Lest We Forget Continued (page 13)
The 42nd Column was still using Burmese scouts, still being troubled by leeches and still receiving air supply drops. Occasionally there were rum rations in the normal rations. This was very welcome as it usually meant a good night’s sleep. If anyone was caught pilfering the rations it was a very serious offence. Men were getting very ill with beri-beri and dysentry and the column was losing men every day. Although some of the Black Watch were killed by the Japanese, most of the deaths were from illness. Most of the men suffered with hookworm and all had jungle sores which were a type of ulcer which contained maggots.
Sometimes they came upon a deserted village which had mango and banana trees full of fruit which made a very welcome treat for the men. This routine went on for weeks. Airstrips were frequently made to get men out and some wondered if they would ever get out themselves. Eventually, all that stood between the column and the British line was a small group of Japanese soldiers who were constantly and accurately firing mortar bombs at them. On one of the supply drops the Black Watch asked for bagpipes and regimental kilts to be dropped. The men of the Black Watch put on their kilts, fixed bayonets and, with the piper playing, they rushed the enemy who in spite of being well dug in, scattered. The column moved on, after which it took about two days to get out of the dense jungle. When they emerged their three month tour had lasted for nearly six months.
Eventually the men arrived at the railway which consisted of a rail track with the gauge of a jeep. The locomotive was a jeep with flanged wheels which pulled small open trucks. Finally, they arrived at Mogaung, stopping there for one night before continuing to Myikyina where they were flown out by American Dakotas piloted by USAF personnel to Tinsuki in Assam. This was where Jack met up with men of the 54th Field Company again. Tinsuki was a tea plantation area where the men were invited into the bungalows of owners and top men. Afterwards the men continued by train to Bangalore where they were given more nutritious food and reduced Mepocrine tablets.
Up to now Jack had not contracted malaria and was beginning to think that he had escaped the dreadful illness. While on leave for the next month the men stayed at the YMCA. Jack took the opportunity of sending several parcels of best Indian tea to his parents. While being transported back to the camp at Bangalore he went down with a bad attack of malaria. On arrival he was taken to the tented hospital and given pure quinine, which after three days made him deaf. While in India he was a stickman, which in general terms was someone who took messages and sometimes filled in on guard duties. He then moved to Madras where training began again. This consisted of jeep landing on the beaches, which was in preparation for the landings at Rangoon. In between training he went up to Calcutta to guard stores at the railhead. They set sail in an old Dutch ship and, while at sea, received the news that Japan had capitulated. Each man was given a bottle of Australian beer for a welcome celebration. On arrival at Rangoon they found the town full of Japanese prisoners of war. After only one day 54th Field Company were moved about thirty miles to help convert a museum building into a hospital. Whilst there a Japanese distillery was discovered and volunteers were called for to help smash it up. There was no shortage of volunteers and men were getting drunk. Suddenly an order was issued forbidding drinking as the alcohol would cause blindness. Drinking ceased immediately.
The men were then moved back to Rangoon by the converted liner Dunera which continued to Madras where they spent a few weeks ashore before it was decided to send them to Singapore. A day after arriving they were sent to the causeway which had been very badly bombed by the Japanese. Once over the causeway they were billeted in a large school at Johor Bahru where they stayed for several months while they rebuilt a very large bailey bridge with the help of Japanese prisoners of war.
On their night out they went back to Singapore where they found most things too expensive even for their 12% supplemented army pay. It was then decided to send them to Port Dickenson in Malay where they were billeted in rubber plantation bungalows which had previously been occupied by the Japanese. These were luxury bungalows to which the men, being engineers, soon restored electricity. They were situated on the beach and most had boats. After three years of war the men prepared for demobilisation in some luxury and, whilst in Malaya, Jack visited Kuala Lumpur and Malacca. Eventually they were moved back to Johor Bahru by train and then by truck to Singapore where they where they billeted in the police barracks. Eventually they were taken back to the docks and boarded the Britannic which had been converted to a troopship. Now that the war was over the ship was lit and smoking was allowed on deck. It was now September 1946 and no escort ships were needed for the voyage home. For the first few days the islands had lovely sand beaches with palm trees, although the voyage was rather boring. To keep himself occupied Jack volunteered to sweep the decks. During this voyage flying fish landed on the deck. Whilst in the Canal the Britannic pulled over to allow a ship to pass on her way to the Far East. Jack saw it was the Strathmore which had carried him to India in 1943.
Jack‘s first sight of England was the Liver Bird in Liverpool. After docking he travelled to York for demobilisation. The date was 9th October 1946. After a meal and a night’s rest he was issued with a demob suit, a set of underwear, a yellow tie, brown shoes and a trilby hat. His first English beer for several years was at York railway station with his mate Charlie Moore. They then boarded a train and said goodbye at Pontefract. Eventually Jack arrived at Birmingham to find the last bus to Solihull had left. However, Jack was put on board a special bus that took crew home after their shift. The driver insisted on taking Jack to his door, which caused some interest to the neighbours as no bus had ever been in their street before and it was nearly one o’clock in the morning. His father and mother got up to meet him; Jack was home from the war at last.
After many years working for Deloro Stellite in Swindon, Jack Cotton is now retired and enjoys freshwater fishing. He is a member of the Chindit Old Comrades Association and was proud to attend the unveiling of the Chindit memorial in London in October 1990.
7962666 Trooper George DURLING joined the army in February 1943. After six months training at RAC Unit at Farnborough he was transferred to the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry at Ogbourne St George. After six months he moved to North Dalton, just outside Beverly, Yorkshire. After a short while he was moved to Berwick where he had six weeks intensive training at Infantry. After this he boarded a ship at Greenock Scotland which set sail for Bombay, India.
At this time he was transferred to the 5th Battalion West Yorks Regiment. After arriving in Bombay the Battalion did some extensive training to get used to the heat. They were then moved up to the Imphal plains in Burma where George was told he was joining Wingate‘s force operating behind Japanese lines. After about four months fighting in this field they were pulled back to rest. Because of his experience with tanks he did some short training with flame throwers mounted on carriers. George was then promoted to Corporal. From then on he took part in the main offensive against the Japanese, taking Meiktila and containing until they reached Rangoon. At that time the war ended. While George was stationed at Ogbourne St George he met his wife Dorothy and they were married in July 1946. They lived for many years in Quarry Crescent, Highworth. After retiring from his work as an agricultural engineer with W.L. Bartrop and Co. George and Dorothy moved to live on the Dorset coast.