was during this time we had an unfortunate accident as by now were had been issued with live ammunition, and it was after a practice on the firing range with everybody busy unloading rifles and tommy guns etc., and cleaning out rifle boxes, that one of our corporals pressed the trigger of his tommy gun with a round in the breach. The bullet went through the wall of the house and killed a squaddy next door. All hell was let loose, the corporal was arrested by the MPs and that's the last we saw of him. The poor old dead squaddy was given a burial with full military honours etc. Time was passing rapidly with all the manoeuvres, guard duties battle training, marching, all over the island, and we had become quite fit despite freezing to death on sentry duty on the end of Ryde Pier, being soaked to the skin on exercises, waking up in a ditch full of water one morning after enduring a rainy night fast asleep exhausted. So our first year ended with a Brigadier's parade and inspection during which he told us we were looking tired and obviously wanted a rest, which was true of course, most of us having been lucky to get a couple of hours sleep after being on night sentry duty. During all this time, my one and only period of joy was a visit from your mother, very short, with a few brief moments together. I considered myself extremely lucky to meet her off the ferry, with the worst part escorting her on board again afterwards. Quite soon we were to be relieved by the Somerset's and given leave, which caused excitement and a worry for everybody, as every man jack in the Regiment had to pass out on inspection before being given leave. The inspection entailed a visit to the M.P's and we had a particularly vicious pig of an M.P. sergeant, who would stop your leave on what he considered to be a dirty button on your coat, or some such triviality, and until you got past his scrutiny you were in a sweat I can assure you. We had one poor devil in our platoon who failed this inspection repeatedly. True he wasn't very bright and should never have been in the light infantry. But, one day after everyone in our platoon had been on leave, this poor chap's granny turned up at the gate and asked to see the Colonel. We learnt from her that both his parents had died when he was very young and she had brought him up and she had spoiled him rotten. It was fortunate for her that his platoon mates were on sentry duty and we got permission from our sergeant to escort her to the Colonel's office. The M.P. Sergeant went livid, but never the less he couldn't over ride our sergeant, who luckily as a decent sort. So, a corporal and two privates escorted granny to see the Colonel, which was quite a laugh on the quiet, because wherever we went as sentry escort, we had to march in a smart and military like manner, with a halt now and again for poor granny to catch up, so much for stupid army orders. After her interview with the Colonel, granny came out in tears, as the fool had explained to her that until he passed inspection her grandson could not go on leave. We escorted her back to the gate, where we had a quiet chat with her trying to console her etc., and we eventually promised we would see what we could do . So when "Bodger" next came up, we took him shiny equipment in hand for inspection. We polished his brasses, buttons and badges till they shone like mirrors, put a shine on his boots, you could see your face in, and made sure he and all his webbing were properly dressed (as he was often spotted on parade with his boots on the wrong feet), and sent him off with bated breath and our fingers crossed. As luck would have it, we defeated that pig of an MP and Bodger duly went on leave only to come back 7 days later in a complete mess having forgotten completely how to put his equipment on. Our sergeant eventually got Bodger a visit by the medical board who passed him unfit for military duties and he was ultimately discharged. We asked him how had he got on with his medical and he told us "they asked me some bloody silly questions so I told them some bloody silly answers". For instance "What was the capital of England?" and I told them "Chipping Norton", which was his home village. So ended his career with two other different platoons in a somewhat similar situation. After our leave we all were driven in buses and lorries to Ringwood in Hants, where we thought we were in clover, being in proper barracks with beds, hot water, showers and a bit of privacy in the toilets etc., only to be turfed out 24 hours later...... the Adjutant having got his orders wrong! We ended up in a coal yard, in a warehouse used for storing god knows what, as most of the dust ended up on our clothes, equipment etc., due to the Army's insistence on all that stupid stamping. Our stay there was short fortunately, as we soon ended up back on the Isle of Wight on coastal defence duties. Our living accommodation was civilian billets again, with holes dug in the cliffs by us for night watch duties, from which we returned in the morning back to billets, black as soot, as for light in our holes, we had smoking paraffin lamps with sacking over the holes to keep the light from showing out to sea. It was on this sojourn on the Island I passes out fit to drive Army vehicles up to 5 ton and passed as a DR motor cyclist. It was during this time that I also decided to put my name down for every course that came up on Batt. Orders. During all this time letters, passed between myself and your mother on a daily basis and now we were being issued 24 hour passes and day passes, all of which I saved up and arranged for Mum to spend a week at Bembridge so enabling us to spend some time together, all too little as the time flew by. This time on the Island was 3 months, as even the Army realised you cannot spend nights and days on duty with very little sleep for long. Our next destination was Andover, where we received a shock and were told to prepare for overseas within 4 days. I promptly wrote to Mum, who bless her lost no time coming to Andover to say what was a harrowing goodbye for both of us; all leave passes were cancelled, but I managed to sneak out as soon as I was off duty and spent a couple of hours together with Mum. All too brief for both of us. I'm not ashamed to say I went back to camp crying my eyes out fully convinced I'd seen the last of my beloved. Well! All of you are proof positive that I did return (!), albeit in a sorry sate for a couple of years, but return I did, to have a long and happy married life with my beloved Olive and all of you. The next morning with Reveille at 4 am we were off on the march to the station en route to Glasgow and Lord knows where else. What I remember about that train journey, were the long boring miserable hours crammed into carriages, with all our equipment ,while the officers suffered their hardship in first class luxurious solitude. We arrived in Glasgow in darkness, filed on board the Empire Pride, a one time banana boat, to flop down, at last able to stretch out without kicking some one. Still crowded, but at least some of us had hammocks while others were forced to sleep on the deck. Fortunately the ship had air conditioning and all the decks were huge and unencumbered with cabins. We very shortly put to sea with quite a few disgruntled lads on board, who had had no chance to say goodbye to loved ones, and with no one to see off the few Scottish lads we had with us, because of "war time restrictions". Once well out to sea we had Captain's parade, who told us among other things, that we were in a 30 knot ship, too fast to be worried about submarines which was just as well as we had no big guns on board, also that we were completely under his orders including officers, who had to parade every morning on Captain's inspection and woe betide us if we had a dirty ship. Funnily enough, throughout the 6 weeks voyage we were never once issued with life jackets, although we had lifeboat stations daily. Quite an uneventful journey really. We had one Sgt. Major demoted to sergeant caught running a gambling school with all his winnings some 200, given by the Colonel to our NAAFI. Home and sea sickness were rife of course, as by now we were meeting some gigantic waves, but I was one of the lucky ones never being worried by it. Off duty I spent my time writing letters home and reading, while other lads played Housey Housey, the only gambling game allowed by the Army and that game quite frankly drove me potty. The Regiment soon established its usual bull...with kit inspections, sentry duties, galloping round the top deck on flimsical exercises etc., so that we were usually too occupied to feel bored and by now feeling a bit more cheerful. At this stage of course, we had no idea where we were going and I cannot remember all the ports we called at. But three ports stick in my mind. One was our first port of call - Freetown. We were completely out of water and for some reason had developed a list to port, something to do with water tanks being on one side of the ship and as soon as the port was seen approaching everybody rushed to port side to have a look ,which caused the ship to list even further, which promptly brought a bellow from the Captain over the tannoy for everybody to get amidships at once, or risk capsizing the ship. We anchored off shore, while lighters came out to fill us up with water. Everybody watched with interest when the Captain went ashore to be greeted by one of his lady loves. We discovered he was true to form as an old sea-dog, with a lady love in every port we visited, which was why we always stayed overnight or more at the ports! We visited for provisions, fuel etc., so that the old horse could have his oats, as the lads would have it, even feeling quite envious, more so the married ones. So ended our first three weeks at sea. Everyone by now was feeling restless, with no relaxation whatsoever, the usual endless bull on board and looking forward to the end of the voyage. Our journey round the Horn or part of it was very rough, so we were quite pleased to put into port at Cape Town, where everyone was given 24 hours ashore. We were met by a committee of South African ladies (white) who detailed us off into different homes, where I must say we were lavishly entertained. All friends went together and I and my two mates I'd become friendly with, were picked up by a Judge's chauffeur who took us to the cable car for a trip up to the Table Mountain and afterwards for a meal at the Judge's residence. After that we were shown to our room, with real beds, white sheets etc., which made our eyes pop out. After a wash and brush up we met the Judge who apologised for not being able to greet us first thing. Then we were off again in the car to go down a gold mine, which I believe at the time was the deepest mine in the world. I can't remember whether it was called One Mile Deep or Three Mile Deep, but it was very deep1 It was an experience, so much bigger than coal mines, especially as there were no tunnels only galleries round a big hole in the ground. Incidentally it was the first time we wiped our boots before leaving a place, just in case we might have had gold dust on them! It was amusing to see the Captain first off the ship to be met by another lady complete with taxi, that made four so far. It took 4 days before the whole battalion spent the 24 hours ashore. One little incident I must mention after being dropped off by the chauffeur in the market, where we were sat down at our request, having decided with a few hours to spare, we would have a look around and walk back to the ship in time for lights out. On the way back I bought a big sack of Jaffa oranges for half a crown off a fine big Kaffir who insisted on carrying them back to the gangway. Chalky helped me up the gangway to stow the lot under my hammock, only to find in the morning everyone single one had gone. This incident surprised us, because until then, there had never been any light fingers among the lads. What surprised us even more was that 5 days later, Jaffa oranges appeared in the Merchant Navy shop and they had the nerve to charge 1 shilling each for them. All the Merchant Navy canteens, were run by them not our usual Naafi. We had complained to our Colonel about the exorbitant prices they were charging for everything, but , as he said the running of anything to do with the ship was out of his hands. So we left Cape Town quite a bit put out. As soon as the Captain arrived on board, once well out to sea again, our Colonel stood us too on parade and read out to us a letter of commendation by the ladies reception committee, in which they thanked the whole battalion for their impeccable behaviour on shore. Apparently a visit by the Yorks and Lancs a month earlier had resulted in mayhem, as they got into the native's drinking dens and ended up fighting and wrecking the place. We had been worried about these places and were told that our MP would be on patrol and anyone caught would be in clink. I think it was the fact that most of our lads were married men, while the Y and L were mostly single lads, which led to their unruly behaviour. I think their attitude must have been drink up lads tomorrow we may well all be dead. As far as that goes it would at least be a year ahead. One day, one of the Merchant Navy lads told us our destination was Bombay and told us we would smell it 20 miles off shore! Little did the Colonel know that we knew all about it when he paraded us to tell us a week later, and that we were all being issued with tropical kit and didn't we look a funny lot. Pith helmets like the police helmets of old and what was supposed to be shorts, which came down to calf level with a huge turn up, which was supposed to be let down after dark to keep the mosquitoes off our knees. Sure enough as we approached Bombay we could smell it, a dungy, uriney smell, that we would be all too familiar with during the following years. We arrived in Bombay in the early hours of the morning, to be warned of a Typhoid or Cholera epidemic on shore. I'm not sure which now, but, I do know that one of our first jobs after settling down in camp was to take trucks out and pick up the dead, to take them out to what was later to be an airfield, where all the bodies were being burnt. We had all been inoculated against every known disease, I think, while on board ship, so far we were more or less safe, at least nobody went sick and the epidemic was controlled. Back at camp the usual Army bull was in full swing with sentry duties, more training etc and we were issued with a lot more equipment such as Bren guns, Tommy guns, 3 inch mortars, Bren gun carriers, tracked vehicles etc etc. All of which we had to learn to handle including a 2 man anti-tank rifle, whose recoil when fired from the shoulder would set you on your backside, if you weren't prepared for it. It was during this period that I decided I would go in for every course that appeared on Batt. Orders, the idea being that I would escape all the boring routine. One course though I soon decided not to go on, was signalling, when I saw what they had to carry on their backs, besides all their personal kit! At this time also, while the Americans were not actually in the war yet, they were sending tons and tons of stuff to Bombay for themselves and us, all of which had to be unloaded by coolies, as there were no Americans there to supervise. It was during this time that I went on a course (a short one) to learn how to handle the biggest lorry I'd ever seen to that date. It was called a Mac, a 6 wheeled drive articulated lorry that could carry tremendous weight, having 36 or 32 wheels, I can't remember rightly. Anyway it proved, despite its size, one of the easiest vehicles to handle with a 16 speed gearbox, when in crawler gear with 6 wheel drive. I and several other lads discovered (strictly unofficially) that we could climb out of the cab, walk towards a gate or any obstacle in the way, open the gate etc. walk back, climb in the cab, shut the gate behind you, while all the time the vehicle was gently moving forward, loaded or unloaded, it made no difference. We spent some days being loaded up at the docks and unloading tons of stuff including complete Dakotas, all to be assembled by the Yanks once they arrived which proved to be quite soon, as Hitler had started bombing their merchant navy ships having discovered the "fiddle" that was going on under the Lease-Lend agreement. That meant the end of our little holiday, when the Americans ultimately took over. So back to camp we went, and soon we were on our way, to the Mysore jungle for jungle training, where we learnt to dig fox holes as they were called, 3 foot wide and 3 foot deep as protection of a sort, and we built bashas of bamboo, with thatched roofs for our own accommodation. At least we were now sleeping off the ground on platforms about 1 foot high. From here we also went on our first leave in India to Darjeeling, a hill station established by the British to escape the hot season. The whole battalion went, 3 at a time for a weeks leave, so we 3 friends were eventually dropped at the bottom of the hill at the little station and embarked on a toy train journey to the top. The train was a rack and pinion 2-foot gauge, all the little carriages open to fresh air. The train being unable to negotiate the hairpin bends simply drove into a cutting in the hillside, while the firemen changed the points to enable us to reverse on a different alignment , so that now the little engine was pushing us up instead of pulling. We spent a very pleasant restful week in a house run by Anglo-Indians with the luxury of beds, sheets, hot baths and good food and spent a good deal of time sightseeing. We discovered we could see Everest from our bedroom window, spent a good deal of time getting to know the Indian stall holders and found out they could certainly speak English, better than we could speak Urdu. Everyday, outside our bungalow, would be groups of rickshaw pullers or as we called them garry wallahs, whom we ignored, thinking it degrading for 3 strong lads to be pulled around on wheels by these pitiful looking underfed specimens, until one day talking to the librarian in the English rest room, who asked how would these men make a living if we didn't use them, as well as telling us with so many other men coming up on leave, it was a golden opportunity for them. So for the last 4 days we would use the rickshaws. We picked the oldest man in the bunch, thinking he must be near retiring age by the look of him, but we were astonished when he told us he as only 35 years old. Chalky always preferred to walk, so Tom and I used the old chap, he pulled us down hill to market, while we insisted on pulling him up-hill, despite his initial protests we quite enjoyed taking turns in the shafts. I imagine those poor garry wallahs must be completely worn out at 40 years. Anyway what we did eased our consciences a bit. Our leave ended all too soon, so we boarded the puffer back down the hill to be met by the flat track at the bottom, and so back to camp and monotonous routine. By now we were well and truly acclimatised and in off duty days would play local natives at hockey and cricket, as well as inter-company matches. I must say the locals licked the pants off us at hockey, and they were playing in bare feet! One of our biggest worries was letters from home always late and more often than not in bunches of from 20 to 50 at a time, while, as the letters were dished out alphabetically, my name beginning with P, I always had an agonising wait. Your mother and I wrote everyday and when I couldn't post letters I simply carried on page after page. Of course with censorship, while we always tried to get away with mentioning where we were, we never got away with it, as all place names were cut out. Incidentally, while playing cricket one day I rushed to catch a ball, looked straight into the sun and bonk a blow on the eyebrow, which required 9 stitches by an Indian surgeon at Bangalore hospital. I must say he was excellent as a surgeon, a quick dab of iodine, after mopping up the blood and the job was done in seconds. Our Company Commander was so concerned apparently, he rushed me to Bangalore himself in a jeep. More likely we were so thin on the ground as a Brigade, that the loss of one squaddy for duty, was one too many, so I never got any time off, it was back to duty with a headache. Which reminds me of an incident in England, whereby I reported sick with a painful boil in my arm pit and received a dab with some disinfectant and my paper marked M and D, which to the uninitiated is medicine and duty, which of course has to be shown to the duty officer, so there's no chance of doing a bit of skiving, or dodging the column. To say it was painful was to say the least. Every movement of my arm during the Army's bull routine, eventually caused the boil to weep, so causing another six surrounding it. Another visit to the quack again and he was forced to lance all six and had he done that in the first place it would have saved me a lot of pain. He was of course forced to put me on light duty and as my right arm was heavily bound up and outside my jacket, my duties proved to be very light and I managed to sit around more or less for a week before being cured and back on duty again. So back to India and life in its usual fashion. We occasionally, on off duty periods, also tried to organise concerts among ourselves and it was during this time we found we had quite a bit of talent. Musical instrument players in civy street including a Salvation Army cornet player. We asked for an interview with our Company Commander, to ask him if he could get any musical instruments and surprise surprise he turned up trumps and being an old Indian Army man, scrounged some from somewhere and we were soon able to form a reasonable band with the Salvation Army lad made up to corporal to take charge of rehearsals. We realised shortly after, that once the band became reasonably proficient our Group Commander had a ulterior motive and was soon parading us on ceremonial exercises, practising drill movements to music, knowing full well we were soon to have a Divional General's parade and that was the first and last time we saw him. During our stay at this camp, I must say we had some hilarious times at off duty periods. We had a lad in our Battalion, who not being very bright was kidded into believing he had a wonderful voice, because really and truly his voice was terrible. Anyway we got him practising his truly awful singing and eventually entered him into a competition against a Jock with a lovely tenor voice in our platoon, who entered into the kidding wholeheartedly. So one evening we told him he was now fit to compete against Jock. In the meantime the whole Company had got wind of the lark and soon gathered round to make a square as in Boxing. Seconds volunteered in each corner of the ring or square to make a "fight of it", as in boxing. Both contestants now stripped, called to the middle by the referee and a toss of the coin entered our truly awful singer to have first go to the accompaniment of loud cheers, barracking and laughter, who upon finishing his first song was retired to his corner and mock revived with a towel flapping and wiping his face with a wet cloth. Now it was Jock's turn and his song was listened too in compete silence with a couple of hand-claps. Whereupon the referee called both singers to the centre of the square, made a little speech extolling the virtues of our terrible singer, clasping his hand and arm above his head and telling everybody he was the winner. Uproar broke out at that announcement, cheering and booing, clapping of hands, while coins were flung at the singers and various unwanted articles as well. All the coins were gathered and presented to the winner ceremoniously to much applause. Our singer really thought he was the cat's whiskers. A little while after the was was over, when we all received our medals and gratuities I met our singer outside the Slough Post office and in the course of a short chat discovered he'd still got his gratuity postal order in his hand, 150 worth and was literally afraid to go in and cash it, thinking they'd never give him the money. So I said come on I'll go in with you and you'll see its easy to get it, first I could see hadn't signed it ,and then realised his reading and writing ability was wanting, anyway shortly after we came out with our singer beaming all over his face, he'd never seen so much money before in his life. So we parted. Shortly after this episode in India, we realised something was in the wind, when our Colonel decided to give a dance for officers only and arranged transport to bring ladies down from the hill station ,where we'd all spent leave. This dance proved to be a farewell dance, as shortly afterwards we had orders to move. A long slow train journey ensued with our coaches tacked on the end of a civilian train. It was quite an interesting journey, with frequent stops at different stations always crowded, as were the civilian coaches, with people hanging on the sides and on top. We had plenty of room, although wooden seats and bunks. At meal stops, the cooks would make tea courtesy of the engine drivers hot water, and we'd have what were called haversack rations, namely bully beef sandwiches, a pretty monotonous diet on a 3 day journey. As usual we didn't know where we were going, until we got there and in this case it was Southern India about 40 miles from Madras. It was here we had our first experience of real heat, 140 degrees in the shade was normal. Our days consisted of a very early start (4am), with a compulsory rest period from 12am to 3pm (the hottest part of the day), then on duty again till dusk or all night if on sentry duty. It was here we started battle practice in earnest with live ammunition, crawling through smoke filled pipes to be greeted at the exit with a smack in the face from a brush full of blood, all the while gigantic bangs taking place. The noise was appalling. It was here we lost a Corporal who slipped crossing a log over a well while two machine guns were firing live ammo under the log. He, poor devil was almost cut in half and was got out of the well with great difficulty. This incident caused no little upset to officers and men alike, and battle practice was stopped for that day. It was in this camp too we lost our R.S.M. , who was eventually considered too old for active service. He was sent back to Delhi after having been with us throughout. Right at the beginning of our service, he was very soon nick named Plum, as he was a bald as a judge and when he bawled and shouted orders he would go as red as a beetroot and with a round oval face soon received his nickname. Incidentally nobody spoke orders in the Army only shouted. We were glad to see the back of Plum, who loved to put lads on jankers. He even did me once, because, as I came on parade one morning, having shaved the night before instead of in the morning, he spotted it and I went before our Commander who very kindly gave me 7 days jankers as punishment. Jankers were onerous to say the least, as well as your normal duties, you had to report to the guard room at every spare moment, to receive instruction for extra duties by the orderly officer, and you most decidedly dare not saunter to the orderly officer with your hand's in your pockets. It was always at Regimental pace, arms swung shoulder high, and a snapping salute, or else; all at the same time with ribald remarks from your so called comrades, who'd all had the same experience at some time or other. We spent some months at this camp in bashas and charpys (native beds) to sleep on. These were simply crude wooden frames with coconut rope in a diamond pattern, which unfortunately left a diamond imprint on your back if you slumped down without a blanket under you. Here also we received a new batch of vehicles, 4 wheel drive, 5 tonners, 30 cwt Bren gun carriers etc., Here also those of us who could drive were given the chance to inspect and drive Curtis Wright tanks. Dreadful noisy things we were glad to see the back of. Bren carriers - open top tracked vehicles, were a treat to drive. Being able to career along Indian potholed roads at 40 and 50 miles an hour , instead of 10 to 20 with the trucks (because of the holes in the road) and a constant cool breeze (strictly unofficially of course) was a real treat. Our camp here being miles from anywhere, except for a couple of Indian villages, was completely open, no fences or gates and no vegetation or trees of any sort, so that night sentry duty entailed fixed patrolling sentries, who moved throughout the night and reported at pre-arranged meeting points. It was during 7th Platoon (our) tour of duty that an interesting little incident occurred. It was pitch dark shortly after lights out was blown by the bugler, that we caught a youngish Indian lady trying to walk into camp from the truck lines. She was petrified of course, and we couldn't understand a word she said. So we very quietly got one of the contractors canteen wallahs to interpret for us, to eventually discover she was supposed to be a night visitor for one of the sergeants. She knew exactly where to go, and pointed out to us the tent in question. All the sergeants had individual tents, and we as sentries knew which was which and what company lines it was in. We knew therefore it was a particularly nasty individual who had petrified the lads in "Q" Company who now hated his guts, and if he'd continued in a like manner ,would have soon received a bullet in the back of the head when in action, like another not quite so nasy Sargeant, who was only accidentally on purpose, pushed in the river on exercise. We ascertained from the canteen boy, that she was to be paid 5 rupees for her services, so we had a whip round and raked together the 5 rupees in Annas etc., sent her back, escorting her far enough away to make sure she couldn't sneak back. So we gleefully scuppered that Sergeant's low life. Fortunately for him and "Q" company their CC, who evidentally knew well his reputation, had him transferred out of the battalion all together.. It was during this time I had what was truly a duty much envied by the drivers in the Battalion, namely, seconded to Brigade H.Q. as Brigadier's driver, also given 3 stripes as sergeant, known as protection stripes, as my other duties consisted of driving indtructor to Indian drivers. The thinking being, as a private, I couldn't give orders to Indian other ranks beyong other private Indian soldiers. Incidentally, I received no extra pay, but, never the less I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Brig. H.Q. As Brigadier's driver, my duty consisted of driving him around to various Army Hospitals, First Aid posts, run by battalions etc. We both took a keen delight in trying to inspect these places without warning and watching the panic that ensued when a Brigadier arrived to inspect without previous warning. Sometimes the grapevine would be there before us and we'd arrive to find everybody and everything spick and span ,and lined up for the inevitable Brigadier's salute. Large numbers of Indian drivers were wanted very quickly for some reason unknown to us. So my instructions were to give the lads a rudimentary knowledge of gears, clutch, brakes etc., at the bottom of a hill station called "Yercaud" and then take each driver in turn up the hill to the top while negotiating 21 hair pin bends. I took the precaution of taking a 5 tonner up myself and soon discovered which hair-pin bends could be driven round in one go and which bend entailed reversing the lorry to line it up. These bends I numbered on the dashboard so that I could shout "chock" and make sure one of the 20 odd drivers in the back climbed out and chocked the rear wheel as soon as an inevitable stop to reverse occurred. This little idea of mine earned a commendation from the Transport Officer, who had warned me of a nasty accident of a lorry sliding off the hill in reverse, resulting in a few serious injuries. Considering that most of the Sepoys had not seen or rode in or on anything other than bullock carts, they did very well on the whole. Those who got to the top and back without incident passed, those who didn't failed. I was told to ignore crashing gears and other minor incidents, so long as they could keep moving without incident. For me it was often a hair-raising and sweaty experience, but the lads were so eager to learn and so grateful to be passed, that I could have had friends for life and had bags of "bagsheesh" which I always refused. Inevitably my sojourn at Brigade came to a halt after about 3 months or so and though the Brigadier tried hard to keep me on as his driver, our C.O. refused to let me stay any further. So back to Batt. I regretfully and sadly went. My luxury life of good food, clean sheets and a decent bed, all gone with the wind. When I asked the company clerk did he know why the C.O. would not let me stop, he said I had passed too many courses and was therefore too valuable as a soldier to lose from a battalion already thin on the ground and still not up to full strength, with malaria taking a certain toll. So off came my stripes and back to private soldier and humdrum duties. I returned to the transport section and one of my first duties as duty driver was a weekly trip to Madras, fetching rations. This was a cushy number, as no driver was allowed to load or unload rations only supervise. On my first journey I cought up with a gaggle of children on their way to school. As it happened I stopped the truck a little way up the road for my loader to have a much needed "pee" and within minutes as always we were surrounded by children trying to practice their English. We discovered that they walked no less than 14 miles every day to get to school, so as you can imagine the offer of a lift was eagerly taken up, although much against Army regulations. We mentioned this episode to no one and picked up the children every trip without incident much to their delight. While I think of it, in mentioning about life in England and our horrible Military Police Sergeant, I forgot we left him behind in hospital, as the lads, fed up with his horrible brutal attitude, had way laid him in an alley way at the side of the local pub after "stop tap", as they called pub shutting time, and had severely beat him up, bad enough to put him in hospital. I expect a few boots were put into him as well. We never found out who were the culprits, no one had said a word, but we were truly grateful for their efforts, having seen and heard the last of him and his surly behaviour and filthy language. During this time in Salem I acquired another period of "jankers" due to a lance corporal's stupidity. On the day in question, I was duty driver, as per battalion orders, so was unaware that according to the lance corporal, I was on the list for early morning parade. Of course when my name was called out, there was no answer. Understandably, as I was miles away on the road to Madras fetching rations. Never the less my name was duly put on the defaulters list, which meant my appearance next morning before the lance corporal, charged with being absent off parade. My protest was brushed aside, the parade list produced with my name on it. According to the Captain, I had disobeyed an order issued on Army duplicated instructions - a heinous offence, which duly required seven days cook house and other fatigues. Ah well, I didn't have to do my punishment in the rain, as some poor devils did a fortnight later when the monsoon started. Which further reminds me of an episode whilst driving an officer to Bangalore hospital during the monsoon season. Going there we'd safely crossed a small river, but on the way back, rain came down with increasing torrential fury and we were caught half way across in a wall of water, up to our knees in the car, which unfortunately was not designed for such emergencies, being an American Buick civilian car. There we stuck until the rain storm stopped and the river subsided enough for me to wade back to the villagers behind us, who had been or were now an interested audience. They quickly turned up with a couple of patient bullocks and hauled us out. My next job of course was to open the bonnet to the now blazing sun, dry everything out and fortunately the car started up again after a couple of turns with the starter. The officer meantime had arrived at a price for the hire of the 2 bullocks, gave the headman a chitty on behalf of the Army, which he would duly cash at the base in Bangalore. One has to experience the monsoon, to know how quickly one can get into trouble. Indeed in our Burma episode, the Japs actually came to a standstill, we never did and caught them on the hop more than once. Soon we were on our way back to camp, within a couple of hours in that heat (140 in the shade) the car was bone dry while we kept our fingers crossed in case of another storm. Back at camp everyone was busy preparing for the monsoon which was soon upon us in earnest. Deep trenches were dug around tents and bashas etc., to try to mitigate some of the inevitable downpour and flooding. A pretty hopeless task, as our transport inspection pits were soon filled to the brim, while we made our miserable way round camp, back and forth to the cook house for rations, soaked to the skin.Still we survived, Army life carried on with 100 and 1 duties, parade, battle exercises etc., etc., more inoculations against this, that, and the other, watching the collapse of some of the biggest of the lads at the thought of the needle in the queue ahead of us. Here also after the monsoon, we had our third and final leave. My friends and I decided to go to Yercaud, to the hill station there, which of course we thoroughly enjoyed for 7 days. Unfortunately the one friend, who had accompanied us in the past on leave, opted to go to Madras, a decision he regretted for the rest of his service, even on the boat going home, he was still worried to death. Poor Chalky, who'd gone on leave with some lads who liked a pint or two, had got thoroughly blotto, being unused to it , and woke up in a brothel, not even knowing anything, as he said, his mind was a complete blank, not even knowing what happened. But he was soon to find out after arriving back at camp, because of what he saw and felt in the latrine. Chalky was soon on the sick list and was whisked away to Bangalore for treatment, cured, back at camp, with 3 weeks ahead of him of appalling hard work as punishment. I should explain that anyone in the Battalion who contracted V.D., which was what poor Chalky had, was guilty of causing a self-inflicted wound. Wherever we went in India, we had what was called an ET, or early treatment tent, where everything was at our disposal to prevent such things occurring. In fact, poor Chalky was right, for the next 3 weeks he was in the tender care of the M.P's. This meant that for 3 weeks from dawn to dusk he had a parade every hour with a 20 minute break, in which in full kit, he was marched up and down the parade ground at ceremonial pace, a trotting pace, to the continuing shouts of quick march, halt, shoulder arms, present arms, high port, fix bayonets, charge at the double, etc., in all that heat, then after a short midday break would be off on a 15 mile route march accompanied by an MP on a bicycle. Such appalling punishment that even now after all these years, I think of Chalky with emotion, I know he never complained about the terrible 3 weeks, even relished his punishment for his stupidity. Chalky's worry from then on was the horror of what he might give his much loved May, to whom he was engaged to be married, despite the all clear from the M.O. He never ceased to worry us about his mistake, as he called it and would constantly seek assurances from us, right up even until we were in sight of England. So life continued for some while, I'm afraid I can't remember how long and despite trying to get in touch with the C.O. of the Ox and Bucks at Oxford, get no authentic verification of the length of our stay in the Salem, or the Madras area, etc. Anyway, soon we were on the move again, as usual not knowing where to. We had our own vehicles of course, 5 ton troop ration carriers, Bren gun carriers, jeeps etc., and we soon spread out along miles of road in appalling dust clouds - the lead vehicle at 10 miles per hour, and the last vehicle doing 50 trying to keep up. I had a jeep with the Adjutant on marshalling duties, which entailed dashing up and down the column, getting right of way through villages and with the help of local police, keeping crowds clear of the road, including the occasional bullock carts, with their huge top heavy overloads, which reminds me of an episode at Yercaud, when taking a lorry load of Sepoys on driving instruction. We were driving steadily up the hill and met a bullock cart coming down with the driver fast asleep. This entailed a stop for us as no way could we get past, but with a "tik-hai sahib" out leapt one of the Sepoys, who promptly turned the bullocks around and led them quietly up to the next bend enabling us to get by as it was a wide bend. Such was the arrogance of the "Raj" , at that time, that all day time bullock cart traffic was stopped and it was night work for them, until the driving period was finished. Incidentally that bullock cart driver never woke up throughout the whole episode. With halts on the way for the inevitable haversack rations at meal times, and a 10 minute halt every hour we eventually arrived at our destination, Chittagong then Cox's Bazaar, a God forsaken place if ever there was one. Here also we had one of our nastier episodes so far . Two of our lads had gone hay-wire and raped an Indian woman. The episode had been reported to the local Indian police and the culprits were identified. This was a terrible offence in the eyes of Indians and the Colonel sent them to the "glasshouse" for two years, thus, as they thought escaping any part in the war in Burma, but, they were quite sadly disillusioned, as a few months later at the start of the Burma campaign they turned up escorted by 2 MPs to spend a very uncomfortable time for the rest of their stay with the Battalion. I can't say they were shunned or nobody talked to them, as we all thought that they had had a couple of drinks too many and we could all have gone over the top in their circumstances, more so if we had known what was facing us. Some time passed here before we had another incident. One of our senior officers out with a driver and Bren gun carrier ran over either a booby trap or a land mine while reconnoitering the area - remember this area had recently been occupied by the Japs, who were now we hoped well out of the area. Anyway the Bren-carrier completely flipped upside down, killing the officers and trapping the driver underneath, who naturally was petrified with the ever present threat of petrol fire on his mind. With the help of a breakdown truck he was soon released, but his mind was somewhat unhinged so was sent back for a session in "Doolali" the Army hospital for such cases. We never saw him again except some 12 or 15 years (memory again) later, I met him at my clients house doing his garden work. He was quite rational, but, he shook like a leaf even when I shook hands with him. We talked for some couple of hours especially as he was a Welsh man. My client was somewhat disgruntled until I explained the reason and he took it in good part. At least despite his condition Taffy was happily married with three lovely daughters. He also told me that Chalky was going blind slowly and I regret sometimes not keeping in touch with any of the lads. But, I had a life to get on with and my one wish was initially to forget the whole interruption of my life due to the war. Our next move was a shock. All the transport was given up and in its place we drivers took over pack mules, how I wished I had my father's experience to hand, as a cavalry man, all the mules were completely untrained and in most cases were completely unmanageable, and my mule a pack mule worse than any we discovered. It would take 9 of us to hold him to load him and it was a big enough tussle to get bridle, bit and pack saddle on him, which would take a twitch on his nose with one near leg caught up in a noose and hauled up under his belly and tied round his neck. A twitch I should explain is like this, a stout stick with a small noose on the end like so -O. The mules nose was grasped by the hand through the loop, the stick would be twisted until it was tight and that was the only way to hold his head still. The next thing after all this was to take the reins in my hand and attempt to lead him round and round quickly. This of course was hopeless, he'd be bucking and kicking to get everything off his back, with me swinging round of the end of the reins like a two year old. It took me almost 3 months in training to quieten him down, after he'd acquired a taste for Army biscuits. This I discovered quite by accident one day. I had received my Army biscuit ration at the time, popped them in the pocket of my jungle suit, then went forward to the mule lines to start grooming and cleaning mules, pack saddle and harness, head bridle etc., My mule, still without a name, sniffed around my pocket and showed every sign of interest in the contents, so I gave him one to sample at the same time washing down all his bits and pieces etc., which I discovered he enjoyed, but, when it came to lifting his legs to clean out hoofs with a hoof pick was a different matter. Up went his back legs and doing his best to bite me, I had to quieten him down with another biscuit and resort to backing him into a loop of rope with a hitch in it, snagging his hind leg under his belly, then tying the rope round his neck, close haul his head up to the mule line. This I had to do for each back leg, funnily enough he never objected to having his front hoofs done. This procedure went on for weeks, understand that carrying duties which had to be done such as carrying rations, water chargils, troop blankets, ammunition etc., With water chargils, there was a laugh and a tussle. Water chargils were small galvanised tanks holding I think maybe 10 or 15 gallons of water. The trouble was the metal loops to hitch onto the pack saddle lugs rattled, and anything that rattled, frightened my mule to death. It wasn't until we discovered my mule was deaf, that we realised it must be the bumping up and down that worried him when we also remembered that the full chargils did not move as he walked. So the empty chargils were very, very quietly and gently put on. Remember my mule now stood with one leg snagged tight under his belly, was on three legs, with a twitch on his nose held by one of the lads to assist me. Once loaded I now had to grab the reins and twitch in one hand, untie his back leg with the other hand, then gently release the twitch. While the twitch was on, every move he made was painful so he stood still,but, immediately that twitch was loosened all hell broke loose. He would buck and kick, twirl round and round with me hanging on with the reins twisted round my hands ( a method of control I was to regret as I shall explain later). The mule doing his best to get the load off his back, even to the extent of rolling on the ground and he would never give up until those chargils were off. By this time I'd given up trying to control him, court martial or no, I would be forced to let the bastard go. That was his name at the moment. I would then hare off, up the jungle trail after him, pick up the bits and pieces, carry them back myself,then go and fetch the !!!! from where he would be quietly grazing as if nothing was amiss. I would grab the reins and lead him back to camp to be greeted by "Well done Pearce" from the transport officer, for persevering presumably and what was more important in the Army's eyes, fetching the mule back to start all over again. I should explain that it was a Court Martial offence to lose your mule under any circumstances unless killed in action. This attitude by the mule went on for weeks, while all the other mules had settled down to their normal duties. One thing we learned very quickly! Never approach a mule from the rear, especially a jenny or female. One of our lads did: walked up to his mule with a bucket of water to give it a drink from the rear and oops! a nasty smack full in the face and he ended up with a broken jaw, smashed nose and broken cheek bones and it was some weeks before we saw him back in the battalion, with a face like a boxers until the swelling subsided. Slowly, very slowly, my mule began to stand still, to accept bridle, bit and load, but was still wary of the water tanks. He was quite all right while the tanks were full of water because then they didn't bounce about, but, empty ones caused chaos, with the rattling, even so, with patience and talking, stroking, patting and the occasional Army biscuit I managed to calm him down. The hoofs were a different matter though. I took this up with the Army Vet, wondering if his inner hoofs were sore and sensitive. But no, it was sheer cussedness on the mules part. By this time I began to get very down, working 4 times as hard as everyone else and often doing twice the distance. So bad were the backs of my hands with lacerations from the reins slipping through my fingers, (I should say sweaty, slippery reins) that I needed daily attention. In fact my daily routine, feed and water the mule, have my breakfast such as it was, then report to M.O. for treatment, until eventually after the usual monthly Medical inspection the quack recommended me for a weeks R & R, namely rest and recreation. This was a laugh - recreation in the jungle! Rest? Ha! Ha! For a week I went up daily in a Dakota completely unarmed, pushing provisions out of the permanently open doorway all over the Divisional operation area! Then back to Battalion to take over the same mule, which I found in as bad a state as ever. The fool who took over from me only had one idea, if he didn't do what was expected, it was a blow with the fist and the boot, no self respecting mule would put up with that, I could tell by the way he flinched when I went near his head that he now expected a blow. But there was a ray of sunshine; running my hand down his hindquarters gently in the approved manner he obligingly lifted his leg for hoof cleaning, which I could see had not been done during the week I was away. Thank goodness the Vet's inspection was a fortnight away, so that after cleaning out the stones and muck with a dose of lime, he was back to almost normal. Everything he did right I rewarded him with an Army biscuit, if he didn't do what was wanted, no biscuit. Slowly but surely, he began to respond to this treatment and with biscuit bribery began to follow me about everywhere. In some ways this proved very useful to the Army. For instance loading mules up a ramp on a landing craft proved a constant battle and was time consuming, but the Vet, realising my mule followed me everywhere expecting a biscuit (the biscuit was unbeknown to him of course), as the Army biscuits were for emergency rations only, at least at that time biscuits were plentiful because the humid conditions in the jungle made them bad in no time because of the meat content etc. So I was ordered to lead my mule, who followed me everywhere without fuss. Amazing! As soon as the mules saw one mule walking calmly aboard more followed suit, with the awkward ones being rushed aboard by 4 men. Now I was made lead mule, which I didn't like at all, now that we were in the war zone, and as Jappy had a nasty habit of sniping at leaders, in the hope that they would pick off officers. So I was lead mule when loading etc on landing craft. Everyone had to take their turn at the head of a column, or patrol which lengthened the odds a bit, all officer badges had come off, likewise noncommissioned officers, sergeants and corporals insignias, as all personnel with a badge or stripe on , were prime targets for the Japs. As yet we were not in regular contact with the Japs, as we were waiting for the whole division to assemble. So, came the first vet's inspection and to our complete surprise the Vet discovered my mule was stone deaf after looking down his ears with a light and snapping his fingers in his ears, so he was given a course of treatment by the vet's assistant who flushed out lumps of wax and dirt deep inside his ears despite all my grooming. At least the vet said it was too deep to see without his light. Now of course I understood why my mule never turned a hair during occasional bouts of shelling and mortar attacks while the other mules jumped and rolled their eyes and tried to get away from the noise. His deafness undoubtedly was the reason for his behaviour. We were still not in actual contact with Jappy although we suffered the occasional bout of shell and mortar fire. It was not until some weeks later that we received information from villages that the Japs were preparing to move out, so patrols were set up to check and we were soon on the move giving chase. We never understood why Division didn't let them go. Japs lines of communication were obviously very stretched and what stocks they had were being relentlessly bombed, so they were forced to retreat and take up new positions and leave behind harassing parties, hence the occasional shell and mortar fire that we had to endure. Luckily for us the jungle gave us good cover and providing we dug in every night we had no casualties, as yet. We were still sending out patrols and information we had that the Japs were evidently tired, and had a lot of sick people left behind, who were a nuisance, as invariably when we came across them in bashas or village huts they would be laying sick on the beds with primed grenades on their chests ready to explode on contact with our patrols. Luckily for us on our first contact with sick Japs, "A" Coy. Sgt. Harris kicked the door of a hut open to be met by a blast of exploding grenades, unluckily wounding him in the knees. So we were forewarned in rather a nasty manner, and from then on we would poke doors open with a long bamboo pole when possible, otherwise a few rounds from a Bren gun or a couple of hand grenades through open windows put paid usually to the inhabitants.The last we saw of Sgt. Harris was on a stretcher peacefully smoking his pipe. The air was so still and clear we could plainly see the smoke curling up from his pipe, we on the mountains, he down in the valley, no jungle. He knew he had a Blighty one! It was a couple of days later that one of our Gurkha patrols ran into an ambush (another party of Japs left behind to impede our progress), which resulted in one lad wounded and several killed, which forced the Gurkhas to beat a hasty retreat believing the wounded lad was also killed. The Gurkhas and the leading officer were on a recce patrol which meant observation, if contact , information of numbers and dispositions etc. otherwise the Gurkhas would have gone to ground and fought back. Then it was only after getting information back to base that an offensive patrol would be set up, knowing more or less what they had to face in numbers etc., also in an endeavour to take prisoners for interrogation which proved difficult as Jappy would never give up. It was at this period of recce patrols and offensive patrols that another Sgt., I forget his name, tripped and fell. Somehow or other he fell on his bayonet which went underneath, entered his chin and came out through his cheek narrowly missing his eye. His wasn't a Blighty one, as he was back a couple of weeks later but, with a nasty scar. During this period the Gurkhas on patrol again came across the lad they left for dead tied on a tripod who'd been used for bayonet practice by the Japs. They brought him back of course, buried him according to their rites, ceremoniously. They sat around afterwards obviously upset at the dastardly treatment of their comrade and began to work themselves up to battle rage and asked their "C.C." for permission to do a bit of retaliation. This of course was refused, and their "C.C." began to get worried knowing that at the first opportunity they'd be sneaking off . So worried was their C.C. that he asked for a guard to be stationed round his company in an endeavour to prevent any movement. The last thing they wanted was for their position to be given away. The Gurkhas had every ones's sympathy and after consultation with the BOR's, who were supposed to stop them, in the dead of night, they were let out in twos and threes to ultimately return licking their wounds, but full of the joys of spring, having ambushed a village, killed all the Japs they caught and came back with battle souvenirs, but slightly the worse for wear having sampled a fair amount of the Jap's rice wine (a highly potent liquid). The souvenirs consisted of various ears, hands, Jap top knots, an NCOs sword etc. and a beautifully constructed little machine gun complete with tripod and rounds of .22 ammo, which occasionally was used, much to their surprise I'll bet, against the Japs and was promptly nicknamed the "wood pecker", which it sounded just like from a distance (you could tell most of our lads were country lads). The Gurkhas, unfortunately, in their merry state gave the game away completely, so for disobeying orders they received 7 day stoppage of pay as did the unfortunate so called BOR guard. Back at camp, out of the war zone they would have got 7 days field punishment as well as pay stops. From now on we began to come across Japs in earnest, instead of a few harassing parties, whose job was to try to hold us up while the bulk of their comrades were attempting to retreat. Now it was our turn to do a bit of harassing, as we were in a far better state of health than them. They were truly in a sorry state, as evidenced by their night stops strewn with blood soaked bandages, torn uniforms, dead and some dying Japs complete with booby traps beneath them, which meant we had to put a rope around a leg and drag them off often blowing them to bits in the process. Mostly we by-passed their stopping places and ruined villages and left them to our Pioneers. I must say we were comparatively lucky as our work for the next 2 years consisted of mopping up operations and in the whole of that period we only had 2 big pitched battles which I'll recount further on. We were now swiftly leaving our base at Chittagong far behind and as a consequence were always short of everything including food, replacement items of clothing, ammunition etc, but we were never short of mule fodder, the Army having to pay money for mules, while they could get recruits for nothing, considered the mules more important than us in some ways. For instance, the mules had a weekly vet's inspection while the last time we had an inspection was back in India. Our medical inspections were a laugh. The usual routine was to see the words on the Battalion's notice board "FFI 5.30 reveille at 4.30 - no clothes will be worn" (that was an Army expression, not mine). As to how we were supposed to wear no clothes ,we never knew. Anyway we all had to attend stripped for the Medical Officer's inspection., which was a farce as what a doctor could see, sat at a table, while a column of men passed smartly in front of him, I don't know, as was evident by the fact that we had 3 men in our Battalion who were eventually discovered to be mentally deranged and a danger to themselves and everyone around them, when Sgt. instructors tried to teach them weapon management! Fortunately they were eventually discharged. (They probably never knew how lucky they were.) By this time of course we began to take casualties ourselves, until eventually our casualty rate exceeded 12%, which meant our Battalion Cmdr. had exceeded his limit of 10%, so he was promptly bowler-hatted (Army slang which meant he was sent back to England in disgrace) as we thought, instead of which, who should we see on the dockside when our ship eventually arrived home two years later but our one time Colonel, now made up to Brigadier waiting to greet us, and believe it or not there were tears pouring down his cheeks, which promptly stopped the loud caustic comments from the lads. With regard to the 10% limit, we discovered that this was not for any regard for our welfare by HQ, but was an attempt to save us for worse punishment later on, after we'd cleared Burma of the Japs. Fortunately for us we reached our final destination in S. Burma as the war ended................................but I find I've digressed a bit so I'll get on with things. Our mopping up operations continued, continually harassed by intermittent shell and mortar fire with occasional sniping by Japs tied up in trees, whom we considered to be fair target practice for us, for as soon as their whereabouts were spotted the nearest lad would get down on one knee and pop a round off sometimes bringing them crashing down, mostly to see their heads drop to their chest, only their rifle come crashing down. The shell-fire was more of a worry, as we never knew when it was coming and it often caught us in a jungle clearing, with no fox holes for protection. It was during this time that we lost our Coy. Sgt.Mjr. - Harcourt , nicknamed "Ginger" for obvious reasons. We had stopped for 24 hours to have a clean up, and rest of sorts, and dug ourselves in fortunately, but, were suddenly caught in a hail of shell fire. Everybody went to ground pretty sharply including Sgt. Mjr. Harcourt, but finding suddenly that he'd forgotten his Army watch left in his office tent, nipped back out of his hole to get it, and was promptly caught in a shell burst. When things quietened down we climbed out of our holes and looked around for wounded and gathered up the scattered mules, only to find a big hole in the ground where poor old "Ginger" had been; to find not so much as as a boot lace left of Ginger, but one dead mule, with the others scattered over a wide area whom we later rounded up. An hour later one of our patrols came back with a report of the whereabouts of the Jap gunners with a map reference. This gave us the chance to wipe them out, as we thought, and our Colonel ordered the mortars back within mortar range over night. This I did not like at all, as I was a part of the mortar team with my mule detailed to carry mortar bombs, particularly as after a period of intense shelling, one is emotionally and physically exhausted, despite doing nothing, but take shelter....life is very precious, when you know or think that the next second is going to be your last. Anyway having received our orders, despite feeling like sitting down and crying our eyes out (this is when you have to summon up that last bit of courage if you ever had any) we had to get on with it. We set off in the dark on a 3 mile walk back, with bombs, 3 inch mortar, mortar officer in charge etc., to a hill with a convenient little plateau, and spent the rest of the night digging a 9 foot wide mortar pit, 2 foot deep using the earth to fill sand bags, after which we flopped exhausted for an uneasy rest. At first light, we stood too with our officer forward with a servant in their own little hole spotting shots for us so that we could alter the angle of the mortar up or down, increasing or decreasing the distance the bombs fell. Hardly had the word "Fire"! left his lips, when over came a shell from Jappy and burst over the top of them and took the top off the officer's head as clean as a whistle; that was all, just one shell, his servant miraculously escaping scot free. He was certainly shaken, but, two lads removed the officer out of the way and then pluckily seizing the officer's binoculars began to call out "range of shot" again. From then on we continually rained shots on target forcing the Jap gunners to withdraw their gun or as we thought destroying their gun. Tons of earth, trees, rocks shot up in the air obliterating the gun emplacement completely, and having exhausted our supply of ammunition we withdrew as quickly as possible, loading the dead officer on my mule, now that he had no bombs to carry. We withdrew to a safe spot, radioed back for another mule to come forward to carry the base plate, mortar barrel etc., which was quite heavy. Blossom (that was his name now) fidgetted a bit in his usual manner at his unexpected load, but we quietened him down eventually to scarper quickly back to the Batt. HQ whom we eventually caught up with 7 miles further on the move. We were a very exhausted and bedraggled team by this time having had no food, just water for the past 2 days and we got none until the 10 mile halt, when the cook grudgingly cut us bully beef sandwiches, after being told by the CC to do so. We now had arrived at the bank of the river Naf and were given a three week's rest period by Div. H.Q. This was much needed, we were filthy, stinking and very tired by now as all our nights sleeping had been interrupted often by Jap harassing parties. What was more nerve wracking was standing to, listening to Jappy shouts of "Tommy where are you", or "Sgt. come here", all to be endured by us in complete silence , while stood to with Bren guns loaded and cocked, hand grenades ready with left forefinger in the pull ring ready to lob over if Jappy got too near. This was more exhausting on the nerves by far, than being able to bang away in retaliation, but our orders were "dead silence at night", so as not to give away our positions. The night sentry had a rope tied to his arm connected to the Orderly Sgt. and a tug on that would wake him if anything untoward occurred. I must now tell you of the nervous sentry, who hearing a rustling and stamping below him stood the whole Batt, too in complete darkness, while we listened also to the scuffling, expecting any minute to hear an attack with Jap shouts and screams. Darkness in the jungle is complete, like being down a mine, all you can see is your number two's eyes. No 2 is your loader on the Bren gun. Also we were always daubed with so called war paint and anti-mosquito cream, which I swear attracted the mossy's, not repelling them, also we wore small camouflage nets over our helmets and faces. Anyway there we were stood to....all night during a rest session, until first light, when we stood down and could carefully investigate the areas with binoculars to discover half a dozen patient village buffaloes noisily grazing. As you can imagine that sentry's name was mud and when we discovered he had also in his nervousness messed his pants his nickname was unprintable, but, I suppose you can guess it! Now, here on the bank of the Naf, began the best 3 months of my Army career. On the notice board appeared " volunteer required with some experience of boats". As my name was the only one to appear on the board, I got command of a boat! I must say my experience of boats to that date was half an hour's ride on Sid Moram's boats for hire on his lake at Colnbrook, Slough. I took to the water like a duck though and spent quite a few happy hours dreaming of my wife while sat inside making a cup of tea, as drink was our biggest problem, wells being deliberately fouled by the Japs, who thought nothing of chucking a few of their dead in a well to foul it. The River Naf being undrinkable until the day we got some chemicals from the Americans and our sanitary corporal could decontaminate the water. Now also our friend the Jap gunners opened up again when we were so confidant we had blown him to smithereens, so much for our rest period! Never mind said our super intelligent "intelligence officer", we can now call on the Air Force, they'll soon put paid to them. So they called up Air support (Americans by the way), who promptly knocked 30 foot off the top of the mountain where the gun was sited. Surely no one can survive that, we hopefully said ,(only to be shelled out of our minds 2 days later!) and to have my friend Tommy Lock's mule "Blackie" killed in the process. Blackie was a a beautiful huge jet black mule the size of an English hunter. She was a gentle creature, the pet of the whole Battalion and she stood waiting ready loaded to go on patrol with blankets and equipment. After the shelling stopped she was led off on patrol to collapse 3 miles into the jungle, with blood gushing from her nostrils. So the lads unloaded her to bury her and found a great lump of shrapnel the size of my fist in her spine, which had gone through her load, pack saddle and everything. So that's how Tom took over my mule while I was on the boat. To say those Japs were a nuisance was an under statement, almost every journey I took, I had to listen for bangs or look back for flashes, until I got so used to the hazard that I'd wait and watch for the first shot while on the move, then as soon as I heard a 2nd bang, I would shoot off at a steady 40 knots, weaving from side to side until out of sight, although not out of sound, as it was the noisiest engine I'd ever come across, that is until I discovered the underwater baffles had been damaged somewhere. How I discovered this was as follows:- one of my duties was to pick up a few nurses from the base hospital now established further back, and take them to a rest camp they'd established nearer to the protection of our Battalion. All nurses were classed as officers and had to be saluted on and off the boat, much to their delight .....the snooty lot. From them not so much as a "good morning" though! Anyway arriving at their destination at dusk and after unloading their baggage with the help of my 2 Indian crew men, darkness came down suddenly as always. So, not being allowed to travel after dark we tied up securely, had a bite to eat and settled down for the night to wake up next morning sleeping on the side of the boat not on the bottom, where we first bedded down , being left in the air clear of the river hanging by our moorings. We'd forgotten the exceptionally high tide of the Naf being so near the sea! So we climbed gingerly ashore, sat down laughing and talking and waited 4 hours for the next tide, fully expecting to get a rocket from CO when we got back, but we weren't even missed, you had to be killed stone dead to be missed in Burma! Now came a sad day for us, but a, very, very lucky one for me! ( I forgot to say, being able to see the bottom of the boat I saw the damaged baffles and so was able to straighten them out.) I had been instructed to embark our Platoon Officer, 2nd Sgt Smith, - one of the best, on a patrol of 7 BOR and all their equipment in order to establish a beachhead a few miles down the river on a small peninsular jutting out into the river. Strangely we were told we could make as much noise as we liked ,and even told to light a nice big bonfire after we'd dug in! That should have aroused our suspicions but, it didn't. So we proceeded happily to dig in, made ourselves a good strong bunker with a 6 inch slit to see through, while other ranks dug their own fox holes. As I was temporarily one of the HQ staff, I had to take my place in the 5 man bunker with Sgt. Smith, his boatman, a signaller, one BOR runner and myself. We made ourselves quite comfortable with plenty of bamboo leaves to sleep on and then had a quick meal of bully beef and tea and sat round a nice big fire in the chill of the night, and so to sleep, quite oblivious of the next day's shock in store for us. Next morning, as there was wireless silence, I was sent back up river to Batt. HQ with a message to say we were established and ready. On the way up the river I heard the usual sounds of gunfire but, took not much notice as it was now so common place. Having delivered my verbal message, turned around and mended my way back, wondering where the shells were falling this time and thankful it wasn't on me, I proceeded back down river quite a half-hours journey, the explosions got louder and louder, until they became ear-splitting. Then I knew something was up, when there was an eerie silence, quite a deafening silence, as I ran my boat into the beach, I spotted the chaos. I was undecided whether to proceed and take cover by laying flat on the sand, to spy out the land first, when I heard the sound of quite hysterical voices, English voices, so I got up and walked towards the command bunker. Seeing it intact, I thought "Good, we have built it strong enough", only to see a sight that horrified me, as I looked through the narrow slit, there were my four comrades still sat bolt upright with nothing below their chest or above the hips, everything had been sand-blasted out as clean as a whistle by one shell, that had landed nose first on the slit with the shell case a few feet away blackened and split. I felt their bodies as we entered to get them out, which were like sand paper. Putting them all in the boat, we and other personnel withdrew without any orders. The corporal was a gibbering idiot with shell shock, as I no doubt would have been if I had not been sent back with the message. As it was, I shook for the next couple of hours, only realising as I drew away from the scene how lucky I was. Yet the very next day, I saw a sight that moved me not a bit as I went to look at the battle field and was told by one of the Pioneer Batt, that we have stopped counting the dead and dying at 500, with hundreds more floating down the river. Then I realised we were deliberately a decoy, expendable and used to draw the fire of artillery and mortars while the rest of the Batt. got on with their share of the killing. Our only casualties were those 4 poor devils now dead and buried. Going over the battle field quite unperturbed, I spotted a Jap Sgt. Major with both legs blown off, with one leg quite near him with a beautiful unmarked suede boot on it. "Ah!" I thought, "exchange is no robbery" , but one boot is not much good, so I wandered round amongst the carnage casually looking for the other leg..... maybe still with the boot on! So I with the one Jap leg looked for the other, till I found it. Whereupon I squatted down took both boots off the remains, after a struggle, because his legs and feet had swollen so much in the heat.... the stench of course now from the battle field was appalling. I did notice though that our own officers had been round first and pinched all the swords and other insignia. What caused most comment from the lads was that every corpse was grinning and showing a mouthful of huge buck, dirty looking teeth. I hid the boots before any officers saw them, intending to try them on later, unless I got issued with a new pair of Army boots.... which I never did. I wore that same pair of boots with the uppers flapping tied with old leather boot laces throughout the campaign being always short of everything , which was why we called ourselves the "Forgotten Army", although of course back in India the High Command staff never forgot to tell us to keep on slogging in order to kill a few more Japs! Now I had what the Army called a birthday job, which was to proceed out to sea and rendezvous with a coastal steamer and pick up rations. With cries of "You lucky bastard", off I went. The lads knew I and my two crew lads, would be on a what we called a "legitimate scrounging mission". While none of us would pinch from another, other's Army rations were fair game. So approximately, one and a half hours later we met the river steamer to be shouted at by the Bosun and told to "get a bloody move on, I'm being forced to withdraw at once", due to our 'friends' lobbing a few shells at them. We had no wish to hang about either, and the crew, 30 or 40 foot above us, literally threw the stuff down to us, not even throwing us a rope to hang on to. So I had to swing the boat around to face a fierce current, which was doing its best to sweep us away, and hold the boat engine gently ticking over enough to hold the boat against the steamer, while the so called "rations" rained down on us, including of course large blocks of mule fodder. Fortunately everything was packed Indian style in straw and sacking, except the mule fodder, so we hoped nothing had broken. So, I turned the boat around, drew away at top speed until we found a spot where we were out of sight. I tied up , and carefully examined our bundles. The sacking was no problem, as drawing out my Army knife, I proceeded to cut the sisal cord, it was sewn up with, which we chucked out to sea. Six of the bundles contained crates of whisky, rum and gin etc., intended for the officers mess! The tops of these we quickly unscrewed (no corks in Indian bottled goods as the heat at 140% would blow the contents to smithereens, while gases from expansion could safely leak out through the thread). In our "innocence", we could have safely left some bottles with a good 3 or 4 inches of liquor missing but, not being greedy, we topped them up with river water. The other bundles were from Fortman and Masons, wooden boxes encased in wire strips, which we puzzled our brains over, in an endeavour to get at the contents without leaving any traces, but, we were forced to give up, there was no way we could cut flat steel wire, so as to leave no trace of breaking and entry. We were disbelieved by the lads when we got back of course, and they spent a good half and hour thoroughly going over the boat looking for hiding places, even coming down at low tide when we stood on mud, to see what we'd dangled over the side. The one thing that aroused their suspicions was the smell of spirits hanging around us and when the water bottles were empty we let them have a sniff, only to be called rotten mingy sods, all the while laughing their heads off, as nothing cheers a squaddy up more than a successful scrounge. Day after day now I was hard worked taking patrols up river, withdrawing off the bank to pick them up at the end of their patrol, sometimes embarking wounded squaddies after they'd encountered one or two Jap harassing parties, usually only 4 or 5 Japs who were quickly disposed of. They would never surrender, so our lads would hand grenade them , or as we were now equipped with American flame throwers, would warm their "asses up", which was the lads expression for directing flame at bunkers to winkle them out on fire screaming, where upon they were quickly shot without mercy, as by now we had plenty of intelligence of their atrocities. It was now common place to come across villages where innocent civilians had been tortured and killed for information by the Japs, even expectant women with their stomach contents slashed and exposed, children skewered on sharp sticks in front of their mothers, in an endeavour to glean information. Nothing would have pleased everybody more than to get their hands around a Japs throat and have the satisfaction of slowly strangling them to death. With deeds such as we witnessed, we could no longer say they were victims of their own government's propaganda. So my 3 months on the boats came to a close, no more freedom, no more dashing about stripped to bathing trunks and splashing about in the river at idle moments, while waiting to pick up intelligence gathering patrols. Our patrols so far as possible were no longer offensive, as Japs were now few and far between, until the day we had our first and only visit from the Division General, who remarked that "we were looking worn out, but, never mind the last and final battle will soon be over "and told us that a large body of Japs had come over the Chinese border, to try to meet up with their comrades in Rangoon and it was our job to stop them",news we didn't like to hear at all but, after he had gone, we rushed about packing up and loading our mules. I now had charge of Blossom again and we were off on a forced march of 24 miles which we completed in 10 hours, a Brigade record incidentally. We arrived at our destination (two hill tops over looking a valley, we discovered after day light) and flopped down, every man Jack and officers alike completely exhausted, not even digging in, which was unheard of. If the Japs had come along they could have had a field day, but, as it happened we were two days ahead of the Japs and had ample time to dig in our own foxholes, and in my case digging a mortar pit and laying on trip after trip, with Blossom ,stocking up with mortar bombs, water supplies and rations, for what we thought was going to one a long battle knowing the Japs. The battalion had taken over both hills so that the valley was well and truly covered by our fire and we hoped anyone coming along the valley would have a warm reception. I should mention that the reason for the extreme exhaustion in our case was that we had to travel up from the coast through thick jungle, slashing and hacking through bamboo and other undergrowth, all the while climbing steadily up hill and most of the journey in darkness. Anyway, now we settled to wait, having received intelligence from Shan hill tribesmen that our friends were quite near. Now there was not much laughing and talking, everyone had a feeling of seriousness, quite a few as it transpired afterwards wondering whether we would see home again, as I certainly did. But everything was forgotten as we could hear in the clear air the sounds of a large body of men on the move. Thank goodness our mules were left quite a way behind, so that the noise of jingling harness and braying and squabbling mules could not be heard. The strategy was no one to fire until B and C companies had opened up, when we knew then that the last Jap had passed their position. From then on it was a free for all, everybody fired at will and it was annihilation for the Japs. If they rushed back from our fire, they were caught again by B and C companies, if they rushed forward they were caught by E and Admin companies as everybody was roped in this time, Clerks, cooks, mule masters, staff Senior Officers, Sanitary staff, medical staff etc etc. I almost forgot, we also had the assistance of our own Division Artillery at last, from about 15 miles away and even one Spitfire and one Hurricane as strafing assistance. The noise was terrific, indescribable, until I suppose some time later, I forgot how long, we heard bugle calls to cease fire from every Company in the Battalion. So we sank in our various holes and pits, utterly and completely exhausted, dying of thirst and hunger, food being totally forgotten. The order came to report wounded, we had very, very few, some inevitable accidents, some from "friendly fire", as it was called by the Army, from bullet and shrapnel wounds from our own side (We had an unprintable name for it , which I won't write here). So sentries were told to stand to, while we cleaned up a bit from ammunition smoke and dirt, some to clean up their trousers, others like myself went off to dig a little hole to relieve themselves, such things being completely forgotten in the heat of the moment. Enquiring after particular friends welfare, we settled down to much needed food and drink, and to see the glazed eyes and battle fatigue gradually wear off, and to hear the familiar chatting and laughing and typical foul Army language. Now came the order to "stand to" once again; change of sentries; 2 hours later "stand down" and so to sleep. Being one of the sentries for the next two hours, and fighting to keep my eyes open, I stood their listening to complete and utter silence, listening to the snores and muttering and occasional shouts of dreaming men, the jungle for once was stunned into terrored silence, no familiar noise from the rustling bamboo shoots, or bird calls, until I was relieved myself and quickly sank into my own exhausted sleep. I forgot to say, my first duty that day was to go back and fetch Blossom and load off blankets in company with my friends, so that we at least could keep warm in the cold of that paricular cold night. All too soon it seemed, about 10 mins in my mind, the bugle called "Reveille" - 4.30am in the morning of the next day. We were ordered off the hills down into the valley to see the dreadful sight of hundreds of dead and dying, no stopping though, everything being left to the Pioneers and Medical staff, even they being ordered off because of wounded treachery. For the first time, we had a few surrendered Japs including about a dozen Jap Imperial Guards, I don't know who captured them, but for I think only the 2nd time, we saw tall, 6 foot or more, great beefy Japs more like gorillas than the usual "bamboo sized" Japs. So ended our last large scale battle, and life now consisted of mopping up stragglers and digging out the occasional Japs, still obeying orders to harass us unaware that their days as a fighting unit were over. I remember one occasion now, travelling along the one and only road, that we spotted 2 boys in Jap uniform as we thought, complete with a light machine gun, what we called a woodpecker. Fortunately we saw them before they saw us and a quick burst of fire put paid to them. Poor kids, we said, not much more than about 12 years old in looks. That was the sort of situation we were to encounter frequently, Japs tied in trees, used as snipers etc. By now of course, we were fully aware of such hazards, and it was automatic for us to thoroughly scour an area with field glasses, before moving on, thereby saving quite a few casualties. So we carried on for the next few weeks, patrolling, inspecting villages from a distance first , then approaching very warily, knowing any Japs left behind wounded, would do their best to give us a hot reception. Needless to say our old friend, the long bamboo pole came in handy pushing doors open first, then lobbing a few hand grenades in, listening, as no one was too anxious to walk in heedlessly, as by now of course we were fully aware of the consequences of careless behaviour. To be honest, we were all a bundle of nerves by now, not being able to have a widdle even, without listening, looking around and back, and worst of all having to drop your trousers, knowing you were in a completely defenceless situation at such times. So we continued in such like fashion until we reached the sea and would go no further. Here we stopped for a while waiting for Brigade to catch up with further orders, which when they arrived brought the Colonel out in smiles, and us in loud groans and catcalls, when he delightedly informed us we were destined for Rangoon and more fighting. The Colonel, of course, was thinking of his promotion and medals etc. Two days later he called us all on parade, and looking as if he'd just lost his mother, he told us our soldering days were over, the war was finally over for us. This we took quietly for a couple of seconds, then as it sunk in, all discipline went by the board, we shouted and cheered, broke ranks, some of us burst into tears, myself included, until the C.O. not being able to make himself heard above the din ordered his bugler to sound "Cease Fire" which brought us up sharply. We had orders to stay put and wait for a boat, those who wished to could take their mules on to an assembly point 14 miles further on, which most of the mule leaders did. But, not me, my feet by now were in a bad state and I had no wish to make them any worse when I wasn't forced to. So I handed Blossom over to my friend Tom, gave him a kiss on the nose (the mule not Tom!) and hobbled painfully aboard the landing craft that would take us to Akyab Island. Most peculiarly, I now felt my feet being very painful, previously they had been a nuisance, as saving your skin I suppose was the uppermost consideration to all else. Now we had a very laughable incident before we arrived at Akyab Island, as there we were lined up off the road, waiting instructions and even now automatically taking cover. A ragged a set of ruffians as you can imagine. We watched in amazement as a camera crew appeared, set up their equipment with many caustic and ribald comments from us. We'd forgotten Brigade had caught up with us. Anyway, quite soon a landing craft appeared, beached ashore and out scrambled a load of Commandos. There they were Red Berets in spotless shirts and shorts, and shining boots and equipment, being filmed as the "gallant 14th Army invading Burma." Once the filming was done, they were ordered to fall out, which they did perspiring and exhausted, as they'd only recently been flown out straight from England, with no time to get acclimatised. We spent the next 20 minutes or so pulling their legs unmercifully, telling them what to expect, to hide their white knees, as the Japs had a fondness for picking off white knees, .....asking them about home and the results of the Nazi bombing etc. Their information causing us quite a bit of worry. Next they asked us where was the NAAFI (the Army canteen).... which we hadn't seen since leaving India. "NAAFI"! we said in amazement. "The only canteen you'll get here is the water in that well over there and you can only go there one at a time or you'll get a shell where it hurts most from the Japs". (leg-pulling as we thought). So off they trotted, water bottles at the ready, and they'd no sooner crowded round the well, when to our horror over came the shell fire, some Japs evidently didn't know the war was over! We never did know what their casualties were, as we were ordered on to the same "L.C." as they'd come ashore from, and we were dumped on Akyab , with just "a" few sick and walking wounded. All the officers had disappeared as if by magic, we were left entirely to our own devices, and if we had not had our own signallers with us, who were on listening watch 24 hours a day, we would not have known what to do. Anyway with us came ample rations, in fact we'd not seen so much food in months. Tinned milk by the boxful, sugar, eggs tea, by the bucketful, (the eggs turned out to be rotten, every last one) flour, oats for porridge, bully beef and biscuits by the sackful, potatoes, tinned cabbage, how that Battalion cook must have chiselled us, "creep-arsing" to the officers. The lads decided I would be cook because of my feet, and I would be excused all other duties, such as water carrying, potatoe peeling, cleaning out pots and pans, fetching firewood etc.,I made a stove out of tins filled with sand and plenty of mud to stop up the gaps and it worked for everything but, cake baking, I could not get the middle of the cake to cook. (I forgot to mention a sackful of dried mixed fruit), which we ended up eating in handfuls. Nothing daunted, I used to make a batter with the flour etc, dip cake slices with the soggy middle and bully beef slices in it, fry them up and the lads washed their faces in them. For a week we lived like fighting cocks, although towards the end of that week, but for the lavish food, the Army would have had a mutiny on their hands, all of us aching to go home, naturally. For the first time for many months, we lit a huge bonfire every night, sat around talking, laughing and singing, completely relaxed as we'd not relaxed for months. Now we had hot water for bathing, shaving, washing clothes etc., and but for the torn and ragged jungle clothes, which were once green and camouflaged and were now a pale mushroom colour, we looked quite respectable, and we no longer smelt like walking pig styes. Towards the end of that week our signallers received orders for us to move off in 24 hours, where to and how, the Army as usual failed to inform us, but, if they had said build yourselves a log raft and embark for Calcutta, no doubt we would have done so. In fact with the number of tank landing craft and Naval vessels passing we could have hitched a lift. As it was our TLC slowed down and shouted across "are you short of anything", we said Yes, bread, and they proceed to sling loaves of bread over to us, all of which fell into the sea, much to our dismay. I should explain dismay as expressed by Army personnel is a volume of swear words the more disgusting the better, certainly not stamping your foot and saying "Oh dear!" So we embarked for a quick trip to Calcutta a journey of 4 or 5 days without incident, with much chatter and laughter, homeward bound at last, as we thought, only to be informed on arrival that we would be there for at least 3 months, waiting for a 600 strong party of British ex-prisoner of war , who had been in the tender hands of the Japs for at least 3 years including a small contingent of British civilians who had been in like circumstances, but who proved to be the typical snobby lot of those days, forgetting completely that it was lads like us, who had lost their lives, in an endeavour to rescue them. The knowledge of the 3 months wait was for us the last straw. We refused point blank to take up sentry duties or any other duties. Until one day a Red Tab (Divi, commander to you) came down and read us Army rules and regulations, telling us we could be kept for 6 months more if necessary, as we were now on Army reserve, and any more disgusting behaviour, and we would be on bread and water and in the "glass house". He expressed his sympathy for our predicament, which brought shouts of "bull shit", but he assured us he would do everything in his power to move such an unruly bunch out of his patch asap. So being a much disgruntled lot, even more disgruntled later on to meet a bunch of new lads, with no more than 6 months service, being flown home on a months leave. Our egos were inflated a bit though, when we learnt from their old soldier Sgt., that they were in awe of us, having heard exaggerated tales of our exploits and would like to meet us for a chat etc., So having been issued at last, albeit reluctantly by Q.M. stores, with new khaki shirts and shorts, we smartened ourselves up a bit and invited to our camp those newcomers, who wished to meet a remnant of the one time scruffy 14th Army. They brought a few beers with them, cigarettes, tobacco etc., and we regaled them open-mouthed, not without a bit of poetic licence ourselves, in typical exaggerated Army fashion., with our stories. From that day on, we walked about camp with our chests stuck out a mile. After all, we realised, we were the 14th Army, something we had not given much thought to previously, being more concerned with saving our skins. So the civilians in the area hearing that a remnant of the 14th Army was in camp, put on concerts for us, with tea and buns thrown in ,and we began to settle down a bit waiting impatiently for a boat home, which duly arrived in dock and were told we would be off in 3 days time taking that time to unload. So we met the old "Empire Pride" banana boat once again, the same boat we had come out on. Settling ourselves down for what we thought would be a 6 week's journey, now knowing of course that the Suez Canal was now open ,thus cutting a month off our journey time home. I cannot remember a thing about that journey, only being completely happy at the thought of meeting my beloved once again, not being really happy, until I actually held her in my arms in reality. Would she be changed much? Would she find me changed much? All such thoughts were on the minds of all the lads, at least all the married ones that is to my knowledge. So our trip home passed much too slowly, as a stop in Port Said was greeted with groans and loud cat calls, even though it was to take off some more troops which previously over crowded us somewhat, although it was quite sad to see men sick, who would be in such a state for a long time to come, but they were as happy as us, to be on their way home at last. From here on, my hands and feet began to heal it seemed miraculously. Homeward bound though, I began to get the first symptoms of malaria, something I'd escaped throughout my service. Nevertheless, I was determined not to report sick, having no such wish to be hospitalised on my way home. So, we drew slowly, so slowly it seemed to us, to land in Liverpool, of all places! Of all places! Typical of the Army, when most everybody on board came from much further south in England. No reception committee, except our old bowler hatted Colonel now made up to General, smothered in red tabs and medals. But, we certainly weren't worried about the absence of any gaggle of politicians. All we wanted to see was a Transport Officer, with a load of travel warrants in his hand. But more delays, now we had to undergo a real medical inspection. It seemed our reception committee was a bunch of suspicious old fogies, who thought we were a disease-ridden bunch of ragamuffins (shades of Rudyard Kippling's old "Journey " poem) wasn't in it. (If you haven't read it you should, as it will describe exactly what I mean, and the authorities attitude to the Army they'd finished with)...so 24 hours later in darkness we marched off to the train station, leaving our sick and wounded behind , who needed hospital accommodation. At the station, we were met by the inevitable M.P's, who now at least treated us with a bit more respect, and directed us politely to where we could now get a wash and much needed food, having had nothing but, a scratch meal as our last meal on board ship, 12 hours earlier. At last, we got smiles and kind words from the WVS, who served us with as much as we wanted in sandwiches and tea (and they'd cut mountains of them). I at least got a big tin of Bondman tobacco for my pipe, as it happened the last one, which I split up with Chalky, who was eyeing my tin with envy. So we climbed aboard, smoke filling the carriages, to be followed by the inevitable coughing, and soon, loud snoring, as by now lack of sleep took it's toll. I remember nothing of that journey home, until I got to Cardiff, where I changed trains for Blaenavon. At Cardiff, Olive's brother, John, was there to meet me, so somewhere along the line I must have got a message home, probably a telegram from Liverpool transport office. One thing I do remember about the whole journey from Akyab Island to home, was the complete absence of our own officers, who'd deserted us like some old horse manure. Except many months later I went to Aylesbury Bucks C.C. offices to tax my lorry and my car, being by now in my own business, and who should I see but my old Company Commader - Major Baron, and I blurted out "Major Baron" in front of all the other clerks. "How about seven days jankers now?", which brought titters and giggles from the girl clerks, but not a word from the Major, who looked very uncomfortable and handed over my tax disc without a word, with his face the colour of beet root. Now what a reception I got from my beloved wife and all her immediate family, smiles and hugs and kisses all round and I felt I was really home, especially as your mother was busy cooking me a meal and I always remember would let no one else help her, determined to cook my first meal home herself. It was now I began to really relax and talked not so much on my part, as I began to feel the first of many bouts of malaria to come. I was whisked off to bed to sweat it out for the next three days , with loving attention I had not had for years. Your mother, bless her, having to strip bed and pyjamas, as I sweated and soaked everything around me. I believe I had everybody's pyjamas in the house and must have made a pile of washing, but, there was never a murmur from them all. They coped with it, especially Mum, as if they'd done it all their lives. Inevitably loving care and attention and good food from your mother bless her, and I was soon on my feet, but no thanks to the local doctor, I might add who said "I'm sorry old chap, but I can do nothing for you" (So what! I was in good hands). Soon, with a travel warrant arrived orders to proceed to Slough to be demobbed, so still in Army clothes and with all my kit excluding rifle, your mother and I went off. I to get a suit of clothes in exchange for my Army clothes, a gratuity from a grateful Government of 150 and 4 medals. Your mother to stay with her sister Edith in Wealdstone, while I sorted myself out, and prepared to go back to work at Maples, London, instead of which I ended up in Roehampton Military Hospital, now with chronic cerebral malaria (the worst kind) for 3 months, from where I left with no cure and 100% Army Pension, a pitiable sum on which to keep a wife and children to come. Here I will end, as you all know the rest, except to say that there are so many little episodes I remember now, which I forgot to include, that I'll have to write them all down on separate paper, as I recall them.
Note: by Frederick James Pearce


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