The Chindit Soldier On The March
Lieutenant C S Phillips, Intelligence Officer of No 22 Column, writes:
Dress and Equipment
The average Chindit struggled around looking something like a well decorated Christmas tree; equipment and other odd items were attached to him at every available point, and the more responsibility you had the more you had to carry!
We wore dark brown shirts, jungle green slacks and small gaiters. On our heads we had genuine Australian bush hats, fine headgear; it could be punched into almost any shape to suit the vanity of the wearer, was waterproof, made a fine pillow, there was room under it for such things as pipe, matches and tobacco when swimming naked across a river, and in the rain was useful as a collector of water.
Our equipment was basic infantry issue, but very much modified and added to. The side pack was sewn on the back of the big pack, to which were also added sizeable pockets on each side; in these we carried our pullover, towel, groundsheet, blanket, gym shoes, spare socks and underwear, knife fork and spoon, a length of cord, up to five days rations and mess tins. In addition, I had the official camera, tubes of morphia and a pocket edition of Pickwick Papers. Many of us evolved a system by which some of the weight was transferred from shoulders to waist with the aid of sticks or metal rods; we also eased the pain on the shoulders with foam rubber, acquired from I know not where.
We wore long pouches at the front which carried two 36 grenades, spare Sten gun magazines and spare ammunition for a .38 pistol. In my pocket I carried a field dressing, my pipe tobacco and matches, and a few silver rupees which were in tended for use in persuading locals to help us. My .38 Army pistol was in a holster attached to the belt and my water bottle attached to the bottom of the pack.
To this laden body we hung a large assortment of extras; a Sten gun over one shoulder and a chagul (a large canvas water-carrier) over the other shoulder. My dah if not in my hand was pushed in somewhere. In addition to all this, were hung round my neck a compass, binoculars, walkie-talkie and map case.
Our orange silk maps were about two feet square with remarkably clear and detailed maps of Northern Burma on the side and Central Burma on the other. Their main purpose was to ensure that every man in the Force had a map of the whole area, but being bright orange they were very useful, not only for marking out the landing strips, but also for signalling to aircraft, using a pre-arranged code. Some characters used them as sweat rags round their necks! Every man had also one button on his shirt which was magnetised and would provide a rough and ready compass when balanced on a pin or sharpened stick.
We reckoned that everything, when dry, and carrying five days rations, weighed about 751bs.
The sheer physical effort, especially in the early part of the march, had really to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Weighed down with all the equipment, rations, ammunition etc, towards the end of a hard day it needed a tremendous amount of determination to force one self even one step up a steep climb. You pushed one leg up on to the next ledge, clenched hold of anything convenient to grip and dragged your body and the other leg up. If there was nothing to grasp I used to press down hard with both hands on the bent knee of the upper leg and slowly lift the rest of me up. After each few steps like this it was necessary to pause for breath; meantime the sweat would be pouring down my face, and elsewhere, to trickle down my beard and drip off the end of it.
.... But there were compensations. There was a tremendous sense of fellowship; like most expeditions of this kind we all felt ourselves to be members of a rather exclusive club. In India there was a pride in wearing our Chindit sign, which was of a Chinthe with a pagoda in the background, but was described by the irreverent among us as a drunken dog contemplating a bottle! We were very proud of our Australian bush hats which also indicated membership of a special outfit.
Back in Burma we had many a long discussion, and argument, on almost every subject on earth and these took peace after our evening meal. For feeding purposes we were divided in to groups of six, who shared a small fire for heating the meal and water. Our group consisted of the CO, the Adjutant and me, plus our three batmen. After the meal we would usually relax by the fire for half an hour or so before turning in. It was easily the best part of the day, after all the hard work, to sit in the warm fireglow, one's feet in plimsolls, nice and warm wrapped in a blanket. It was tacitly accepted that in these discussions no one was to be inhibited by the fear of arguing with someone much senior in rank; my batman in particular was a keen debater, and he had many an argument with the CO.
This pride of the Force, however much one may have secretly felt it was unjustified, has continued ever since. I think that my final thoughts on the subject are properly summed up in the conclusion of the last message Wingate sent to us before he was killed: “In the years to come, the men of this Brigade will be proud to say, I was there.”
(Copyright reserved C S Phillips 1985)