An Infantry Company in Arakan and Kohima
We move out of the Frying Pan
April 3. Word came yesterday that we are moving out this evening.
Morning spent in intensive packing up. Company moved out of area to Battalion H.Q. at 1800 hrs. At 1830 hrs. the Divisional Commander (General Messervy) addressed the Battalion and thanked us very much for our hard work, etc., and wished us all the best wherever we might be required.
Marched out of the Adm. Box at 1900 hrs. on our way across the Ngakyedauk to Wabyn on the Bawli Maungdaw road.
Arrived Wabyn at 2240 hrs. Tea had been previously organized by the Colour-Sergeant and platoon representatives who had gone on in advance. I allowed smoking under cover. The area is quiet and compact. I personally thought the march through the pass, a mud road rather tortuous and trying to the feet after the “give” of jungle tracks.
April 4. Most of the men managed a flounder and bath in the chaungs (salt water).
Corps Commander (General Christison) visited Battalion at 1500 hrs., inspected us and said some words to several individuals of the Company on his way round. In his short talk to the Battalion afterwards, he was most praiseworthy of our work.
On return to the Company area I gave a talk on discipline and generally put the men in the picture.
Battalion left in M.T. at 1700 hrs. for Dohazari.
April 5. Arrived at Dohazari at 0625 hrs. having had no sleep during the M.T. journey.
On arrival at the camp I read out General Messervy’s special order, ( This order was dated March 31st, 1944, and was to be read out to all troops before emplanement). of the day to the men. We then proceeded to sort all the kits into plane loads.
A good camp this; things are fairly well laid on, “flicks” and baths.
Uttley rejoined us from sick leave this evening. I reposted him to 12 Platoon.
April 6. Battalion ferried from rest camp to air landing ground from 1400 hrs. Spent a very pleasant and restful afternoon after arrival in our corner of the plantation, just off the airfield.
Before leaving Dohazari, Kingshott went sick— malaria, I am afraid to say—and was admitted to hospital; he has done extraordinarily well with me; he was always there, and full of humour. I took on Pte. Sear from 11 Platoon as batman.
April 7. Reveille 0500 hrs., and had breakfast at the same time (this always makes chaps hurry up). The reason for the early rise was because we were to emplane this morning. Rained at 0615 hrs. As a result the trip is to be put off and we stand by at ten minutes’ notice to move. Rained heavily until 1000 hrs.
Weather too cloudy and heavy, ground too saturated for landing or taking off.
Water (drinking) arrangements shocking here—no organization. I pitched into “Q’ about this and spoke the minds of the other company commanders. Had a good bathe in the river at 1630 hrs.
An impromptu concert was given to us by the R.A.F. and the Yanks this evening. Bed, 2300 hrs.
April 8. Got up 0500 hrs. Ground still not fit, and it rained again during the morning. The conditions at Chittagong are easier (tarmac runway) and so the Battalion left by train for Chittagong at 2200 hrs.
April 9. Arrived Chittagong at about 0248 hrs. Went by M.T. to air landing ground and arrived there at 0415 hrs. All the chaps and myself are terribly tired (no sleep possible during night).
We all slept in our dispersal areas until 0600 hrs., when a mobile canteen with tea arrived and revived us. All Company washed and shaved and arms inspected by 0800 hrs. Vehicles were loaded up as the kit came from the station. Each vehicle was loaded according to a complete plane load, and those men on that particular plane travelled with that kit to the air landing ground. To save the time lag of waiting for a company to be ready, the aircraft took off as soon as a complete load arrived. In my plane we were all complete except for a jeep, but as this was busy carrying kit, about 3,000 loaves of bread were loaded on the plane instead. As well as the bread, we had cooking pots, tools, wireless set, one pakhal, stretcher and nine bodies and souls of Company H.Q.
Jim Cato had managed to collect his load together before I did and consequently took his men off first. Our D.C. 47 left the ground at 1120 hrs.
A fairly bumpy flight, which entailed going through some heavy clouds. Average height of the plane was between 8,000 and I2,000 feet. Most of the journey was over very thickly covered hills of 4,000 feet. The men were very tired and slept most of the way. I slept for the last hour, and was woken by the C.S.M. to find us circling over the aerodrome (we had no knowledge of where it was until we landed). The landing was excellent; in fact, we did not realize we were grounded until the plane slowed up.
Here we were at Dergaon, and there were “Tiny” and Godfrey (“Tiny” and Godfrey had gone over in the first plane to organize our reception). and a few American ground staff in control of the air landing ground, awaiting our arrival. The time of landing was 1345 hrs., the journey being some 420 miles.
Shortly after arrival here we left by M.T. and, after a forty-mile journey, came upon our new camp at Hautley Tea Gardens Estate. “B” Company were given a nice and compact area, but before we could set up any “bivvies” the virgin undergrowth had to be dealt a few sharp blows. Up until this evening only two officers and forty-six men of the Company arrived.
April 10. Began to organize the camp for comfort and for the arrival of the rest of the Company. The latter arrived at 1500 hrs.
In the morning the C.O. gave us our possible roles:
Protection of lines of communication, primarily the railway which runs a few hundred yards away north of us and protection of this main road and river crossing. I found out later on this evening that we are a few miles (six to seven) south of Golaghat and just off the main road that runs on to Dimapur farther south.
1600 hrs. All rumours “knocked on the head.” We move tomorrow to Dimapur, some forty miles nearer the battle zone. Jim Cato off tonight to reconnoitre the Company area.
April 11. Reveille 0530. Left Hautley at 0830. Very hot and dusty journey, although I must say the road was better than we had struck for months, tarmac most of the way. Convoy was very slow, many halts. Arrived at a camp which is “next door” to the Manipur Road railway station at 1500 hrs. Dimapur is the base area and supply base for all troops operating in Assam and North Burma, which includes all General Stillwell’s force.
The C.O. again gave us our future roles this evening. We were to become a mobile column for the protection of the railway between here and Golaghat to the north and Lumling to the south. For this role a special armoured train is to be got together for us. The whole Battalion is being put up in this rest camp, which is on the railway station.
April 12. On arrival yesterday one noticed colossal activity in this base area, preparing reception for the ,Japanese—barbed wire and panjis being erected everywhere. Our Battalion and a battery of 3.7’s are the only part of the Brigade here; the rest are remaining in the Hautley area.
One gathers from the CO., who has seen the lines- of-communication commander and area commander, that a Jap attack on the base area itself or an attempt at cutting the metre-gauge line is imminent. There are many rumours of Jap reconnaissance patrols visiting villages in the vicinity of Dimapur.
Company commanders, Intelligence Officer, sapper and artillery commanders have been warned for a reconnaissance of the railway line by train, leaving at 0600 hrs. tomorrow, going in the Lumling direction.
April 13. Special train left soon after 0600 hrs. with “Recce” and “Orders” group, one platoon (12 Platoon) of “B” Company under Uttley as escort. We stopped at all the little stations and any other spot that looked O.K. for detraining a battalion.
The reason for the reconnaissance was to try and forecast possible enemy localities for infiltrating and setting up a defensive block on the railway line, and as a corollary, the possible places where the Battalion could detrain and deploy. We had visions of the line worming its way through defiles and overhanging trees; but fortunately it was not as bad as all that for 8o per cent. of the journey. The jungle for the most part had been cut back for twenty or thirty yards, and sometimes more in several places. The route to Lumling lay over a thousand and one little culverts and iron bridges; nine out of ten of these were unprotected.
These culverts and bridges present a large problem. Obviously there is at the moment nothing to prevent half a dozen men of a fighting patrol blowing up one, or even several, or perhaps the enemy might hold a vital bridge area in strength, or may combine the two possibilities. Whichever happens, the commander of this line of communication is faced with the knotty problem of;
(1) To dissipate the strength of the troops at his disposal and piquet the more vulnerable bridges and culverts, of which there are many.
(2) To patrol from culvert to culvert.
(3) Hold in strength vital bridges and the larger railway stations.
(4) Rely on the very small and poorly armed railway engineer parties to give warning of breaks in the line between any two points and call out the mobile force in strength to knock the enemy from off their “block.”
(5) Or a combination of(2) and (3).
Arrived Lumling, the American controlled railway junction, at approximately 1100 hrs. Returned Manipur road station at 1615 hrs. .Journey uneventful.
April 26. The air-raid alarm sounded at 1020 hrs. this morning, the alert lasting for half an hour. We could hear the bombs explode some miles away.
My pencil has been idle for a number of days now. There has been nothing of import to recount. Each day has borne monotonous repetition, punctuated with unfounded rumours and unnecessary “flaps.” Some of the things done include plenty of football, basket-ball and tombolas for the men. Plenty of saluting and foot drill, training, including battle drills. Short-notice practice turnouts. Rehearsing counter-attacks in several of the defended boxes of the base area. Malarial parade and weapon inspection at 1830 hrs. every night.
April 27. Route march scheduled for this morning is off. Another “flap,” for which there is apparent foundation. The Battalion is on intensive wiring of all its defensive area and improvement of alarm posts (dug on first arrival). All platoon positions now linked up and a single apron fence (wire for this only came to us yesterday evening) to be erected by the end of today. Men worked like blacks in considerable heat. Held a Company drill parade first thing in the morning—10 Platoon basket-ball team beat A.T. 1 3—2 (Animal Transport Platoon, 1st team).and are now in finals.
May 2. ”D” Company called out at 2300 hrs. this evening, other companies standing by. A few tanks and a cavalry regiment also out. The Japs are apparently on or near the road at Mile 18—so villagers report, and the driver of an ambulance reports he was shot at.
May 3. ”D” Company returned at 0700 hrs. No Japs seen and road is clear. But information is firm and definite that the enemy had been in a village in the eighteen-mile area.
May 4. 10 Platoon won the final of the inter-platoon basket-ball competition against M.T. Platoon this afternoon. A very tough, exhausting game. I was almost all in at half-time, and by the end of the game, after five minutes’ extra time, I was really finished. A damn good prize presented by the C.O., consisting of a tin of fruit, milk, jam, cake of soap, bottle of squash and 200 cigarettes for each player.