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SURVIVOR !



INTRODUCTION.

Map of Burma in 1945The battle for Kohima was to prove one of the great turning points of  the war in the Far East. Kohima lies on a saddle connecting two mountain  ridges , some 5,000 ft up among the Naga Hills, in Central Assam. It is a  beautiful place, with panoramic views ; to the south, green mountains roll  upwards 10,000 ft towards Mao Songsang, while to the north west the ground  drops away into a deep valley. Wooded slopes run up towards Mount Pulebadge and  Mount Japuo to the west, and to the east the land rises, hill after hill,  towards Chedema ad Jessami, then disappears into a wild region marked 'dense  mixed jungle' on the map. Assam is wet, especially in the monsoon which  lasts from mid-May to early September, when the jungle paths sink deep in  mud and the smallest streams swell quickly into great rivers. Insects are an  endless torment; there are sand flies, ticks, mosquitoes and leeches.

The latter crawl up your legs during the night and suck your blood  until they become swollen to bursting point. The mosquitoes must be the  largest and most persistent i n the world, some of their bites bringing up  great septic sores. General divisions of the Japanese army had crossed  the Chindwin River, earl y in March 1944 and were advancing through some of  the wildest, toughest country in the world towards Kohima. Once it was  captured, the Japanese could turn and slaughter the British as they  retreated from the Japanese Divisions. Part of the British objective was to  defend Kohima, and the road and rail-links around it, one of which w as the  supply road to Imphal. The whole of the Japanese 31st Division arrived  at Kohima and cut the road to Dimpur. The British 2nd Division was sent to  break through to Kohima and open the road to Imphal. The Japanese made the  fatal mistake of fighting tooth and nail for the Kohima ridge; had they  by-passed it things might have turned out badly for the British, for a long  delay might have starved out the Imphal garrison. The British tightened defences  and fought battle after battle, slowly going over the of fensive.




Japanese General Mutaguchi

Lieutenant-General Mutaguchi of the Japanese 15th Army wrote, on 4th June 1944,  "Withholding my tears ... I shall ... withdraw from Kohima". Shortly afterwa rds  his 15th Army collapsed and only fragments of its fine regiments, ill and  starving, staggered back across the Chindwin, leaving behind 30,000 dead.





This is not just a story of the British action in Burma, but a  record of true instances kept in the mind of one man during his experiences at  Kohima. Bill ,an NCO with 'B' company, 1st battalion Queen's Own Highlanders, 2nd Division, 14th Army was a hard courageous man who used his brilliant mind effectively so that he never lost a man when in command of a  section in the battle for Burma. He was no Errol Flynn who could have fought and  won the battle alone but only one of the survivors or the 'Forgotten Army', who  has never let the bloody memories of the war fade from his mind. the events have  been recorded in story form to allow the readers to understand and imagine for  themselves how those men survived a long way from home, fighting in treacherous conditions.

I have concentrated on one man's plight deliberately because the  military actions chronicled by historians do not in any way allow you to understand just how the  ordinary man must have felt. Factual accounts of the inevitable  battle s have dictated the history of what happened in Kohima. I wish to bring  humanity to this by concentrating on man and his battle to survive the strug gle  before being allowed to return home. Whatever our beliefs are we must not  criticise because we were never there, and thank God for that. To some, Bill must sound ruthless in his approach to the Japanese and to others liberal. Keep  an open mind in reading this, because no matter how you try, you will never ever  know what you would have done if your life had been at stake against the  Japanese Army in Burma.



Bill's Story.

The sergeant lay there, poor bloke, after the first fight was over  because he tried to carry out training procedures. I had seen plenty men die and  kn ew to survive myself I must carry on and fight. In training we had been told  that the Jap had his own positions covered with his guns and if we took a Jap  position he would fire on it, therefore we were supposed to haul the dead Ja ps  out of their foxholes and get in ourselves. This sergeant did just that but the  dead Jap had been holding a grenade in his hand with the pin out and wh en he was  moved the grenade fell, went off, and killed him. We had left England  in April 1942 in a large convoy bound for India with th e news that the Japanese  Army were hastily capturing the Colonial possessions of Britain and Holland. The  news was not encouraging and many of the men including myself were filled with  disbelief as we had not long returned from Europe where fighting was still  continuing over Germany. ( Due to administr ation disagreements the Division  remained in India until March 1944, mainly involved in jungle training).  After jungle training in Belgaum Jungle (Southern India) we were sent  to Ahmednagar Fort and thence to the railhead of Dimapur in Asssam. This was a concentration area for troops of various nationalities - British and Indian Gurkha.

Two days later we boarded trucks which carried us along the Imphal Road  for approximately 30 miles to a place called Zubza. During this journey the  men had little to say to each other, because there was a certain amount of  apprehension since we had no way of knowing what was waiting for us at the e nd  of the journey. All we did know was that we were heading for action. The action was not long in coming when the Camerons took a hill from the Japs at the 32 nd  Milestone. It was referred to as Cameron Hill afterwards. Our first  baptism had taken place and it really opened our eyes to what nonsense all we  had been taught really was. We were told during training th at the Jap was a  little bloke with big spectacles and buck teeth. Here we found huge men  averaging well over six feet. Later we found that they were Imperi al Guard  Troops (elite Japanese troops). Our casualties had been light because  General Grover the Division Commander firmly believed that shells for the guns  were cheaper than men and much mor e expendable and therefore before an attack  the objective was pounded unmercifully. Here we were in Kohima and the  reality of the moment was war and I had very little time to do anything but  fight; only in moments like this can I look back and wonder why. We stayed on  that hill for two days in which time we were glad to bury the dead Japs, because  of the stink and the frustration of the bluebottles buzzing around the bodies. 

When we moved out we did not advance south along the road towards Kohima with  the rest of the Brigade, we moved East across country, descending into a valley  approximately 1,000 ft. lower down then climbing the next ridge which was much higher than our  original position. At the top of this ridge was Marima Village astride the  Bokojan a nd Jessimi tracks. We did not reach the top that day and dug in about  two-thir ds of the way up. During the night a man named McLeod in 10 Platoon had  gone outside the perimeter to relieve himself and a man on stag (sentry duty) in 11 Platoon saw the movement in the dark and shot him. Up until this  point we were still green in as much as we used firearms at night. We learned  our lesson quickly because the fire from the gun betrayed our position to the  Japs and grenades became our chief weapon during darkness.

The  following day we moved up the ridge then ran into opposition. The Japanese were  waiting for us in much heavier numbers so we pulled back to our last dug-in  positions. For the success of this operation we had the guns to than k. As we  retreated the guns kept a horseshoe of shells around and following us down, each  platoon leap-frogging the other. However, the day after, we did take Marima,  then the patrolling started in earnest. On reaching Marima  and clearing the area, whilst the main body of the Battalion dug in and  consolidated the position, the three sections of the 10 Platoon were each given  an objective where we had to carry out a recce patr ol. My objective was a ridge  running parallel to and overlooking the Bokojan track to Kohima.

 I was to find  out if it was occupied or not by the Japanese, if so where, and in what  concentration, and pinpoint positions, grid bearings on references for targets for our guns which were still  positioned near Zubza. (Our guns were 25 pound howitzers and deadly accurate ).  The patrol lasted about two hours to clear to the end of the ridge and back,  wi th the men grumbling all the time, because I led them along the slope of the  ridge instead of on the top where it would have been much easier walking. On the slope we were below the skyline and our silhouettes clearly out of reach of any  Japanese looking out for us. However, the ridge clear and I returned wi th the  men to give my report to the Company Commander, Captain Davidson. Back at the  area designated for 10 Platoon the Platoon Commander, Jimmy Hay, tol d me I was  to lose three men. No.1 and 2 sections had casualties and two of m y men were  sent to No.1 Section and one to No. 2 Section to level out the numbers, this  then left me with seven men. We were then given our positions to dig in and  complete the perimeter. In front of these positions was a dense belt of reeds,  about six feet high and roughly 10 feet deep. No. 1 and 2 Section s were on my  left and as one man was digging in each of the three foxholes, t he other was  cutting down the reeds in front to give a field of fire. I firmly believed it  wiser to leave the reeds until the men dug in, because the reed s also acted as a  shield against the enemy. This proved to our advantage even more than I  anticipated, because behind the belt of reeds was a flat piece of ground, bare  for about 20 yards with heavy undergrowth the other side, and as the men in No.1  and 2 Sections cleared the ground in front of their positions, so the men  digging in were exposed to a Jap position across the clearing.

The first we knew  of this was when their machine guns opened fire on No.1 and No. 2 Sections. Two  men were killed, one in each section. Sadly they were both taken from my section an hour before. A routine became established, which led to some boredom  on our part. We wer e hot, uncomfortable, dirty, yet we could never relax our  vigilance, going ou t each day on recce patrols. Occasionally there was a  diversion of ambushing a Japanese patrol, with the constant thought that if we  did not remain alert we might in time be ambushed. After several days spent in  recce patrols and in ambushing the Japanese we moved off towards Kohima and, in  spite of several skirmishes on the way, reached a hill within two miles of it,  called Garage Hill which we took from the jap after clearing them out of their  bunkers. H ere we had our first drop of rations and ammunition. The air   turned a ghastly colour of blue with cursing and swearing because they missed  our position b y about half a mile and my company were given the job of  recovering the supplies. We slowly made our way to the area, found a small  gathering of Ja panese and immediately opened fire on them. A battle commenced  and we killed them all. To the surprise of us all we sustained no casualties and  returned to our posts with no other thought than having survived another moment  of this cra zy war. Prior to this air drop, our supplies had been brought in by  mule train s, but we were now so far from the road and virtually surrounded by  Japanese t hat the mules could not have got through so easily. During  our first night at Garage Hill ( my section was dug in about twenty feet above  the track where the hill had been cut away), at approximately 0230 hours, we heard men  marching along the track towards Kohima and as they drew near we could hear them  talking. They were a Japanese patrol, so we allowed them to come level with our  positions. We had our grenades ready with the pins out and threw them direct ly  in their path. Further along the hill the Manchester heavy machine guns also opened up on them, and as far as we could hear, they all died, with no sound s of  an escape. When morning came the mess of bodies soon became apparent, an d not  even the glory of the new sky could make me optimistic of the treachery of men  to one another. The Camerons had a section of Manchester heavy machine  gunners with their Lewis guns attached to Battalion Headquarters throughout the  campaign. Thes e gunners always dug two positions when digging in, so that if  they had to fi re at night they could move to their alternate position after.  There was also an officer and Signaller from the guns (25 pounders) attached to  Battalion Headquarters and he filled the necessary role as Forward O.P  (Observation P ost) for the guns. This was how they were able to support us so  accurately on Ma rima Ridge, because he was able to send bearings, ranges and  type of fire to the guns. It was on Marima that the pattern was formed whereby  the guns ranged on our left flank, front, and right flank every evening so that  when the Japs attacked during the night, the O.P. could simply call up his  Battalion and tell them, A. B. or C. pattern and the support was there in the  area it was required. However by the time we settled in on Garage Hill things  were happ ening which were not quite according to plan. Every now and again during the evening ranging, one  was falling short and landing among us, and the gunners were coming in for quite a bit of abuse, until one evening as they were ranging in they stopped firing suddenly, and a few moments later we heard Japanese gun in the distance and one  of these ' shorts' arrived. The Japanese had been using our guns to camouflage  his own firing. The enemy was quickly dealt with, and thus again we were shielded by the use of the Manchester guns.

Whilst the Camerons were  engaged in their left flanking movement on Kohima, the rest of the 2nd Division  had advanced along the main Imphal road and we re fighting and clearing various  ridges overlooking the road. The Dorsets from 5th Brigade were battling for the  tennis courts at the  District Commission er' s bungalow; they were dug in on  one side and the Jap had the other, but the y were not playing tennis. Meanwhile  we had one major obstacle between us and Kohima, a high conical hill with very  steep sides about 1,5000 ft. up on th e left of the track about a mile from  Kohima. This hill was later called Bald Pate (I should laugh because the top was  nearly blown off it with our guns) . It was very strongly defended by the  Imperial Army, bunkers covering bunker s all the way up. We attacked the hill  with one Company then with two and finally the following day with all four  Companies of the battalion and stil l failed to take it. The powers in control of  our army decided it best we by-pass it , so that no more men would be lost, and  this we did the following day. We moved on to the fringes of Kohima and dug in  quite near a small pool of fresh water where a little spring came out of the  hillside. I was sure heaven had sent this fresh water, so passionately drunk  with dee p gratitude. One or two men at a time could go and have a real wash and,  best of all, get their boots off and soak their feet. It was  wonderful! We stayed in this position for several days and enjoyed to a  certain extent the ecstasy of heavenly fresh water. The Platoon Commander cut  short my idleness and sent for me. I was to take a patrol of three men back to  Bald Pate and find out if it was still occupied by the Japanese.

One of the  three men was to be getaway man, that is, he was to trail 50 yards behind the  other two men and myself and, if we were killed or captured, he was to get off  his ma rk and report back. We were not keen on this assignment, as you may  imagine, b ut an order in the army must be obeyed. I felt at no time could fear  overtake me because I was, I felt, a survivor, and if I kept my head then no man  would ever take my life from me. It took about an hour to cover the mile back to  the base of the hill because I kept to the bushes at the side of the track  watching all the time for signs of the Japanese. When we had a rest, we star ted  up the hill very slowly trying to keep to the undergrowth and under cover as  much as possible and in this way we got up about six or seven hundred feet. Suddenly a machine gun opened fire on us. A cat could not have moved faster than  we did, we dived, rolled and ran like hell downhill, so fast that we were  falling headlong and rolling again and again to the bottom but we got away. Whoever that fool of a Jap was, he did us a good turn, he could have let us come  on until we were properly trapped but I think he panicked. When we got back to  the Company I did not need to report that the hill was still occupied; they had heard the machine gun as it fired on us. The next day three hurricanes came over  and bombed and straffed the hill. Whether they did any good I don't know as we  never went back but, as far as I know, when the Japs realised they were isolated  they cleared off quickly. I had lost another two men by this time, one each  again to the other two sections. Heavier patrols were coming out to ea st and  south east and although I took out a couple of them I only contacted th e enemy  once to the south east of our position and that proved to be an isolated post.  Their main forces were in Kohima and to the south and west overlooking the  Imphal Road. One depressing fact at this stage was that our wounded had  to stay with us. Cut off as we were, we had no way of getting them back to  hospital at Dimapur, or even across to the Imphal Road where we heard a first  aid stati on had been established near Jotsoma. These men faced great pain and  depended on us to fight on, but no words of comfort could be passed on to them,  because we never knew what the next day would bring in this everlasting  battle. The monsoons added to our misery and the rain lashed down on  the sad faces of the men. Our clothing and boots were taken any many of the sick  looked l ike ghosts. Lifeless bodies were scattered amongst us and the fighting  spirit o f the men looked almost gone. The scene created such a gruesome picture,  that we would have made hell look almost attractive. Our foxholes had to be bailed out every so often, however once we were thoroughly soaked  it did not matter anymore, it just became a way of life. Meanwhile regular nigh t  patrols were going out through and around Kohima led by officers (this was a standing order, all night patrols must have an officer in charge). Due to these  patrols we were able during darkness to slip right through Kohima. We were able  to do this through the strategy of our superiors. We buried our boots and put on  gym shoes which had been brought to us secretly by mule train. Unfortunately we  were delayed because we had to make our move when the Japa nese slept. The moon  was near full this particular night and movement could only take place when the  clouds obscured it. We were ready just before midnight and were led along the  track looking upwards at a ghostly moon with patches of mist before us. We kept  expecting trouble on the zigzagging tracks and, alt hough the journey itself was  short, the night to us seemed endless. The night patrols had been right.

The Japanese slept as we made our way to the south end of what was left of the  native bashas (wooden huts built by the original inhabitants), whilst the rest  of the Brigade crossed right across the Japan ese front and took up their  positions on the west side. With the first light th e enemy had the rudest  awakening of their lives, nearly a whole Brigade (5th) had taken up position on  the highest section of Kohima. Where I was, on the sou th edge of what was  virtually the flat top of the hill known as 5120 ( which was its actual height  in feet), we could look down the slopes on some bashas an d as we watched some  Japs come out, obviously just waking up as they were stretching and preparing to wash. This target was too good to miss and  we let loose with brens, rifles and sten guns. No more came out but neither did any go back in. We had another battle and another moment of  survival.

From this operation we gained new strength and inspired  determination to resist the stubborn Japanese. We had killed all who had shown  'face' as enemies and given those devoted men an ill reward for their loyalty to  a harsh leadership that expected nothing else but death in battle. We  could see the Imphal Road stretching from Kohima, south past Aradura Spur towards Vesnema. From our new position, and we were able about an hour late r to  watch a Japanese mule train come North then turn into the Nulla ( a deep waterway in the hillside) near Aradura. When this was reported to the Battalion  Headquarters the Guns' Observation Post came forward with his signaller and we  pointed out of the Nulla. He took the bearing and range then sent th e  information back to his battalion then told them , "one round rangi ng fire".

 Fire they did and the shell landed right in the Nulla. It was  incredible. Immediately the OP told them "same range ten rou nd rapid" and they  did. We could not see the exact results of this exercise but we all felt glad  that at this stage these guns were on our side. Shortly 10 Platoon were  moved to the left of the south front between 12 Platoon on our left and 11  Platoon on our right with D Company to their rig ht and here we dug in with our  positions looking across a valley to a heavily wooded ridge about 50 yards away  from the Jap snipers made us keep a low pr ofile.

They tried to execute us with mortars but without success. I still do not know where  they were brought from, but a section of Lancaster Fusiliers were positioned  between 11 Platoon (B Company) and D Company when darkness fell. All this ti me  the rains were pouring down as they had never done in Britain, and not one  umbrella between the lot of us. All was quiet apart from the noiuse from nat ure  when at 2300 the enemy attacked, mainly in D Company"s area and, sho rtly after,  my Platoon Commander gave orders to take up the position vacated by the Lfs section between 11 Platoon and D Company. The Japanese continued attacking until  0300 hrs then everything went quiet. Just after 0500 hrs the 11 Plato on  Commander (as far as I can recall his name might have been Carbonell) crosse d  behind my section to D Company"s area and was just about to go round a basha  when he suddenly stopped, ducked down and ran back to 11 Platoon. The next thing  we knew 11 Platoon were pouring out of their positions and moving bac k down a  slope behind us. What had happened was that D Company had fallen bac k during the  night and left the position to the enemy and when 11 Platoon Commander saw the  Japs there in the morning he ordered his platoon to fall back.

 This proved to be  a costly mistake because, as his platoon moved back down the slope C Company,  who were further back on the right flank, saw the men comi ng, thought they were  Japanese attacking, and opened fired on them. Meanwhile having quickly noted an  idea of what had happened I moved my section out do wn behind the position D  Company held. It meant we had to jump about 10 ft int o a nulla, which we did  then we circled back to 10 Platoon. By this time the Manchester"s had opened fire when they saw what they believed to be the  enemy. We were desperately in trouble when those guns were aimed in our  direction. B Company Commander gave the order for us to move back. This we c ould  only do at a slow pace as we were carrying wounded men with us. The light grew  stronger around us and, at last, the firing stopped. Someone realised the  blunder, but in the mix up B Company lost 28 men and I do not know how many wounded. This experience was never recorded back home and some may have  for gotten the incident to get on with the fighting, but I shall  remember.

My section's luck still held; we found no casualties when the  Company reformed, but in the subsequent reshuffle I lost two more men to other  sect ions. I was now down to three men, a Grenade Charger, Bren Gunner and Lance  Corpora l. We began digging in 100 yards from our original positions, when we hit  on a large slab of what looked like slate, so we dug around it, cut it out and  carried on digging; then we found we were throwing out some old bones but it was  not until we found a skull that we realised we were in some poor devil's grave.  However, it was too late to change sand it did not really matter any way because  the war had made us immune to sentiment and all that mattered was ourselves. At  1400 hours the Platoon Commander came round looking for volun teers to go back  over our old positions to check for wounded. He got two men from 12 Platoon, two  stretcher-bearers and myself. There were no Japanese on these positions so we  collected the identity discs from the men who had been kill ed then promptly went over the area which had been occupied by D Company and the enemy.  Ther e in a basha we found one of the Lancashire Fusiliers with his jaw blown  off; there was also a bare foot lying on its own, we never found the owner. I  found a pair of Japanese binoculars and kept them because, although not a  necessity, they could be very useful in the months to follow.

During that night  the Japanese again attacked but they were attacking our old positions and it was not long before we realised we had moved and the rest of the night they had patrols creeping all around trying to pinpoint our positions. They had a few casualties too because, apart from when could hear them and sometimes spot a movement against the sky, they occasionally called out "Hello Johnny " hoping we  would reply, giving away our positions. Our only reply to their moves was to  pull the pin from a grenade, let the lever off quietly, count one, two, and then  throw, which meant it only had two more seconds before it went off. This ensured  that it exploded in the air and they wouldn"t know whch direction it had come  from.

By this time there was not a basha left standing on top of Kohima and we  were using what we could of the debris to try and keep the ra in off. In the  midst of this by some miraculous means they got some mail through to us and I  got one from Peggy telling me all about our first son Bill, who had been born  the year before. I laughed and cried when I read of her complaints about the  heavy rain back home. The other men muttered sounds of laughter and some of  grief and some of sadness or wishing to be with their loved ones. We all joked  about our families and their small complaints of the wea ther and each of us  wondered if any of the people back home could ever imagine what we were doing  here, and just how dangerous this terrain was in fighting the enemy and the  ghast ly climate of a monsoon. Still I was glad to hear from home and to know,  for m e, things were fine. A day or two later our guns hammered the  Japanese at our last position. The nwe attacked and cleared them. They did not  come back. Due to the shelling, the remains of an old basha was burning merrily  as darkness descended, then back towards Battalion Headquarters we heard a shout  " Put that blo ody fire out" . The voice was easily recognisable as Major A S K  Douglas and here I need not say what the men said; also, needless to say, the  "bloody' fire burned all night. The day after we were on the move once more,  south east, again a way from the road. We did not go far, only to a ridge  overlooking Assam barrack s, which in peace time was occupied by the Assam rifles  but was now occupied b y the Japanese.


At this stage I must clarify one  major point. At no time throughout this campaign have I tried to be explicit on  dates, except for the 10th April, 1 944 the day we started down the Imphal road  from Dimapur. From that day on, it was just a case of living another day. In  many books on Kohima authors have given dates or the actions carried out by the  various units but this was be cause they were given access to records from the  diaries kept by top brass. The troops were not allowed to keep diaries in case  they were taken prisoner; besides every time we went out on patrol, we had to  empty our pockets of al l materials which could be used by the enemy to identify  our unit, brigade, e tc, therefore I have approximately given time and dates, whereas in reality a longer period may be nearer  the actual facts. In truth my story is recalled because my mind has never  forgotten, and I need no record or diary to remember the fight that took pla ce  forty years ago. Out on the ridge where we now dug in overlooking the  barracks, we first encountered another discomfort with which we were learning to  live. This was leeches.

Due to the monsoons, any hill or ground covered with  natural vegetation was moving with leeches; they got in our boots, in our  clothing, everywhere but somehow we never ever felt them on us. They dare not be  picked when we found them stuck to our bodies, otherwise where they had been  sucking would bleed all day. These sores could be dangerous and could lead to  amputation or death if dealt with in this way. The routine was to stick a  cigarette on th em or salt, then they would drop off and the bleeding stopped  right away. Thank God for cigarettes and , strange as it may seem, we never ever  ran out of t hem. We used them day and night and passed them back and fore  between a man goin g off stag and an other taking over; this was to check the  watch, one hour on , one hour off.

 Life was certainly not easy and no  comforts or home would be ours until we returned. I was promoted to  Lance/Sergeant after the attacks on Bald Pate hill but the extra pay in Kohima  meant nothing, for what could I spend it on? Also as far back as Marima all  badges of rank were removed again in case of capture. At the other end of the  scale, the only form of punishment that co uld be imposed on the troops was a  Royal Warrant (normally 21 days) involving loss of pay. As far as I know this punishment was  only meted out on men who were caught sleeping on stag. How long we  were out on that ridge I cannot remember but our next move took us back near the  road with the rest of the Battalion. However, a standing patrol was kept in the  ridge area. The Japanese were more active at our new positions and attacked  repeatedly but we held them. It was at this position after an attack that one of  them was badly wounded just in front of my position, and he lay and moaned and  groaned all night. As soon as it was light one of the blokes on my side finished  him with a single shot. Life had gone from t his man. His body would swell with  the heat and the grotesque smell would soon fill the morning air. We unashamedly  had killed him for being the enemy but if his moans had gone on much longer,  they may have haunted us forever, and no w he was dead. Our hearts could not give  in to his sad death, for all we coul d think on was another death, and another  move to our winning this war and eventual peace. Alas peace would come but the  price paid was surely not worth the killing.


A million bluebottles  arrived in our vicinity and the smell of dead bodies was strong. Our bodies were  dirty but we continued fighting and accepted our inevitable torture. We moved  again and handed our positions to Indian troop s to carry on where we left off.  They were fresh from Dimapur. Their uniforms were clean and tidy, and their  equipment and weapons shining as new. We wer e like tramps, unwashed, unshaven,  in fact bearded with mud all over our bodi es. Much to my surprise, these new troops looked at us visibly trembling with horror. They got into  our foxholes without sating anything but we knew from the look on their faces,  they were not sure what to expect.
The Burma Star

We moved south of Kohima between  Assam Barracks and the road and took up position along the foot of a hill known  as Big Tree Hill. This was our next objective. By this time we had received some  tanks, Assam Barracks had been cleared and the tanks were sitting there to back  us up with guns (75m/m). S ome big guns (105s) had also been brought up and they  started off the bombardment, then our 25 pounders followed up. Then we started  to advance up the hill, t he tanks 75s opened up ahead of us. From their position  at the barracks they could see us and their targets. So they were firing  (artillery description) over open sights, whereas the 25 pounders and the 105s  could not see where they were firing, relying on their observation posts. Apart  from the casualties we suffered from the Japanese fire, we had quite a few from  the shrapnel from the shells and our own guns. However, we kept advancing and  took the hill a fter about two hours solid fighting. Major A S K Douglas was  killed at this location and after this piece of action A Company was disbanded  and split b etween B, C and D Companies. I had once again five men in my section.  Aradura Spur had been taken by some other troops of the Division by this time so  in the next few days we pushed on and took Fesama and Fichama. As we were  advancin g to attack them, the two A Company men in my section were amazed at the  fact th at B Company Commander, now Major Davidson, was leading the Company in attack. Apparently A Company Commander followed his Company  in attack.

The battle for Kohima was now virtually over; 5th Brigade  had a new Commander, (Nicholson) since Brigadier Hawkins had been wounded just  after 5th brigade had moved on to Kohima. The 5th Indian Division had been flown  into Imphal and started north to meet our drive south. Kohima lay approximately  50 mile s south of Dimapur on the Imphal road and Imphal lay about another eighty  mil es south of Kohima. We met the 5th Indian division at the 109th milestone.  However, just after we took Fuchama, the tanks were ordered to drive down th e  road but the Japanese soon stopped that by dropping grenades on them from th e  cuttings along the road. A section above the tanks on the hillsides and one alongside of the tanks on the road. It was murder pure and simple. The road was  also covered by the Japanese guns and whether the marching sections were to the  exposed side of the tanks or between them  and the hillside they were  blasted, because if the shells missed the tanks, as the majority did, they  exploded on impact with the hill. We were not just subjected to shrapnel, me n  were left in pulped, mangled heaps. Our tanks withdrew, again, how or why I  shal l never know, No. 3 section, my section, suffered no  casualties.

Flanking troops were sent out, both to the east of the road  and the west to try to clear the area so that the tanks could get moving. This  time B Compa ny took right flank which meant a hard climb for a thousand feet or  more then clear along the ridge to come down to the road again at Veswema. About  a th ird way up we ran into Jap bunkers, with again, bunkers covering bunkers. We withdrew, moved north  along the road then went up again. This way the way was clearer to the top o f  the ridge, then we moved south until we were above the bunkers and then came  down on them. Since they were sited to withstand attacks from the road, we c ame  down on their blind side and seized control with the use of grenades. Someho w at  this point I felt more aware of the differences in the mentality of fighting  qualities between the Germans and Japanese. Having returned from D unkirk and  then being posted to Kohima I had battled hard with both enemies. If a small  isolated group of Germans were surrounded and cut off, they would surrender, but  here in Kohima the Japanese would fight until the last man w as killed.

 They had  been ordered to stay and fight and fight they did. Nevertheless we had the  Japanese on the run and we pushed on hard after them. The battle for  Kohima was over but for us it was only the start of a long weary campaign. We  travelled to Imphal, where we carried out night patrols on the R.A.F. cookhouses  to steal rations and then on to Palel where we fought once again over an  anonymous hill and handed it promptly over to the Indian troops. We found in  Ukral hundreds of disease-ridden Japs who were lying an d living amongst dead  bodies. These men were so exhausted and so diseased tha t they were  incapable,  bodily and mentally, of continuing the war. We had be en made  fortunate in our medical supplies and thankfully too because when we arrived at  the Kaban valley, the most pestilent spot in Burma, we lost many men to ticktyphus, yellow fever and malaria in all its forms. Every man caught  malaria but we were able to hold it in check by a daily dose of a suppressiv e  drug called Mepacrin.


We crossed the Chindwin river to Ye-Yu and to  Swebo in canvas boats and established a bridgehead for the rest of the 2nd  Division to cross. I was transferred from my section, and my post had been given  to Frankie Brown. "Hi Cammy" , he called. "No.3 Section is still holding". Half  an hour later we heard machine gun fire from the next ridge and Frankie lay  dying from his mortal wounds. We carried on our weary trek and halted at  Mandalay to give honour to the 19th Indian Division, by allowing them to enter  Mandalay first. The tro ops obeyed and continued in action until at last on  October 1945 we were allowe d to return home. Each unit had a scribe,  and the Camerons were no exception.

The Road to Mandalay has been re-written  as follows:

On the road to  Mandalay
In the burning heat of  day
A battle for a village had  begun
Our boy who ruled the  sky
Came diving from on  high             
And straffed the white  pagodas In the  sun.
And in the infantry  attack '
twas from the bunkers firing  back
That the bullets of the Nippon took their toll
But forward aye they rushed
Till the Japanese were crushed
And further honour  was
Added to their scroll.

From  Kohima to Imphal by paler and stiff Ukral
Across the  Chindwin and the Mu
Till they captured old  Swebo.
'er the field of rice and paddy
To the mighty  Already
With the Highlanders in front
'twas the Camerons took  the brunt.
And on their bridgehead small
Their Commander  staked his all
And storming ridge and further ridge
Till on  Avaj girder bridge
The story did unfold one day
Haw a division  from out the west
'twas British and the best
Marched and  fought
Five hundred miles
Beat the Jap and all his  wiles
On that dirty dusty
Road to Mandalay.




Memorial at Kohima

Memorial at Kohima




EPILOGUE.

 Bill returned home for his final leave from the Army and enjoyed his journey with the thought of the warm reception from his family. Fate or luck may  have played a part in his survival, but he was home and optimistic for the  future. His experiences will remain with him forever. Bill does not believe he  was brave or a hero;  why should a man be considered a hero for kill ing  another?  - He considers himself an ordinary man who used his rifle effectively  for a cause in which he did not believe. The years have passed, and the last  time Bill used a rifle was at a summer fete, he scored no points out of a total  of 10,000. We laughed and joked but only because the target could not shoot  back; forty years ago he might never have survived without a hit. Many years after the war a Officer visited the old battle field and  Cemetery site on Garrison Hill and wrote a description.  Tucked away in  a house yard in the village of Naga with pigs and hens aroun d it.

A stone is  inscribed with the Cameron Lament 'Lockaber No More'; and by chance the sound  of the pipes still fills the air from the Assam Barracks.