Tag Archives: burma

The National Archives: Day Three

Last day at National Archives in Kew. I’ve managed to look at everything I wanted to, and more besides.

I started off with looking at the Operational Record Books for 10 and 35 Squadrons RAF while Sergeant Francis Compton was serving with them. The ORB’s for each Squadron list what missions the Squadron flew on each night, which crews went, and what happened to them – what aircraft they were flying, when they took off, what bombload they carried, what they saw on the target, when they dropped their bombs, if they were engaged by any enemy aircraft, flak or searchlights, and if any damage was experienced. I don’t want to pre-empt what I’m going to write, but Francis Compton had a short but eventful flying career.

I managed to copy some very interesting documents about V Force, a clandestine guerilla force fighting in Burma. Major Maurice Budd won a Military Cross. I found the minutes of a conference, chaired by Bill Slim, the commander of the 14th Army in Burma, about the organisation of V Force. I also have copies of documents that show the war establishment of V Force – how many men and officers, and in particular they show how V Force was a mixed British and Indian unit, with some Indian officers commanding white troops, and british soldiers serving alongside Burmese and Indian men. Theres also a very useful official history document about the activities of V Force, written shortly after the war, with a view to learning lessons – possibly fearing a war against communists in the jungles of the Far East.

Finally, I discovered that Captain Bernard Brown, the Medical Officer who won a Military Cross in North Africa with an armoured unit in 1942. I originally thought that he then went to serve at a Base Hospital in Egypt, and from there back to serve as a Medical Officer with the 1st Royal Welch Regiment, where he was killed in early 1945. Not only have I found out that he died in his sleep of natural causes, for some unknown reason he left the 1st Royal Welch in September 1944, went to serve with the 1/7th Battalion of the Queens Regiment for less than a week – why, their war diary does not say, and it doesn’t say where he went to. Very strange indeed.

So all in all, a very interesting and useful trip. I’ve got plenty of information now to write some sample chapters – I’m thinking about CPO Reg Ellingworth, Major Robert Easton and Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan. I’ve also got lots of useful stuff about Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey, Major Maurice Budd, and Sergeant Francis Compton. There will probably be a few more trips to Kew before I’ve finished writing the book, but I’ve got enough now to get started on a few sample chapters, and the basis for a few more.

I do fear about the future for the National Archives, however. Since I’ve been going there they have already closed on Mondays and cut their opening hours on other days. Their digitisation programme for putting documents online has also been drastrically curtailed, with only third parties like Ancestry and FindMyPast making records available on the web. And with the current Government’s philistine and ideological desire to slash public spending at any price, who knows what draconian measures might happen?

Despite its penchant for Political Correctness, I’ve got a real soft spot for Kew. Even though it tends to put on talks about things like ‘the history of reducing the Carbon footprint of bisexual ethnic minorities’, I think its such an amazing place and an amazing resource. I know a lot of  ‘serious researchers’ sniffed when they moved the Family Research Centre to Kew, but I think it works – theres something very refreshing about professors and historians rubbing shoulders with Mrs Jones studying her family tree – the two should go together.

Now, off to start transcribing some 300+ digital images of documents!

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Major Maurice Budd MC

Captain Maurice Budd, from Copnor and an officer of the Royal Sussex Regiment, was serving on attachment with V Force in Burma in 1945.

V Force was an intelligence-gathering unit established by the British Army in Burma. V Force was originally formed in 1942 to act as ‘stay-behind’ guerilla force. As the war drew on and the Allies had the Japanese on the run in Burma, V Force began to act more aggressively to gather intelligence and set up ambushes.

The citation for his Military Cross picks up the story:

During the period under review [16 February to 15 May 1945] Capt. M.A.J. Budd operating continuously with clandestine small patrols behind in the RAMREE & TAUNGUP – SANDOWAY areas has provided a constant flow of valuable information regarding enemy concentrations and movement. On one occasion knowing that the enemy were aware of his presence behind their lines and were hunting him, he remained and completed his task and then succeeded in withdrawing his patrol without loss. Throughout Capt. Budd has performed his duties with unfaltering steadfastness and without personal regard, displaying a standard of courage and devotion to duty of a high order. I strongly reccomend him for the award of the Military Cross.

The award was announced in the London Gazette on 17 January 1946. However Budd, who was later promoted to Major, did not live to receive his Military Cross. At the age of 28 Budd died on 23 November 1945, and is buried in Gauhati, India.

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Private George Abbott

The First World War came at a point when the British Empire was at its height. As a result, many of the older men who fought and died between 1914 and 1918 had also fought in various imperial wars around the globe.

Private George Abbott, 51 and from East Street, Southsea, died on 12 November 1916. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth.

Abbott was serving with the 6th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment at the time of his death, according to the CWGC. According to the Long Long Trail website there was not actually a 6th Bn of the Hants, athough there was a 2/6th Battalion. This was a Home Service unit that was based locally in the Hampshire area.

Abbott had a fine record of military service around the world, having also served in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, and the Boer War between 1899 and 1902.

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The Battle for Burma: Roy Conyers Nesbit

Burma

Perhaps the most well-known fact about the war in Burma is that the men who fought in Burma are often regarded as the ‘Forgotten Army’. What I’ve always found most curious about this epitaph – which is quite accurate – is that people are willing to agree with it, but not to actually remedy it. Here Roy Conyers Nesbit makes a strong contribution to giving the Burma campaign the profile that it deserves.

Not content to simply give us a narrative about Burma, Nesbit starts by introducing the issues that underpinned the decline in Ango-Japanese relations, and also the effect that the fall of Singapore had on the war against the Japanese – not only strategic, but also psychological. Burma was definitely a long hard slog – that impression is made lucidly. Along the way we read about Orde Wingate and the Chindits, the Burma Railway and characters such as William Slim, Harold Alexander and Lord Louis Mountbatten. After suffering serious reverses in 1942 and 1943, in 1944 the counter-offensive at Imphal and Kohima turned the tide leading to the liberation of Burma shortly before Victory over Japan.

A page from Battle for Burma

This book is most timely, as I have recently been researching the men from Portsmouth who fought and died in Burma – including a member of the Chindits, men who are buried at Imphal and Kohima, and men who died whilst working on the Burma Railway. Having read Battle or Burma, I can already visualise what those brave men must have been through.

Accompanied by over 200 original black and white photographs, and contemporary maps, this is a first class book indeed and a must-read for any military history enthusiast. This is already a contender for my ‘military history book of the year’. Not bad at all for a book released on 7 January!

The Battle for Burma is published by Pen and Sword

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Lance Corporal George Sullivan – the Portsmouth Chindit

A Chindit Mule Train moving through the Jungle

A Chindit Mule Train moving through the Jungle

Lance Corporal George Sullivan, 23 and from Cosham, died in Burma on 1 August 1943. He is buried in Rangoon War Cemetery in what is now known as Myanmar.

A member of the 13th Battalion of the Kings Regiment – a Regiment that normally recruited from the Liverpool area – he served on the first Chindit expedition, Operation Longcloth.

The Chindit Operations were the brainchild of Brigadier Orde Wingate, who had trialed forms of long range penetration warfare in East Africa. In Burma, he was given the 77th Indian Brigade to train as a force to fight behind Japanese lines. They were trained to be supplied by stores dropped by parachute, and to use a minimum of heavy equipment. The force was structured into a number of columns, instead of the usual Battalions.

Operation Longcloth was originally to have been part of a wider campaign in Burma. Despite the wider offensive being cancelled, Wingate was persuaded to take his men into the jungle anyway. Beginning their march into Burma on 8 February 1943, on 13 February they crossed the Chindwin River. They stayed in the Jungle until late March, when Wingate decided to withdraw. They had been fighting the Japanese continually, and had often had to leave their wounded behind. Much of their time was spent clearing paths through the dense jungle with kukris and machetes.

Of the 3,000 men who set off on the first Chindit expedition, 818 died. Those that returned had covered between 1,000 and 1,500 miles. Of those that returned only 600 were fit for further military service. It took many months for some of the survivors to return to British lines. Despite these huge losses, the principle of deep penetration warfare in the Jungle had been proven, and a much larger expedition was approved for 1944.

It is unclear how Lance Corporal Sullivan died. We know that he was a Prisoner of the Japanese, although POW records give no indication of when or where he was captured. However he met his fate, Lance Corporal Sullivan was part of one of the most legendary British units of the Second World War, and had taken part in a significant feat of arms.

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Portsmouth men building the Burma Railway

In 1942, after invading Burma through Thailand, Japananese forces needed to bring supplies to the front in Burma through the straits of Malacca, which was vulnerable to Allied submarines. The only feasible alternative was a railway.

Construction started in June 1942, at both ends. Part of the work included the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, made infamous by the film starring Alec Guinness. The work was completed by Allied Prisoners of War and local Slave Labourers. The Japanese Government had not signed up to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Prisoners, and Japanese military culture looked down on surrender as a shameful act. As a result Prisoners were treated brutally. It is estimated that 160,000 Prisoners and locals died building the railway, due to overwork, malnutrition, and diseases such as cholera, malaria and dysentery. An estimated 6,318 of these were British, and the total death rate was a staggering 25%. Many war crimes were perpetrated by the Japanese military against prisoners during the building of the Railway.

On 17 October 1943 both ends of the line met, and most the surviving prisoners were transferred elsewhere. Some, however, remained in the area in order to maintain the line. They continued to live in appalling conditions. Using Prisoners for work was not illegal – my own Grandfather worked in a sugar beet factory in captivity in Germany – but mistreating them to such an extent consituted a serious war crime.

Many men from Portsmouth died working on the Burma Railway. We can only guess at the horrors, ill-treatment, illness and brutality that they must have endured.

In Burma, Aramament Staff Sergeant Edward Rex, 25 and from Southsea, was serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers when he was captured in Singapore. He died on 5 September 1943. Private Sidney Rich, 31 and from Southsea, was also captured at Singapore with the 5th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. He died on 27 Octmber 1943. Both are buried in Thanbuyayzat War Cemetery, Burma.

Many more worked on the Thailand end of the line, all of them having been captured in the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Most of them are buried at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Gunner Arthur Denmead, 22 and from Fratton, serving with 135 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery, some time in June 1943. Sergeant Frank Hudson, 28 and from Landport, was captured while serving with 125 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 5 August 1943. Signalman John Morey, 36 and from Southsea, was a member of 9 Indian Division Royal Signals. He died on 17 September 1943. Gunner Walter Cottrell, from Southsea and at the young age of 19, was serving with 3 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 22 October 1943. Lance Corporal Derek Foster, from Southsea and serving with 18 Divisional Provost Company, was 29 when he died on 27 November 1943. Private John Moore was a qualified electrical engineer, who was evidently working in Malaya, and having joined the local volunteer defence force was captured in the fall of Singapore. He was 38 when he died on 19 December 1943. Gunner James Hammond, age 38 and from Fratton, had been captured with 11 Battery, 3 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 11 January 1944.

Several Portsmouth men are also buried at Chungkai War Cemetery in Thailand. Lance Sergeant Phillip Lansley, age 31 and from Paulsgrove, was serving with 1 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 9 January 1944. But perhaps the saddest story, amongst a tragic situation, is that of Captain Cecil Lambert. He was aged 60 and from Cosham, and was serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He died on 24 June 1943. Clearly even the old were not excused from the brutality.

That they died, in such a terrible manner and so far away from home, should never be forgotten.

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