Joining Up, Training,
This is an account of my wartime experiences written in Jan 87, on the insistence of an old friend, entirely from memory as I kept no diaries or other records but to the best of my knowledge and belief the facts and dates are substantially correct.
A famous comedian used to start his act with the words; " The day war broke out" so I will too.The year of course was 1939, the day Sunday Sept 3 and I was 16 years old. It was an autumn day and all day long aeroplanes of all sorts droned across the sky in all directions, some singly, some in groups.
I was working in a local garage and on the Monday morning I went to work as usual to find that 'the guv'nor', who was on the Army Volunteer Reserve, had 'gone'.
He had been called for during the night - I wasn’t to see him again for some time.
That left me, and his aged father, in sole charge of the small garage which dramatically changed over night. The only skilled mechanic didn’t turn up either, he had gone off to join the RAF, eventually ending up in the Far East as a fighter pilot and to be twice decorated for bravery - but that is another story.
Petrol was immediately rationed, cars were requisitioned, some for army work but in this area, mostly for the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service). Those lovely gleaming cars, their owners' pride and joy, were all sprayed or hand painted in rough texture camouflage paint - quite heart breaking to see.
Non essential cars were taken off the road and put away in their owner's garage properly laid up, on blocks, tanks drained etc, under dust sheets for the duration.
I was kept busy looking after farmers' vehicles, cars and tractors, which were essential for the war effort. It was amazing the tricks people tried on to obtain extra petrol when they ran out of coupons; one had to be a diplomat at times. It was essential to be sure the coupons were genuine and not forgeries before you put the petrol in the tank.
I suppose my first bit of war service when the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers) force was formed, in other words 'Dads Army'. I wasn’t really old enough to join but when they found out that I owned a motor cycle a 350cc New Hudson, I was allowed in as a despatch rider. The uniform was an armband with the letters LDV. Later we acquired proper army battle dress and our title became 'Home Guard'.
We spent evenings on patrol around the village at Weston Turville, nights on watch on top of the church tower and had our headquarters near the local pub. After a while we were even issued with .303 Lee Enfield rifles and some ammunition, the rifles caused some headaches in the early days. Several rounds went through the ceiling of the HQ when one was pushed up the spout by mistake - but we learned and there were no fatalities.
Being a despatch rider I was given a revolver and six rounds of ammunition; quite a lethal combination for a lad of sixteen who had never before handled anything more powerful than an airgun.
We were a very enthusiastic bunch and determined to defend the Village against any enemy. We went on exercises against the regular army, usually the 'Guards' who were based at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country house.
I well remember one night being 'captured' by these blighters; they ambushed me and my trusty '250', tied me to a farm gate and made off with the bike. After much struggling I got free and made my way home across the fields, in total darkness, falling in a muckheap on the way, smelling awful and minus my bike at 5 am. Had to be at the garage for work at 7.30 but arrived late and bleary eyed to do a normal day's work. The bike was found abandoned near Chequers, out of petrol. For that episode I had a rollicking from the Platoon Officer and another from the old man at the garage for being late - happy days.
All this time history was being made by the real War, the BEF at Dunkirk and suchlike; the War was becoming very nasty.
All my mates who were a little older were being called up, one was drafted into the coal mines as a 'Bevin' boy; and I had my 'medical'. For this I had to go to High Wycombe and was passed A1 with glasses. Suddenly, I decided I wanted to go; I was now old enough and I didn’t want to go down the mines or into the local infantry regiment, the Oxon & Bucks Light Infantry, so decided to try for the Tank Corps.
I had several ulterior motives for this. For one thing you rode and, as they say in Bucks, 'a rough ride is better than a good walk' and secondly, I fancied wearing the Black Beret, the Tank Corp's head-dress. I was also mechanically minded and tanks fascinated me.
To achieve this end, I went to High Wycombe, some 14 miles away, on the local bus with my mother purporting to go Christmas shopping. While mother went shopping (Dad hadn’t come with us, he hated shopping) I popped into the local army recruiting office, telling her I was going to enquire about a late call up. A young lady in WRAC uniform asked me some questions and I professed a yearning to join the Tanks when my call up came. She disappeared into an inner office and returned saying, “The Brigadier will see you now”.
I went in and there sat the man himself in full uniform, complete with red tabs. He was the typical Colonel Blimp type; fat, florid and sitting behind a very big desk in a very big office.
“So you want to join the Tank Corp's, laddie?” were his opening words to which I meekly replied, “Yes Sir”. Upon which he put on his peaked cap, with the red band on, stood up and gave me a card. “Read that aloud,” he said, which I did. It turned out to be the oath of allegiance to the King. He then said, “Sign here”, whereupon he gave me the King's shilling (5p) for volunteering and a railway warrant to Beverley in Yorkshire and I was 'in’. It took all of ten minutes. This was 19 Dec ‘42 and I had to report to Beverley on 4 Feb 43.
When I met Mother and told her the news, she nearly fainted and had to be revived with a cup of tea in a cafe. Dad had a little more to say when we reached home, such as “never volunteer for anything, etc.” but I think that secretly he was quite proud.
The fourth of Feb was quite an occasion; Mother and Father came to London to see me off at Kings Cross station. I was told to wear my Home Guard uniform without the insignia and flashes. The station was just as one sees it now on the old War Time news reels - all hustle and bustle with Army, Navy and Air Force personnel arriving and departing - all on the move to somewhere in England. After a tearful goodbye to both parents, (although there was muttered “silly young bugger” from Dad!) the long steam train journey to the North had begun; quite exciting for a country lad who hadn’t been further than
Arriving at Beverley with lots of others, mostly in civvies, we were met and shepherded by a loud-mouthed corporal and loaded into huge Army trucks, which took us to the Army Training School. We were given a substantial meal, two blankets each and put into a Nissen hut for the night, and was it cold!
Next morning at 6.30am, it started: pitch dark, awakened with shouts of the famous “Wakey!
Wakey! Rise and shine, the weather’s fine!” A bleary eyed wash in cold water in a communal water trough, a quick breakfast and then to the Quarter Master’s Stores to be issued with full kit: webbing, bedding and the famous .303 again. We were given literally everything for our needs right down to a sewing kit (the Housewife).
We were give a large cardboard box each into which went our civvie underwear etc. to be sent home post paid. We were vaccinated, inoculated, indoctrinated, medically inspected and for six weeks, our feet hardly touched the ground as we were moulded and formed into something resembling soldiers. Everything was done by numbers and it worked; we became a smart, well ordered body of men.
Days began with the door bursting open at 6.30, with our ‘mentors/instructors’ standing there, a sergeant and a corporal.
P.T. quickly followed. We were dressed in just singlet and shorts, even when it was snowing, but under the direction of a PT instructor we did warm up although it was quite a shock to the system. After that it was a daily routine of drilling, marching, rifle practice, assault course and all the other things associated with being a soldier. We were shouted at, sworn at, in fact 'punched bored & blasted’ to coin a phrase. Some didn’t take kindly to all this treatment/discipline but surprisingly I didn’t mind. We were not allowed out of camp at this stage but at the end of the day we were too tired anyway and there was always the NAAFI to go to.
One organisation which merits a mention during this period of isolation from home must be the Salvation Army, the good old 'Sally Anne', always on hand with a cup of tea and if required a shoulder to cry on. You could also purchase essentials such as boot polish etc. but unlike Tesco's today NOT on Sundays, however desperate you were. So life at Basic Training Camp went on in early 1943
I caught the most frightful cold, probably from doing P.T. in the Yorkshire freezing fog, dressed only in vest and shorts (what would Mum say?). That didn’t stop them – “report to the
M.O.” they said. The Medical Officer said, “You’ll live, laddie” and gave me a chit bearing the cryptic message ‘M & D’. Hello, I thought, some wonder drug, but as it soon transpired, it only meant ‘medicine and duty’ which consisted of inhaling Friar’s Balsam in the morning and being on guard the rest of the day; my enthusiasm for military life was waning a little.
Another of the not so good instances of that six weeks comes to mind and that was the Gas Training exercise. It involved going through a long hut filled with phosgene gas and halfway along removing your gas mask and breathing a good lungful of the gas before emerging from the other end coughing and spluttering. At this stage you then had to pair up and carry your mate in a fireman’s lift for 100 yards before collapsing. Most of us were sick after this caper, most unpleasant but at least it cleared my cold!
It really was amazing how quickly a bunch of raw recruits were transformed into smart squad in such a short time, all credit to the instructors and to the training programme which went like clockwork. I survived and after the most hectic six weeks of my life I passed out with flying colours and was posted the Royal Armoured Corps depot at Farnborough, Hants as 14415222, Trooper
Rawlinson, there to receive the coveted black beret.
This most treasured possession had first to be shrunk in cold water until it became a snug fit and one didn’t look like a French onion seller. The ribbon, threaded through the band, had to be tied and sewn into a flat bow, 1” long, at the back and the beret worn in a straight line one and half inches above the eyebrows. Very smart!
We were now allowed out into the town, something we were not allowed to do whilst in Beverley.
The next months were, to me, sheer bliss; learning how to drive and maintain tanks, armoured cars and the like, instructed in the use of wireless and shown how to fire and maintain the tank guns, machined guns and six
The garage training now showed up and it was not long before I became a driving instructor and mechanic. The driving instructing had many hilarious moments especially as the instructor had to sit outside the tank and signal his instructions to the trainee, with hands and fingers, regarding the necessary gear changes and other control operations, whilst the trainee negotiated 30 tons of heavy metal around the Hampshire countryside, scaring himself, me and all the locals in the process.
On one occasion, descending a steep hill, I signalled the pupil-driver to change down to a lower gear. This required considerable effort on his part with the clutch and gear lever and we were gathering speed all the time. Suddenly he waved something at me through the hatch. It was the gear lever which had broken off in his hands. By this time I had abandoned the tank! I had to repeat this manoeuvre again when a trainee managed to put a Churchill 40 tonner into the Basingstoke Canal. He came out through the turret. It took two Churchills to pull the tank out.
Another time, the pupil clipped a newly erected wooden fence and sent it up in the air like matchsticks for quite a few yards. As Instructor, I had to pacify the farmer, telling him that the War Office would pay. A week or so later we did the same thing again and I went through the pacifying routine but this time the farmer was anything but happy and said “OK! OK! The army will pay but is it any use putting the bloody thing up again while you idiots are around?”
A tank crew consisted of a driver, gunner, wireless operator and tank commander, usually a NCO or officer. Each man was trained to take over another job in case of one becoming a casualty, so the driver doubled as wireless operator, the gunner as mechanic and the commander was supposed to be able to do all the jobs.
Many miles were travelled on instruction and exercises and many mock battles fought; some won, some lost and there were many incidents, humorous and otherwise but life was good. Of course it wasn’t all play, we did tough route marches, guard duties etc, with much spit and polish but we became very self reliant. One test was to take us out, after taking all our money from us, in a huge furniture van, each with a cycle, dropping us off singly or in pairs miles from base, telling us to find our own way home - no maps or road signs. It had to be accomplished by any means, fair or foul.
I thoroughly enjoyed this time at Farnborough and never gave a thought to what might lie ahead. However all good things must come to an end and sure enough it did. It was 20th Nov 1943 when the fateful notice appeared on Squadron Orders: 'The following will proceed on 14 days Embarkation Leave prior to going overseas.' 14415222 Trooper Rawlinson was one of many on that list.
This was serious, the playing was about to end and the War for me was about to start in earnest. Where we going or to which theatre of war? We could only guess.
After a blissful 14 days at home I reported back to Farnborough, full of mum's home cooking, despite the rationing and in three days entrained for Scotland; Greenock, in fact and boarded the SS
Orontees, a 22,000 ton passenger ship now converted to a troopship bound for - where?
I don't know how many of us were packed into that ship but we were like sardines, the lucky ones were allocated hammocks but the rest, me included, had palliasses on the deck below the hammocks. We queued for everything, for a wash, for food, for the toilets, even to get to sleep. I think the biggest fear was what would happen if we were torpedoed - imagine the panic!
We soon knew whence we were bound; it was India and the Far East but first the voyage- it wasn’t long before I, with many more, was seasick; the boat, rolled pitched and all but stood on end. The first day I thought I would die, the second wished I could and it has left me with a fear of the sea ever since.
Once through the Bay of Biscay though, things started to look better. We were issued with
K.D. (Khaki Drill) shirts and shorts as we went through the ‘Med’ and entered the Suez Canal. It was fascinating to see sights hitherto only read about in books; palm trees, Arabs in their dhows and the sunshine was wonderful. On the starboard (right hand) side of the canal are oasis stations at intervals where we bartered for goods with the 'bumboats' (floating market stalls) and on the port side was the desert complete with camels.
After six weeks living in the ship we arrived at Bombay, India with the realisation that we were destined to fight the dreaded Japanese.
India! What a country- such a contrast to England, the colour, the smells, the sounds- to me it was just like a huge film set. We disembarked and were marched to the railway station; we were loaded into very basic railway coaches with slatted wooden seats, no glass in the windows and the toilet was just a hole in the floor at one end. We trundled off pulled by a very large, wood burning steam locomotive and after some hours
travelling, arrived at where else, but Poona- home of the British Raj, beloved of Colonels and memsahibs the world over.
We didn’t stop here long but were taken by trucks to a Tank Training School some miles away at a village called Gauhati near
Here, of course, we had to run the gauntlet of the 'old sweats' who had come out before us. Calls of 'get your knees brown' etc and lurid tales of snakes, mosquitoes and other such perils. That first night, sleeping on a 'charpoy' (a wooden framed bed with a string mattress under a mosquito net supported on four poles was an experience in addition to all the unfamiliar insect noises, the fireflies etc.
In those first few days in India, we learned some things the hard way, like not putting your kitbag directly onto the ground at night because, on picking it up in the morning, all the contents fell out of the bottom which had been eaten all round the base by white ants. You soon learned to hang it up. Tin trunks were the obvious answer to this and they changed hands after much haggling Likewise, with the charpoy, this was always stood with its four legs in tins of paraffin to repel all boarders.
One incident which comes to mind which happened to us rookies to India and always caused much hilarity to the old sweats: The cookhouse and dining area was out in the open, except during the monsoon season and, after queuing for food, we had to walk several yards to the dining area, balancing two mess tins in one hand, main course below and sweet on top, in the other hand - a mug of tea. Unknown to us rookies, birds larger than crows called Kite Hawks, which were scavengers, congregated above and around the cookhouse. When the unwary one, doing the balancing act, was halfway across the open space down would swoop one of these birds and snatch the sweet course from the top container, usually sending the main course flying as well! The trick was always to put your hat over the mess tins - you soon learned.
Gauhati was where we settled down to do yet more tank training and - horror of horrors - Jungle Warfare Training in preparation for action. I was petrified by the idea of having to face the formidable enemy and the veterans' tales, told in the canteen in the evenings, did nothing for my morale. It was with these thoughts that we went out training and exercising day after day,
During this training we occasionally came across convoys of bullock carts on the village tracks, usually with only one man, in the leading cart, who was often fast asleep. We used to turn this cart round when all the others would follow. Eventually it was made an Army offence to play this trick.
Meanwhile, during the evenings and time off, India was growing on me. Walking through the little villages at night, some only lit by kerosene flares and wandering through the bazaars with all sorts of colourful merchandise, I found quite fascinating. The bartering for goods was fun too: nothing ever changed hands at the asking price. Whether it was a packet of razor blades or a cycle.
Your first offer was about half this figure and then you walked away. If you were followed or called back you were not far out but if not then your bid was too low to be serious. This haggling could go on for some time with much hand waving and head shaking.
The ingenuity of these street vendors never ceased to amaze me. They could repair practically anything in situ from a fountain pen (no biros in those days) to cigarette lighters, clocks and watches. All with the most primitive tools and squatting on the sidewalk. It was the same with the more skilled artisans, the
'durzi' (tailor) would measure you for a shirt or slacks in khaki drill, sit down with an old Singer sewing machine and complete them in a couple of hours; made to measure and nicely finished. The same with shoes; the shoemaker would chalk around your feet on a piece of cardboard and in three or four hours later deliver a wonderful pair of shoes, both a perfect fit and always done with great cheerfulness.
Everything was very colourful, the women in multi-coloured saris and the children so grown up and cheeky. Without exception, in the towns, they could all speak some English especially to ask for money, chocolate or cigarettes; most of this of course picked up from our peacetime occupation.
There was a sordid side too, lots of beggars and some children deliberately maimed to invoke sympathy and thus help the family eke out a living. Everywhere there were flies and smells though some of these were very pleasant, incense and spices etc they all blended together to create the special atmosphere of India.
The Indian version of buskers were all in the market places, there were fire-walkers who actually did walk on hot coals without any apparent ill effects - don't ask me how! Snake charmers with baskets of snakes and the wailing pipe, who at the drop of a hat would suddenly drape a long python around your neck. Many were the battles fought in a portable ring between a mongoose and a cobra - the mongoose always won. There was always something entertaining to see though I never did see the Indian Rope Trick.
Then there were the various 'wallahs', the char wallah (tea boy) the nappi wallah (barber), the dhobi wallah
(washerman/woman). The char wallah appeared every morning around 6 - 6.30am (reveille) and chanting “Char wallah - hot char” would dish out cups of delicious hot tea for about 2 annas (2p) to you in bed. So much better than the army brew. Next would appear the Nappi wallah who would shave any one who so desired it, still in bed. Although this was frowned on by the Army powers that be, it carried on regardless.
The dhobi wallah would next take your dirty washing and return it some two hours later, beautifully cleaned, starched and pressed, again for a few coppers. It was usually washed in the nearest river or stream by pounding it with stones, laid out in the sun to dry and then pressed with old flat irons heated or filled with hot charcoal.
Labour was cheap and plentiful and even we the BOR (British Other Ranks) lived like lords, off duty. No wonder the old British Raj didn’t want to leave India; they literally had everything done for them in the way of menial tasks.
Travelling into town from Camp was fun too, you hailed a 'Tonga', a small horse- drawn trap, seated yourself backwards, and away you went, bells jingling on the harness. If there was more than one passenger you took a
'Gharri' which held about four. At journey's end the usual haggle took place to decide the fare - again usually only a few coppers.
Looking back now, it was all a terrific experience, one that would cost hundreds of pounds to execute, even on a package holiday, today.
All too soon the news came that we were to be flown into Burma as replacements for casualties killed or wounded in action - training was over, fighting for real to begin. I was doubly unfortunate in that two days before this I caught a dose of malaria and was sent to No 5 IBGH (India Base General Hospital) when my mates went off, so when it was my turn to go I was with comparative strangers.
We were flown into Burma in Dakotas, sitting down each side on ammunition boxes whilst along the centre, tied to a rail, were mules. These poor animals had been de-brayed to prevent them making a noise in the jungle. They too were terrified of flying.
It was my first experience too of being off the ground but once airborne I didn’t mind it, apart from the nagging dread of the unknown to come.
We landed somewhere in Burma at a landing strip carved out of the jungle, to join the 14th (Forgotten) Army. It was in the
Imphal, Kohima, Dimapur area (I found out later) but to me it was just jungle.
The actual bits of action I experienced were quite unpleasant. The stories of Japanese atrocities were true enough; British soldiers taken prisoner, tied to trees and used for bayonet practice; Jap fanatics walking into our murderous gunfire and officers committing Hari Kari on the spot rather than lose face. All this was quite terrifying but the comradeship and spirit of all the forces was something that has never been repeated since. I must not forget the
Gurkhas, those wonderful fighting men from Nepal, so cheerful and so courageous; many a BOR and others, myself included owe their lives to them and many a fanatical Japanese died as a result of coming to grips with ‘Johnny
Gurhka’. Everyone, without exception, would help each other, be it with food, weapons, mechanical trouble or in cases of injury. It was just one big brotherhood with a common cause - to beat the ‘bloody Jap’.
Of course, it wasn't just the Japanese we had to contend with, we all suffered malaria, despite taking daily
meparcrine, also dysentery and other obnoxious items.
Sleeping in the jungle wasn't funny either, if you took your boots off for the night you had to shake them well in the morning to be sure there was not a scorpion or centipede inside. One unfortunate in our group died of snakebite when a small but deadly Krait got under his mosquito net and bit him. Most times one tried to sleep on the engine cowling of the tank but never underneath the vehicle. On the soft jungle earth, the tank would slowly settle during a long halt and one crew were suffocated, a horrible death.
After a short spell of this action which seemed like years though in reality only months, I was wounded and returned to India for medical attention and convalescence
owing to an ankle/foot injury. I was told that further tank driving was out and I was medically downgraded from A1 to B7 which meant 'excused boots, PT and marching.
After doing a spell of menial tasks around the transit camp, I saw a notice on the Order Board that personnel were required to train as 'Cinema Projectionist' for a new Corps being formed to take mobile units around Burma. So I volunteered.
After hearing nothing for three or four weeks, I was suddenly informed that I had been selected for training in this new unit. It was to be called the AKS (Army Kinema Section), later to become CKS (Combined Kinema Section).
I travelled to Bombay alone to join others at a tented camp outside the City centre. We were given an intensive course in handling cinema projection equipment, both 16mm and 35mm and in the theory of motion-picture technique, sound cine and electricity by experts from REME and Bombay Film Studios.
I found this most interesting and at the end of several weeks, I passed out as a qualified projectionist and was immediately promoted to the rank of Sergeant in Dec ‘44.
This was indeed a turn-up for the book; three stripes proudly sewn on the sleeve, use of any sergeant’s mess and best of all, up went the pay some threefold. The Rupee was of course the currency of the day. Just had to write the news home and Dad could not believe I had been made a Sergeant!
Not all of us made the grade but those who did collected a brand-new Canadian Bedford, 15cwt truck (I still have photographs of this) with a 240v generator bolted to the floor and two 16mm Victor projectors and speakers, in padded boxes along the sides
Added to these, a large screen that fitted into a ‘take-apart’ tubular frame, enough spares for any mishaps - and some films.
We were also assigned an Indian soldier known as an IOR (Indian Other Rank) as an assistant who was picked from the Indian Army, usually having, like us, seen some action or been downgraded medically. They were trained to be assistant projectionist and relief driver.
As with so many in India, one could end up with a Sikh, Hindu, Tamil etc. I had a
Pathan, a hillman from the North West Frontier, who had I believe been a havildar (sergeant) in the Indian army but was reduced to the ranks through some
misdemeanour. He was now a Naik (lance corporal). He was a huge bearded fellow who frightened the life out of me, the first time I saw him, by his size but he was a marvellous companion. One never felt nervous travelling all those thousands of miles, as we did, through Burma with him around. He also acted as batman - such luxury!
The first thing he did on arriving at the location of a show was to make up the Sahib's bed, whether it was in the truck or a sergeant’s mess and arrange hot water for washing etc. We conversed in a mixture of Urdu (to speak this was a part of getting my third stripe), English and sign language.
Thus equipped and with our new Bedfords, we were all loaded on to long railway 'flats', three trucks to a flat and huffed and puffed our way right across India from Bombay to Calcutta. That would make a story in itself, sleeping, cooking, eating on the 'flat', getting water from the engine for washing and making char. Sleeping on that rocking platform, under the stars.
Calcutta was a much more squalid city than Bombay with many beggars and people dying on the streets during the night to be picked up by the 'death cart' in the morning. The streets teemed with troops of all nationalities: Yanks, Chinese, Malays,
Africans you name them they were there.
After a few days at Calcutta, we were despatched on our separate ways with a list of places to visit. I was assigned a route that was to take me back into Burma more peacefully this time. Food and petrol etc was collected where you could at various units on route and likewise pay.
On arrival at a unit, you would contact the adjutant or like and be shown a place or just space where you were to put on a show. The screen would be erected and held upright with guy ropes, the projectors were placed on their transit boxes and connected to the speakers. The 15cwt was parked at a distance with its generator connected to the projectors with a heavy cable. The film was threaded up and you were ready to start the show.
When dusk fell, there was no twilight, the troops starting arriving, sitting on the ground or on boxes, tree trunks etc in front of (and often behind) the screen and the show would begin.
With the help of the IOR a slick change over from each machine could be obtained; sometimes not so slick and now and then the wrong reel put on by mistake, this would be greeted with boos and catcalls - just like the 'Regal' at home.
The films were quite up-to-date and included cartoons and newsreels flown in from England. The audiences were usually most appreciative and the cinema outfit was always welcome whether it was a proper camp or just a clearing in the jungle.
With this outfit we travelled hundreds of miles all over Burma, visiting all the famous places such as Mandalay,
Meiktila, Shewbo, Pegu etc not forgetting Kohima where there is now famous memorial to the 14th Army with this inscription:
'When you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow we gave our today.’
Some of the locations were near to the front line, in fact sometimes within earshot of heavy guns. Some of the places I had been to as a fighting soldier. ENSA shows toured Burma and India. I saw Vera Lynn performing on a makeshift stage in a jungle clearing, very near the front line with full supporting cast. Likewise Tommy Trinder for whom I helped to generate the juice for the stage lights with the cinema generator He wasn’t too pleased when they all went out in the middle of his act because someone or an animal had charged through the supply cable.
And so the shows went on wherever possible and, like the fighting did not stop for the monsoon season which lasts some three months. We pressed on despite the rain, which in turn brought the mud. It just added to life's difficulties; something else to be overcome.
After a long spell with the 15cwt, I was given a 30cwt truck with a single Kaylee 35mm projector, with RCA sound, mounted to project over the cab through an aperture. There was an additional 15cwt truck and driver for the power supply. These were proper cinema arc projectors and the 35mm film was highly inflammable, unlike the 'Safety 16mm'. With the single projector one had to change reels, usually eight to a film; this swift but unavoidable interval was always greeted with catcalls.
When showing Indian films to the coloured troops, there were usually twelve reels or more. Very tedious! To shorten the show, I tried cheating by missing out some reels at random but was caught out one night by an Indian officer who knew the film story - rapped knuckles for that one!
Those Indian films with their strange music always seemed to attract snakes; maybe it was just coincidence but so often after such a show there was a snake scare. One night during a show, I went back to the 15cwt to fetch something and there found a long snake inside the cab near the engine. Being a 'clever dick', I pulled out the Service revolver we carried (a Colt .38) and fired at it. Oh yes! I hit it after a couple of shots but in doing so smashed the carburettor and had to spend the night on location. Needless to say, I slept the night in the Unit's Sergeants Mess, not in the truck.
All during this period, the 14th Army was pushing the Japs back and going hell for leather towards Rangoon. It was during this time that I had a visit from the Director of Army
Kinema, a Colonel, whom I had to drive around for a week or so, inspecting other mobile units in the area. He was a keen photographer and must have some wonderful shots to take home with him. I was not 'into' cameras in those days.
I next remember being in Mandalay when the Japs gave in and riding around with another sergeant, dressed only in my
After many happy days spent showing films, I was doing a spell in Meiktila again when I received a signal telling me to leave my outfit with another sergeant and proceed to Rangoon (which had fallen) by air, again in a RAF Dakota DC4. On arrival I reported to the AKS HQ and was told I was promoted to WO1 (Warrant Officer First Class). Surprise! Surprise! I just couldn’t believe it. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would become a 'dreaded' Sergeant Major and wear the famous 'Tate & Lyle’ (the Royal Coat of Arms) on my sleeve. I was in fact one of the youngest in the 14th Army.
I was put in charge, under an officer (a major), of the whole Kinema Section covering Burma and responsible for the routing and well being of some twenty units.
Rangoon was a mess - no constant electricity, no mains water but with our electrical knowledge, we soon overcame this at our Head Quarters, a large and imposing house that had once belonged to the 'match king' of Burma (a Burmese Bryant and May mogul).
We had Japanese POWs working for us now, repairing the house and roadways somehow they didn’t seem so fearsome now!
Of course, my travelling days were over and the job was almost desk bound with lots of administration. I bought a bicycle and explored Rangoon and its outskirts, going to the famous Shweddagon Pagoda with its great golden spires and many other places.
Eventually I was repatriated from Rangoon. On the appointed day we steamed up the Irrawaddy river in small launches with all our kit when suddenly she hove in sight of a very small single funnel ship of 12,000 tons, 'The Corfu', but at least this time I had a cabin and she was bound for
We were a very mixed bag aboard that ship, some old sweats from the regular peacetime army though most were like me, wartime soldiers. Although, as a Warrant Officer, I now enjoyed the afore-said cabin, I found that the old 'Regular' WO’s who knew the ropes, had ganged up against me already and I was doing Orderly WO every day and had to accompany the Orderly Officer on his rounds dealing with 'any complaints', but it was all experience.
The voyage home was back through the Suez Canal and as we neared home waters, in February, we were issued with battle dress and overcoats to keep us warm. Once again I was seasick and tried to overcome it by walking the heaving deck. As I struggled fore and aft a naval officer approached me and hearing of my bother said, “Go below, to your cabin - the steward will bring you some tea - and stay there, you will soon feel better.” Sure enough, when I did so, things started to improve. When I asked the steward who the officer was, he said, “That was the Captain. He has been at sea for more than twenty years and still has to have a bucket on the bridge”.
We arrived at Southampton early one morning to find it blanketed in snow, it turned out to be one of the coldest winters since the start of the war, no wonder we felt the cold.
As we approached Southampton Water, a message kept coming over the ship's tannoy warning us that anyone found with firearms or other lethal souvenirs would be placed under close arrest and court
martialed. So as we slowly sailed on in the very early dawn, many were the splashes as guns, revolvers etc were quietly slipped over the side. No one was prepared to jeopardise their liberty at this hour.
Well, there was England after some four and a half years away and very good it looked too despite the weather.
Once again I was lumbered by the old sweats and given the task of escorting some 200 other ranks to London or as far as Waterloo Station where my duties ended.
Then it was home via Baker Street to a rapturous welcome from my parents. It was good to be home again and visit old friends and to start courting my girl friend (now my wife) with whom I had corresponded whilst overseas but not too seriously.
After four weeks leave it was back to the Army at Feltham, Middlesex, but only for a few weeks. I had to report to a nearby Demobilisation Depot on 28 April 1947, there to be issued with everything for Civvy Street; a complete outfit even to a tie. I chose a sports coat and flannel slacks instead of the familiar 'chalk stripe' demob suit. I purchased one suit of battle dress and my army greatcoat for £3.00 as I thought it might be handy for work. It was too.
Well, it was all over; apart from the scrapping with the Japs, I had enjoyed it very much - quite some experience at H.M Government’s expense and they even gave me the 'Burma Star' for services rendered.
document is copied from the now defunct site at