VJ75 – Civillian Internees

By Dr Bernice Archer

Over 130,000 Allied civilians (an estimated 50,740 men, 41,895 women and 40,260 children), were interned in the Far East during World War 11, with the subsequent deaths of approximately 15,000.

The Japanese created hundreds of civilian internment camps in Japan, Korea, Manchuria, China, French Indo China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines, Burma, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, West Borneo, East Borneo, and the Celebes. The smallest, Pangkalpinang in Sumatra, held approximately four people. The largest, Tjihapit I in Java, held approximately 14,000. In Java and Sumatra, the men were separated from the women and children and, from approximately 1944 onwards, boys over ten years of age were transferred from the women’s camps to the men’s camps. In Java there were special camps for boys and the sick old men. In China, Hong Kong and the Philippines men, women and children shared the camp accommodation. Accommodation differed from area to area including schools, warehouses, university buildings, prisons, prison warders’ accommodation, houses or bamboo barracks.

Although the Japanese surrendered on 15th August 1945 liberation from the civilian internment camps differed widely. In February 1945 the American forces stormed the camp at Santo Tomas in Manila and liberated all the internees. (A vivid account of this from the perspective of an eight year old boy can be found in Rupert Wilkinson’s book, Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp –Life and Liberation at Santo Tomas, Manila in World War 11 (Macfarland & Company, Inc 2014).Others had to wait weeks or months after the Japanese surrender – it was November 1945 before the last group of women and children, in Aik Pamienke in Java, were liberated. Reaction to the Japanese surrender and liberation differed too.

Throughout the RFHG’s VJ75 webseries we will be posting many recollections of VJ Day and liberation from those that were civilian internees.

A personal reflection on Civilian Internment in the Far East during WWII and Covid-19 lock down in the UK in 2020

Written during early ‘lock down’ by Dr.  Bernice Archer, author of: The Internment of Western Civilians under the Japanese 1941-45: A Patchwork of Internment. (HKUP 2008)

As I write on this May 2020 morning in this unwelcome, uncertain and scary world of Covid-19 (C-19), I have been in ‘lock down’ for 8 weeks. I am isolated, my freedom seriously restricted, anxious about the virus, unable to travel and ‘banned’ from visiting loved ones, friends and colleagues and they me.

But as I take my lone daily walk I have had time to reflect that 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in the Far East during which approximately 130,000 Western civilian men, women and children were interned for at least three and half years by the Japanese.

In 1941/2 the interned civilians were traumatised by the battles. After the colonies surrendered, they immediately lost their freedom, were terrified of the enemy and fearful for their lives. Anxious about the future, they desperately missed loved ones, some of whom had been killed in the fighting. Their homes had been bombed and/or looted and they were now crammed into unfamiliar, unsuitable and unbearable overcrowded accommodation, surrounded by complete strangers from the outset of internment. 

In camp they were constantly aware of their enemy. They could see, hear and ‘feel’ their presence and often suffered physical violence. They must have felt powerless. But before long, many found ways to silently ‘mock’ their enemy, to circumvent their increasingly incomprehensible rules, avoiding contact whenever possible and in some cases perhaps found a way to accommodate their enemy.

Here and now, C-19 is our enemy. It is ‘out there somewhere’, maybe close, maybe not. We can’t see, hear, smell, feel or touch this ghostly, silent and invisible ‘presence’, until it strikes its unfortunate victims. It is hard to mock or to accommodate it. We too feel powerless. In order to survive, we must try to evade it, so mostly we abide by the rules imposed on us by our politicians and their scientific advisors, ‘social distancing’ friends, families and strangers. To quote the current political mantra, we are “staying home, protecting the NHS and saving lives.”

Historians have written much about how and why Far Eastern civilian internees found themselves in such a disastrous situation. Records show the disappointment, anger and frustration with politicians and senior military personnel who appeared complacent, under-estimating the capabilities of the enemy and the speed at which it would travel and overwhelm. It took just 100 days for the Japanese to conquer much of the Far East.

Evacuation plans were confused or non-existent. Western troops arrived late, and with local forces were under-trained, ill-prepared and equipped. As a result, approximately 130,000 civilians were interned with almost 15,000 dying, mostly from malnutrition and related diseases.

So, 75 years on, I think about how we are dealing with this C-19 enemy? Purportedly first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, it reportedly arrived in the U.K. in January 2020. Since then there have been over 40,000 deaths. Questions and criticism abound – about lack of preparedness, under-estimating the timing of onset, the severity and potential of infection, the delayed start of lock down, inadequate medical equipment and testing, the disappointment, anger and frustration of exhausted NHS and care staff about PPE – all endlessly raised, discussed and debated by politicians, the media and the public.

Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing. But it should not be dwelt on if one wants to remain sane!

Looking forward then, comparing a C-19 ‘lock down’ with the experiences of Far East civilian internee internment, is manifestly incomparable. The mainly Dutch men, women and children captured and interned in Java and Sumatra suffered unbearable and unforgivable abuse and brutality at the hands of the Japanese soldiers. And although the internment of civilians in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines was perhaps less brutal, they also suffered interminable years of deprivation in dreadful conditions.

But how, after the initial shock and seemingly insurmountable challenges, did internees survive physically and mentally for over three years?

Daily routine was not a choice or an option, it was imposed by the Japanese. They had to adhere to Tokyo time, the Japanese calendar, rules and regulations, as well as adjusting to a harsh and alien environment. Morning and evening roll calls (tenko) were compulsory and could take hours. Days were filled with queuing for inadequate rations, washing and insanitary toilet facilities.

Their captors provided only meagre amounts of rice, rotting vegetables and occasionally meat. Hunger, starvation and weight loss were the norm, as was ill health, compounded by limited medical equipment, drugs and medical care. The overcrowding was constant and appalling, made worse whenever more people arrived. In Stanley camp H.K. it was recorded that:

There was a desperate shortage of clothes, beds, blankets, shoes, soap, toilet paper, brushes, disinfectant, refuse bins and material for fly and mosquito control.1

All rooms were overcrowded and in many cases one room contained a collection of men, women and children whether related or not. All possible odd spaces, holes under staircases, corners in passages, kitchens and pantries came to be occupied with no thought given to hygiene or public health.2

Of course, internees did not live without some strife. The overcrowding, stress, fear and uncertainties, the health of their children and whereabouts and survival of loved ones, were constant. But when I asked how they managed, the common response from all the women I interviewed was “We just got on with it”. 

But how?

After the initial chaos of internment, life began to settle to what we now refer to as a ‘new norm’.  Many internees eventually made new and unexpected friendships, they became creative, adapted old skills and discovered new ones. Innovation, adaptation and stoicism were the keys to survival in internment.

If you were fortunate to be interned with professional men and women then medical teams ‘built’ hospitals, gave medical care and worked together experimenting with drugs and medical equipment. Engineers, chemists and biologists surveyed the camps and created essential utilities. Gardening, after a fashion, became invaluable and essential to augment the meagre rations. Even in single-sexed camps the women formed work committees and allocated teams for various jobs. The ‘Womens’ Group’ in Stanley Camp Hong Kong argued:

“Above all our object as a women’s group is to be ready to undertake any work which is within our scope.” 3

And the Work Organisation chart prepared by the women in Changi Gaol records that:

“Office staff, Medical and Health Department, Education, Recreation, Labour and departments dealing with food, Finance, Red Cross and Creche….. Every woman had to clean her own sleeping accommodation, wash her own clothes and fetch her own food”….“ There were 247 other daily camp chores to be done but of the 398 women in the camp only 140 were available for heavy duty work and 186 for light duty, consequently many women found themselves doing more than one job.” 4

The work was unpleasant and demeaning. But the women found innovating ways to use it to communicate with their male relatives in other camps. As the women cleaned the drains they would shout and send messages through to the men’s section of the camp. The Changi quilts, recording the embroidered names of women internees and sent to the men’s POW camp a few miles away, are a perfect example of their sewing and embroidery skills and ingenuity; the ‘dustbin parade’, where notes were dropped in the bins for husbands to read:

“By the simple expedient of putting a note into a scarlet toffee tin in a dustbin and getting someone to warn my husband to salvage the tin”. 5

was another example of brave and subversive contempt for the rules. Both men and women used ‘selective’ wording in their Red Cross postcards home. 

Meanwhile each camp found ways to come together in groups, creating entertainments and other social activities – plays and concerts took place in most camps, although these had a ‘darker’ side:

“We were like a herd of elephants the women said, but had the nerve to do things we would not do normally as we might have been machined gun down at any time”.6

And even though there were fewer entertainments in the camps in Java and Sumatra, the amazing women’s vocal orchestra was created in a Palembang camp in Sumatra in 1943.

Has any of the above been reflected in this present-day C-19 situation?

I think it has. Engineering companies have changed profit-making production to produce ventilators and other breathing apparatus; willing volunteers are producing PPE equipment; scientists across the world are working together to adapt drugs to help alleviate the symptoms of C-19 and to create a new vaccine. In the community, there is home schooling, home-made face masks, gardening is becoming a lifeline for many with more people learning how to grow vegetables. Entertainments of course flood the TV, and for calming the brain exercise, jigsaw puzzles and books are the focus of much online shopping.

On a personal level, I have discovered the unexpected but welcome care and friendship of previously little-known neighbours who help with shopping and check on me daily. I have discovered new ways to communicate via Skype (Zoom was unsuccessful) and I am using email and text more. But should the internet collapse, I have discovered the joy of sending and receiving hand-written letters and cards. There is a new community spirit, as each Thursday evening more and more neighbours emerge from isolation to clap the NHS and other essential workers, to wave and chat – at a distance.

There are many families not so lucky, crammed into small flats with no outside space and little income, who are finding it even more difficult to adjust, cope and survive. Domestic abuse is rising, the virus is still active with no vaccine yet found. Covid-19 still holds us captive and, currently, ‘lock down’ remains in place.

Post War/C-19:

In due course historians, sociologists, medical, scientific, political and public enquiries will draw conclusions as to how we handled the invisible and stealthy C-19 enemy, and what lessons must be learned to avoid such a catastrophic global situation in the future. But when our ‘enemy’ is defeated there will be more and different challenges: economic and social, mental and physical health issues. How many people will have lost their lives or lost loved ones, homes, jobs and businesses? These are the inevitable consequences of every war or conflict.

What will our post C-19 ‘new norm’ be? Who knows?

Meanwhile I wonder what would civilian internees make of our responses to C-19 and ‘lock down’ today? Sadly, all the adults I interviewed have passed away, but it seems to me that implicit in their responses to internment, was the message: remain active both physically and mentally, adapt your skills, re-evaluate your needs and wants, standards and values, cherish friends and family.

Re-visiting the Far East civilian internees’ camp experiences has given me a whole new perspective on my C-19 ‘lock down’. It has lifted me out of my isolation inertia and highlighted ways to cope and manage these uncertain times. We are fortunate here in the U.K. that at least most, though undoubtedly not all, have enough food, ample clean water, functioning utilities, a bed to sleep in and the means, if only by telephone and the internet, to communicate with friends and family members.

And while we wait anxiously for our ‘liberating forces’ – the scientists – to find a vaccine to defeat the virus, we still have access to doctors and the medical and caring professions, some of whom are also making the ultimate sacrifice while helping others to live.

So, if they were here today the civilian internees would quite rightly be telling me to “Stop the self-pity, stop the moaning and just get on with it”!

******But Note to self: Next time get hair cut immediately before lock down! 


Footnotes:

1. Dean. A. Smith and Michael F. A. Woodruff. ‘Deficiency Diseases in Japanese Prison Camps’ in Medical Research Council Special Report. Series No.274 HMSO, 1951.p.14

2. Report by C.C.Roberts, billeting officer in Stanley Camp. Thanks to Charlotte Havilland for a copy of this report.

3. Hong Kong Public Records Office (HKPRO). Phylis Ayrton private papers, H.K.M.S No.72.

4 IWM. Dr. M. E. Hopkins papers.

5. AWM PR89/59. Letter, 4 September 1945, from Helen Beck to Colonel Stahle, pp 4-5.

6. Correspondence with the author from ex-internee, February 1992.)

FEPOW Artwork

2 LOYALS’ COLLECTION: LANCASHIRE INFANTRY MUSEUM FULLWOOD BARRACKS, PRESTON

By Jane Davies, Curator of the Lancashire Infantry Museum

I have worked at the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston for 15 years.  The Museum houses a wonderful collection, full of interesting objects and archival material; from an account describing the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo to letters back home from the Front during WW1, we hold everything that you can think of.

My favourite collection, without a doubt, is that of the 2nd Battalion, The Loyal Regiment dating from WW2. The Battalion was present at Singapore on the 15th February 1942 when the island fell to the Japanese. Over three years of incarceration began, first of all at Changi prisoner of war camp and then later on (for the majority of the Battalion) in Keijo, Korea.

I first ‘discovered’ the collection when I came across a bound ‘book’ called “Nor Iron Bars”.  Looking inside, the ‘book’ was remarkable.  It was full of magazines compiled by the Battalion’s Officers whilst being held as POWs.  Written on any scrap of paper they could find, mainly old Naval message pads and paper from Red Cross parcels, a series of magazines were produced containing humorous drawings, poems, educational lectures and essays about the Officer’s situation.  Photographs were also attached including ones of the men erecting defenses on Singapore before the Japanese invaded and also photographs of activities within the camp in Keijo itself.  These included photographs of camp shows, the vegetable patch and the funeral of a POW attended by Japanese Officials.

I found these photographs quite extraordinary and at odds to what I knew about other Japanese POW camps. These photographs of men from the Battalion seeming to enjoy themselves were so different to what I had read about the men from 18th Recce (previously the 5th Battalion, The Loyal Regiment) and their experience as POWs on the Thai-Burma Railway.  Further digging about the camp at Keijo was required and, after seeing those photographs it was no surprise to find that the Japanese treated Keijo as a ‘show camp’.  A camp that would be held up as a beacon of good treatment.

The fact that Keijo was a ‘show camp’ should not distract from the harsh conditions that 2 Loyals lived under.  Second Lieutenant Pigott was caught exchanging an old shirt with a Korean for a small loaf of bread.  His punishment was to spend the remainder of his time as a POW in the civil prison, without heating and in winter, a nightly 40 degrees of frost. Near the end Lieutenant Piggot re-joined the camp, but only lasted a few days.  He died on the 29th August 1945.

The danger of being caught with the magazine was summed up by Brigadier Elrington ‘If they were caught with the magazine their punishment would have been terrible. Production of it was punishable by torture and death’ – ‘ these pages were surreptitiously produced, passed from hand to hand and eventually smuggled out of captivity, in spite of the grave risks involved; indeed this constant fear of secrecy added spice to our enjoyment and each successive edition of Nor Iron Bars gave a fresh fillip to our morale.’

For the duration of the war the copies of the magazines were kept in a safe place, hidden from the view of the camp guards.  In 1947 the magazines were bound together and presented as an album to the museum where it is on display now.

VJ Day Remembered

VJ Day Remembered by Sue Blackman, the daughter of Colonel Cecil Hunt. Sue shares what she remembers of her father’s homecoming in late 1945.

My father, Colonel Cecil Hunt, a staff officer in the Malaya Command, was taken prisoner by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942.  He had arrived on the island only eleven weeks earlier and had been promoted to full colonel on 3 January.

News of the Japanese surrender, and their consequent freedom, reached the prisoners on 17 August 1945.  It was an enormous task to bring all the prisoners home from the Far East. The sick were flown out, but for most of the others, it was the autumn of that year before they arrived on home ground.

At 11 am on the morning of 5 November 1945 the liner Queen Elizabeth drew into Southampton docks. Although our parents had each written diaries they had no need to record this day in writing, so I shall tell what I know about it.  I was nine years old, and my brother Tim was fourteen.

An enormous crowd had gathered at the dockside, and as Dad anxiously scanned the sea of excited faces, a colleague drew his attention to a small figure waving madly at him just below.  Our mother had been taken to meet the ship by our uncle, Stuart Bedells, a naval officer who had managed to gain entry for her in front of the official reception area.  And there she was, he told us, so young, just as he had remembered her.

Not all wives had remained faithful to their prisoner husbands.  A few had not, and the sadness of those homecomings can only be imagined. For our parents, the love story never faltered. Granny had thoughtfully booked a hotel room for them to spend some time together before the excitement of the family reunion. Tim remembers feeling surprised by this delay, as the journey to Granny’s house in Southsea was so short, and he had expected them to come straight home.  Understanding came later.

Tim and I had been taken out of school to join Granny and Auntie Nell at Granny’s house.  Here we all had our instructions: Tim was posted on the windowsill as a lookout, and as soon as we heard the doorbell Auntie Nell and I were to run in the opposite direction to the old wind-up gramophone in the breakfast room, to put on the George Formby song for the troops “Bless ‘em All”.  This inspired planning allowed Granny precedence and relieved Dad from facing an overwhelming crowd on the doorstep.

Dad had hoped that he would not be a stranger to his children.  He need not have worried.  His photograph had been on permanent view at our temporary home Mill Cottage in the Forest of Dean, with a sprig of lucky white heather in its frame.  We had written letters, and even though many did not reach him, he was much in our thoughts.  I would often say in all innocence to our mother, “Won’t it be nice when Daddy comes home!” And I wonder to this day how she managed to answer without a catch in her voice. We had waited for this day – I shall never forget the sound of that important doorbell.  If there was hugging and kissing I don’t remember it, but he seemed to say all the right things to us.  Admiring my cherished teddy bear was an instant winner with me.  All I remember of the rest of that day is my jaw aching from smiling so continuously from ear to ear.

I fancy he looked thin and a little yellow. Later in photographs, one could see the strain in his face, but it didn’t last. On the sea voyage, he had already gained some strength and the ability to take normal food.  In his diary, he had expressed the hope that he and Mum could take a holiday, just the two of them.  There would be time for this.  Meanwhile, they made the best possible decision which was to return to Mill Cottage for the seven weeks until Christmas.  Here they could share the peace and quiet, the beauty of the forest, and produce of farm and orchard, and the incomparable view down over the Severn’s horseshoe bend that had been such a solace to our mother.  As Tim and I came home for the Christmas holidays we all assembled once again at Granny’s house for the very memorable Christmas of 1945.

In my prayers for many years afterwards were the words “Thank you, God, for letting Daddy come home”.

Much later, in November 2010 and again in 2013 with his son Geoff, Tim flew out to Taiwan for memorial services organised by the Taiwan Prisoner of War Camps Memorial Society. Here they joined with other relatives in dedicating memorial plaques at the various prison campsites. At one of the camp services, Tim offered his own prayer “For those who were left behind”.

Also, in 2013 I attended the memorial service to those British prisoners who were brought home to Southampton in 1945.  Arranged by the group devoted to honouring the memory of the Far East Prisoners of War, the Repatriation Memorial in Town Quay Park is especially dedicated to those British prisoners who survived, and lists the 28 ships in which they were brought home.

Sue Blackwell 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Bill Frankland – Train Name Campaign

A campaign has been started to have ‘Dr Bill Frankland as a name for one of LNER’s ‘Azuma’ locomotives.

LNER are running the naming exercise through an online submission form which is open to anyone to make a submission through. Although not bound by the number of votes alone, it is hoped that the more forms submitted for a particular name, the more weight it will hold with the judging panel.

To lend your support to the campaign please nominate Dr Bill Frankland as a name through this web form: https://www.lner.co.uk/tickets-savings/savings-rewards/special-offers/current-competitions/azuma-birthday/ ) by the deadline which is Monday, 1st June.

“Echoes of Captivity”

by Louise Cordingly

When I was doing research into my father’s experiences as a POW in Changi and Thailand, I kept coming across other men and women who were also pursuing research into their own fathers’ stories in the same dedicated way.  So I began to wonder why we were all so driven, almost to the point of obsession and, I decided that it might be interesting to investigate further into my fellow researchers’ backgrounds and motivation.  Maybe there was a book in it?  It felt like a new angle on the FEPOW story: when the war ended and the men returned home, what  was that like for their families?*  How did the men adjust to the peacetime years following the brutality and deprivation of their years in captivity, and how had it had affected their children who were now in their 60s, 70s and 80s?

I put the word out on various FEPOW forums and to my surprise there was no shortage of people who volunteered to be interviewed and I also contacted various movers and shakers in the community.  Then, for about a year and a half, I travelled around the country or used Skype or Facetime to record their interviews.  I was amazed at the contributors’ willingness to be so honest in their accounts of their childhood and, for some, the effects of living with a damaged father.  I believe they trusted me to understand because they knew that I was also the daughter of a FEPOW.  I gathered thirty five interviews and then I decided that I also needed some professional observations on the mens’ trauma, so there is an appendix in the book with the thoughts of a GP who practised in the 50s, a therapist who specialises in working with trauma and torture survivors, and a professor who is running a MSc course called War and Psychiatry.

Thirty-five full length interviews amount to a lot of words – so I had to edit them all down into a manageable book length because I didn’t want to leave a single one of them out.  Then I sent each interviewee an edited transcript for them to check and approve.  This was an anxious time for me, but I needn’t have worried because the transcripts were returned with very few changes, mostly just points of fact.

There were various themes which ran through them all, such as the nightmares the men suffered, which terrified their children who were too young to understand.  The reluctance to talk about their experiences until they were much older, the heroism of the women who kept the households together and seemed to understand that many of the men suffered from undiagnosed PTSD. And the controversial theme of forgiveness: whether it was possible or necessary to forgive their captors.

The book covers quite a broad sweep of experiences, from the sad and the tragic to the amusing and the uplifting. I don’t think I recorded a single interview without a pause somewhere in the narration for tears.  I felt so privileged that these people were pouring their hearts out to me, maybe for the first time in such detail.  I was lucky to get to know so many members of the FEPOW ‘family’ who I can now count as friends.

My hope is that this vivid, eye-witness testimony, gathered together in one volume, will be a valuable addition to the archives of FEPOW research and knowledge.

 

*******************************************

 

*Julie Summers’ book ‘Stranger in the House’, published in 2008, also covers this subject but with men returning from all theatres of war not only the Far East.  As the granddaughter of Sir Philip Toosey, she is also one of the interviewees in the book.

 

If you would like to contact Louise please do so through RFHG (researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com)

Dr Alfred William “Bill” Frankland, MBE

We are saddened to learn of the death of Dr Alfred William “Bill” Frankland MBE who passed away last night, 1 April 2020, aged 108.
Bill served as a captain in the RAMC during the Second World War. Captured in Singapore he remained there throughout captivity, first at Changi POW camp and later on Sentosa Island where he worked tirelessly to save lives. It was while a prisoner of war that his interest in allergy began. It was to become his life’s work: it was Bill who brought us the daily pollen count.
In 2012 Bill was the oldest FEPOW to contribute to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s FEPOW oral history project.
His remarkable story is told in From Hell Island to Hay Fever The Life of Dr Bill Frankland, written by Paul Watkins.

The Chindit Operations

Piers Storie-Pugh has travelled to Burma since 1985 and the Chindit Operations is one of his specialities; he has both written and made films about them. He regularly presents his talk “The Chindit Operations of Burma 1943-44”, which is supported by over 150 PowerPoint photographs, many never seen before.

From 1941 disaster followed disaster for Great Britain and her Empire and indeed for the Far East. The fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, was followed by the fall of Malaya and the disastrous surrender of Singapore in February 1942. A failed expedition into the Arakan sealed the fate of the Allies at that time.

Field Marshall Wavell sent for Orde Wingate, who had made his name in Palestine and Eritrea and told him to look at the feasibility of long range penetration into Burma. Wingate therefore paid a visit to Mike Calvert, then commanding the Bush Warfare School in Maymyo, right up in the Shan Hills. Together they walked through the jungle discussing the tactics and this was to be the embryo of the Chindits. Wavell decided that all operations into Burma in 1943 should be stood down but Wingate persuaded him that his 3rd LRP Brigade was eager to go ahead. Thus, Operation Longcloth was launched! Commanded personally by Orde Wingate three thousand men and five hundred mules and horses, with air support left Imphal and marched eastwards in February 1943. Along the way they bumped into groups of Japanese, crossed the very fast flowing Chindwin, continued eastwards, cutting railway lines, blowing bridges and perfecting the art of air re-supply lines and met friendly local Burmese. The Japanese were perplexed by both the purpose and how the Chindits were sustained in the field.

Having crossed the Irrawaddy, one of the widest rivers in the world, they were at the extreme range of air supply and becoming boxed in by a swiftly reacting enemy. Imphal Army Headquarters ordered their return to India. Wingate broke up the groups and under their own arrangements headed westwards; some went north via China, others through NE Assam; but some never made it – they had run into the Japanese force, which had gone ahead expecting a follow up Chindit Operation.

Wingate had his enemies not least because Operation Longcloth was expensive in the loss of men and most of those who got back were in no fit state for another such long range expedition.

However, the exploits were given triumphant coverage by the press, eager for some good news and entranced PM Winston Churchill. Wingate was sent for and accompanied the PM to the Quebec Conference. There he shared his vision for future operations, thrilled the American Chiefs of Staff who in any case needed support for their own efforts in China and Wingate gained the promise of sufficient air power to raise five brigades for 1944.

Given this American support it was decided to fly in the Chindits by glider on Operation Thursday, but with Ferguson’s Brigade marching in alone; he did so to protect Stillwell’s right flank advancing from China, south towards Myitkyina.

The most successful Brigade Commander was undoubtedly Brigadier Mike Calvert DSO*. Flown into Broadway with his 3,000 men plus mules and horses, he advanced to Pagoda Hill which dominated the Japanese supply line from Mandalay northwards. He attacked the hill, established White City Fortress and caused havoc in the area. Ferguson, when he arrived after an extremely arduous advance, established Aberdeen; later Jack Masters established Blackpool.

Wingate visited Calvert, and had a wonderful few days meeting officers and soldiers from his old brigade, before flying on to Aberdeen to see Ferguson. Wingate was killed in a plane crash and so in many ways did his dream. However, Mountbatten said that by this time the 14th Army was ‘Chindit minded’.

The Chindits now came under command of the American General Vinegar Joe Stillwell. He hated the ‘Lazy Limies’ but had a huge respect for Wingate.

Without Wingate to protect them and with the gentlemanly Joe Lentaigne as Wingate’s successor, the Chindits were driven ruthlessly hard by Stillwell. He ordered Calvert to head north and capture Mogaung. Described as a mini Passchendaele this battle started on 6th June 1944 (!) and lasted nonstop for three weeks by which time Calvert had only 10% of his force fully fit. Nevertheless, the Chindits captured Mogaung with Chinese support. Suffering from wounds, sores, malaria and other afflictions, not least the demands from Stillwell, they were ordered by Mountbatten to be flown out to India.

The Chindits cut the essential Japanese supply lines to their troops facing Stillwell’s Army: blew up bridges, had fierce hand to hand medieval battles and slowed the Japanese advance towards Kohima and Imphal; causing them to be beleaguered the wrong side of the monsoon. The Chindits lit a flame of hope and did a huge amount to keep the American Chinese Army committed to the front.

Slim’s 14th Army drawn from Great Britain and many parts of the Empire, as well as local troops, may have been the Forgotten Army, but their exploits live on and have become the stuff of legend: The Chindits are right up there in this catalogue of astonishing achievements.

Even in the most atrocious conditions against a cruel enemy, thousands of miles from home, The Chindit Operations will live on in history as endeavours of extraordinary courage, cheek, panache and considerable sacrifice.

Those who were killed on that operation are buried or commemorated in the Htaukkyan War Cemetery or on the Rangoon Memorial. There are over five thousand graves and some twenty thousand names on the memorial – testament to the sacrifice in this Forgotten War.

Some of the Chindits captured were flung in Rangoon Goal and suffered similar dreadful ordeals of cruelty, hunger, beastings, disease and despair as their FEPOW comrades in The Far East.

The infamous Burma-Siam Railway pushed through Three Pagodas Pass, where it crossed the border, to reach Thanbyuziat where one will find the third  Commonwealth War Cemetery in Burma.

Mike Calvert returned to Burma just once and is seen here with Piers on top of Pagoda Hill which he stormed in March 1944.
2

For talk or tour enquiries please contact pierss-p@virginmedia.com

Remembering captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War