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War in the Wilderness: Chindit Campaigns of 1943-44

Last updated: 28 April 2016

Recorded on 17 January 2013

Author and former journalist Tony Redding tells the story of the Chindits - an Allied special forces unit operating in Burma during the Second World War. He examines the extreme physical and psychological pressure these remarkable men had to endure while fighting far away from home and in the toughest of conditions.

Transcript

Tony Redding:

Well, thank you very much all of you for coming out on what has proven to be quite a chilly day. I'm going to be talking to you this afternoon about a campaign that took place in a rather different climate.

I would like to start by asking a question. How many of you are actually familiar with the Chindits? Does that name mean… and General Wingate? Yes. His reputation goes before him after 70 years, doesn't it?

OK. Well, I was very fortunate, first of all because my father was a Chindit and he told me a little bit, but only a little bit, about the campaign. But he wouldn't tell me very much, certainly not enough to write a book. Instead I wrote a book about Bomber Command. Sadly I lost him eight years ago.

And after that, two or three years later, I decided that I would write that book about the Chindits and this was the result, 'War in the Wilderness'. And it was published in October 2011 by the History Press, and I was doubly fortunate in that I was able to interview 50 of my father's brothers-in-arms.

I was very lucky because I worked through the Chindits Old Comrades Association and because of the Freedom of Information Act they couldn't give me a list of their members. But I found a 1993 list of members in the papers given to me by a Chindit veteran. So, I sent the list to the Chindits Old Comrades Association and said, 'Can you tick those that it probably wouldn't be worth writing to?' [Laughter] And apparently that complied with the Act's requirements and I managed to get in touch with the people and write this book.

It took three years to write. It was very complicated. I decided I would do two things: I would give a narrative of the two Chindit campaigns, but my main objective was to record the 50 stories of the suffering that these men underwent during the campaign. And I would, in effect, tell the definitive human story of the Chindit experience, and I hope to share some of that with you this afternoon.

Of course, the Chindit concept came from Major General Orde Wingate, quite a famous gentleman, not unique by any means in the annals of the British Army. He was quite an eccentric and even today, 70 years on, as I have experienced myself personally in my correspondence with a certain Gurkha officer, he is still very much a figure of controversy.

But we start with this badge. This is my father's shoulder flash. It was worn on the right upper arm and it's the 'Chinthe'. It's the mythical... I think they call them 'fabulous lions' that protect the pagodas in Burma. And this was adopted as the Chindit symbol.

And Wingate wanted this to be a badge of honour. It was his view that any man who served as a Chindit should have the right, throughout his army service, to continue to wear this flash. I don't actually believe that that wish was fulfilled, but that, I understand, was his intention. So, let's move on.

There were two Chindit campaigns. The first one was called Operation LONGCLOTH and it took place in 1943. It involved taking in a brigade, around about 3,000 men, and it was led by Wingate personally. There were to be eight columns, but by the time they were ready, having finished their arduous training, there were only enough men left for seven, and seven columns went in.

There was a five-column force operating to the north in Burma, and to the south of them as a diversionary force there were a further two columns. Each column consisted of about 400-450 men, plus 60 or 70 animals.

Let me introduce you to some of the members of the wireless detachment of 21 Column, The Queen's Regiment. The man in front - this is the wireless detachment - the man in front there is still alive. I spoke to him quite recently, and his name is Tony Howard. He is quite ill today, but he's there leading his detachment across a 'chaung', a Burmese river.

Immediately behind him is George Hill, one of his signallers, and George Hill is leading a mule called Taxi. Taxi has on either side the large radio panniers. He has got the transmitter on one side and he has got batteries on the other.

And Taxi was a very awkward mule. Apparently he had a sense of humour. When it was time to be loaded in bivouac, they would put one of the panniers on and Taxi would start to lean against it and somebody would come round to try and straighten him up and Taxi would lean some more. And by the time he had got three people trying to push him to bring him upright, he would give something that sounded very much like a laugh. So Taxi had a sense of humour.

This picture was taken during the second expedition. They are two days away from Aberdeen, which was the code name for the airstrip from which they will fly out. They walked in and they walked out to the airstrip where they were flown out, and they walked about a thousand miles.

It was a standing joke in my family that my dad… well two standing jokes. Firstly he used to say to me, 'You'd be no good in the jungle.' And I suspect he was right, OK. And the second thing was that he would always get lost in later life and my mother used to get irritable and say, 'Well, I can't understand it. You walked a thousand miles in the Burmese jungle and you can't find Tesco's.' [Laughter] Anyway, there we are.

A strange type of warfare - it was a mixture of mediaeval savagery in that you're in the jungle, the average visibility was about 10-20 yards [9-18m] and you could be ambushed at any time. I suspect a lot of the ambushes were in fact British and Japanese soldiers simply bumping into each other. It felt like an ambush at the time, if you get my drift.

And so you had this mediaeval-type of warfare because when you did clash it was likely to be hand-to-hand close-quarters fighting where you used anything you could lay your hands on – shovels, bayonets, machetes ('dhars' as they were known), bayonets, anything you could lay your hands on, really, for immediate action.

On the other hand, these campaigns, particularly the second campaign, was very much the high spot of 1940s technology, because the only way these men could survive going behind Japanese lines, 150-200 miles [241-322km], sometimes further, was to have everything they needed air dropped to them. And you can't do that without aircraft. And you can't do it, certainly, without the wireless - and it was absolutely essential that you had the wireless communication. So, a strange mix of high technology and the mediaeval.

You probably can't see a lot of detail in the back of the room, in fact I'm sure you can't, but this is a picture, a map, of India on the left, China on the right, Burma in the centre. The grain of the country goes north to south, the hills, the so-called hills, the Naga Hills and other series of hills in northern Burma are up to 8,000 feet high and you go up one hill and then you go down the other. There's a river at the bottom to cross, then you go up again. And it wasn't unknown for one column, half of one column, to be on top of one hill and the other half to be on top of the other when they camped for the night.

So the country is unbelievably difficult. To give you some idea of the conditions, you're talking about temperatures of 110-112 degrees [44C], ultra-high humidity. In the monsoon season, obviously, it's raining all the time and you are soaking wet, so your kit starts to rot on you and you develop all sorts of jungle sores and other nasty complaints.

What would you imagine would be the most serious threat to health in these circumstances? Well somebody said dysentery in the front here... malaria. Malaria was the major challenge but also dysentery, general debility, jungle sores and perhaps...

Audience member:

Dehydration?

Tony Redding:

Yes, I think you are right there. Dehydration. You can go without food for a very long period of time. You can see from my appearance that I've never been hungry.[ Laughter] And I suspect probably that a lot of you have never been hungry, truly hungry. But I understand that you can carry on for many, many days without food. But in the Burmese jungle after some time during the course of the third day, your spirit will break and you will die of dehydration if you haven't had water. So water is absolutely crucial. And as for the diseases, malaria was prevalent, but the most feared disease, probably, was tick typhus. And that made short work of many a Chindit.

And many of them ended up in jungle graves, a simple grave, and a map reference and other geographic points of navigation were taken every time something like this occurred. And in the following seven or eight months after the second campaign volunteers followed all those jungle tracks and recovered as many remains as they possibly could. A really determined effort was put in to recover the men who were left in Burma. And many, of course, are still in Burma.

Well, this is General Wingate. My dad remembered him. My dad was a private solider. He was a Bren gunner in the 2nd Battalion, The King's Own Royal Regiment. I asked him whether he was in 41 Column or 46 and he told me, 'Does it really matter now?' And that's very difficult to answer, unless you have an idea of writing a book at some point.

Anyway, he was eventually in 41 Column because like so many other Chindit battalions they lost so many men that in the end they formed a composite column and the King's Own composite column was Column 41, so he was certainly in there towards the end of it.

He remembers Wingate coming on parade with a pocketful of onions, which he munched rather like apples, and swore that you could carry on forever if only you could lay your hands on sufficient onions. He was a true eccentric. He was very fond of giving orders to his officers whilst completely naked. He also had a strange habit of brushing his pubic hair with a toothbrush! According to Wilfred Thesiger, who served with him in Abyssinia, it wasn't necessarily his toothbrush, which is very unfortunate! [Laughter]

I thought a lot about General Wingate and I decided early on in writing the book that I wasn't going to join the clan who had written books about him either to attack him and destroy his reputation or make him out to be some sort of saint and huge military genius. As far as I'm concerned it was all contrived. He realised that if you wanted to get on in the Army you had to have two things. First of all you had to be successful – he was certainly successful, in his own way - and you also had to be unforgettable. And I think standing there doing that with a toothbrush in front of your officers will probably make you quite unforgettable.

He had some success in Abyssinia putting the Emperor Haile Selassie back on the throne. He managed to fool 20,000 Italians and persuade them to give up to a couple of thousand irregulars. And they were most amazed when they were disarmed and saw who had actually taken them prisoner. And he had a way of ensuring that he was playing to the crowd, let's say. And he rode the Emperor's white horse on the return to Addis Ababa, mainly because the Emperor apparently didn't fancy riding him because he wasn't very good on a horse and didn't want to fall off in front of his adoring citizens.

This is Bernard Fergusson. He was a column commander in the first expedition, Operation LONGCLOTH. He was a brigade commander. He was in charge of 16 Brigade that walked in. The only brigade to walk in in the second expedition.

He was quite a man. He wrote two wonderful books, 'The Wild Green Earth' [1946] and 'Beyond the Chindwin' [1945], and highly recommended. They are wonderful accounts of the Chindit experience. He is often described as a bit of a toff. Don't be fooled by this appearance. After the second expedition he is usually there looking very spruce and wearing a monocle. He lived on and survived the two Chindit campaigns. He became the master of Ballentrae and eventually Governor of New Zealand, so quite a man.

This is how the Chindits got their supplies. There's a problem here. They survived on K rations. K rations were supposed to be emergency rations for a limited period in a combat zone. You've got three packs a day - breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they were about the size of an old-fashioned video tape and you would be provisioned for five days, so you would have 15 packs each following an air drop. But, of course, you had to have a good air drop to get that supply.

Typically those rations had to last eight or nine days and basically the calorie deficit was around about 1,200 calories a day. So everybody who survived the Chindit campaign lost at least 2 or 3 stone, but my dad lost 3 stone [19kg] - he went in at 10 stone [63kg] and he came out at 7 [44kg]. But they offered him the chance to be a driver or a cook after he had recovered, so which do you think he chose? [Laughter] Yes, my dad was no fool. He cooked breakfast for a battalion for about six months and ended up being very happy.

I don't know whether anybody can read those letters there, but the first expedition the only way they could get back - they were walking back - the only way you could get back was basically to break up into small dispersal groups - the ideal size was round about 40 men - and take your chances. You either walked back to India or you went north-north-east towards China, but they were the two choices.

This lot decided to walk to China. They had no petrol for their wireless, they had just enough for one last transmission so they sent a QQ. A QQ is a request for stores, a standard store drop for a column, and they had 17 or 18 wounded and sick men with them who couldn't go any further. So as the drop occurred they took the white parachutes and rearranged them, and those words are Plane Land Here Now, and they did. Three days later a C47 Dakota came back and landed and took these men out.

The man standing is a corporal. He is suffering from dysentery and he has got an infected hip. If you look at the chap on the far right there, I think his expression tells everything you need to know, really, about the first Chindit expedition. It was absolutely appalling. But these men were actually flown out.

They couldn't fly the rest out in the party because it was only 20 miles [32km] away from a Japanese fighter field, so they had to walk to China, and they succeeded. And when they reached China, the Americans flew them home and Chiang Kai-shek treated them as heroes and actually gave each of them a few hundred dollars to buy presents for their wives and families. So it is quite amazing how your fortunes can change if you have the good luck to reach safety.

This is the chap that is standing up and talking to one of his colleagues. If you look at the man on the left you will see his right arm, he has taken a wound in the arm and you can see the state of the clothing.

This man is 23 years old and it tells you something about the state of Chindit dentistry. He's obviously delighted that he's getting out. He's got a sweat rag around his neck and that was actually called a 'panic map' because on one side of the cloth was a map, a screen-printed map of north Burma. And I've seen four or five examples of Chindits who had retained their panic maps. It's quite interesting really because they are still sweat stained after 70 years.

Here are more men grateful to get out. If you look at the man on the right-hand side, you will see the deep jungle sores on his arm, very glad to get out there with a Gurkha colleague.

And this man, well again, you can see the jungle sores on his right arm. He is holding up a spoon, and the spoon is very important to him because it was a spoon they used to divvy out the last remaining rice that they bought in a Burmese village. And that was the spoon that kept every man alive, so it's somebody's treasured possession right now.

And here is the man that brought them out. He is Flying Officer Michael Vlasto. He put his Dakota down in 700 yards [640m] of basically paddy field and he stayed on the ground for 12 minutes, kept the engine running, got them into the aircraft and even managed to take off again without incident. So he is a hero.

But it was different. In the second expedition it was decided that it would be six or seven times bigger than the first expedition. It would be called Operation THURSDAY. That is because it was launched on a Sunday! [Laughter] And the advance parties landed in gliders, they included my father.

The glider assault team made night landings at a place called Broadway. It was a jungle clearing about 165 miles [265km] behind enemy lines and they flew in at night in bright moonlight conditions and they flew in with Waco gliders. Some of the gliders had portable bulldozers. And the idea was that the advance wave would go in, they would secure the boundary of the clearing against Japanese intrusion and start to prepare the clearing for the landing of the main force by Dakota. So, four brigades would eventually fly in.

Later in my life I learnt to fly gliders and I remember asking my father whether he would like to come along one summer's afternoon for a trip. I can't possibly tell you how he replied, but the essence of it was, 'I've done it once son and I've no intention of doing it again.'

In the first expedition if you couldn't march you were left. They'd give you a spare clip, probably another water bottle, maybe one or two K rations or meal packs and leave you there at the trackside and there it was. And the men obviously found it very, very hard.

Of the 3,000 men that went in on the first expedition 2,000 came back, just over 2,000 came back, and the rest were killed, wounded, missing. Quite a lot of them were captured. And one of the big problems from a morale point of view was having to leave your comrades at the side of the track, and knowing that it's very unlikely that they will survive.

It was decided in the second expedition that the Chindits... Wingate could talk the hind legs off a mule, and he managed to persuade the Americans to provide him with a private air force. But even he was astounded when he saw exactly what they intended to provide - fighters, bombers, gliders, transport aircraft and these small aircraft that were used for casualty evacuation. And many a Chindit's life was saved by small aircraft of this type.

Here is a picture of three likely lads. My father is in the middle, Jack Redding. Dave Davis and another gentleman are with him. My dad was the only survivor. One died of cerebral malaria and the other one was killed in action, so they were a bit like the Three Musketeers when they were training for the second Chindit operation.

During the second Chindit operation, the West Africans provided a brigade and they were extremely good soldiers in the jungle, much feared by the Japanese. They did very, very well. They were originally designated as garrison troops for the strongholds that Wingate's soldiers created behind enemy lines, from which they would sally forth to blow up railway bridges, block roads and generally disrupt Japanese communications. That was the purpose of the Chindit campaigns, but they put in some very, very good fighting - excellent troops.

This is Bernard Fergusson again. This is Officers Call in the jungle. The one thing you really need to know at the end of a hard day's march in the Burmese jungle is what happens if you get ambushed or dispersed in some way. You need the 24-hour rendezvous reference. So at Officers Call there were two rendezvous, one was for 24 hours and one was for 72 hours, so if you didn't make the 72 hours then you were on your own. And that's basically the most important information you needed at the end of every day - what happens if we get bushwhacked during the night?

The conditions were appalling. Wingate decided that the Chindits would stay in for a maximum of three months. In fact in the second expedition they stayed in for five months, including the monsoon. The conditions were absolutely appalling. And, of course, it became more and more difficult, one to supply the troops with enough food and ammunition, and also it became incredibly difficult to physically operate on the ground. And quite often in going up very, very steep hillsides the mules…were basically unloaded and the kit and stores had to be manhauled up the slopes, it was the only way of getting them up.

This is a map of the second expedition, Operation THURSDAY. My dad flew into Broadway with the advance troops. Some of the brigades flew into Aberdeen, which was another airfield behind enemy lines. It is not right, probably, to call it an airfield; it was simply a jungle clearing. And there was also Chowringhee, which was used to fly in part of my dad's brigade, which was 111 Brigade.

So, here we are. It's Sunday, 5 March 1944 for Operation THURSDAY. And you can see the gliders getting ready and the tow lines laid out ready to fly. It is probably taken some time during the lunch period of early afternoon.

Here are some of the men waiting to board the second wave - the Dakota C47s flying in. And it is rather touching, in the Imperial War Museum, in one of the photo albums, there is a little note attached to this photograph and the chap in the foreground on the left... the note says, 'This is my granddad,' which is rather nice note and identifies him.

So they're waiting to emplane, and that included the mules. The standing instruction was if any of the mules give you trouble you shoot them, OK. But most of them were actually good passengers. But, of course, it was rather difficult persuading them to board; it wasn't an orderly process. But sadly one of the men I interviewed, his first task on landing was to shoot the mule that broke one of its front legs during heavy landing and getting very excited.

There was a problem flying in. There was a last minute reconnaissance - I don't have time to give you all the information, but basically it looked as though one of the clearings had been basically obstructed deliberately with the use of teak logs. In fact, the teak logs had just been left to dry in the sun by some of the local village people, but it didn't seem that way looking at the aerial photographs. And it was decided to fly everybody in to Broadway. In fact, the take-off of the first glider train was only just under an hour delayed because they had to reconfigure the lift and do a lot of things at the very last minute. But it was less than an hour, the delay, which was quite an achievement.

Here we are - glider under tow. Most of the tows were dual tows and that meant a lot of the gliders were lost. Over 30 of the gliders were actually lost. Some of them came down on the right side of the Chindwin River. A lot of them came down on the wrong side of the river and some crashed during the night landing.

You can see here that No 1 Air Commando, Colonel Cochran's Chindit air force, was supposed to be a secret organisation. So you can see what the logo was for this secret squadron - a question mark!

A lot of the gliders, when they landed, crashed. I met a man who experienced a crash like this. His name is Frank Anderson and he was a Vickers gunner and his glider landed in a lake, not too far from the airfield they had taken off from. It started yawing and pitching and uncontrollable so the pilot had no choice but to release. And he ended up with a Vickers gun on top of him in a flooded fuselage of the glider. Fortunately his mates managed to pull him out. He is 95 next birthday and he is still young and cheeky as far as I'm concerned.

So, this is the day after. This is Monday, 6 March 1944, on the airfield. You can see there are two gliders there locked together. The idea was that if gliders crashed you would move them off but you couldn't move them off because of the huge ruts in the grounds caused by the dragging of teak logs by elephant teams. So they were basically stuck there. And a lot of the gliders crashed on the runway. In fact, two or three of them went into the trees and they couldn't get the bodies out so they cremated them on the spot, it was the only way of dealing with it.

The gentleman on the far left there, with his hands on his hips watching his men work, his name is Peter Hepple. He's still alive and he's still very fit for his age. And he's told them that they get no tea until they've done their stretch of the airstrip. So they're working there in the hot Burmese sun. You can see the mini bulldozer that was flown in working behind them.

Not every Dakota got away with it. Here you can see one that crashed into a paddy bund with rather devastating consequences. But once they were down they could give the signal. There was some initial hesitation; they gave a signal that indicated that the landings had not been successful. But, with the arrival of daylight and the ability to more fully assess the situation, it was decided that they were in fact a success and the signal was sent. And off they went.

I like this photograph; I think it's timeless. It's a Chindit patrol walking through a village and one of the soldiers has caught the eye of one of the village maidens, which is, I think, rather nice.

Wingate visited his battalion commanders and his brigade commanders in the field. And, unfortunately, three weeks into Operation THURSDAY, he was killed in an air crash heading back to India for conference. And he crashed into a hillside. He had two war correspondents with him and a five-man American crew. There are lots of theories about why this crash happened and you pays your money and takes your choice. I actually came across a source for a third theory - I don't have time to explain it today.

But there was an agreement between the Americans and the British that in crashes where basically you couldn't sort out the bits and pieces, the majority would lead you to where the remains would be interred. And that's why Major General Orde Wingate is actually buried at Arlington Cemetery. He moved around a bit before then, but that is where his remains are now with those who died with him.

There is 22 Column of the Queen's on patrol. This is quite open country and we will see some examples of more typical jungle a little later on.

This is General Lentaigne, who was Wingate's successor, a Gurkha officer. He apparently was no great fan of Wingate and no great fan of the Chindits - didn't like irregular warfare at all. And there were some questions about his qualities in the field as a brigade commander.

His officers were beginning to lose confidence in him, but nevertheless he got the job of taking over the Chindits at a point when they were just about to be handed over to the command of General Stilwell, 'Vinegar Joe' Stilwell, the American general in charge of the Chinese troops in northern Burma. And he was very definitely an Anglo-phobe. And over 90 per cent of Chindit casualties in the second campaign came after that handover to General Stilwell's command. And the consequences, of course, remain with many families to this day.

These were young men – the youngest Chindit that I've been able to find was just 18 - and most of them were in their early 20s. My dad was a fairly old Chindit; he was about 26 when he went in. The ones who were over 21 tended to be the best stayers, actually, in this very arduous campaign. Nobody over 40 was allowed to go in; it was thought to be simply too much of a physical challenge.

A place was set up blocking the road and railway running north-south and supplying the Japanese army in northern Burma, and the block was called White City. It was basically a defended square straddling the road and railway at a relatively favourable point. And to give you some idea, the barbed wire defences were 30-40 yards [27-36m] thick, or wide, and the Japanese tried desperately to break into that stronghold over a seven-week period. And they tried and failed.

At the end there were 1,200 Japanese bodies on the wire and nobody could do anything with them. They tried to use flame throwers on them at one point, but that just changed one smell for another. And they also asked for quick lime to be dropped, but there was nothing you could do. You couldn't bury them - it was far too dangerous - so they stayed on the wire. And if you look at the expression of the man on the right, it gives you some idea of what seven weeks of fighting at White City must have felt like. It was called White City, incidentally, because the forest around the perimeter was festooned with white parachutes from the supply drops and that is how it has got its name - White City.

Meanwhile, Broadway - the main base for flying in reinforcements and flying in heavy stores - had to be defended against a number of Japanese ground attacks. These men were involved in a bayonet charge to clear the Japanese from one end of the airstrip and I've managed to identify correctly - this photograph was often identified incorrectly, but I know who these men are because I found a Chindit veteran who was friends with the man on the left, the man carrying two rifles, he's a sergeant, and I've managed to identify even the person on the stretcher. So he's being carried back to a clearing for casualty evacuation. But things were not straight forward flying in heavy aircraft, relatively heavy aircraft into rough jungle strips. So, not an easy thing to do.

My dad's battalion had two elephants and they were used to carry three-inch mortar rounds. And the mahouts - you can see them on the elephants - they wouldn't work for money, they only worked for opium. So one of QQ requests for supplies to be dropped included a request for a brick of opium. And they'd go for about three days on a piece of opium the size of your thumbnail. So, there we are.

I also managed to interview a 'kicker'. You can see the man on the left has got his back to the fuselage rigs and he is kicking out and the guys are on either side are dropping the stores. So there's the 'kicker' in action.

And here's a Chindit column in action, basically getting ready to blow a railway bridge. It's not much of a thing, a Burmese railway bridge, but that is what they are doing. The two charges that they're laying immediately are called 'hasty charges' because if they're disturbed in the act of rigging the bridge for blowing, then at least they can cut the railway line instantly as they beat a hasty retreat.
I used to have a standing joke with my father, I used to say to him, 'You spent five months helping to blow up railway lines, and then you spend the next 40 years with British Rail repairing them.' He was a welder on the tracks.

This is Chindit cuisine. You can see the way to do your cooking there is to take two pieces of wood, put some kindling underneath, put your mess tin there and then basically put in whatever you've got. And there were some very strange concoctions. One favourite word for this mess was called 'burgoo'.

I was fascinated when I was a kid, I used to watch my dad eating his dinner and he would reach a certain point and when he got half way through he used to mash up everything on his plate and shape it into, like, a rectangular brick and then eat it from there. And it's only now that I realise that it was probably just about the size of a mess tin, so maybe the habit stayed with him longer than one might expect, I don't know.

This is the aftermath of the supply drop. The chap walking away has got a big box of K rations. And here's a distribution point, so you would come forward platoon by platoon to get your supplies.

Here's a commando platoon waiting to put in an attack, and you get some idea of the country that they're operating in.

Here, there's a blown bridge, and there is somebody out there looking for trouble.

This is quite amusing. This is Lieutenant Colonel Graves-Morris of the York and Lancaster Regiment. It's his 30th birthday. His sergeant major has been carrying for several hundred miles the only bottle of beer in north Burma and he has decided to give it to Graves-Morris for his 30th birthday, which is why he looks so delighted and completely amazed at what is happening.

Graves-Morris was court martialled after the war. Two of his men were flogged - one for being asleep on sentry duty and the other one for stealing rations. My dad, in his column, also saw two men flogged for stealing rations. And the problem was what sort of punishment can you give men in that situation? I mean you can't confine them to barracks, for example. You could stop their pay, but it's meaningless. What can you do in that situation?

So, most men in that situation were given the choice of accepting, themselves, a flogging. And it was usually done by a cat o' nine tails made out of parachute cord. And one of the men flogged in... I think it was 65 Column, when he got home he mentioned this to his family and one of the family objected and mentioned it to the local MP. Questions were asked in the House [of Commons] and before you knew it Graves-Morris was court martialled. He was exonerated, and he was exonerated on the basis that one day's service in the Chindit column was far worse than being flogged.

This is where my father nearly lost his life. It doesn't look much. It's basically a place called Blackpool. When White City was abandoned, the Chindit force moved north but they still had the job of blocking that road and railway. And they chose a new block site called Blackpool. But it wasn't a successful as White City. It was too close to the main Japanese force in northern Burma. They could bring up artillery and basically in just under three weeks they blew Blackpool to bits.

There were 2,000 men inside, including this lot. The tall man there came very, very close to being left. He found himself in a position where he couldn't march. He had dysentery and he had malaria and he couldn't march any longer. And his officer, it's a reconnaissance platoon, his officer gave him an intravenous shot of quinine and within 20 minutes he could walk again. He saved his life.

They flew in a battery of 25-pounder guns. Some of you may have seen this type of gun - I think they were 25 pounders outside [the National Army Museum]. They were broken down and loaded into Dakotas, flown into Blackpool, reassembled and I will show you the shoot plan in a second. The chap who was in charge of the guns at Blackpool went back 60-odd years later and found his command post, which was really quite remarkable. And his son who does things with computers basically generated this image.

Here's a shoot plan for U Troop for, I think, the 160th Jungle Field Regiment. And they're basically firing on the railway, firing on lorries that are on the road and supporting troops floating outside the block and taking on the Japanese if they come under pressure giving them fire support. And he drew this up from memory and a few notes this chap – a marvellous job.

But the problem was the Japanese brought up anti-aircraft guns and with anti-aircraft guns around the perimeter you can't fly in supplies. The last drop involved 12 C47s, 12 Dakotas. Eleven of them were hit and three of them went in flying at 500 feet [152m]. And that was it. Basically they ran out of food, but they weren't worried about the food, they were running out of ammunition. And when the block was actually overrun they only had 12 rounds of ammunition left. So, there was no question about it, the block had to go. It was basically penetrated feature by feature and gradually was overrun.

And there was the problem with the wounded. There were 2,000 men inside the block and they had been firing up to 600 shells a day into a relatively small area. And most of the casualties were from shrapnel and some of them couldn't be moved. So when they started to move out of the block - and they were very fortunate because although the Japanese surrounded it they left a gap, and the gap led to a track, and it was a track up a 3,000 foot [914m] high hill and 2,000 men went, Indian file, up that hill and lived... with, obviously, rearguard parties stalling the Japanese.

But there were 18 men who couldn't be moved, they were too badly injured. And it was decided that they wouldn't be left to the mercy of the Japanese and they were shot. And the medical officer pointed out to [John] Masters, who was in charge of 111 Brigade in the block, he said, 'We don't have enough morphine for all of them.' So, he said, 'Give it to the ones whose eyes are open.'

But those who did escape marched up that trail for three or four days, reached an assembly point and then went down into the Indawgyi Lake where two Sunderland flying boats, 'Gert' and 'Daisy', flew 500 of them to safety. And others made their way by river on the Chindit Navy, which were huge rafts that were built to evacuate the men.

This chap is still alive. I was hoping he would be here today. He can't be here because at the age of 92 he still does one day a week in the City of London. He's an accountant... [Laughter] and the auditors are in today and he can't be here. But I was hoping he'd be here with me today. He was flown out because he had an abscess, but it was an abscess the size of a small apple in the small of his back right where the bottom on the pack rested. And basically he couldn't march with his kit because of it and he was also basically in an advanced state of blood poisoning. So, they evacuated him and this picture was taken ten minutes after the abscess was lanced. Despite the ineffectual anaesthetic you can see he was highly delighted with the result.

Meanwhile, the Chindits were misused as assault troops by Stilwell. And Lentaigne, unfortunately, went along with it. And here you see them assaulting the village or the town of Mogaung - let's call it a town, it's not really a town as you and I understand it. It's a mortar team in action and you can see here that they've blown a bridge and they are keeping it under observation on the outskirts of the town.

This is the only brick building in Mogaung and here on your left is Michael Calvert, perhaps the ultimate Chindit fighting commander. And you will see that he has got a rifle, and the reason for that is you don't want to identify yourself as an officer in situations like this. On the right-hand side is Major Lumley, Joanna Lumley's father. It's an interesting photograph that, Major Lumley…it almost looks as though he could be in Vietnam.

This is 'General' Lee. He's not really a general, he's an NCO [non-commissioned officer] and after the attack you can see him resting in bivouac. You can also see that his weapons are fairly close by.

This chap was the oldest Chindit in one of the columns. He is 39 years old and you can see from his ribs that they've been on a prolonged period of K rations. When the Chindits came out, back at base somebody came in with a box of K rations and two Chindits looked at it and immediately vomited. That will give you some idea of how much they hated them at the end.

This photograph, I will just show you, because it has a very amusing caption. On the back of it it says, 'Stinky gets his boil lanced.' And I asked the man who took the photograph about it and he said that it seemed very funny at the time.

These are the European officers surviving from two Chindit columns, West African Chindit columns, after an assault on a feature called 'Hill 60'. And these are the survivors - the causalities were terrible.

This is a chap waiting to be flown out. He's lost his bush hat and he's got his small pack on to protect his head. Many of them stayed in Changi jail and weren't liberated until the following year, many Chindit prisoners, including the chap sitting down to the very right. I interviewed him - he's suffering from beriberi in the picture.

The Japanese surrendered in Burma. That's General Wavell with a Chindit RSM [regimental sergeant major] who had a reputation of being a very tough RSM. Apparently his nickname was 'kitna', and 'kitna' is Urdu for 'too much'. He looks too much.

That's the photograph my dad sent back after he got out... and some Christmas greetings.

Back in Changi jail, this man had his leg amputated without anaesthetic, and survived.

This is a chap who was in charge of the guns at Blackpool; he lost an eye getting up that 3,000 foot [914m] track.

This chap didn't come back. He's reading a copy of 'Life' magazine dropped in one of the air drops. He's still in Burma.

Other Chindit veterans. And this is 64 Chindit veterans at the laying up of the standard in 2009 in Litchfield Cathedral with their patron, The Prince of Wales.

And that's it ladies and gentleman. Thank you very much.

37 comments

GERRY LANGFORD
17 February 2014, 8.27pm

I read this with interest. My

I read this with interest. My father was also in Burma with the Chindits, His name is Denis William Langford - he was known as Tiny Langford and was mentioned many times in Pat O'brien's 'Out of the Blue'. I was wondering if anyone remembers Tiny Langford.

thomas Flynn
10 April 2014, 3.49pm

My father Matthew John Flynn

My father Matthew John Flynn also served with the chindits in Burma. He was awarded MM and Bar does anyone remember him?

Val Jackson
30 April 2014, 2.02pm

My dad, Gerard Dixon, was

My dad, Gerard Dixon, was also a Chindit. Served with 16th. British Infantry Brigade which was part of 51 Column. He never spoke about his time in the Chindits, and now after reading your narrative I can understand why. These men were the bravest of the brave in my eyes, and I'm extremely proud to be the daughter of a Chindit. PS My dad couldn't stand the smell of curry, said he ate enough of it in the war. He passed away in January 2005 and members of the Burma Star Association attended his funeral in Leeds. Thank you Tony Redding for shedding light on my dad's experiences in Burma. Val Jackson South Africa

Rosemary Rhodes nee Stedeford
12 May 2014, 2.36pm

My father was a Chindit,

My father was a Chindit, Bertrand William Stedeford. He died in 1950 in Malaya.

Andrew Pinder
14 May 2014, 4.27pm

I was doing some research for

I was doing some research for my father in law, Richard Perkins, who was also a Chindit when I came across this. He's still alive & well & 96. He led a column as a Capt on Kyunsalai Pass and has written a moving and personal account of that operation. He too has his 'panic map' framed on a wall.

Tracy Kelly
7 July 2014, 4.59pm

My grandfather Tom Edgar Ball

My grandfather Tom Edgar Ball who turned 95 years old on the 3rd May 2014 was a Chindit. He lives in Altenheim retirement home, Wartburg South Africa. I would like to learn more of what was expected of them as chindits so I can understand his great sadness when I try to learn more about this war.

George Giltrap
12 December 2014, 12.41pm

My Father was "attached" to

My Father was "attached" to the Chindits in Burma...his address then was..44/23rd Indian Airborne Divison.SEAC.BURMA.. His shoulder badge was a Pegasus with "INDIA" underneath, his beret badge...a Para Badge with INDIA at the bottom..yet when i contacted the MOD for his records they tell me, he never was in Burma???..incidently i am a volunteer at Romney Marsh Wartime Collection, Brenzett....and have just "restored" a Chindit Bowie Knife that is one of our exhibits.

Anthony Jones
29 December 2014, 10.42am

My grandfather was a Chindit

My grandfather was a Chindit and by all accounts served alongside Mr Reddings father. His name was Joseph Jones (joe deb). We lost him some years ago and I'm currently in the process of finding out more. It would seem that, the man that came back from this fight didn't want to talk about what they had seen or experienced.

Fiona Dennehy
3 March 2015, 1.47pm

My father was Major Basil

My father was Major Basil Henry Green of the Lancashire Fusiliers, I think that the Chindits were the bravest group of men on earth.

C J O' Connor
20 May 2015, 11.43am

My father Sergeant P.O'Connor

My father Sergeant P.O'Connor served in The Chindits in both the first and second operations. Although originally from The Royal Scots he was part of The Lancashire Fusiliers in Burma. He was a gunnery sergeant and although he spoke little of his experiences I remember every detail of what he did speak about. I remember him recalling the order from Orde Wingate to "breakout and good luck see you back in India". My father walked to China he set out with around 30 men and arrived in China with 9.

Adam Brodie
4 July 2015, 8.31pm

My late father commanded a

My late father commanded a column in the 2nd expedition.-I once asked him what it was like-he just said "we walked a long way" He also said they would settle down in the jungle for the night, and an hour later they would silently move off the track to another place, in case the Japanese had been watching them bunk down the first time and were organising an ambush as they slept.

Greig Murray
29 July 2015, 12.22pm

My uncle, Mungo Park, was Mad

My uncle, Mungo Park, was Mad Mike Calvert's signals officer on the second Chindit expedition. He was awarded an immediate Military Cross for repeatedly crawling out under gunfire to mend the communications telephone wire. He, like so many, would never talk about these exploits but he remains one of my heroes.

Ken McGuire
10 September 2015, 11.25pm

My uncle, Philip Young of the

My uncle, Philip Young of the Royal Artillery, served in Burma with the Chindits and died in 1944 when Japanese artillery flattened their base. He died at his post.

allan jauncey
20 October 2015, 9.31am

My father in law William

My father in law William Armstrong was a Chindit, he was shot in the shoulder by a Japaneses sniper and carried out of Burma to India in the second expedition in April 1944.

Bill survived the war and died last Saturday 17 October 2015 at the age of 95 in his sleep in Bunbury Western Australia. Are there any last surviving Chindits or was Bill the last? Would love to hear as I am collating Bill's life history for our family.

Enid bradburn
9 November 2015, 11.17pm

My uncle Bert Paxford was in

My uncle Bert Paxford was in the 1st Manchester reg. served in Burma was missing presumed dead but was to later turn up. Today 2015 he is alive and well at the age of 92 never misses remembrance day.

Jim Dick
13 November 2015, 11.23am

Hello all, my father was a

Hello all, my father was a Black Watch 2nd Battalion Chindit who moved to Australia in 1948. He never ever spoke a word of it all to me. I knew he was in Burma and the Middle East and Crete prior, but very little else. I recently visited the Black Watch museum in Perth and after the glowing way the historian spoke about Dad's service I undertook to find out everything I could. If someone above or even Tony Redding would like to correspond with me I would greatly appreciate it. He passed away in 1989 after a massive stroke largely bought on as a result of health issues from Tobruk and Burma. He had malaria bouts and 1 1/2 functioning lungs. There is so much I would like to understand I cant put it all in so if you read this and think you can help please contact me. I found out that the two young men who enlisted with dad were killed in Burma and Tobruk. One of them I know was a very good friend. Dad's service record is inaccurate as well.... like many he wasn't 18 when he enlisted and he had serious scarring and wounds that were not mentioned in his discharge. His service number was 2756408. Just so proud and amazed but also a little bit upset that I don't know a great deal. Again, if you can help me please contact me. Yours Sincerely Jim Dick.

Jim Dick
13 November 2015, 11.24am

Sorry, I should add his name

Sorry, I should add his name was James Rennie Dick, enlisted in Dundee. Number 2756408.

Jim Dick
13 November 2015, 12.09pm

Hi Adam Brodie, I think your

Hi Adam Brodie, I think your father was my father's commanding officer. The Black Watch were part of the Javelin team in 42 and 73rd columns I think.

Amanda antrobus
28 January 2016, 10.15pm

My grandfather was also a

My grandfather was also a Chindit from 2nd Battalion Kings Own Royals. He also operated bren gun. He had dysentery and malaria on return. Tony Redding - I wonder if he knew your father? His name was John Antrobus but was known as Tom or Tommy (Antrobus). Sadly he passed in 1989, when I was 8, but I am trying to piece together this part of his life.

Alan Hickey
22 March 2016, 2.46pm

My Grandfather was also with

My Grandfather was also with the Chindits in Burma - Robert Darnbrough initially with the South Staffs. He went "missing" in the jungle but was later found just under a year later by an American Patrol. He survived the war and went on to serve in Malaya. He died back in 1977 - I still have his medals on the wall.

George Giltrap
14 April 2016, 10.44am

I have recently been informed

I have recently been informed by PARA DATA CO.UK...that my Father who mentioned earlier here...William George Giltrap ( George)...was at the Battle of SANGSHACK.

Valerie Fleming
9 May 2016, 5.13pm

My father, Owen Stark, was a

My father, Owen Stark, was a Royal Artillary BSM/RSM in Burma/India with the Chindits. Can' t find any trace of him though. He died at 50 in 1970.. I have his Burma Star so not imagined. He was in the TA before going to war. Very young.

melvyn gould
14 May 2016, 7.51pm

my father thomas gould from

my father thomas gould from belfast served with the chindits and whilst going through my late fathers papers i discovered a chindit newsletter which gives a detailed account of a survival trek through the jungle mentioning by name the 11 survivors and one of them was albert paxford from hindley wigan already mentioned in one of these columns. if any relatives want details i have the story, also william and john mullin of chester, wilfred paxton of willington co durham, desmond thompson of wigton cumbria, arthur hose of chorley lancs, wm griffiths of barrow, francis moffatt of everton, james durkin of liverpool, albert peers of lower bebington cheshire, john thomas potter of upper gornal staffs..

Davy Lane
17 May 2016, 9.58pm

I just received my

I just received my grandfather's Burma Star and Pacific Star with Burma clasp. He was a Chindit. His name was John "Jack" Hall from Liverpool. This much I know from anecdotal family accounts. He was a Corporal. He operated the morse code machine. He stopped in Trincomalee en route to Burma. He was in the Hindu Kush (though I think they meant the Himalayas).. He was presumed dead for a significant period of time as his return ship was sank and the survivors were picked up by a submarine. He contracted malaria in Burma. He passed away in 1969. How would I find out his regiment and other pertinent campaign details?

Angharad Rhys Roberts Name
21 May 2016, 11.09pm

My father was a Chindits,

My father was a Chindits, Major Olivier Evans of the South Wales Borderers. He never spoke about his experiences, and as a father was very remote. I do not know much about his life. He served in Malaya. He died in London at the age of 76. Any information would be appreciated.

Susan Kingston
30 June 2016, 3.20pm

My father served as chaplain

My father served as chaplain in the 2nd Chindit campaign. He disliked Wingate for leaving behind the wounded, caught malaria from which he suffered for years afterwards. He did like the mules however.

Conrad Niell Watkins
15 July 2016, 11.04pm

My father Leslie Watkins was

My father Leslie Watkins was a Chindit. He fought with the Gurkha's in Burma. He was a corporal in the signal cor and flew into Burma in a glider. He was born in Horwich, in Lancashire and before the war was a potter. He also during war spent rec time in India. He had a Gurkha Knife and his Chindit Arm Badge. After the war he married my mother Winifred Eden in 1945 and in 1951 migrated to Perth Western Australia and died in 1991. I don't know if it's important but my father's rifle number was the same as his British Passport number. I would like to know if anyone knew my father and where can I find out more about his life in the army and war years.

Marlene Pallot
7 August 2016, 7.34pm

My father John Thomas (Tommy)

My father John Thomas (Tommy) Dyer, from Oldham, was a Chindit and fought with the Lancashire Fusiliers. I have his Burma Star and other medals but know very little of his experiences or of his comrades in Burma as he never liked to talk about it. He died in 1999 at the age of 80. I had to smile when reading Tony Redding's story of the Chindits, my father also used to joke 'you'd be no good in the jungle'.

Carl Oughton
9 August 2016, 4.24pm

My grandfather private Thomas

My grandfather private Thomas Lowther was a Chindit. He served in the 7th battalion of the Leicestershire regiment, column 1 (47 column). No 4884480. He died aged 95 and his wife my grandmother lived until 102 and died in December 2015. He told me a few things about his experiences. He was 28 when he was in Burma and he lost 3 stone by the end. He had malaria and told me about the leaches. He got home just before Christmas 1945. He didn't see my mother for 4 years once he sailed from Liverpool to India. He told me he was late for the boat as he wanted to spend an extra night at home. He got put in the hold for a week as a punishment. He was only about 5 foot 6 inches but he was without doubt the toughest man I have ever known.

Terry Carr
5 September 2016, 4.19pm

My Dad was a Chindit. Arthur

My Dad was a Chindit. Arthur Carr, a member of the York and Lancs. I know that he did several videos of his time in Burma for a local TV station (Granada TV in Yorkshire) they were entitled " Living History" but I was never able to get copies of them. Dad has been dead now for many years.

Lisa jomes
12 September 2016, 6.57pm

My grandfather Donal wise was

My grandfather Donal wise was in the 1st battalion kings own and went in with the 2nd expedition. He was presumed dead on the 21st may 1944, last accounts in the war diaries was the column came under heavy fire they were ordered to retreat and while the column were scrambling up a steep slippery bank donald was bringing up the rear with one other when some of the unit reached the top and turned round my grandfather Donald and one other were no where to be seen and were presumed dead.

TREVOR NICHOLAS
15 October 2016, 8.08pm

I believe my father William

I believe my father William Paxton Nicholas was in the Chindits Longcloth operation I recall after he came back he talked of marching to China to get out of Burma when they were told to make their own way back. It appears that he was a corporal and later a Sargeant during his period in India. He was a mining engineer and I imagine involved in fixing and setting off explosive charges . He was Mentioned in Deswatches for Distinguished Service and was attached to the Indian Army while in SE ASIA 14th Army.He was in the Military police when in the UK and at one time a Despatch Rider .I have photos of him as a driver of Bedford trucks in India he seemed to be attached to Ghurka and Sikh groups ato some stage and recall him saying he was in the incident when Mohatma Ghandi was arrested. I recall that he said only 7 members of his patrol got to China . And we're repatriated to India by Air when he only weighed 7 stone and was severely anaemic ..I recall in about 1947 or 1948 when we got a car we visited one of his close comrades who had been with him in Burma . who was living in Liverpool whose nickname was Basha or Basher he lived in one of the postwar Prefabs. I cannot recall his actual name My father returned to mining after the war, he was a third or fourth generation of mining employees, he continued his career in the NCB He had entered the war service as a volunteer..He died aged 51 when he was a colliery manager in 1964.

Naomi Ridgewell
11 November 2016, 9.40pm

Hi my grandfather Alan

Hi my grandfather Alan Goodhew who is 97 and still alive was a Chindit. He has told us a few stories of his time, amazing to hear. Being buried by the villagers he lived among so the Japanese would not find them. He said about the dramatic weight loss they experienced whilst marching and about food bars they were given, at one point he weighed 5 stone.

Andrew Wales
13 November 2016, 3.17pm

Both my father and uncle

Both my father and uncle were Chindits, serving with the Royal Engineers. They were in 21 column,and walked into Burma. Their names were Charlie and Arthur Wales. If anyone out there remembers them I would loveto hear from you.

Mary Seddon
25 November 2016, 3.48pm

My Dad was in the 2nd Bn Duke

My Dad was in the 2nd Bn Duke of Wellington Regiment and therefore in 1944 was in the 23 LRP Brigade. This brigade was trained as Chindits and was suppose to take part in the 2nd Expedition but on the orders of General Bill Slim this brigade was taken out of the expedition and sent to the Naga hills where they helped stop supplies reaching the Japs at Kohima and Imphal. I think this brigade also helped flush out any japs in these hills.

Tony Bolton
27 November 2016, 10.14pm

My dad was a very quiet

My dad was a very quiet gentle man ..hands like shovels heart of gold...16 years after he passed away i too found out my dad was a chindit....his mane was Alfred ..Alf... Bolton ..he came from kent was a giant of a man and never once gave any indication of where he had been or what he had seen or done ...i am now trying to piece any information together any help would be gratefully received,..god bless you all brave soles....

Jim Stocks
25 January 2017, 11.30am

Thank you for your efforts

Thank you for your efforts

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