The Marines of the 3rd Commando Brigade
returned home from Afghanistan. The members of the Brigade fought with
exceptional courage and on their return there was not the sound of a
drum nor trumpet and none was needed.
This is a story told to Winston
Churchill who needed cheering up.
It is in book form written by James Leasor. We thought it an
appropriate story in line with the Brigade bravery.
Before the last war Burma was relatively unknown. From Irrawaddy which
begins in Tibet and far south to Rangoon it is covered with jungle and
mountain ranges. Within the British Empire it exported rice, oil and
petrol and was a country of seemly relative unimportance. Burma was far
from the European war and life went on as usual.
Early in 1942 the Japanese recognised the importance of both exports
and Burma as a possible spring board to India.
William Doyle was delivering milk when he heard someone mumble
war was declared. From that moment he knew his world had changed. The
next day at a recruiting office he was promised on joining the Marines
a lot of action and girls. During training he was taught not only basic
infantry work but how to build a tripod and rope pulley to lift heavy
loads. Skills he would rely on later.
Sailing from Greenock he found himself east bound to Port Suez for a
acclimatization course. Some days later he was taken on board the
ship City of Canterbury which was attacked from the air.
The ship was damaged and landed at Ismailia where they came under air
attack again. This time, while guarding an airfield. In the morning
they found bodies of RAF Crews who had attempted to dig shallow holes
to hide from the bomb blasts.
After the Pearl harbour attack they travelled on an armed merchant
cruiser to the Maldives. Most of the natives suffer from the terrible
infliction of Elephantiasis and William and others were warned not to
walk bare foot on the sand. Fortunately they did not contract
Elephantiasis, instead they became ill with malaria and were given
large doses of quinine. So bad were the complaints a hospital ship was
sent for. On the ship they heard the news of the Prince of Wales and
Repulse had been sunk by the Japanese.
On a shore rest camp they were given back pay which was naturally spent
on alcoholic drinks. The result was the Navy fought the Marines and the
Marines fought the Army and the locals joined in the free for all.
The next morning a master at arms addressed the weary mob asking for
fighters to fight in the real war.
William and the other volunteers
were now part of the Force Viper. They were marched on board the
ship Enterprise. More new arrived of defeat, Rangoon had fallen
creating the image Japanese troop were unbeatable.
To their surprise a tannoy announced they would be landing in Rangoon
in the morning. As the ship approached Rangoon Japanese Zero planes
flew over head in complete disregard of the ships fire.
With rations and small arms they were ready, but for what? While
scrambling into the small boats a sailor shouted, “better you than me
and keep your knees close together.”
As they moved towards the shore the Enterprise left leaving 105 marines
to fight the Japanese in Rangoon.
It was then the Major told them the plan was to assist the Burma navy.
Three fresh painted launches with old mounted Vickers machine guns lay
close by named the Rita, Stella and Doris.
The order was to find the enemy who completely defeated them the
Burma army and surrounding countries. “That won’t be difficult,” a
Marine replied. Rangoon appeared empty and they were surprised to find
an officer of the Indian navy in white shorts and shoes standing on the
Realising he was willing to help, he was immediately put in charge of
the three launches. William was onboard the launch Rita awaiting the
arrival of the Australians not knowing they were actually on the way
home to Australia. The Judicial Secretary of Rangoon due to the unusual
situation decided to release the prison murderers, maniacs and hospital
lepers. Who began setting fire to all and sundry while waving clubs and
chanting drunken songs. Lions, tigers, hyenas and elephants were
released from the city zoos and were now mingling with the crazed mob.
The Marines escorted the engineers to detonate the millions of gallons
of the Burma Oil Company. The blast of the oil released from the
storage tanks sent a ball of fire wide and high. The debris of hot
metal and shattered concrete amid the deafening roar spoiled Williams
dream of home. For a moment he was far from Burma and in his home town
market place and wondered where his parents and friends were.
They set fire to the trucks and cars abandoned in the panic of retreat.
Pack mules were about to be consumed with the terrible fire and the
Marines were forced to shot them.
With blackened faces they ran past non smoking signs to the waiting
launches. The water surrounding the boats was on fire and the men
covered their eyes and lay flat. They could hear the paint on the boats
sides blistering amid the continuing blasts.
The next task was to deny the Japanese the use of the Irrawaddy. The
boats formed line and made their way gingerly up the alluvial river.
Any suspect motor launch or boat that might assist the Japanese was put
out of action. One day they came upon three pro Japan Indians. It would
have been unwise to let them go free to stir up trouble so they were
shot by firing squad. The shots rang out and the enemy dispatched, but
the young officer who gave the order he was sick over the side
Long inactive periods were spent on listening to Fats Waller singing
“My very Good Friend, the Milkman.” One day the gramophone was
Fuel was now becoming short and no further orders were received.
The Marines were invited to join Calvert’s Commandos. Which was a
mix of Soldiers and hardened criminals glad of the Marines help. With
the use of the boats they raided inland blowing up road transport and
rail lines. At times they had to fight the Burmese National Army and
the Japanese who were now becoming organised. One of Culverts men had
been wounded escaping a vicious fight. He told the tale of a Japanese
major who entered the hut, the wounded had been placed in explaining he
had twenty new men. His men had never been in action and required the
wounded for bayonet practice. The wounded died in agony. This served as
a warning to the Commandos not to be captured under any circumstances.
The main Japanese camp was just over the tree line from the river and
the order was given to open fire with everything at hand. The men felt
better hitting the enemy where it hurt in revenge for their
Along the river bank William could see the retreating British and
Indian troops tired and despondent shuffling along heads down . They
were so tired they took little notice of the launches as they sailed by.
The Marines had suffered many casualties from the enemy fire and
a sudden tidal wave capsized a launch drowning twenty Marines.
For a while they operated on the two remaining boats but fuel and
damage began to take its toll.
The Marine Major called the remaining men together. He told them the
enemy were advancing through the country and as we have no fuel we must
abandon ship. As they were Plymouth Marines, the major emphasised, it
was their duty to make their way there by land and sea back to Plymouth.
William Doyle was 5,000 miles from his Middleburgh dreaming of home. He
was without a weapon lost and wearing rotting shorts and shirt. He
thought the world was at war and he was alone wounded in the foot and
ankle from shrapnel. The wounds were now becoming septic preventing him
from putting on any footwear. The two army men he had met had deserted
him feeling they could not cope with a wounded man. William knew that a
fellow Marine would have stuck by him through thick or thin.
He knew he would be killed if captured leaving him only one option. He
tore off a piece of wood to use as a walking stick and as a possible
weapon. William followed the words of a well known inspiring song
“Accentuate the Positive.” Which went-You've got to accentuate the
positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don't
mess with Mister In-Between.
Hunger and thirst began to take effect and he walked drowsed as
in a dream. William knew the water wells may have been poisoned so had
to be extremely careful. He found some old sacking in a demolished
mill and cut holes with an nail for his arms and head. The dusty
sack make an acceptable shirt protecting him from the Burma sun. He
immediately began to feel better and wondered how many of his friends
had survived. The villages were empty and damaged vehicles lay
William took the opportunity to search some food or any thing that
would help him survive. In a broken down hut he found a Smith &
Wesson Pistol and two rounds. That would make one for the Japanese and
the other for himself.
That morning he met a group of Indians who seemed at a loss. One of
them had been a shopkeeper, who carried with him a letter from his bank
manager telling the amount deposited. William joined them on the march
stopping every fifty minutes in military fashion for a rest of ten
minutes. He also used the hands of a wrist watch on of the party had to
give direction. The others saw the sense in this method of marching and
adopted it. He was asked by the shopkeeper what he intended to do. He
answered, “to kit out and return to fight.”
The Indian gentleman not wishing to slow him down advised William to go
ahead, giving him some food. William felt sad he had nothing to give in
return. The elderly Indian said, “you have taught us how to march
and use a watch as a compass.” William quoted a priest he had met
on his journey. “God is your best guide.” The old Indian replied, “In
these unhappy circumstances, the only one.”
He missed the companionship of the Indians and began to feel lonely and
vulnerable. But he knew no one was safe even if they stayed together
and were all hostage of the times.
Determined to report to the nearest Marine Headquarters he had many
scrapes and was thought crazy for his optimism. When he found himself
able to jump on a train hoping to reach a naval port and avoid the
misery of army camps Unfortunately it was the wrong train and
arrived in Calcutta with no military kit. He knew he had to avoid the
redcaps who patrolled the railway stations. He was a Marine and wanted
to be with his own kind and this meant finding another train.
Fortunately he was helped passed the ticket barrier by some of the men
he had recently met who understood his plight.
He arrived at Victoria station Bombay burned black with the sun
scrawny and barely recognisable to himself. By climbing over boarding
he escaped the watchful eyes of the Military Police and dropping into a
street. William spotted a petty officer and introduced himself as a
Marine. “I’ve come all the way from Burma. I was on a landing party
from the Enterprise.” The petty officer looked at William and snapped,
“You a Marine and dressed like that?” Williams reply was, “Per mare,
per terram. By land, by sea and I reckon I have lived it.”
When questioned by and officer he was asked, “Do you mean to say you
actually left the fighting in Burma?” William replied, “That’s right,
The officer looked at him and continued, “You are a deserter, then.”
“No, Sir William, answered, “ My orders were to return to headquarters,
get kitted out, and fight again.” “I couldn’t do that if I were a
prisoner or dead.” The officer admitted it was a dammed odd story.
Entering the room was Marine Jack Simms who had been with him in Force
Viper and affirmed Williams story.
On his arrival in Plymouth he once more asked to be returned to Burma
to fight. But this was never to be as the wounds he received in Burma
were too severe. His remaining war service was to train Marines for
Looking back, he thought everyone had twenty- twenty hindsight. The
important thing is to do what you think best at the time, no matter
what others think of you.
How many refugee lives he saved he would never know during the eight
hundred or so miles he walked.
The review of The Marine from Mandalay
written by James Leasor,
published by Leo Cooper Ltd. London. 1988. ISBN 0-85052-442-3.
We highly recommend and hope you enjoy.