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15 October 2014
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"THE WAR DIARY OF A ROYAL ENGINEER WITH THE FORGOTTEN ARMY" (Part 1: 13 March 1943 to 31 July 1944)

by Muriel Palmer

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Contributed by 
Muriel Palmer
People in story: 
George Philip (Phil) Benbow VAUGHAN; Reta VAUGHAN nee STOTT (wife); Muriel Angela PALMER nee VAUGHAN (daughter); Jack HALL (fellow soldier and friend)
Location of story: 
Lancashire and Yorkshire; India and Burma
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6955815
Contributed on: 
14 November 2005

Staff-Sergeant Phil Vaughan 1944

This story has been submitted in 2 parts; Part 2 - 1 August 1944 to 1 June 1946 can be found at A6990069. My mother's story "Keeping the Home Fires Burning" can be found at A7045814; my story "From Daddy with Love" can be found at A7570046.

I have always known that my father served in India during WW2, but it wasn't until after his death earlier this year that I learnt that he had served in Burma as well. It would appear that India he could talk about; but not Burma. Having found out as much as possible about what it was like in Burma during the War in preparation to submitting this story, I can understand why he did not talk about it. The more I learn, the more I am amazed and grateful that he returned home physically, emotionally and mentally sound.

These stories are based on details from his War Diary (13 March 1943 to 1 June 1946); pieced together with information from his personal papers; history books and stories submitted to the People's War website.

********

INTRODUCTION:

When my father left school he was apprenticed to the Rochdale Electric Co Ltd as an electrical engineer from 1933-1939. He then worked for the Company for 2 years until his enlistment with the Army on the 20 February 1941.

He served as a Staff Sergeant in the Engineers Works Services Branch of the Royal Engineers (Military Mechanist, Electrical). My parents were married in July 1940 and I was born in April 1942. My sister Margaret was born in 1948.

My father did his recruit training at 3TBRE, Ripon; from the 21 February to 3 April 1941. His first posting was to to CRE in the Dorking sub-area of Leatherhead, where he served as an Electrical Mechanist. From the 22 September to 8 December 1942 he attended a course (Class 14) at the School of Military Engineering at Ripon; where he passed the Military Mech. Elect.

THE DIARY (Part 1: 13 March to 31 July 1944)

Mid-MARCH to Mid-JUNE 1943 - "The Journey to
India"

At Halifax Station, Yorkshire on the 13 March 1943 I had to say goodbye to my beloved wife. I was leaving on a troop train for an unknown destination. The following day we arrived at Gourouk and we went aboard the tender that was to take us out to the troopship 'RIENA DEL PACIFICO'. The troopship was lying out in the Clyde, we set sail and after a few hours we picked up the rest of the convoy - 23 ships in all. After 11 days at sea we lay at anchor off Freetown for 3 days.

Verbatim Diary entry for 27 MARCH, 1943:

"(11 days at sea) Very hot day. Convoy going very slow and nearing land. Cruiser (H.M.S. Kenya) passed us on the port side, she was seen firing her guns previous to that. One destroyer dropping depth charges on starboard side. Sighted Africa at approx. 11 am, and saw the range of hills at the entrance to Freetown. Dropped anchor in Freetown at approx. 2.30 pm. Africans in bumboats, came alongside ship, and dived into the water for any coins thrown in. A number of ships in harbour, including the 'Mauretania', which was returning to England, but majority were river boats. 'Walrus' aircraft flying around. ENSA concert Party came from 'Strathcarran' to give a concert at night. No blackout on ships or land, making it like peacetime. In charge of mosquito spraying of ship every night, whilst in Port. Spent remainder of evening out on deck, watching the terrific lightning in the distance. Mail went off the ship."

We set sail again on the 30 March, and after another 15 days at sea we reached Durban, South Africa - here we disembarked.

On 15 April we were taken to 'Clarewood Camp'. We were divided into 5 Companies and I was made A/CSM of 'C' Coy. A few days later I had to hand over to another fellow as I was put on 12 hours notice. Early in the morning of the 24 April we went aboard the troopship 'DUNERA' and we left Durban during the early evening on the following day.

I managed to identify some of the ships in the convoy, besides the 'Dunera' there was the 'City of Paris'; 'Christiansan Hughes' (Dutch) and a Calcutta-Rangoon mail boat. Escorts were the cruiser 'Sussex' and 2 destroyers. After 16 more days at sea land was sighted at approximately 7.00 am on 11 May we had arrived at Bombay.

Mid-JUNE to Mid-OCTOBER, 1943 - "Avadi and
Bangalore, India"

Two days later we travelled by train from Bombay to Deolali (Nasik Road) and after 3 days there, we left for Bangalore - a 2 day journey. On arrival at Bangalore I was introduced to the Chief Engineer, Southern Army; and was transferred to Avadi, near Madras. I was found accommodation in a bungalow at the Malayan Emigration Camp that was being used as a transit camp.

On the 22 June I met the Garrison Engineer who showed me round my new job at the Reserve Base Depot. As the new Garrison Engineer I was responsible for 15 civilian lorries, and road making equipment.

A few weeks later I heard that I was to join the 441 Quarry Coy at Bangalore and was there by the 21 July. I was taken by car to Jallahau to join 441 Quarry Co, it was here that I met Jack Hall, we were to remain friends for life. During this time I was granted a Military Motor Vehicle Licence.

Mid-OCTOBER to end NOVEMBER 1943 - "Journey
to the Arakan Front"

On the 10 October we were told that the Company was going to the ARAKAN FRONT. We were then very busy packing stores and transporting them to the Station, then loading them on the train for Madras. When we got to the Madras Docks I had to oversee the stores being loaded into the hold of the ship - the pilgrim ship "ISLAMI". A few days later the ship left Madras Harbour; we were on our way to Burma. Whilst at sea we heard that the Japanese had bombed Chittigong on the 19 October.

On arrival at Chittigong, on the 24 October, we had to transfer the stores from the ship to the train. The following morning Jack and I had to go back to the docks to look for the lorries; one was missing so Jack and I had to remain behind to search for it. The rest of the Company left for the railhead at Doharzari. Ninety minutes later we found the lorry in Tiger Pass. We then had to arrange to take the lorries in convoy the following morning.

Our next destination was Nawapai; to which the rest of the Coy had to march to. Jack and I drove a lorry - 110 miles - hard work on a dusty one-way road; we had to keep getting out to open gates. On arrival at Nawapai we had to go for rations, this took us into BURMA for the first time. When we got back to camp we had to unload the stores into an old basha (bamboo hut). We slept in this basha at night and had our food cooked outside. We had the radio on for news and then got down to sleep.

Verbatim Diary entry for Thursday, 28th OCTOBER, 1943:

"Up at 6 am, had breakfast etc. and had tents loaded into one of our lorries, and set off to find a camp, about one and a half miles away. O.C. fell down and went to hospital, so Jack and I, were left to fix a camp up, as all officers were marching with Coy. As we were crossing a stream with the lorry, it got stuck, and as we were getting it out 9 Jap bombers came over and bombed a hospital 2 miles away, killing and wounding several. One of the two escorting fighters was shot down by Ack-Ack fire. We took shelter under the trees. In the afternoon built a bit of a bridge across this stream, to get lorries across. Erected a few tents and returned at 5.30 pm, leaving some men to guard them. After a wash and dinner, saw a mobile cinema show, in nearby jungle 'Bobby Breen in Fisherman's Wharf' with news reels etc. Quite a nice change, but felt so strange in the jungle with the Japs not more than 20 miles away. Had news on, got in bed and wrote diary up, whilst there was a programme of Gypsy music on."

The Coy arrived on the 30th, the next day the Coy moved further into the jungle.

During November I was busy sorting out the stores and getting them all in order. I also had to drive the officers to and from Chittigong.

DECEMBER 1943 to APRIL 1944 - "The 2nd Arakan Campaign"

December saw the start of the 2nd ARAKAN CAMPAIGN. By this time Lord Louis Mountbatten was Supreme Allies Comander of South-East Asia. He changed tactics that were to contribute to us winning the ensuing battle. He declared that we would not stop fighting during the monsoon season; that Air Support would be increased; that the sick would be treated more quickly and that the food ration would be improved.

On Christmas Day 1943 the OC held a service in which the West Africans sung hymns. Afterwards we went back to the Officers' Mess and heard the King's Speech. On New Year's Eve I went to the Officers' Mess at midnight, I had a drink and made a wish. I heard that the Company was to move but it was put off due to the Arakan push by the Japs.

In early January I had to go to Chittigong for a new compressor but was delayed because I had to wait until the road was re-opened after being closed due to heavy rain. I went to the ESD for new stores and equipment.

At the beginning of February we heard that the Japanese were making another push, so we doubled the guard. Jap planes were flying over and bombing the 'ADMIN BOX'. We heard that 7th Division were cut off. Mitchells and Dakotas flew over dropping supplies. On the 14 February, my 26th birthday, I had to go to CRE at Bawli Bazaar. Two weeks later we heard that the Ngakyedauk Pass had been re-opened and that 7th Division were in ground communication again.

Buithdang was taken in the middle of March. About a week later two of the Coy went on a recce to Maungdaw and the Tunnels.

At the beginning of April the OC returned. On the 5th I was introduced to the Chief Engineer 14th Army, Brigadier Horsefield. I had a buy day at the REME Workshops. No 1 Section went on detachment to Shambala; over the next few days I was busy travelling backwards and forwards between the Camp and Shambala taking a compressor, explosives, diesel and to inspect machinery.

Verbatim diary entry for Monday, 17 APRIL, 1944:

"At 6.00 pm two 'hurricanes' collided over our camp and both crashed, one, half a mile away, and the other three quarters of a mile away. Took a lorry out, with stretchers, and fire fighting equipment. When we arrived the plane was burning and ammunition exploding, but it was all too late, the pilot had been burned to death. The pilot of the other plane, had been killed also. Both Sikhs."

A few days later I had to go to the 683, ME W/S Park Coy at Kanchanagar, 8 miles away. I had to stay here for a few days working on crushers and rollers. I saw a Jap Tractor, that had been captured by 36th Division in the Western Tunnel, on its way to Calcutta. On the 23 April I went to Chittigong with som of the fellows from 683, We had a look round and saw a film. After supper we returned to the Coy. Vera Lynn was in Chittigong.

I continued to work on rollers, crushers, locos etc until my OC came on the 26th. During the day Jap recce planes flew over for three quarters of an hour, the Ack-Ack guns were unable to drive him off.

MAY to JULY 1944 - "Cox's Bazaar, India and Bawli Bazaar, Burma"

Early in May a Major and Captain from 36th Division visited the Mess; they described the fighting in the tunnels.

In June we moved to another camp. On the 10th saw Noel Noel Coward on a river float on the Naf River at Tumbru Ghat.

At the beginning of July, I was told that I had to go to CRE 113 (Wks), Bawli on detachment. The next three weeks were very busy, out all day long.

Continued in Part 2 - 1 AUGUST 1944 to 1 JUNE 1946; which can be found at A6990069

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