An Infantry Company in Arakan and Kohima
May 15. C.O.’s conference for company commanders at 0930 hrs., to discuss Battalion reorganization. Companies had to be organized on a two-platoon basis; our strength all told was now 53; others were much the same, except “C” Company, 69. All companies were made equal to about 60. We learnt with much regret that Mervyn Mansel had died of his wounds —gangrene had set in, but it was always a dangerous wound. This set us all back a great deal; he was due for repatriation very shortly, as he had already done five years and four months out here. The news was an unbelievable shock to us. He was such a likeable person, a tremendous personality and meticulously efficient.
“Pat” Wylde, “Tony” Hobrow and Hamilton were to take over “A,” “D” and “C” Companies from today. (Godfrey Shaw had just been ordered sick by the C.O.; he had been bad with stomach trouble for some weeks, or even months.)
After the conference I was told that “B” Company, made up to strength with “C” Company under command, were to take over from a Gurkha company, who were much farther up our ridge, about 200 yards below the Assam Rifles. This was not too far from our present position, but it was to be a nasty climb of about thirty five minutes’ walk.
It took a bit of organization to move the Company and get all the kit up there. We had all the blankets and mosquito nets, the second-call kit, reserve ammunition (about six mule loads), cooking pots, rations and tomorrow’s rations, tools and water to get up. That is about twenty-six mules’ worth, and we only had twelve at our disposal. The Colour-Sergeant worked wonders and saw all the kit up from the bottom, the mules working on a shuttle service; the Colour-Sergeant also had to sort out the kit of casualties, so that that did not get sent up to us.
Left our old area at 1400 hrs. after having had dinner at 1200 hrs. The new area was well dug in, large logs and earth on top of dug-outs, and there was just room for all. The position was fairly well wired, but wanted strengthening in parts. Liaised with Assam’s about patrols. Starting from tomorrow, they would send down a patrol to us at first light and then we to them alternately.
Owing to our numbers and having two companies incorporated into one, the threefold position was organized as follows:—
Rest of Battalion about 500 feet lower and 600 yards away. This is not to scale, but it shows the narrowness of the saddles connecting the ring contours.
By stand-to (1900 hrs.) we were fully organized, including a telephone to Battalion H.Q. and an extension to 10 and 11 Platoons, who were combined to make one platoon of about forty-one strong and were commanded by Jim Cato. The “C” Company combined platoon was commanded by Brian Grainger.
In the evening I spoke to all the Company and congratulated them on the magnificent show they had put up over the last four days. It rained throughout the night.
May 17. No more wire had been available until today, so today we made a good “do” of it, and finished off the wiring in all positions and made new knife rests. These defended localities were now a very tough proposition to anyone trying to intrude.
Rained a little during the day.
May 18. The rain was becoming very troublesome. Some of the dug-outs leaked, and all our kits were more or less permanently wet. There was a perpetual slow drip up at the far end of my hole; an arrangement by Pte. Sear of sandbags, ground-sheet and a tin harnessed the water, and so I was all right for a wash in the morning.
Visited Jim Cato and the other half of the Company after breakfast and had midday tea with them. I heard that General Messervy was at Brigade H.Q. today. This is the first time that he has been up to Assam; we had heard that another brigade of the 7th Indian Division were on their way up here, so it was only natural he would be up here to have a look-see before we operated as a division.
At 2000 hrs. very heavy firing began in the Treasury Hill and “Jail Hill” area. After a time this battling seemed to become more intense and spread more over to the left, and it then appeared to be behind us. After three-quarters of an hour the battle moved from the left, as if the Japs were beaten off, and went round from Treasury and the “Jail” area to G.P.T. ridge and finally finished above us in the area of the Assam Rifles and Burma Regiment. There was absolute hell let loose at about 2100 hrs. just above us. I had just stood the Company to when Dick got on the phone and told us to do so. The general battle going on gave me an impression that it was a large-scale counter-attack by the Japs on the Division’s front.
The battle above us spread farther and appeared to be all around us. There were bullets, red tracer and Very lights whipping across our position, and I honestly thought we were being attacked, a burst of automatic hit the command post dug-out. It took me about half an hour to discover whether it was us being attacked. Only one of our own posts had opened up, and all they had contributed to the noise was six grenades and four rifle shots. I asked them if they had seen anything, but no, they had just seen some rather close rifle flashes and had fired at them. It was obvious that, officially, we were not included in this battle, and that we were merely getting the overs from above. Having talked to Cato on the phone his position was similar to ours.
May 19. But this immense battle on the whole front went on until midnight. It abated in ferocity in the early hours and seemed to subside back to the Treasury Hill area.
Whilst we were standing-to this morning the patrol from the Assam’s came down to us. The officer i/c the patrol came and saw me and said that as far as the battle concerned them there were in reality no enemy. The firing became infectious, and of course it went from post to post.
I learned later that there was a large-scale attack on Treasury Hill, and that there were other Jap patrols out, and the firing just spread from one unit to another, including Brigade H.Q. and the gunners. One officer (cipher) and one sergeant were killed in our Brigade and so keeping the actual fever down, but this in course of time was very weakening. This order did rather shake me and I argued a little, but it was all rather futile, as actually it was really the only sensible way to look at it, although I did not really fancy leaving the Company. After thinking it over, I very much appreciated the C.O.’s decision.
May 23. Companies left our present area at half an hour intervals, starting at 0600 hrs. “B” Company left at 0730 hrs., cooking pots, tools, water and rations travelling with us; and blankets and second-call kit were coming on after the Battalion left under Company guides and loading parties.
After walking for about ten minutes with the Company a message came to me from the C.O. requesting me to ride up with him in his jeep. So I returned to him. A little later the Brigade Major and an officer of the Dorset’s came up to us, and we learnt that the Dorset’s were now taking over from us, and not the Worcester’s. This was the first intimation the C.O. had had of the changeover. This was a typical example of messing about like this at the last minute that we had noticed since we had arrived in Assam. Naturally difficulties arose; the Worcester’s had reconnoitred our area and the Dorset’s had not; there was one officer who had come to find out our areas. All I can say is that it was lucky that the C.O. and I were still here, as all that remained in the position were the Quartermaster and Medical Officer, who, with all due respects would not have known the finer points of the position. I showed this officer around with the exception of my own Company area, which was too far away (the C.O. was leaving very shortly), so I gave him a detailed sketch map of it.
Arrived at the Naga village at about 1000 hrs., almost simultaneously as the Company arrived there on foot. The take-over was completed by 1100 hrs. I do not blame those from whom we had just taken over, as they had only been there about twenty-four hours themselves, but someone had been in occupation of these positions for the last ten days. The place smelt of decaying matter, was generally filthy, the wiring was inadequate and virtually non-existent, as so many people had walked over it; no slit trenches or light machine-gun posts had been connected up within the sections. The latter naturally resulted in people wandering around the top of the post when carrying food, messages, etc. The area itself was very exposed, except for about four trees, which included a beautiful pink and crimson blossom tree in my Company area, and was subject to shell fire and sniping which we discovered very soon after we arrived.
The afternoon, of course, was spent in getting the place organized; first digging, then wiring. We were shelled during most of the afternoon, one of which landed within five yards of my dug-out. There were some casualties in “A” and “C” Companies, and some among the Indian engineers, who were in position just behind us. There was sniping in the late afternoon. One thing of interest I managed to salvage was a book, all in pieces and very muddy, but complete, called “The Handbook of Physiology and Biochemistry.”*
(I had the book bound, cleaned and pressed whilst in Dehra Dun hospital, and it is now as new).
May 24. Rained a great deal during last night and early this morning. The Company continued with digging and wiring during the morning, except between 1000 hrs. and 1100 hrs. we had an organized grand- scale clean up. The hour’s hard work made a whale of a difference, less flies, not so much smell and no tins to trip over. Looking from this position across to the south, one could see what used to be the reverse side of Kohima central ridges. There was really only one portion of the town that had hardly been touched by the past battles, and that was the barrack area where the Assam Rifles used to live. These red-roofed barracks were almost intact.
Jack Sumner, the M.O., came over and saw me soon after breakfast, and said that he would make out my field medical card so that I could be evacuated soon after lunch.
During the morning I went round all the Company posts and saw all the men at work. They were doing marvellously, all positions had been enlarged, and many were now connected up. They are amazing workers, good, steady, plodding types, and even the most recently joined fully realized the value of some few hours’ hard work for the sake of more comfort and safety later on. I said good-bye to them, as I told them I was being evacuated.
There is something I ought to have mentioned on the 22nd May. That is that, on that day, all the 2-inch and 3-inch mortars of the whole Brigade were pooled and were in position in the Naga village. From 1800 hrs. that night they were to pour down a two-round concentration at ten minutes to every clock hour, and again at the hour. The idea behind the Brigadier’s plan was to school the Japs into taking cover at these times and then; instead of a concentration coming down at the clock hour, infantry would suddenly pour onto the positions. these concentrations were to go down for forty-eight hours at least—at any rate, they were still going down today, and I believe were to be continued tomorrows During the morning 25-pounder smoke was put down all around the Naga village; this was done to enable tanks to get up the track to the top of the hill. Three tanks came up preceded by a bulldozer that widened the track. All this activity on the hill, which was on “B” Company’s flank, produced some enemy harassing fire. One of the tanks on top of the hill suffered two direct hits, soon after the smoke cleared. Another shell landed in amongst the 6-pounder anti-tank gun ammunition, which caught fire and made the Battalion H.Q. area a little unhealthy. 11 Platoon suffered some ineffective sniping whilst they were wiring. Our chaps retaliated with the Bren, but I do not think it was at anything they could see.
Managed to drink plenty of odd brews of tea during the day here, but could not eat any food. I had been off it lately, much to the surprise of everybody who knew my normal capacity.
Well, the time eventually came when I had to leave; the jeep was ready at the Quartermaster’s area. So at about 1515 hrs. I bid my final adieux. Pts. Sear and Dunkley (Jim’s batman) staggered down to the jeep with my kit, and I carried my much treasured Jap rifle.
The jeep took me to Mile 36 (Zubza), where I picked up a Gurkha military policeman’s truck to the next hospital at Mile 28. From here I travelled in an ambulance convoy of the American Field Service. In my ambulance was another man of “B” Company (malarial case). During the latter stage of the journey I began to go quite ill and sick. We finally arrived at No. 66 C.C.S. in Dimapur at 2100 hrs.
I heard the news on the wireless the following day. The Battalion were heavily counter-attacked for most of the night between duck and dawn of the 24th/25th. All positions held.