An Infantry Company in Arakan and Kohima
The Battalion is Blooded
December 1. Known as D Day for the Division. The real advance begins: so far the brigades have been infiltrating over the Goppe pass, and jockeying for a reasonable start line. The Battalion moved out at 0100 hrs., “B” Company leading, moving first west, then south, and arrived at our first long halt at 0430 hrs. Here we harboured in thick scrub jungle and made some break. fast. The thunder of mortars and 3.7’s and the cracking of small arms broke the comparative quiet of the last few days as the Gurkhas drove a wedge at first light this morning.
At 1300 hrs. we moved south again to a position some thousand yards away from the Jap, and are now occupying the same position that the Gurkhas had wrested from the Japs. We have arrived to push through them. Today was very hot, causing much dryness on the roof of the mouth. Most of us are a little tired after marching for the last five and a half days, carrying three days’ rations on the man. My Company, less one platoon, were warned for a fighting patrol at about 1600 hrs. and were to leave at 1630 hrs. Met Brigadier Loftus Tottenham, our commander, a few minutes later, who said that the patrol was to move off after dusk. We left at 2000 hrs., and so also did “C” Company. Their objectives were just north of ours in the area east and north of Ngakragyaung village on the features dominating the latter and a west-to-east track running through the village. No known information about the enemy.
“B” and “C” Companies’ objects were the same. First, to see if there were any enemy posts in the area; secondly, if there were no enemy there, we must take possession of the hill and the Battalion would follow up and hold it in strength at 0545 hrs. on December 2.
We set off from our area along a single-file track known at once as “wet valley,” because of the atrocious swamps through which existing tracks ran. On reaching the open paddy to the east of the jungle-clad features that rise up from the valley, I halted the Company and re-formed it with platoons in line ahead and each with two sections up, 12 Platoon leading. “Tiny” Taylor, the platoon commander, and myself between the two leading sections, which were in single file, Company Tactical H.Q. immediately behind, then followed by Sergt. Hole’s ao Platoon. We had about one thousand yards of varying dew-wet paddy fields to cross; most of it was waist high and some up to the neck. To avoid rustling noises as we moved was impossible, so a slow rate of advance, with halts for listening every twenty- odd yards, was the order. An alternative route was possible by way of a track to Ngakragyaung, but that was asking for trouble.
At about 2130 hrs. we reached the outskirts of the village (Ngakragyaung) in the area of the track just north of the junction. Halting, we heard talking on our side of one of the houses. These voices began shouting at us. Now we could just see their owners, some fifteen yards away, by the light of the setting moon. They were frightened and cautious; it appeared, as they moved towards us. We watched them and “froze” into the long paddy. Meanwhile I moved Cpl. Charman’s section around to their right—we saw five all told. They got wise to us. At first they did not realize who we were, nor we them. Suddenly the forms fled, shouting and scrambling in panic through a house and up on to the hill behind. It was obvious that they were Japs, but I did not want to open fire at this stage, for fear of the Japs that were undoubtedly occupying the hill discovering our real location before we drew closer to them. I ordered 12 Platoon to continue advancing now south along the track and through this end house. Further scrambling in this one-floored building, as any other Japs there were hurried out, shouting warnings to the posts on the hill, but not before one jap had been bayoneted by Cpl. William’s section. Halting the rest of the patrol, I moved with 12 Platoon just off the track. We had not got more than twenty yards when a continuous stream of stabbing flames spouted at us about forty yards away on our left. Someone of the platoon was hit in the right-hand section; we heard the groans. The platoon was temporarily pinned, the firing being continuous in long bursts from a machine gun. Sergt. Philpot dropped off here with the 2-inch mortar, and with the rest of the platoon I ordered “Tiny” to infiltrate farther south and encircle this post with a right hook.
|Operations, December 1, 1943 to April 3, 1944.
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Some minutes later I had word from “Tiny” that they could get on no farther. They were now within grenade-throwing range and had worked round the enemy’s left and rear. But all hell was now loose; he had established the location of a further light machine gun on the enemy’s extreme left. Apart from the volume of metal flung at him—machine-gun and rifle and grenade—”Tiny” said the jungle here was trackless. I told him to contain the Japs with all attention here, whilst I moved the rest of the patrol up a spur on the left. I added that it would be a good thing if we captured that light machine gun! 10 Platoon moved forward slowly and crawling. The enemy obviously could not see; it was inky black, and we had not fired. However, they began a furious blitz on our flank. Another machine gun from our left was firing back diagonally across our front and a light machine gun, recognized as a “Tashio” 96, from the centre. Company H.Q. remained in the area of the track and foot of the spur to ensure our line of communication for a withdrawal. The 48 set clung defiladed to this left spur, but all the efforts of the signallers failed to contact Battalion H.Q. Kingshott, (my batman) and I moved up with 10 Platoon; movement forward was taking time. Eventually we reached the high ground from where the Japanese and ourselves exchanged grenades. But the enemy were still on slightly higher ground and could roll them down on us. An enemy grenade discharger was lobbing grenades into the rear of 10 Platoon and Company H.Q. I had returned to Company H.Q. on one occasion when our tin hats were all but blown off by enemy grenades and, on another occasion, by one of our own 2-inch mortar bombs that dropped a trifle short.
Throughout this time the Japs themselves were kicking up a terrible row in their positions, shouting orders and chattering. They gave me the impression that they were panicky. They were firing wildly and madly at this stage. I considered we had got as complete information as possible without committing the Company to unnecessary casualties. The Japs certainly had one machine gun and two light machine guns, but I was sure they had a third unless they changed the position of the one on our right. I was not certain how many men of 12 Platoon were missing, although I learnt there were ten, and one killed and one wounded. io Platoon, I was sure, had not suffered any—mostly through luck—but also because the enemy machine guns were firing on fixed lines and the rifles were merely cracking over our heads. It was a slow business for commands getting the men forward, but they went; full credit to Sergt. Hole commanding 10 Platoon. Fire discipline was first class; only the mortars and many grenades were used until I gave the order to 10 Platoon to give their Bren a few bursts just before we withdrew.
At 0145 hrs. I gave the prearranged red Very light signal to withdraw to our fixed rendezvous some five hundred yards back. On firing the light signal we ceased fire and so did the enemy, and then was heard in bad English: “It’s all right; you can come on now, they’ve withdrawn.” (an old Jap ruse) At the rendezvous we reorganized and checked up—still five men down. Withdrew to Battalion area at 0230 hrs. and arrived there at 0330 hrs.
December 2. At about 0400 hrs. back in our defensive position in the Battalion area; there was suddenly much firing on 11 Platoon’s front—Lieut. Svensson’s. This platoon had not come out on the fighting patrol, but were holding the front edge of the Battalion position in an ambush role. The action that followed in their area was very short and sweet. By the time I arrived it was over. Svensson told me as follows: Three of the stragglers came into the platoon position and sat down in the centre of the ambush, followed close behind by about eight Japs. At first they were thought to be Gurkhas, as the leader shouted to the men on the ground, “Tik hai, (Urdu, “its all right” it’s Johnny Gurkha.” In a lightning move this Jap thrust his sword into all three, killing one, mortally wounding another and the third, Pte. Wiseman, my Company clerk, got away with three wounds. This display of sword prowess barely took a second. The ambush platoon was still standing-to after our arrival, and this started the ball rolling. Cpl. Cunningham dived out of the bushes and emptied a magazine of his tommy gun into the Jap with the sword. Pte. Rolfe, on the Bren, almost certainly killed two and wounded two more. The rest of the enemy patrol ran away. But—they returned five seconds later and hurled a shower of grenades into the position. Under cover of this they managed to get away their casualties, all except the swordsman, who proved to be a C.S.M. He had a very useful watch, a natty wrist compass, sword, marked maps and reports, grenades and a haversack of rice and a bag of biscuits.
“B” Company’s total casualties (the missing now returned or accounted for) were three killed Ptes. Richards, Pledge and Hill—and three wounded—Ptes. Wiseman, Higgins and Fry. Enemy known casualties were eight killed and at least two wounded. But as grenades and mortar bombs fell fast and furious during last night’s action, this is a very conservative estimate.
Now, in the growing light of this morning, from six o’clock onwards, the noise of battle in “C” Company’s patrol area increased. Whilst enemy opposition centred on us last night, “C” Company got their objective, but were heavily counter-attacked this morning. They withdrew in daylight after killing between twenty and thirty under cover of all the Battalion mortars and some 3.7’s. “C” Company reached the Battalion area in batches from 0900 hrs. onwards. John Hamilton, commanding “C” Company, was very seriously wounded and was the last to be brought in. He was brought in by a Burman. (Later awarded the MC for this action) “Tiny” Taylor went out, completely off his own bat, and was instrumental in bringing in John and many of “C” Company’s men.
This afternoon the forward slopes of the Company position were spasmodically and inaccurately shelled. John Scott and Geoffrey Collins of “C” Company were wounded, John only slightly.
Late this afternoon there was a continual bombardment by 3.7’S and strafing by Hurricanes and Vengeance dive-bombers of the area we visited last night.
Throughout the night there was a purr-purr of machine guns and explosions on the Awlanbyin feature.
December 3. The Battalion moved out of this present harbour and the Gurkhas took over again at 0500 hrs. We moved a little north, farther up the ridge. I saw Lieut.-Colonel Duncombe for the first time this morning; he is to take over the Battalion.
“B” Company’s new position is well forward on the south-east corner of the Battalion area on the spur opposite Point 206, some 300 to 400 yards from “D” Company, our next-door neighbours to the north.
Not much of any interest today. All last night and throughout today there is somebody shouting in the paddy, “Help, help,” in English. It is believed to be a wounded man of “C” Company held by the Japs, who have laid an ambush around him for any who may attempt his rescue. This later was confirmed by a reconnaissance patrol from “C” Company. This evening the Jap positions on the Point 206 feature and to the south, where we patrolled the other night, were heavily shelled. The air was also lending a hand in this strafe.
The Company were finally settled in the new position taken over from the Punjabis at 1530 hrs. Reconnaissance patrols of “C” Company went over to the Awlanbyin North features.
December 4. ”D” Company moved out north to stiffen the Punjabis at 0800 hrs., as there is an apparent Jap threat to our east and rear from the Kalapanzin river direction. “B” Company moved back into “D’s” position at 1100 hrs.
Joe Mullins, my second-in-command, took out a strong patrol of one section from 10 Platoon and one from 11 Platoon at 2000 hrs. They were to search the northern end of Awlanbyin East features, to find out the location and strengths of Jap positions, if any. (There have been several posts there in the past.)
December 5. Joe Mullins returned and reported nothing. At 1000 hrs. Eric Svensson and two sections of 11 Platoon went out on a daylight reconnaissance of the same area and farther in and higher up the slopes. They came back at 1400 hrs with a useful report. Positions uninhabited, but alive with trench systems and foxholes, and could have only recently been vacated. Fire places were still in position; Japanese letters, cigarette packets and hats were lying about. All the positions were expertly camouflaged. Svensson and the other men are to go out at midnight to do the same patrol to see if the enemy evacuate it by day and man it by night.
More Hurricanes were over strafing this afternoon. As “D” Company returned at 1400 hrs, “B” Company moved back to our first position.
At about 2000 hrs. “Tiny” Taylor and 12 Platoon were suddenly warned by me (just been told myself!) to go out as a large but self-contained patrol to the Point 206 area, just where we had a spot of bother on December 1/2. They are to draw the enemy fire and so get him to disclose his positions. Our blankets came up this evening. My word! even one blanket does make a difference.
December 6. Last night the Company slept very tight (closed up). Virtually there were two complete platoons out on patrol. Both patrols returned at about 0530 hrs. From their reports it does look as if the enemy has finally left the ridge—especially when coupled with Joe’s report.
December 7. Remained in present area. A rest day for the Company, and they need it. Patrols and sleepless nights have been heavy. I read in the Divisional Intelligence Summary that a V-Force B.2 report (fairly reliable) says that about eighty Jap casualties were evacuated from the village of Ngakragyaung. This must be the cumulative effort of “B” and “C” Companies’ patrol action on the night of December 1/2, but of course the air and artillery strafe must be chiefly responsible ! If true, this is a very good dividend for our casualties.
December 8. My O.Ps. report that villagers, women and children, carrying bundles are streaming north from the village of Ngakragyaung, and have been doing this throughout the day—obviously refugees, pleased to get back into British-occupied territory.
As the crow flies it is only 300 yards to Battalion H.Q., but as I stumble it is a damn good 600 yards, and the going is so difficult it cannot be done under forty- five minutes! There is water to go through, small precipitous slopes to go up and down, only made possible by clinging and swinging from one bamboo to another. For a runner to do it at night it would be well- nigh impossible. I have two telephones, one for Company H.Q. and one for 12 Platoon, who are a little detached across a re-entrant on another spur.
During the day we constructed booby traps and panjis. (Fire-hardened bamboos, pointed and planted in the ground. An unpleasant obstacle when concealed in thick grass or undergrowth, or even in disused weapon pits) A number of troops’ comforts came up this afternoon: air letter cards, many cigarettes, toothpaste and razor blades, rum and a bottle of whisky for the officers. Wrote a couple of letters to England during the afternoon.
December 9. Spent a restful day and did not actually move away from the Company area. Distributed more comforts to the platoons and wrote more letter cards to England. The theme of my letters was what a dream all this will appear—the jungle, cold at night, the continual whispering as opposed to talking and shouting, and the absence of any movement within the positions at night. The chaps often unconsciously start whistling and humming, which I am afraid has to be curtailed a little, During the morning the Punjabis advanced along the Awlanbyin East finger to a position just south of Point 206. This advance was presumably working on the useful negative information of Joe’s, Eric’s and “Tiny’s” patrols. I gather the Punjabis were fired on from the east by an automatic, but their casualties were only a few wounded. Having a drop of whisky in the evening is a grand tonic, especially for me, as I still have malaria in my system.
December 10. Had a grand breakfast this morning— sausage, eggs and bread, all fried, and then some bread, butter and jam. I must say the food has looked up enormously recently—plenty of it, and well cooked. My batman does most of Company H.Q. cooking. Platoons cook on their own; we are too split up. Visited Battalion H.Q. at about 1000 hrs. to be put in the picture regarding our local war situation, and saw C./Sgt. Fraser to see if our kits and ration situation were O.K. After returning to the Company I was unfortunately called back to Battalion H.Q. after lunch for an “O” Group conference. Had a foot and fingernail inspection at 1230 hrs. The “O” Group gives us an insight into possible future operations. Put platoon commanders and C.S.M. Hudson in the picture at 1600 hrs. I should have recorded yesterday that our second Call Kit (change of clothing and a few odd private articles) came up in the evening. Kingshott washed my stinking mud-starched battle-dress out today; I had worn it for close on a fortnight.
December 11. Another good breakfast: porridge, beans and bacon and fried bread. I felt pretty fresh today, but I have one or two bamboo cuts which are developing into the inevitable jungle sores.
Came into Battalion H.Q. at 0930 hrs. as I am a witness on a F.G.C.M. In fact, I am writing this whilst waiting.
“Tiny” Taylor and batman go forward on a reconnaissance in the area of future operations.
December 15. At 1030 hrs. “B” Company are standing at fifteen minutes’ notice to move out to the Punjabis’ area on the centre of the Awlanbyin feature. They are expecting trouble in their south-east and rear areas. The C.O. ordered us out at 1315 hrs. Arrived at the Punjabis’ H.Q. at 1450 hrs.; we took over their “B” Company position, which has moved forward in the area of another of their companies. This position had been an old Jap one. On it we found quite a number of Jap papers and messages written on English message forms, ammunition, light machinegun clips and tins of chocolate-coated malaria pills. We had a most glorious biscuit “dough” in the evening made out of nuts and raisins, powdered milk, sugar, Army biscuits, rice and boiling water. It was grand “Tiny” Taylor’s platoon went out on a fighting patrol at woo hrs.
December 16. Wireless message from the Battalion at 0610 hrs. to say that they have moved and will be in our area soon. At 0730 hrs. the Battalion arrived and took up positions on our left. The reason is the same as was for our move: there is supposed to be a threat to our left. The C.O. told me that “B” Company need not find any patrols today or tonight; he will give us a rest. However, at 1400 hrs. we find out that this is not to be. The Brigadier wants a company well forward on the left of the Punjabis near the banks of the Kalapanzin. We moved out at 1545 hrs. I had waited a little so as to collect a dozen mules for our blankets and food—if at all possible, I always believe in a little inconvenience at first to ensure comfort at the far end. 12 Platoon escorted the mules; the rest of us moved on some fifteen minutes in advance. The Company moved to positions overlooking Maunggyitaung village and arrived there at 1745 hrs. 12 Platoon had a grand ambush position covering a defile through very thick hillocks. Sent a fighting patrol out at night at two-hourly intervals to the Kalapanzin river, also a listening post, all found from Sergt. Thatcher’s 11 Platoon (Svensson went sick with dysentery on the 13th).
December 17. Reports from them this morning establish the fact that there were few or no enemy this side of the river. But the Japs were doing some shooting from the far bank—trying to draw fire. But none of us had any sleep last night. The Punjabis on the feature next door to us kept up a continuous blaze of machine guns, rifles and grenades from 2000 hrs. until 0700 hrs. Most disturbing, and they were whistling over us the majority of the time. I am convinced there were no enemy ! Thank heavens we had our blankets It was a pretty full moon and very cold, with plenty of dew. At 1000 hrs. I was about to pull out and report back to the Battalion when a message came over the air (the wireless worked 100 per cent, in spite of a distance of three miles or so and many intervening features) to say that we must carry out a thorough search of every house and dug-out in the Maunggyitaung area. Began this beat at 1030 hrs. Had a base of rear H.Q. and mules. Sent 12 Platoon slightly forward to act as a stop whilst I beat round the left with 10 and 11 Platoons, covering and searching alternately until we faced 12 Platoon again. Not a Jap in the place. Contacted two “V” force sections, who said that all the Japs are in the Sinobyin area about 1,500 yards south of us. The villagers were genuinely pleased to see us and followed us round, offering us rice, ducks, and even glasses of milk, but the latter had not been “decarbonised,” so I forbade anyone to drink it. Our job completed, we left our little base at 1430 hrs. to return to the Battalion. Before we left, Dick Kensington (Adjutant) informed me that the Battalion was moving and that there would not be anyone in their last night’s area, and so we were given a new reference. As always, I reckon the longest way round is the sweetest way home—in the long run. Instead of cutting across to the new area, we went north-west, then south behind Awlanbyin village. Arrived in new position (in the Wet Valley area again) at 1730 hrs., a distance of about six and a half miles, and found the C.Q.M.S. had prepared a most stupendous meal.
December 18. Big conference this morning, planning and orders for the next show—an attack on Point 182— which comes off tomorrow. A large draft arrived at the Battalion yesterday; received “B” Company’s share of one officer and forty-two other ranks and put them in the picture concerning the Arakan war this morning. A very busy day. It is to say the least a trifle difficult to get to know all these fellows at once, and tomorrow we are all being swung into battle! I had a talk to all officers and N.C.Os. at 1630 hrs. on tactics and more reminders on Jap tactics.
Briefly, tomorrow’s operations are as follows: It is the third phase of a Brigade operation in mopping up the area and straightening the divisional line. First “Tinker,” second “Tailor,” and now for “Soldier” affecting Queen’s, one company K.O.S.B., and one company of Gurkhas and all artillery in support. To get to the Battalion assembly area by 0130 hrs., “B” Company have to leave our present position at 2300 hrs.; then to cross a chaung overlooked by the enemy on a shaky bridge constructed by our pioneers during the last few nights. “B” Company are to protect the Battalion here by forming a bridgehead. The other companies to arrive at two-hourly intervals, so that all would be in the assembly area before first light. At first light “B” Company are to infiltrate forward and take up positions on commanding ground in rear of the enemy and “D” Company to pass through us at 0845 hrs. after a five-minute intense bombardment of the Japs on Point 182. Actually 480 3.7-inch shells and 900 3-inch mortar bombs will be dropped on the positions. The Company had a sort of reveille at 2200 hrs. and a cup of tea, and moved at 2300 hrs. This was a nightmare of an approach march; bad jungle tracks and slopes. Each platoon had a proportion of picks and shovels for the consolidation. My heart leaped every time I heard a man fall or his shovel catch in the trees.
December 19. Once we were off the jungle slopes I made sure we were all closed up in single file at the foot of the ridge. “Paddy” With, the I.O., moved with me, so there was little chance of our going wrong Crossed the reinforced bamboo bridge without incident; I had anticipated trouble here, as the crossing place had been reconnoitred and the bridge reinforced, with the Japs sitting so close. After crossing, I put 10 Platoon in front of “Paddy” and I to form our own bridgehead. The infiltration carried on, with Lieut. Uttley (the new officer) and 10 Platoon leading. And then a terrible moment._ I went hot and cold for two minutes when I saw this platoon, not keeping along the chaung (stream) bank, but heading across the open to a known enemy position. I could not believe my eyes. I went chasing after the platoon myself and brought them back to the left to hug the course of the chaung. Once in the bridgehead position, a very cold and anxious four hours were spent by commanders in trying to prevent men going to sleep and snoring. At 0630 hrs. “B” Company moved off, first 10 Platoon, to their feature, followed by 12 Platoon, covered by a section of 10 Platoon that dropped off at a track junction in the low ground. 11 Platoon, followed by Company H.Q., passed through 10 Platoon on to the highest ground. We all literally had to hack our way step by step. It was a race against time for fear we were not there by the time the curtain went up and day came on to the stage. Cutting and navigating when you can just see daylight is not easy. Our timing was quite good; we made our objective by 0830 hrs. We had a grandstand view of the bombardment. Our guns were naturally firing to their front and the shells were falling towards us as we had come round the rear of the position. “D” Company passed through, but had a hell of a job hacking their way up this virgin stuff, and finally got on top of the enemy at 1400 hrs. A short, sharp engagement; the enemy withdrew, leaving some dead and a wounded 1st class private (a rank in the Jap army) who was taken prisoner. This was the first prisoner taken in this and, I believe, in the last Arakan campaign. “B” Company were now on the stage. The enemy were forced to withdraw across the open paddy, and 12 Platoon opened up, killing three at least. Other casualties were inflicted by the carrier platoon’s light machine guns. During the rest of the day Jap shells streamed down on their recently vacated positions, mostly in “D” Company’s area. At 1700 hrs. our blankets and more rations came up with the C.Q.M.S. I heard later that we were the only company to get our blankets tonight. Well done, Q.
December 20. An eventful day after a fairly peaceful night, the only noise coming from the Gurkha front. We had just stood-to at 0530 hrs. and were being asked by Battalion H.Q. for our “sit rep,” when before we could give the answer there were yells and shouts, followed almost simultaneously by some rifle shots, more shouting as of a war cry, “Banzai !“ that was suddenly drowned in a deluge of machine-gun, rifle and grenade fire. Communications to Battalion or anybody were off; lines must have been cut; telephone and wireless were out of action. After ten minutes, in the midst of the fury of all arms and hasty tramping of feet, C.S.M. Hudson leaned over to me and drew my attention to sounds of hacking below us. I said, “It sounds as if it is the Japs hacking their way to 12 Platoon.” However, two minutes later, he said: “No, they aren’t going there, sir; they’re coming up here.” He was right; the beating and hacking of trees and scuffling of feet were decidedly close to us. Then, in the half-light, we could see them about eight yards away. Not a move, not a word by anybody. Right up to about a yard of the parapet they came. Then my batman, the C.S.M. and Sergt. Inskip rolled grenades just over the top. We ducked, blinding flashes, the Japs knew nothing of us until the grenades burst literally between their legs. Midst shrieks and moans and a little chatter, the enemy dashed down in panic in the direction from which they had come. Kingshott collected the rifle of one which was left on top, and I collected another some twenty yards down the slope. No bodies were left on top, but later three were collected at the foot of the hill. These Japanese were undoubtedly badly hit; there were pieces of grenade stuck in the rifles and we could hear them groaning at the base of the hill. Rightly or wrongly, we did not follow after them, as only Company H.Q. occupied this piece of ground, and there was a possibility of the old ambush trick. There was still much automatic firing and the dull bursting of grenades and mortar bombs from down below us. Japs shouting at each other were the only “human” sounds. From Company H.Q. we could hear digging in the area of the Japs and Battalion H.Q., but could not make out who was doing it. With still no word on the wireless or blower and absence of any British voices for some twenty minutes from the initial outburst, many unpleasant thoughts crossed through my mind concerning the outcome of 12 Platoon, Battalion H.Q. and the Carrier Platoon, who had obviously borne the brunt of the Japanese attacks. Then, from our position, we heard a stampede running away from us across the open-scrub country. This noise of feet brought back to my mind the rush of many boys being late for early school! But this idle thought was quickly dashed by long bursts from Bren guns.
I contacted Brigade H.Q. and the Gurkhas on the wireless at about of 0800 hrs., and later “C” and “D” Companies. At 1000 hrs. Battalion H.Q. was on the air; previously, runners from Company H.Q. had been sent three times. Battalion H.Q. had moved and there was still firing in the valley below. Battalion H.Q. gave me their new position, which was now tucked in the hillside just north of us. A few minutes later I visited 10 Platoon with Kingshott and a runner, and went on to the section of 10 Platoon who had a cut-off role at the track junction on the open ground below. We intended going on to Battalion H.Q. by that route, but we had not gone more than a few yards when the Platoon Sergeant (Cozens) beckoned us back. This section had been engaging an enemy post, and enemy had been seen to disappear into a clump of scrub jungle in the valley. My little party remained with this section for some twenty minutes; we brought Bren and 2-inch mortar down on to this Jap post some 150 yards away. The mortaring was very accurate; one bomb landed right on the position, was followed by screams and moans, upon which the whole of this section let out a simultaneous and uncontrolled cheer—an incongruous sight on a battlefield. I sent another section of 10 Platoon forward, covered by this one, to mop up along the scrub bordering the foot of our ridge, where I knew there was another post— noises of digging and Japs talking.
Half an hour later the section returned and Cpl. Budworth reported that out of a bush a voice said, “Idhar Ao” (come here in Urdu) and fired a few shots from a light machine gun at them. Budworth shortly replied with a burst of tommy-gun, followed by silence. These two posts, he said, were mutually supporting. I had word to get this section out of it as a platoon of “C” Company had been sent by Battalion H.Q. to complete the mop-up towards Battalion H.Q. To get to Battalion H.Q. this way was out of the question—there were still too many Jap pockets—so we made our way back and hacked a new way from my H.Q. to Battalion H.Q., now only a matter of 200 yards off. Before returning up to the ridge, we noticed great bundles of our Battalion wire—telephone cable to “C” and “B” Companies and to Brigade H.Q.—cut up and tossed in a heap into the bushes. That is a lesson to us not to lay cable along the ground; quite possibly the enemy followed this in.
At Battalion H.Q. Colonel Duncombe put me well in the picture. The enemy, about two platoons or so. had been seen off by grenades, bayonets and other small arms; they had burst right into Battalion H.Q. and the Carrier Platoon. The C.O. himself had killed one Jap at least with a grenade he tossed into a Jap hole. Dick Kensington had thrown a pretty grenade with the pin in, the C.O. said, with an enormous beam across his face. I can see that Dick will not get away with that effort in a hurry. So far we have accounted for eleven of their dead already buried, including a Captain and a C.S.M. Another officer, C.S.M. and a corporal has been wounded and taken prisoner. This Jap officer struggled with Jack -Sumner (the M.O. who received the MC for attending to wounded under fire, and bringing in a Jap prisoner), whom the latter knocked out and brought in. George Grimston, the second-in-command, and a party from Battalion H.Q. had spent the morning stalking a Jap post in the H.Q. area, but were beaten off with some casualties. One of our unluckiest casualties was Sergt. Johnson. the Officers’ Mess sergeant, who was killed in his position. He was a great friend to all officers. Before the war he held a good job in the Cumberland Hotel.
Two sections of a platoon of “D” Company, under Dennis May, were recently ordered to try and mop up away from Battalion H.Q., so the C.O. told me at about 1130 hrs. In haste I sent a message to 10 Platoon to cease firing, as they were also bringing fire to bear on a post some thirty yards from Battalion H.Q. In this very thick stuff it is just too easy to walk into one’s own men and become casualties at the hands of friends. These sections under Dennis suffered point-blank-range mortar fire. At about 1230 hrs. I took a section of “D” Company up to my H.Q. and then took them down our slope to try and mop-up from that angle. We went, and the inevitable burst of machine-gun opened up from the mutually supporting post. Open ground had to be crossed at the foot of the jungle hill. This section received about 60 per cent, casualties and gave up the attempt. Firm communications to 11 and 12 Platoons were established before noon. A company of Gurkhas assisted us in trying to mop-up at 1700 hrs. An outstanding feature of their effort was the bringing up of eight Gurkhas armed with a light machine gun each, advancing and firing from the hip By about 1800 hrs. the air was pretty clear and only one post remained. The enemy artillery continued harassing fire during the remainder of daylight and claimed a few more Company men.
December 21. A fairly quiet night, only distant small-arms firing and some harassing fire from our own guns. This morning at about 0400 hrs. a grenade exploded, followed by a burst of light machine gun, from “C” Company’s position below us. I later heard that a voice in English had called out from the bushes in front of them, “May I come in? “C” Company replied with the above orchestration. At daylight the answer to the cry was apparent; a Jap crawled towards them wounded in the legs. He was a C.S.M., and appeared not unhappy at being taken prisoner. He turned out to be the last live Jap in the area. The light machine-gun men had beaten it in the night. A total of 24 Japs were buried by us and four taken prisoner (five since we took 182). From this it can be gauged that it was a costly Jap counter-attack, as the Jap is a master at getting away his casualties to hide the real issue of the battle. Our total casualties were 8 killed and 27 wounded, including John Scott of “C” Company in the latter category. “B” Company suffered no casualties and definitely inflicted three on the 19th and eight on December 20. No complaints. The new “A” Company* was formed today under Mervyn Mansel. (We have been on a three-company basis for some months now, because of the man-power shortage). As a result, I lost 10 N.C.Os. and 21 men, all the old sweats, who were replaced by a not-so- well-trained draft; they have only eighteen months’ service, and none have been under fire before ! The rest of today was very quiet.
December 22. Nothing of real interest today. I sent out two reconnaissance patrols, one in the early hours of the morning and the other in daylight: Sergt. Philpot and three, and Sergt. Cozens and three respectively. Their task is to a hill feature a thousand-odd yards to the south, and they must search it laterally for any signs of present or recent enemy occupation. From 2000 hrs. until the early hours of December 23 there were the most tremendous noises of battle in the air, which went on some 1,000 yards in our rear. At first one of the thoughts that went through our minds was that it was a large-scale attack in our rear to cut the Battalion off. But it never moved any closer to us, so after an hour it was reasonable to assume that this ceaseless “Brock’s benefit” was merely a large-scale raid.
Late today we learnt that it was a Japanese patrol of about a platoon strength that had got into Brigade H.Q. and the mule lines. All the Indian mule leaders had fired off pretty well all the ammunition they had. Casualties to us were one mule leader killed, one wounded and one mule wounded. That is a fair example of what happens to non-infantry .trained soldiers— giving others a rather restless night!
At about 1,000 hrs. orders came for “B” Company to “feel forward” another 1,000 yards to the area where we sent patrols yesterday and occupy three pimples along a ridge. Moved off at 1100 hrs. and, after hacking nine- tenths of the way, arrived in position unmolested at 1530 hrs. Kept in touch with the Battalion on the 48 set, and laid line out and tapped in as we went along. As we were far forward of the Battalion and did not wish to give our position away, I forbade any making of fires, and so from now on we have no tea in this position until the Battalion moves up. Sent a patrol out at 2000 hrs. to the ridges in front of us. They reported in at 0600 hrs. and said that they had been followed. This is more than likely, as the Japs were busy around us, and I heard from Dick’s (Adjutant) report to me this morning that there were some perishes in the Battalion area last night.
December 24. Another enemy patrol in the Battalion area last night. We killed at least one of them. Nothing of importance here today. Sergt. Cozens’ and L./CpI. Dean’s patrols that went forward and to the flanks last night report very thick virgin jungle and almost impassable bamboo, but no enemy. Company fully dug in everywhere by tonight.
December 25. Orders from Battalion that “B” Company move forward again another 800 yards or so; the rest of the Battalion are moving up to our present position. Christmas Day is heralded with much small-arms fire from the Gurkhas’ front. The R.A.F. came over twice as usual, and delivered two dive-bombing attacks this morning. At 1000 hrs. we moved forward. This time the route took us through chaungs, narrow jungle defiles and up virgin slopes. We waded some 500 yards up this chaung with it swirling around our middle. I forgot my cigarettes in my battle-dress trouser pockets; others, more thoughtful, carried their “smokes” in their steel helmets. It took us about one hour of sweaty hacking to advance fifty yards in some parts. We finally got on to our positions at 1530 hrs. It being Christmas Day, the order was for a very limited number of small fires to cook some tea. So whilst the work of clearing the jungle on the inside of our perimeter and the digging progressed, others made the brew. This move today was rather unpopular, but once the men were here they were perfectly happy and dug in like Trojans. The C.O. sent for as many officers as possible to report to Battalion H.Q. for a Christmas toast. We toasted each other and the Battalion in port. How marvellous this port was, after not having seen a bottle for perhaps a year.
The Battalion were given no patrolling tasks tonight. Throughout the night there was spasmodic firing on our left. The inevitable Jap patrol started its rounds at about 2000 hrs., going up the west flank of the Gurkhas on our left and then round and down my east, trying to draw our fire. A grenade discharger “pooped” off at odd intervals and a light machine gun opened up. The grenades fell short of us, and the automatic fire went harmlessly over our heads. But there was no answering shot from us. The Jap did one of his broadcasts on gramophone records for our benefit during the evening (his positions are not 300 yards from us). One of the tunes we could recognize was “Home, Sweet Home.” This was much appreciated by our fellows, who do not get any music where we are.
December 26. Today we consider is our Christmas Day; although from about 0700 hrs. until 1000 hrs. there was a hell of a noise of battle some 400 to 500 yards to our left. A Jap patrol was trying to get out between the Gurkha companies. B.E.S.A. artists arrived to the tune of battle at about 0930 hrs. A first-class show was put up by the Army and these B.E.S.A. fellows. The latter put on two shows today in our Battalion H.Q. area. A stage was rigged up and organized by the Battalion R.S.M. (Noke), and a party this morning. One show was on at 1030 hrs. and the second at 1430 hrs., so that as near as possible half the Battalion saw it each time. It was all incongruous; our own shells from behind us were swishing over our heads, and there was quite an orchestra of small arms battling on our left. But the accordionist and comedians “drowned” all battle noises. One act was of an impersonation of a woman who “lives” in a “flat” in Bawli bazaar The Christmas grub supplied to us today was a magnificent effort; a bottle of beer per man, a generous rum issue and a bottle of whisky for officers; one duck for every four men, sausages (not Soyas), tins of peas and fruit, nuts and raisins, some toffees, plum-pudding and a Christmas cake. The latter two delicacies were indescribably sumptuous. The Second-in-Command came up to the position before lunch. Georgie G. saw that we had our food (it was still arriving), and then I took him to our O.P. and to 10 Platoon.
December 27. The usual noisy, nuisance-value Jap patrol activity during the night. Visited the platoons and saw them having their dinners; they all seemed very happy. I am afraid I am still only learning some of the names and faces of the recent chaps. In the afternoon Tom Garrett (our Padre) gave us a visit. We had a rather unique carol service. Owing to circumstances we could only “sing” them in whispers. But nevertheless it was a great success and was much appreciated. Sent out a patrol last night under Sergt. Cozens along the Letwedet chaung and over in front of the Gurkhas to report any enemy movements over a bridge—it is thought that their nightly patrols must cross here. The patrol is also to find out whether the enemy are holding any of the small hill features this side of the chaung. The patrol reported in this morning that no enemy crossed the chaung at this point during the night, but that two pimple features on this side of the chaung were occupied—talking and coughing were heard.
December 28. I have recorded very little of the Vengeance dive-bombers’ activities. But recently (since Christmas Day) about a dozen or two batches of six come over twice a day and bomb hill features and the village about one and a half miles south-east of us in the Sinobyin area. The Japs appear to put up no resistance to this, except a rather half-hearted small-arms barrage —a very intermittent effort. Every day artillery duels are taking place. But again the Jap is outclassed; to his one shell we put down at least twenty. The Japs have an O.P. (Pt. 1301) on the Mayu Range, from which they can see everything, especially our jeep road which comes up directly behind the Battalion H.Q. area.
The Brigadier came up to see the fellows this morning. We went up to the O.P. and had a good look at the task ahead and the Buthidaung road. The big task ahead for us looks like the enormous feature directly in front of my Company position the other side of the Letwedet chaung, and known as 162 because of its central spot height. On return from the 0.?. we had a pleasant brew of “char” produced by Kingshott in my H.Q. “Tiny” Taylor is to go out on patrol at 2030 hrs. to the Letwedet chaung and to the south-east of it, to see what defences, if any, the Japs have on the north-west slopes of the 162 feature.
December 29. ”Tiny’s” patrol reports : Much wire which comes down to the water’s edge from the slopes. The Japs would not reply to the patrol’s searching fire, although the patrol heard much coughing. A rather typical day was spent in the position, washing clothes, and resting after a night which is never very restful. I went over to Battalion H.Q. in the morning to draw some money to pay the Company out to-morrow morning.
December 30. Threaded my way around to 12 Platoon, which is barely a hundred yards from here, but takes almost a quarter of an hour of winding, stooping and climbing, and paid them out this morning. Returned and paid out Company H.Q. and 11 Platoon. Uttley paid out his own platoon.
December 31. Dick rang me up this morning to say that the Brigadier had sanctioned my leave and that I could go whenever I liked. It was too late to organize myself today, so I said I would go first thing tomorrow. I went over to Battalion H.Q. after lunch as I had three men for Orders for promotion to lance-corporal. I had another small lunch at the H.Q. Mess. After Regimental Orders I saw Colonel Duncombe and he agreed that it would be a good thing to take my batman with me, so that he could have leave at the same time. Went to the Mess for a drink and said good-bye to the H.Q. boys, who wished me a good leave.
The New Year, of course, was not celebrated with alcohol, but with the whole Divisional artillery. This opened up at midnight and continued for one minute on a target in the area of Sinobyin.
January 1 1944. After standing down — leave. Colonel Duncombe promised me some leave before Christmas, and said I should go as soon as we had finished this phase of operations. I have been having malarial twinges on and off and I have not actually had any leave for about two years. Kingshott packed our kit whilst I handed maps, codes, etc., over to “Tiny” Taylor, who will command in my absence. A mule arrived to collect our kit and we left at 0815 hrs. for Battalion H.Q. Here I handed over my rifle to C./Sgt. Fraser and left for Brigade H.Q., where we picked up a 15-cwt. truck. I had not been aware of the many signposts that had been set up in our rear: “Circular Road,” “Tattenham Corner,” To Buthidaung and Tokyo,” and many other amusing signs along the Ngakyedauk Pass warning people of the precipitous sides to the dry-mud road, such as “Garrett’s Cemetery,” Charabancs use this at their own risk,” and so on. No one who has not experienced the thrill of coming out of the line can imagine how the little simple things of life were so pleasing and acceptable. I had a glorious hot bath in a tub when we reached Bawli rest camp; I was able to stand up at night and smoke a cigarette; there were oil lamps and a gramophone going in the Officers’ Mess. I really got no end of a kick out of all these pleasant things. However, one thing I was certain of: by the end of today I knew malaria was fast overtaking me. (on January 3rd I reached Calcutta and went into hospital until January 20 with malaria).