Extracts From Accounts
Written By Major R A Strand 1946
The mule in action
In 1946, Captain Strand, the Adjutant of 1 Queen's, wrote up the Battalion's activities while events were still fresh in his mind. The following extract pays tribute to a humble and often overworked member of the Battalion - the pack mule.
'The Battalion was in the rest area near Shwedaung, cleaning up, reorganizing, training and resting. None needed the rest more than the mule leaders and their willing charges. Very little has been said so far of their work, without which, at times, operations could not have been carried on. There was an establishment of 52 mules in an infantry battalion in Burma, which could be augmented by animals attached from the RIASC.
The mules which the Queen's had had at Shillong had been left at Imphal on the way in to Burma, and a fresh number was taken over at Nyaung-u.
During the early stages of the campaign there was little work for them to do, since wheeled transport could run over all the roads. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the Animal Transport Platoon marched on foot nearly the entire distance from Nyaung to Prome behind the advancing Brigade, and, allowing for diversions, must have covered almost 300 miles.
During the Zalon bridgehead fighting, and again at Poywa, the Battalion had to rely for supplies (apart of course from those dropped by air) upon what few jeeps it had, and, more particularly, upon its mules. They were worked day after day, in all weathers, often under fire and with very little rest. It is a tribute to their excellent service that the Battalion never went short of vital supplies for any length of time.'
Duties in Bangkok
Captain Strand rejoined the 1st Queen's after a spell in hospital, and was promoted Major and given command of a company. The following are extracts from Major Strand's account of his experiences in Thailand.
'Thailand had been the main Japanese base area for their operations in Burma and Assam. Many thousands of troops had been stationed there or had passed through to and from the' battle areas. There were still very large numbers allover the country when hostilities came to an end. One division at least had only recently marched south from China and had never confronted the British and Indian forces. Proud and self-confident, they must have found it hard to come to terms with the fact of surrender. Other troops had been employed as engineers, notably for the infamous Burma-Siam railway, while yet others had been guards over Allied prisoners of war, either on the railway or in the numerous other POW camps scattered throughout the country. All now were to be sorted out, and the sheep, as it were, separated from the goats. For many would be required to stand trial on war crimes charges and would not be allowed to slip through the net.
For the Queen's and other units in the Bangkok area the first major event was a formal ceremony having great symbolic significance for both sides: a surrender parade at which senior Japanese officers were required to hand over their swords. For a Japanese officer thus to part with what in every sense was an emblem of his honour, both personal and national, was the ultimate act of capitulation. I found myself one of the group of officers responsible for escorting the Japanese generals at the surrender ceremony, which took place on a maidan in the city. My charge was no less a personage than Lieutenant General Sato, Major General Sato who had commanded the 31st Japanese Division at Kohima. He was unusually tall for a Japanese, aloof and taciturn. With British, Gurkha and Indian soldiers paraded around the perimeter of the maidan, and our General standing at a table in the middle, I followed a pace or two behind Sato as he walked stiffly the fifty yards to the table, bowed low, placed his sword and scabbard in our General's hands, bowed again and returned to his place. All this was done in complete silence. Not a word was exchanged. Sato's face remained impassive throughout. But as he turned, having regained his place, I saw tears trickling down his cheeks. It was weirdly incongruous, yet oddly moving. I realised the completeness of the Allied victory.
There now began in earnest the business of rounding up, identifying and arranging the disposal of thousands of Japanese surrendered personnel. The procedure we followed daily was as extraordinary as it was simple. The Japanese had to be identified, searched and sorted into three categories:
'white', which embraced those innocent of any war crimes 'grey', those under suspicion and not yet cleared, and, 'black', those against whom definite charges had been or were about to be laid.
The 'whites' were despatched to the railhead for repatriation, but the 'greys' and 'blacks' were taken under escort to Bangkwang Jail, near Bangkok, whence those 'greys' who were found to have been laundered 'white' by our Intelligence staff departed for their homeland, while the 'blacks' and the 'greys' who turned out after all to be 'black' ended up in Changi Prison, Singapore to stand trial.
The Queen's day began around six o'clock, and by seven I had gone out to one of the largest compounds, to find myself confronting a solid phalanx of Jap soldiery lined up in columns, each man carrying his full kit. At the front of this mass of submissive humanity, which numbered anything up to five or six thousand on a normal day, stood half a dozen generals and colonels, also with their kit. The senior of these would on my appearance utter a word of command, whereupon the whole assembly would bow in silent obeisance.
Behind me stretched a long row of little bamboo and palm covered gates. At each gate stood a group of NCOs and men of the Company, and with them at a side table a member of the Allies' War Crimes Investigation or Intelligence staff.
Through the gates, at the double, and led by their senior officers, carne the Japs. They declared their name, rank and unit, had their kitbags and packs emptied and searched for any items considered to be loot, and were briefly interrogated and checked against the investigators' lists. Then, hastily gathering up their possessions (less what had been confiscated) they were sent in whatever direction their designated 'colour' required. The whole operation was conducted with little ceremony and as much speed as possible, for by mid-morning the sun was hot and the searchers and scrutineers soaked in sweat.
The Japanese for their part were totally co-operative, and on the whole a fairly fit bunch of men. Most were docile, a few were sullen, all were submissive. It was a tribute to the power of the word of the Emperor of a once proud and now vanquished people.
The day's work was usually finished well before noon. Any delusions of grandeur that the salutation of so many surrendered soldiers and their generals might have engendered in the mind of a twenty-three year- old Company commander were quickly dissipated by the heat of the day, the scale and strenuous nature of the proceedings and admiration for the cheerfulness and competence of the men who had really done the job!
R A Strand OBE.