Lest We Forget Continued (page 11)
At this time there was still no mention of the “Chindits”. Jack‘s draft number was RGYOG and on arrival at Bombay on D-Day +1 Bill Gorton was drafted to K578 HMS Narborough, which was an ex American Captain Class Frigate with a complement of 200 crew and was part of the 15th Belfast Flotilla. From that time HMS Narborough was on escort duty helping to escort convoys of troops and supply ships from Portsmouth to the Normandy beaches doing twenty-nine trips in thirty-six days.
On the 24th October 1944, Bill Gorton was onboard HMS Narborough on escort duty with Convoy JW6 l to Murmansk, Russia. The convoy consisted of thirty merchant ships with the same amount of escort ships. Ranged against this formidable force was an equally large wolfpack of nineteen boats. The weather turned bad, which made for many sleepless nights, and of course the days grew very brief as the latitude increased. The Northern Lights were brilliant on some nights. For two days the commanders of five German U-Boats repeatedly attempted to destroy the frigates with T-5s, but the foxers and step-aside procedures foiled them. Eventually the convoy was safely delivered to the rendezvous where waiting Russian destroyers took the White Sea contingent further east. HMS Narborough was then assigned to a returning convoy on Thursday, 2nd November 1944, when the merchant ships forming Convoy RA61 steamed to sea, preceded by the escorts and followed by the carriers. The weather conditions on most of these convoys was atrocious which made life on board ship uncomfortable. Finally, the convoy entered the Clyde on 10th November 1944. Bill Gorton had survived another Russian convoy. After twelve months on HMS Narborough Leading Wireman Bill Gorton applied for promotion to Petty Officer. At that time the war came to an end. He was then transferred to an R Class Destroyer H09 HMS Rotherham with a complement of 225 crew, finding the ship in dry-dock in Portsmouth. He was eventually demobilised from the Royal Navy in May 1946, with gratuity pay of £69.19s. He was awarded the 1939/45 Star, Atlantic Star, Defence Medal and Victory Medal with the France and German Bar. Also a commemorative Russian Medal which was awarded to Royal Navy personnel who took part on Russian Convoys. It was awarded for helping to protect the convoys to Murmansk and Archangel which maintained a lifeline to the Russians.
4927711 Sapper Jack COTTON, 42nd Column, 54th Field Company, Commando Platoon, Royal Engineers, attached to 2nd Battalion Black Watch, (Royal Highlanders). Formerly 78th Company, Royal Engineers. Formerly 70th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.
Jack was a member of Brigadier Ord Wingate’s Chindit Brigade of jungle fighters which operated behind Japanese lines (beyond the Chindwin River, hence their name). Jack Cotton joined the Army in October 1941. He was posted to the South Staffordshire Regiment and was at Norton Barracks, Worcester for twelve weeks for basic infantry training. This largely consisted of small arms drill and assault training.
During January 1942 he travelled by train to Saltburn-on Sea, North Yorkshire and was then sent to Scorton airfield near Catterick Bridge which was an operational airfield for Bristol Beaufighters and Spitfires. Jack was there for about six months, guarding the airfield. During the winter of 1942 there was considerable snowfall with six-foot drifts on several occasions. Every day was spent helping to clear snow from the runway, as throughout this time the aircraft were on operational flights. Before leaving Scorton the men of the South Staffordshire Regiment trained RAF personnel in guard procedure, and hence assisted in the formation of the RAF Regiment. During June 1942 the men of 70th Battalion went on a route march through Darlington to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Going over the iron bridge to Chester-le-Street the men were told to rest on some kerb stones outside a pub. The door suddenly opened and men came out with pints of beer, saying, “Have these on us lads”. Going on to Gosforth the men slept in the grandstand of the racecourse there. Then they went on to Wooler and Milfield, which took about a week. On the way they slept in the hedgerows or in empty schools. At that time Milfield airfield was just being built.
After about a month there, the battalion marched back to Scruton near Northallerton. The 70th Battalion was a young soldiers battalion and at that time they were told that they could either stay with the South Staffs or they could volunteer for any other regiments. Jack volunteered for the Royal Engineers and was accepted after passing his initial tests. During September 1942 he travelled to Salisbury by train and then on to barracks at Winterbourne Dauntsey where for several months he trained with 78th Chemical Warfare Company. Eventually it was decided not to proceed with the development of chemical weapons and his unit became 78th Field Company, Royal Engineers. They were trained in demolition and in building pontoon and Bailey Bridges, mine laying and mine detecting. Some of this was done at Chesil Beach, Weymouth and on the Thames at Pangbourne.
During the winter of 1942/43 Jack and a platoon of thirty men were posted to the Red Lion Inn at Lechlade for about a month. They were to guard the Halfpenny Bridge over the Thames and the telephone box opposite the Red Lion which was strictly for military use only. The men were billeted in the roof space of the public house which was cold with only hay to sleep on, and were glad to return to Eigsbury Barracks on Salisbury Plain. They were then moved to Blandford in Dorset to a field of Nissen Huts called Down House camp. It was there that Jack decided to apply for a transfer to a more exciting unit. After a while as a regimental policeman at Down House camp a list of transfers appeared on the notice board with his name on it. At that time he was still in 78th Field Company. He moved to the Royal Marine Barracks in Chatham for about a month of extensive training with the Royal Marines. Much of this was carried out with live ammunition and involved long marches with full kit. Before starting this course you had to be A1 plus. Jack passed with flying colours and felt that at last he was going to get some excitement. Some of the training was about German teller mines, which gave Jack the impression that he was about to go to North Africa to fight against the Germans. Little did he know that all of this training was to prepare him to fight behind the Japanese lines as one of the “Chindits”.
After finishing the course in September 1943 he was sent home for seven days embarkation leave, taking with him full kit of pack and rifle. After leave he was transferred to Halifax in West Yorkshire for about a fortnight and given tropical kit and a new rifle. He still thought that he was going to North Africa when in October he travelled by train to Liverpool where he boarded the troopship Strathmore. While on board he volunteered to serve in the galley. The convoy was one of the first to go through the Mediterranean. During the early evening of the 5th November 1943 near Gibraltar the air raid sirens sounded. All portholes and water-tight doors were locked. The raid went on for about an hour with torpedoes and bombs doing much damage. The naval gunners were firing flat out. When the all clear was sounded Jack went out on deck and could see boats sinking and on fire, luckily the Strathmore survived without damage. While in the Med news came over the ship’s tannoy that they were going to lndia. They were known as OG Draft. They were then moved to Dulalee and on to transit camp, mainly doing guard duties. After about three weeks there, Jack was transferred to 54th Field Company, Commando Platoon, attached to 2nd Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders).
While at Dulalee Camp Jack celebrated his 21st birthday and first heard of the Chindits, although no one knew very much about them. The Commando Platoon of thirty Royal Engineers was then sent for jungle training north of Delhi where they met the Black Watch. These men had left home in 1938 and had gone through North Africa to India. None of them had any real knowledge of what was going on at home. 54th Field Company Commando Platoon and the 2nd Battalion Black Watch were in 42nd Column and this was the start of intensive jungle warfare training. With the Black Watch reveille was sounded by bagpipes and breakfast was always porridge with salt. After this, Jack had three days leave at Agra where he saw the Taj Mahal. He then travelled by train from Delhi to Assam, a journey which took about nine days to complete because of changes of train. He eventually arrived in Assam and then went on to an airfield which had Dakota transport aircraft with American pilots.