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Victor Walkley-Wartime Memories

by Huddersfield Local Studies Library

Contributed by 
Huddersfield Local Studies Library
People in story: 
Victor Walkley
Location of story: 
Burma
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3021616
Contributed on: 
20 September 2004

This story was submitted to the People's War website by Pam Riding of Kirklees Libraries on behalf of Mr Walkley and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I spent time in West Africa-went out with the 82nd West African Division to Burma via India and so on. We had a very good number of African troops, West African, and of course some of them had been in combat zones earlier on in various circumstances. They were a very good bunch of lads and we spent a little while in India, sort of getting acclimatized to things and spent some time in Chittagong. I think at that time Chittagong was probably the largest transit centre for troops ever known, a tremendous place, and interestingly there was a tremendous number of people coming and going all the time but it always seemed to me that evaluation of who the people were was very sparse. They had a cinema there and it was always said that there was a raid on the cinema one evening and there were more Japanese sitting watching the film than there were British troops-I don't think it was quite true, but it wouldn't have surprised me at all because you could go into the camp and providing you signed the requisite book, you could deck yourself out with anything. I don't think anybody really ordered a tank- anything you like. I was always immensely impressed with the Salvation Army, funnily enough. I'm not a Salvation Army person as such-I noticed many times the Salvation Army canteen was there serving cups of tea, long before the NAAFI.NAAFI was a good service-I always thought it was rather expensive for what it was, but that's my opinion and not the official one. I enjoyed my time, so much so that I stayed on until 1947-I was demobbed in '47 after having spent quite a long time overseas.
There were lots of fun times. Major Steed and I were in the jungle for a long time. One day Steed said to me.” Victor, I feel like a picnic" so we got Sega the cook to prepare the equivalent of a hamper basket and I went with Major Steed and we had sandwiches, tea. That was it. On another occasion, it was dead of night when everything was silent except for the incessant animal noises, the sound of frogs and everything else-a cry went up. It was Steed,” I’ve lost my revolver.” There was Steed scratching about trying to find where his revolver had got to. He was a good scout.
After the war, of course there were a lot of problems in Burma and you see it reflected in most countries in transition of the end of wars or civil affairs. The entire banking system in Burma had broken down years before the Japanese surrender. Japanese printed their own money.The Burmese would carry all their money by way of valuables with them, and that was very often precious stones-you know Burma is a source of rubies, emeralds and so on, but as in many countries during that type of transition, there were local bandits causing havoc in villages round about, robbing people. On some of the roads they would stop a bus and one man would point his gun at the bus driver and the rest would board a coach and take valuables from everyone there. It's the sort of thing reflected both in European countries and we see this in the Middle East at the moment. No rhyme or reason beyond an acceptance of acquisition of either money or position or power. I disagree by the way, with the modern criticism of military, because this is the first time you have via television and satellite immediate presentation of things that are going on, which has given rise to quite a lot of criticism, but my reply to a lot of it is,” You weren't there at the time" and this sharpens one's reactions quite a lot. We had, also, after the war was over, a number of high ranking brigadiers this, that and the other came out because a, they hadn't been in the Burma theatre anyway, so coming out on a visit gave them another medal to add to their collection and secondly they were very interested to know what had happened, you see-people still don't know, but there was a group of high ranking officers, very old, ancient men, to my way of thinking when you are quite young and they were known as A.M.G.O.T which we always said was "Ancient, Military Gentlemen on Tour!" which I think was "Allied Military Government Overseas Territories" and they were quite a fascinating bunch. As I said before the Africans were a very good crowd of lads to have with you. Of course there is some beautiful countryside in Burma, but I am more of a desert person myself. I spent a long time in the Middle East and I enjoy the desert, mainly for its solitude but Burma had some very interesting places there. Some of the cities and big towns were fascinating. Strangely enough we were out one night and we were caught by a disturbance going on from the Japanese and it was early in the monsoon season and suddenly the rains descended like I've never seen rain before and we were near a totally deserted Buddhist temple and I had about six Africans with me and I said we would take shelter in the temple. One of the boys, Amir, I think it was, in so far as his religious convictions were concerned was rather ambivalent. He used to go to Friday prayers as much as possible and also church on Sundays and I said he would have to make up his mind whether he was a Christian or a Muslim and his reply was, he wasn't sure which was right so he thought he would attend both churches to make sure of a place in the hereafter! We had a captain who was always anxious to be at the forefront of everything and on one occasion we were on Ramree Island which is just off the coast of Burma and Captain Mack, (we were coming in on a landing craft) he wanted to be the first ashore so as soon as they dropped the ramp he rushed off in the direction of the beach but was in about eight foot of water and he disappeared! Another time with Captain Mack, going through a very densely wooded area on Ramree Island again and suddenly a shell whistled through the air and it was so close you would imagine it was below the tree levels (which was not possible)-it really whistled by and Captain Mack shouted out, "Run for your lives” and I shouted "Good idea but which way?". Where does a bomb drop anyway-round about? Then after the cessation of hostilities and the Japanese surrender a lot of villages were trying to get back to some sort of normality and I had a number of Burmese friends. One of them had a ice making factory, very important, because in that area there was a lot of fishing and his ice helped keep fish for sending down to the big places like Rangali or Rangoon and he also made ice cream and I was talking to one of the medical officers, one of the doctors, saying I was going to see a friend of mine- he lives in a village just nearby, I'm going down to sample his ice cream. So we went down and we had ice cream and were talking to this Burmese fellow about his factory that he had set up and I happened to mention to the medical man that a few weeks earlier this Burmese gentleman's wife had died of cholera and no sooner had I mentioned the dread word this medic rushed off to get himself an innoculation-those were the fun times. I had some marvelous times there. Of course the Japanese never thought that the British or the military, British army mainly, would have fought on through the monsoon-they didn't really think anyone could and I think this played a major part in putting paid to the Japanese presence. The other thing was that their supply lines were grossly overstretched which contributed to their downfall. Those were the days and I don't regret a minute of it!

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