James Blair 4197349

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James Blair 4197349

Postby Blair » Wed Feb 12, 2014 3:11 pm

Hi new to this forum anyone have any information on James Blair served in Burma mentioned in the following
CQMS Frederick J. Weedman - 'C' Company, 7th Battalion

Frederick Weedman was called up on 15th July 1939 at Dudley and joined the 1st Militia Worcestershire Regiment at Norton Barracks, Worcester. In October 1939, only one month after war broke out, he was one of 120 men who were drafted to make the numbers up of a Territorial Army unit, the 7th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, who were stationed at Marlborough. Frederick Weedman was now promoted to the rank of Corporal in 'C' Company. The 7th Battalion were being equipped to be sent to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.)

In November 1939 Frederick was given a few days leave, during which he married Joan M. James on the 11th November 1939 at Christ Church, Wolverhampton. They then spent four days on honeymoon at Oxford.
On the 15th January 1940, Frederick Weedman with the rest of the 7th Battalion, embarked on the MV Amsterdam at Southampton and sailed for Le Havre, France. When the B.E.F. were evacuated from Dunkirk he had been separated from the 7th Battalion. Frederick eventually made contact with the French Resistance who arranged for passage on a French Destroyer heading to Weymouth.

The next 2 years were taken up by defense work in the U.K. In April 1942, the 7th Battalion embarked from Liverpool for Bombay, India. Finally in March 1944 the 7th Battalion moved to Assam and then into Burma.



By kind permission of CQMS Fred Weedman below is his story as told by him.

MALARIA IN A JUNGLE FIELD HOSPITAL (Dimapur, Assam)

The mosquitoes on the Manipur Road were fierce and full of various types of malaria. The incubation period was between one and three weeks. A few miles from milestone 105, a particularly virulent type of mosquito transmitted malignant cerebral malaria, which can kill without hardly a warning sign.

Malaria gave you a temperature of 104F or 105F every second day, and the fever lasted between five and seven hours. At first, you felt hot and flushed and your temperature went up. When the fever broke you sweated profusely.

Shortly after we arrived at the rest camp, I felt weak and sick. My surroundings began to recede and become more and more unreal. I passed out and was picked up off the floor. My next recollection was of waking up on a stretcher in an ambulance bumping along a track full of potholes. “What hit me?” I asked. “Nothing”, I was told. “You just keeled over. You’ve got a dose of malaria. - now just lie still”.

I was unloaded at a Jungle Field Hospital near Dimapur and lay on a camp bed feeling ‘lousy’ next to others in a bamboo ‘basha’ (hut) with a thatched roof and split cane walls which had been whitewashed on the interior. Much to my surprise, I was attended to by a Queen Alexandra nurse, who I learnt later was one of two who had courageously volunteered to help the overworked Indian staff to run the Field Hospital.

I remember, in my weak state, that there was a shortage of bedpans, and I was most upset that the rats had eaten my soap during the first night. I was in the hospital for three weeks, and was very thankful to be discharged as it was very ‘basic’ and understaffed.

I arrived back at 'C' company headquarters to hear that the Brigade was being entertained on the next day by an E.N.S.A. show before packing up to start once again pursuing the Japanese. So much for my ‘rest period’!



CQMS Fred Weedman
(Assam 1944)

It was after we had left the jungles of Assam, and advanced into the plains of Central Burma, that we were warned of the dangers of Scrub Typhus. This was another source of fever. This was transmitted by a small mite, that lived on the tips of the long grasses and leapt on anyone passing by! Scrub Typhus could result in a serious illness and perhaps death.

Such is the perils of fighting a war in conditions, which at the best, can be described as appalling!


VERA LYNN IN BURMA

Some adored the ‘Forces Sweetheart’- Vera Lynn. Others could not bear the sound of her voice.

‘C’ Company 7th Worcestershire Regiment and the rest of the men of the 4th Brigade were divided in their opinion of her voice. But not after that hot steamy evening in 1944 in the Burmese jungle, when we stood in our hundreds and watched a tall, fair haired girl walk on to a makeshift stage and stand beside an old piano.

It was Vera Lynn. She had travelled all that way with E.N.S.A. to entertain our troops in the Far East. She sang half a dozen songs in a strong clear voice. We could hear every word.

She tried to leave the stage but the men were clapping and cheering. She sang three more songs but still they went on cheering. She started to sing again but whenever she tried to stop, they yelled the name of another tune. She sang until her make-up was running in dark furrows down her cheeks, until her dress was soaked with sweat, until her voice had become a croak.

She was the only E.N.S.A. star we ever saw in the jungle. There were a lot of men, that hot and humid evening, who were grateful to Vera Lynn for having remembered them so far from home and the evening of entertainment she had provided.

As one of the lads said…“With a couple of weeks training, she would make a damn good soldier.”


Signed picture from Vera Lynn


THE ROAD FROM DIMAPUR TO KOHIMA

The 7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment arrived at Dimapur, Assam, by narrow gauge railway on the 1st April, 1944. We travelled in uncomfortable wooden carriages, pulled by an ancient steam engine from which we drew hot water whenever we stopped to ‘brew-up’.




'C' Company advancing through the jungle

As we disembarked at Dimapur village, we were ordered to immediately surround the area and dig in, to provide a protective screen. The locals were in near panic because of the news that the Japanese had reached Kohima, which was only a few miles away.

Although Kohima was being held by a contingent of the 4th Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment, they anticipated being attacked at any moment. After two days, we were ordered to advance along the Dimapur Road towards Kohima, to relieve the beleaguered Royal West Kent’s. There were only six hundred of them attempting to resist the advance of thirteen thousand of the Japanese 33rd Division.

They had already been fighting, and, with many wounded, with food and ammunition running short, they were in dire straits. We started to move from the small village of Dimapur on the 3rd April. We passed the railway sidings, and then moved along the Manipur Road, with damp, steaming jungle pressing in on either side. The road had originally been only a single track, but in 1942-43 hundreds of Hindus and Moslems made a new road from Dimapur to Kohima, Imphal and the Manipur State. But there were still parts that were unstable especially on the edge of precipices. Our pioneers repaired as we moved along. After leaving Dimapur, the road started to climb, twisting up and up, bend after bend, towards Kohima, perched five thousand feet high on a mountain top.

Shortly before Kohima, we reached Zubza. We stopped and formed a ‘box’, enclosing our lorries, ammunition and stores, an old fashioned method of defence from previous wars. Immediately the Jap’s started dropping mortar shells into the centre of this vulnerable enclosed area. It was here that we tragically lost our 7th Battalion Padre, Rev. J. O’Callaghan, who was every bodies friend. He was the first casualty experienced by our Battalion.

As we advanced the jungle on each side of the road was hot and humid, consisting of a mass of towering trunks, with water-vines as thick as a man’s arm, hanging down. Around the base, undergrowth struggled for light. Underneath, amongst the mud, there were slugs, snakes, leeches and maggots. The leeches penetrated our boots through the lace fields and when we stopped had to be removed by using a lighted cigarette.

The infantry soldier in Burma had not only to fight the Japanese, but also the environment in which he soldiered.


THE MULE -THAT GREAT LITTLE ANIMAL

If any creature deserves credit for their assistance to the British army in jungle warfare in the Far East, it is the mule. That obstinate pig-headed offspring of Satan without which, in the impossible country between Dimapur and Kohima, and again on the way to Imphal, many men would have died of hunger, ammunition would have run out, and fresh young lives would have been wasted.

Their antics have been the cause of much strong language but, in spite of their temperamental ways, I had a strong affection for my “chorus-girls”. No matter how hard the going was and how heavy the load they carried, they never let me down. Scrambling up steep rocky mountain paths during the worst monsoon rains, their sure- footed climbing was nothing less than miraculous. Along narrow ledges just wide enough for a man to walk, with a thousand foot drop if you missed your foothold, these wiry little animals would pick their way never faltering or stumbling. I’ve watched them stepping daintily over telephone cables stretched across the path and I’m convinced their intelligence is underrated.

Another reason why I have a soft spot for them is because they shared several ‘sticky’ incidents with me during operations against the Japanese. One of these was on the morning of the 14th April 1944 when I was taking food to ‘C’ Company, 7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment at an isolated position outside Zubza, near Kohima. Sgt. Bull was in charge of the escorting armed guard. I was leading the mules up a steep trail cut through the thick jungle undergrowth. The mules were Franklin with hay boxes full of boiling hot stew for the lads of ‘C’ Company’s meal. But I happened to look ahead on the path and saw a Japanese soldier with what looked like a sack on his back.

We saw each other at the same time for he disappeared as I lobbed the grenade I was carrying roughly at the spot where I had seen him. I then hugged the ground. There was a squeal - it was from a wounded Japanese soldier that the other man had been carrying on his back. We were by no means out of trouble for after gathering the mules back together, we moved on a few yards to be met by a burst of inaccurate Japanese machine gun fire.




CQMS Fred Weedman
(at Zubza near Kohima)


This was the moment when “Gladys” put on her heroic act! The lead mule Gladys after kicking up her heels, dashed straight towards where the enemy were situated with her “hay boxes” full of scorching hot stew bouncing about on her flanks. The insulated lids fell off and hot stew was sprayed far and wide. This spectacle must have un-nerved the Japanese for all went quiet and we were able to finish our journey. “Gladys” came back two days later minus her insulated boxes and looking very sorry for herself, but I had good cause to forgive her.

The muddy steep mountain tracks during the monsoon rains, involved taking two steps forward and slipping one step backwards. Without complaining “Lizzie” would let me hang on to her tail and pull me up the steepest of slopes. It is surprising how calm the mules remained during the noise of battle. I have seen mules standing only a few yards away from big 105cm guns firing a barrage, but they were nibbling the grass most unconcerned.

The mules were stubborn creatures, especially when we were trying to load them with insulated food containers and ammunition boxes. Gladys and Betty, Sally and Mary, Lizzie and the others. But they can be forgiven for their stubbornness when one considers the tremendous amount of assistance they gave to us all.


AN INITIAL ENGAGEMENT WITH THE JAPANESE

This experience stands out more clearly in my mind than any other, partly because it was the first occasion that my comrades and I of ‘C’ Company, 7th Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment, had come into contact with the Japanese Imperial Army.

For years we had been taught, hardened and trained for this day, and now we were to be tested. It was at Zubza, a remote Burmese village that we had our battle introduction. It was here the men who had only previously fired their rifles at targets, acted and proved themselves like veterans, but let me tell the story in full.




'C' Company HQ (March 1944)
L/Cpl Bolton, CSM Warr, Major Burrell,CQMS Weedman, Pte Walker
It was on the morning of 14th April 1944, that ‘C’ Company were ordered to occupy the position previously occupied by ‘D’ Company. This was situated on a small hill to the east of Zubza and commanded a view of the surrounding countryside. It consisted of a very steep-sided hill covered with dense undergrowth and trees. The summit was divided into two small clearings with a valley between them.

It was imperative that both these positions be held. 15 Platoon, under the leadership of A/Capt E.J. Brazier, was detached to take up a defensive position on the furthermost clearing. 13 and 14 Platoons, together with Company H.Q. took up an all-round defensive position on the first and slightly lower clearing.

With the utmost caution, and paying all due respect to the sniping abilities of the Japanese, barbed wire was run out around the two positions at a distance of six yards from the box perimeter. A telephone line was also run from the main position to 15 Platoon in their own small isolated position. All the preparations that could be done to make the position less vulnerable were quickly carried out. The clearing of fields of fire, making trip wires and fastening cans to the barbed wire, elbow rests in the trenches and making edges to line up grenades for immediate use, preparations that proved to be invaluable.

We were not disappointed, for that night a Japanese jitter party prodded our defences and 15 Platoon had a short skirmish, without any casualties. It was the night of the 14th April that the Japanese made a determined sortie to over-run the position, this time concentrating their main attack against the main body of the Company, namely 13 and 14 Platoons and Company H.Q.

It was Thursday, Johnny Walker, the Company Commander’s Batman’s birthday. At approximately eleven thirty at night, Cpl Stevens came crawling over to the command post to report that he had heard enemy movement outside the perimeter. Orders were issued quickly and quietly for everyone to stand-to, a procedure that was carried out in complete silence by the pulling of bedding ropes running from trench to trench around the perimeter.

There was no moon and visibility was nil. Eyes were strained to pierce the blanket of darkness and each sound was interpreted as hostile, but nobody moved. The most weird of all the noises in the surrounding jungle, was the tap, tapping of the woodpecker … or was it the Japanese signalling to each other ?

The climax was reached when the ‘twang’ of the wire being cut broke into the other sounds. A quiet order from the Section Commander and the men in the forward positions threw their grenades in the darkness towards the unseen enemy. The night was split asunder.

The deafening explosion was followed by the screams of wounded Japanese. Bren guns on the flanks opened up and swept the undergrowth with outbursts of 303.

A Japanese Tashiao machine gun with the peculiar stacco sound, joined in the confusion of noises. Bullets whined over the position with their singing whine, some hit the branches of the trees ricochet into the darkness like angry bees. The steady sound of small arms fire continued as those in the forward trenches probed suspicious shadows. The answering ‘ping’ of Japanese bullets proved that though they had withdrawn, it was only to lick their wounds before making another attack.

Silence eventually reigned and everyone remained tense, waiting for the next attack.

It came at two o’clock in the morning when a Japanese machine gun opened up on the left flank, intended as a diversion from the attack that materialised from the right. This time there was no attempt at silence and with loud shouts and blood-curling yells, they attempted to over-run the position. At that moment our lives were in the hands of that thin line of fellows who defended the right flank. For with ruthless determination they returned the fire and turned the attack into a rout.

I shall ever remember the Company Commander, Major F.C. Burrell. MC, passing a message to the cooks, clerks and batmen of Company H.Q. to fix their bayonets and charge if the Japanese broke through at any point. During the whole of this operation which lasted for over half-an-hour, grenades fell intermittently into the box. Pte Blair and his beloved 2” mortar, returned two shells for every one of theirs.

The night wore on and except for one half-hearted attempt to gain the position, it passed without further incident. It was only when the daylight came that the full extent of the attack could be appreciated; rifles, equipment, and dead bodies were strewn on the ground. At no place had the Japanese been allowed to penetrate the forward positions although the wire had been cut in several places. Seventeen rifles strewn in various places proved that the wounded had been carried away in the darkness.

A body that was lying about twenty yards down the slope was seen to move. It was identified as a Japanese officer. A puff of smoke came from his chest and curled up his body. He smouldered for the rest of the day and slowly burnt himself to death.

The first information about the Japanese Corps and Division fighting in the area was taken from another dead Japanese soldier that was dragged into the Perimeter.

His body was roughly buried and the following epitaph composed by Pte Sweeney, was placed on his grave.
“Little Jap upon the hill, Very cold, very still,
To the top he tried to get,
He doesn’t know what hit him yet“.

It illustrated the courageous, indomitable and yet humorous attitude of the British soldier, who without doubt, is the finest fighter in the world.



APRIL 1944 (Merema, overlooking Kohima, Assam)

The plan was a simple one. A company of the 7th Battalion, the Worcestershire Regiment, was to set out at night, guided by Naga tribesmen, to cut across the Merema Road and occupy a commanding hill on the other side. The road was important because it was the only supply route between Kohima, Merema and Bokejan, and the Japanese were making extensive use of it.

‘C’ Company, under the command of Major Burrell, M.C. (of Edinburgh) was chosen for this task, and at eight o’clock at night, we set out. The pace was necessarily slow because we had to move along goat tracks slippery with mud.

As the crow flies, I don’t suppose the journey was more than four or five miles, and we reckoned that it would take us till about midnight, but midnight came and went and we were still plodding along. The company commander began to grow anxious. Then at two o’clock, he came to the conclusion, that the Naga guides had lost the track, and could not go on.

I went back to tell the others and found that the column had broken and one platoon had disappeared. Dawn was rapidly approaching and suddenly a burst of machine gun fire came from the left. I heard a voice I knew, that of our CSM Jimmy (Chalkie) White. He was a link between the broken halves of the company.


Major F. C. Burrell, M.C.

Dawn was breaking and still we had not reached the road. The company commander decided to stay where we were on a round topped jungle covered hill, to lie low till dark and then push on. We could not be very far from the objective, but the risk of travelling in the day light was too great.

It was a pretty grim situation and the men were fully aware of its seriousness. Nevertheless, although tired, they were still quite cheerful. C.S.M. White had slipped down the cliff side, bruising his back and worse still, broken his false teeth. There we lay for what seemed like endless hours. Water bottles were emptied by midday, and throats were parched. Tentative crawling had revealed the road, only three hundred yards below us. One patrol spotted half-dozen Japanese not more than 10 yards away.

It was obvious that there was water in the deep nullah on the other side of the road, so I took a patrol loaded with as many water- bottles as we could carry. We reached the bottom of the hill and then had to dive for cover. A company of Japanese were marching past, three or four deep, with mules and full kit. That ended all attempts to get water.

We knew that if we were discovered the Brigade would be imperilled. The guides went back. The company commander and Captain I. S. Spalding went forward to investigate. The Japanese were quite oblivious to the fact that we were there too; they were cooking breakfast in a large aluminium Dixie and talking and laughing.


CSM Jimmy White

Major Burrell was armed with pistol and grenades and accompanied by Sgt. Ralph Walker crawled round to the left, and Captain Spalding accompanied by Cpl. Cooksey went round to the right. A full view revealed half-a-dozen Japanese and as many mules and loads of kit. It was obviously a supply point on the route. They wriggled their way to within a few yards. The Major lobbed his grenades towards the breakfast and the others let go with all they had got. It was all over in a twinkling. The mules, loaded with kit, were brought back alive and everyone in the company had souvenirs varying from Japanese riding boots to Japanese flags .

‘C’ Company had achieved their objective.


KOHIMA - THE BATTLE of NAGA VILLAGE and CHURCH KNOLL

The Battle of Kohima was a bloody one. General Slim’s plan was for 4th Brigade on the right to capture G.P.T. Ridge, advance to Jail Hill, and link up with 6th Brigade in the centre. 5th Brigade, with ’C’ Company 7th Battalion, the Worcestershire Regiment on the left would occupy Naga Village and dominate the Treasury area. The attack was to be supported by tanks and all available guns, supporting each Brigade in turn.

The attack began on the early morning of the 4th May 1944. Major Burrell briefed ‘C’ Company platoons 13, 14 and 15 about the impending action. 4th Brigade delayed by Japanese bunkers, reached G.P.T. ridge, but was unable to secure the whole of it, or to approach Jail Hill. By nightfall in this part of the territory, the enemy positions and ours were inexplicably mixed. 6th Brigade failed to take “Kiki Piquet” and although our tanks reached F.S.D. ridge, the infantry were subjected to devastating fire from other enemy positions, and could not dig in or remain. A portion of the ridge was captured by nightfall and here again out forces and the Japanese were mixed up together.




Major Burrell briefs 'C' Company
(at Naga Village, May 1944)

‘C’ Company entered Naga Village during the night of 4th/5th May. A counter attack by the Japanese pushed them back to the western edge of the village, which they managed to hold. ‘C’ Company dug in on Church Knoll which consisted of a ridge which overlooked ‘Treasury’ where the Japanese had constructed bunkers. Each one provided cover for another and so made it very difficult for such a position to be assaulted.

During four days of bitter fighting, the gallant Lieut. J. Woodward lost his life as he led an unsuccessful assault with a flame thrower.

The enemy were fanatically stubborn defenders. Artillery attacks and ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Vengeance’ bombers had little positive effect.

The British and Japanese were hopelessly intermingled. One side would attack, the other counter-attack - neither would give way. During daylight they fought ferociously ten or fifteen yards apart, and at night they crept even closer attacking with grenades and bayonets. The Battle of Naga Village and Church Knoll continued remorselessly during the 8th, 9th and 10th May. It was on the 11th May that under the cover of dense smoke bombs, an attack was launched, but was only partially successful, as next day, the enemy still held several bunkers.

A War Correspondent from the Daily Telegraph was in the same trench as myself, overlooking the Japanese. He helped me to act as Observation Point for the Battalion mortars. We were very apprehensive as we were opposite ‘Arandura Spur’, from were a Japanese 75mm gun was shelling our position. ‘A’ Company, on our left received several hits, one of which was directly on their cooks preparing a meal.

On the 23rd May the rains came. We were drenched to the skin, slipping and slithering, as we floundered in water-logged trenches, like the army of a generation before. On the steep hillsides, the tracks were turned into treacherous mudslides. There were four Brigadiers in the Second Division, one commanding each infantry brigade and another in charge of the artillery. The fact that in this battle two Brigadiers were killed and two seriously wounded is an indication that everyone was involved in the close fighting.

The only effective weapon was after the ‘Sappers’ had winched a tank through liquid mud, up to the high ground and dug it in so that it was able to bombard each Japanese bunker below it, with ‘solid shot’ at point-blank range by the tank’s 75mm gun. The few remaining bunkers were demolished by thrusting pole charges through the loopholes.

And so ended the Battle of Naga Village. The casualties in this type of fighting were heavy. Infantry as usual, suffered most and endured most for this was an infantry battle. Hand-to-hand, man against man, and no quarter given. On the 2nd June the Japanese abandoned Naga Village, and large numbers of dead were taken from the bunkers and foxholes.

The northern part of Kohima was at last ours.


MONSOON RAIN

It was mid-May 1944 when the monsoon rain started and the whole of 2nd Division which had been reinforced with Lee-Grant tanks, moved from our rest-camps into Burma. It started as a thin continuous quiet pouring rain. We unpacked and put on our only protection against it …. our voluminous monsoon capes.




Advancing in the monsoon through mud
But even these did not prevent this rain from into inside our clothes, and with the sweat from our bodies, it ran into our boots!

It soaked our webbing so that it was as heavy as lead, and we felt that we had been condemned never to be dry.

I have vivid recollections of ‘C’ Company 7th Worcestershire Regiment splashing and slipping in the deep mud, our weapons on our shoulders, our mud fouled haversacks and groundsheets flapping behind us, marching, marching, bent with fatigue. Most of us by now had substituted the heavy steel helmets for the more comfortable but by now soaking and drooping, felt Burma Hats that drooped over our eyes.

Every few yards, someone sprawled on his face in the mud, arose and after shovelling the mud off himself, toiled onwards. Our main concern was to keep the mud off our weapons. They were our passport to survival. Each time our legs took the weight of our bodies, the packs on our backs, and our weapons, our knees would complain from the pain it gave them. And the into rain made us shiver and wonder if we had malaria. There seemed no end to it. All we could do was to keep staggering upwards.

It was in these conditions that, after a time in action, a fatalistic attitude takes possession of the mind, an indifference possessed us to the dangers of attack. And so we trudged on, wearily climbing the steep mountains and the winding tracks that were like great rivers of mud.


THE KOHIMA TO IMPHAL ROAD (MARAM)

It was the beginning of June,1944. The capture of Jail Hill, Naga Village, Arandura Spur and finally Kohima, was exhilarating to us all. The advance of the Japanese had at last been checked and they were now retreating.

It was eighty miles between Kohima and Imphal, and we knew that the Japanese would try their best to prevent us from reaching our objective. We still had three ‘Sherman’ tanks. We knew that the Japanese would do all they could to prevent our advance. And so, protected by an armed escort, the ‘Pioneers’ cleared the road of mines.




75mm Japanese Gun captured at Maram
It was General Slim’s plan for us to proceed lead by the tanks. The 7th Division (Indian) provided protection to the left of us, the 23rd Long Range Penetration Regiment to the right and it was hoped that we, the 2nd Division, would force the Japanese off the road to be ambushed by these two units.

We now had superiority in numbers, artillery and armaments and absolute superiority in the air. But the jungle, the single track treacherous mountain road, and the monsoon, made the advance slow and difficult. Victory was sweet and we were confident having beaten the Japanese once, that we could do it again and get through to Imphal.

With the tanks in front of us, and wary for surprise by the enemy, we had not moved more than several miles along the narrow winding Imphal road, when several fanatical Japanese jumped out of the bushes in front of us. They had mines held to their chests, and eluding the firing from our lads, threw themselves against the sides and front of the first tank. Their mines exploded and they killed themselves in a suicidal attempt to disable the tank.

The second tank opened fire with its machine gun, but the mines had blown a track off the first tank and it was out of action. The crew tumbled out, thankfully all alive. To clear the road we pushed the tank over the edge into the valley thousands of feet below, and we proceeded even more cautiously.

A few miles on, we again came up against Japanese opposition, in much greater strength, and in a defensive position. It took the whole of the 4th Brigade consisting of ourselves, the 7th Worcestershire Regiment, the Dorsetshire Regiment and the Cameron Highlanders, with the support of the artillery, to clear the way ahead. That night we dug in by the road and used the large leaves from a wild banana tree to protect us from the pouring monsoon rain.

Our next encounter with the Japanese was at Maram, where rounding a sharp bend in the road, a shell from a 25mm Japanese gun on a hill to our right, demolished one of our 30cwt trucks. We learnt later this pocket of Japanese with a mobile gun had been ordered to delay our advance for ten days. ‘C’ Company, 7th Worcestershire Regiment, under the command of Major F.G. Burrell was ordered to clear this obstruction.

Finding a clearing off the road, we ‘dug-in’ and made tea, while the Platoon Officers and Sergeants were briefed by Major Burrell. It was early afternoon when ‘C’ Company set out climbing slowly up the slippery mud-covered side of the hill, urged on by the loud voice of C.S.M. ‘Chalky’ White. It was the unusual situation of an encounter taking place while the rest of the Regiment watched from the road below.

Shots from both sides could be heard while the men from ‘C’ Company closed in on the enemy. Eventually a runner came back and reported to the Regimental Commanding Officer that the position had been overcome, with only one killed and several wounded. The wounded included the Company Sergeant Major, ‘Chalky’ White who had a bullet through his thigh. Stretcher bearers were sent up to fetch the wounded down. As they appeared there was a cheer for C.S.M. White, who had hobbled down because he said that his 18 stone was too heavy for the stretcher bearers to carry!

The Japanese gun was dismantled and brought down as well and now resides in the Worcester Museum. For this encounter, Major F.G. Burrell was decorated with the Military Cross for “inspired leadership, coolness and determination” while C.S.M. J. White received a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his gallantry.

As a result of this encounter the road was now clear to proceed to relieve Imphal, which had been surrounded and under siege for several weeks. On arrival at Imphal we celebrated in the R.A.F. mess where I made friends with a ‘Spitfire’ pilot, Homar Sinclair. (I still have the photo of him that he gave me) The only alcohol left to drink was 100% rum… we all got drunk! ‘Chalky’ White shot glasses lined up on the rafters with his pet revolver, and we hauled a drunk R.S.M. into the rafters on a ‘charpoy’ (an Indian bed).

Quite a night and I have never fancied rum since!


CROSSING THE RIVER CHINDWIN

It was on the night of the 3rd and 4th December, 1944, that General Slim ordered the 11th Division to establish a bridgehead across the River Chindwin. This was ‘softened-up’ by artillery and R.A.F. bombers. It was not until the 8th December that the enemy began to give way and abandon their positions, and to withdraw to Shwegyin.



Bailey Bridge on the River Chindwin

On the 10th December our engineers completed a floating ‘Bailey Bridge’ over the Chindwin river. It was 1,154 feet long and at that time was the longest Bailey Bridge in the world. The engineers assembled the spans in the Myitta River, protected from air attack by barrage balloons brought from Calcutta where they were no longer needed.

The parts of the bridge had been made in Great Britain, America and India, put together in Calcutta, ferried across the Brahmaputra and transported by train to the railhead at Dimapur. Here they were loaded on lorries and borne more than 300 miles further over mountain roads to Kalewa. It was here that the floating bays were built and towed by motor boats to where they were positioned across the Chindwin River.

The bridge was then floated into the Chindwin River where in twenty eight hours of continuous assembly it was put in place. During the building attacks by Japanese ‘Zero’ fighters were made. Our anti-aircraft fire brought down two of their aircraft.

7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment cautiously crossed the bridge with infantry and vehicles. The numerous pontoons made the crossing hazardous and unsteady.

It was on the 21st December,1944, that 2nd Division, having crossed the Chindwin and celebrated their early Christmas Day, moved eastwards towards Pyingaing and Swebo, pressing on towards Mandalay. We now had the assistance of 254 Tank Brigade of Lee-Grant and Stuart tanks. We begged lifts on the tanks to save our legs, whenever we had the chance.

The building of the Bailey Bridge enabled us to overcome a formidable obstacle. This was a stupendous feat of


‘C’ COMPANY OFFICE (Kalemyo, near Imphal, Burma)

The responsibilities of a Company Quarter Master Sergeant in Burma in the 1940s were many and varied. The “office” was a metal box holding a typewriter, the records and my “unofficial” camera. The office would then be set up where ever we stopped. Much of the work was helping the Company Commander and the Company Sergeant Major to maintain moral and discipline. But it was also to keep a check on all the weapons, clothing and ammunition, whilst being constantly on the move. The weather was hot and steamy and equipment deteriorated rapidly.

An important part of my duties was to ensure that the food prepared for the men was appetizing, clean and well-cooked. Supplies were dropped to us by parachute by the RAF. On special occasions, such as Christmas, appropriate menus had to be got ready. The following is an example of the menu prepared for Christmas Day 1944.




CQMS Fred Weedman in the jungle "company office"
Christmas for the 7th Worcs. Battalion was held at Kalemyo on the 18th December that year. General Slim had planned for the Battalion to attack Shebo in the Kabow valley on Christmas Day, before pushing them back to Mandelay. The Japanese would think we were celebrating Christmas and we hoped to take them by surprise.

It was thanks to the R.A.F. supply dropping teams that we were able to enjoy excellent traditional Christmas fare on this early occasion. We were fortunate that nearly all the canisters of food that were parachuted down to us from the Dakotas, landed safely in the target area. Only one or two were blown by the wind and landed in enemy territory, much to our annoyance.


'C' Company
7th Worcestershire Regiment
CHRISTMAS MENU
1944

REVEILLE - 'Gunfire tea' - distributed by Sergeants and Officers.

BREAKFAST - Porridge (English and Scottish seasoning)
Bacon and scrambled eggs - Beans
Fried bread - Jam - Tea

DINNER - Roast Meat and Chicken
Roast Potatoes - Mashed Potatoes - Cabbage and Cauliflower - Sausage stuffing
Christmas Pudding - Rum Sauce
Rum Punch - Gin Cordial
Plain Cordial - Coffee
Cigars - Cigarettes - Sweets

TEA - Ham and Meat sandwich - Pickles
Fruit and custard - Tea

SUPPER - Sandwich - Coffee
“A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL”


My work also involved overcoming the many problems that arose, devising means of keeping the men entertained, and even composing and writing letters for those few who were illiterate.

Records, records, records….. The fighting went on but so did the records of the promotions, transfers, pay entitlements, wounded and saddest of all, the names and brief details of the circumstances involving those who had been killed.

I recollect recording details of a man who had inadvertently pulled out the firing pin of his grenade as he was cleaning it, and then held it to him as it exploded so as not to endanger his companions. Also of a Sergeant who crawled towards one of his patrol, to help a man who had been wounded by a sniper. The Sergeant was then shot and killed by the same sniper.

And so the tragedies of war went on for me to record, and pass to Major Burrell for him to send a short letter of condolence to the families and friends back home.
Another loved one who had become just a ‘company office record’….. such is life!


MANDALAY

In March 1945 ‘C’ Company 7th Worcestershires had advanced to the outskirts on Mandalay. Part of Mandalay city is built on a great rock rising abruptly from the plain to about eight hundred feet high and dominating the whole north-eastern quarter of the city. It’s steep sides are covered with temples and pagodas.

In 1945 these were now heavily garrisoned with Japanese troops with machine-guns.




'C' Company HQ
from the left Major 'Jock' Burrell, 'Cheddar' Cheese (Cook), Pte Lee, Pte Mason (Storeman), Pte Johnny Walker(Batman), CSM Warr.
Throughout the day and night of the 9th March 1945, the fiercest hand-to-hand fighting went on, as a Gurka Battalion stormed up the slopes, bombing and Tommy-gunning their way into the concrete buildings.

The Japanese holding out in cellars until the last defenders, were destroyed. It was not until the 11th March that the hill was completely taken. The other Japanese stronghold, Fort Dufferin, in Mandalay city, was a great rectangular walled enclosure, consisting of one and a quarter miles of parkland. This was dotted with official residences, barracks and the fantastic, teak-built Royal Palace of Theebaw, the last Burmese king. All round lay the moat, over two hundred feet wide, studded with lotus plants.

For the next few days, the 19th Brigade, fought their way street by street through the city, suffering heavily from snipers. It was on the 15th March that the desperate Japs made their last full-scale attack against the British. The last time they came charging with all their savage fury, yelling and screaming with the banner of the Rising Sun. It was the last time we saw bayonets like a waving wall of steel. It was a time that we felt great fear and exhilaration as our bren-gunners, strategically placed, mowed them down as they attempted to over-run us.

The Japs lost three hundred and seventy men in fifteen minutes. They counter-attacked at several places along the 2nd Division’s front and then they virtually gave up Mandalay.

After all the fighting, I remember it was a glorious evening. The sky was ochre and pale blue. I remember the sun setting like a ball of fire. A message came through from Brigade H.Q, “Proceed south towards Rangoon.”!!


MOUNT POPA

In 1945 after the battle of Mandalay, the Japanese Army began to retreat along the whole of the Burma front. They fell back slowly and stubbornly and whenever they stood and fought, they were as savage and dangerous as a badly wounded tiger. The advance against them was hard and in the next few weeks the 7th Worcesters only covered forty to fifty miles.

We left the undulating plains with their short brown grass. We left the roads and tracks and the outcrops of stony hills studded with pagodas.

We left the sluggish half-dry streams that crept into the Irrawaddy. We moved into the barren desert of central Burma, a land of cactus and prickly scrub, a waterless wilderness of sun-baked earth and stupefying heat.

Meiktila had fallen and the Japanese Army was disorganised and leaderless, without orders or supplies. They were no longer an Army. Although scattered, they were united in one savage determination - to fight their way out or die in the attempt.

The 2nd Division halted a few miles short of Meiktila, with the oilfields of Yenanyang on the right and the volcanic slopes of Mount Popa on the left. Mount Popa is an extinct volcano which rises majestically nearly five thousand feet above the plain. It is renowned for the vast quantity of poisonous snakes that live on its slopes.


grave of Sgt Eric Millman
(on Mount Popa)

Here was the most dangerous resistance that remained. Five or six thousand Japanese clung tenaciously to the slopes of the mountain. By now it was the end of March 1945. We had been fighting for a long time and we were tired out now, mentally and physically. The Battalion was down to half-strength. But we had to stop and dislodge the enemy in the Mount Popa area.

‘C’ Company, Worcestershire Regiment established a camp alongside a ‘nuhla’(ditch), where we dug trenches and brewed tea. Having got organised, patrols started to be sent out to seek out any enemy in the vicinity. Later that afternoon, one of these patrols returned, tragically carrying the body of Sergeant Eric Millman. He had been killed by a sniper.

Our shocked Company stood in silence as they laid him down. Four men were detailed to dig his grave. They dug it deep with sides as straight and smooth as those in an English churchyard. We made a wooden cross with his name and rank on it, so that those that followed would know where Eric was buried. The Company fell in and were called to attention. We stood straight and in silence as a short service was conducted by Major Burrell. We had lost another respected companion.

As I looked at the forlorn grave, the lines of the poem by Rupert Brooke came to me -
“That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England”


LEAVING BURMA (Legyi, Lancharapara, Burma)

We in ‘C’ Company, 7th Worcesters now knew that we would never get to Rangoon for it was not our work. The clearing of Japanese between here and Rangoon had been given to the Indian Tank Regiment. We had always led the way and we didn’t like being left behind to do the mopping up.

It was May now, May 1945, and the war was over in Europe. The news came on a sheet of message pad and was passed around. No one cheered about it. It was too far away, as if a war had ended on some distant planet, and we were conscious that we had to ‘soldier on’. We were glad it was over for the folks back home, but it made no difference to us except to again set us thinking about that far-off place that we had left four years ago.

We thought of England in spring, of fields of green grass, and gently falling rain. We longed for England with a desperate yearning, instead of this Burma heat, the sickness and the sweat. Almost everyone in ’C’ Company had dysentery caused by the flies and dust and foul water we had to use to wash away the layers of dust. We consoled ourselves by reminding each other that the end was not so far away.

Rumours had been going round that the Battalion was being flown out soon. It was said that that the engineers were levelling a strip of land less than twenty miles away. It had to be for us. 5th Brigade, which included the Worcesters, had been ordered to stay until last and mop up any Japs in that area. It meant that we were first in and now last out.

‘C’ Company dug in at Legyi where we were shelled by Jap mortars which destroyed our bamboo built headquarters, as we sheltered in our trenches. We saw planes in the sky but there was no word of flying out. Then trucks began to pass us on the nearby track… forty or fifty all heading in the same direction. It seemed that the Division was preparing to leave and we began to hope again.


'C' Company HQ at Legyi
(before and after being shelled)

It was eight days later that the Battalion moved on to the top of a hill to engage a party of Japs. It was here that we saw the unbelievable sight of aircraft landing and taking off. The next morning came the long awaited order. Tomorrow we were to be flown out of Burma and we were to be taken to a place called Lancharapara, a few miles outside Calcutta. It had been an American Army camp and we were promised every comfort.

Orders were given about the packing of such stores as we still possessed, and for the handing over of the transport to the 19th Division. Next day, the five mile march to the airstrip started at six o’clock in the morning, just one year and nineteen days after arriving in Assam. It was a noisy march, everybody was singing, laughing and talking. The old ‘Dakotas’, like grey geese, were waiting for us on the airstrip.

We loaded thirty men to a plane. It was like magic as we lumbered off the ground and climbed over the mountains and the Burmese jungles, over the Irrawaddy, over the Chindwin and the Brahmaputra, back to India. There was a cheer from everyone, as we landed.

We had come through the mud and the dust, the heat and the rain, and the days and nights of marching, fighting and digging and dying.

This was the end of a long, long journey.
Blair
 
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