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Royal Armoured Corps tank workforce in Burma

by BBC Scotland

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
BBC Scotland
People in story: 
Allan Grieve
Location of story: 
Sialkot; Rawalpindi; Burma
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 June 2005

“This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Jean Sharman, Scotland CSV on behalf of Allan Grieve of Aberdeen and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions."

Allan says:-
During WW2 I was in the 9th Bttn. Gordon Highlanders and carried out invasion exercise training on Orkney. In 1943 I was on a ship leaving Shieldhall Docks, Glasgow, destination unknown. We were 10 days at sea when we received a signal to the effect that the 9th Bttn. Had been disbanded but there had been a compulsory transfer to the Royal Armoured Corps. We arrived in India to train a tank workforce for re-invasion of Burma. We had all our infantry equipment with us and disembarked in Bombay when we undertook a five day train journey to Sialkot. We had to exchange all of the infantry equipment for armoured vehicle equipment and I was given the task of taking all infantry wireless equipment to Royal Army Ordinance Depot At Rawalpindi which involved a one day train journey but two transfers at railway junctions in between. Because I was in a new country I had little knowledge of the language and handling the rupee was a bit of a problem. However, we engaged civilian Indian personnel to help out. We got all the equipment loaded at Sialkot. At the first junction transfer point the local labour force informed me if I wanted my equipment transferred across the platform to a waiting train I better pay up more rupees. Having no option I grudgingly paid up and we got on our way to be confronted exactly the same way at the second junction. In consequence I arrived at the Ordnance Depot at Rawalpindi completely broke, much to the amusement of the Captain who, when we had completed the transfer of equipment, handed me another fistful of rupees and sent me on my way back to Sialkot and in those 48 hours I learnt a great deal about Indian entrepreneurship! Eighteen months of training in tank warfare followed.

There were five personnel in the tank crew. The tank commander, driver, co-driver, gunner, and wireless operator. Each member of crew had to be qualified in two disciplines. Most of that training was done at Secundrabad State in southern India. We then made our way by road and rail up through India to Assam and on into Burma. The conflict in the northern part of Burma was continuing, although by that time the 14th Army more or less had the upper hand. Our objective was the airfields at Rangoon about 300 miles south. We formed part of an independent armoured brigade pushing south on the west side of the Irrawaddy River. En route to where we were going to start our engagement we spent a Hogmanay. By this time our soft vehicles were a bit waur-o-the-wear so drivers went to Calcutta to pick up replacement vehicles. We gave them considerable amounts of money to purchase ‘hooch’. They brought back copious amounts of spirit liquor, mostly rum. For 48 hours those of us who drank were stoned out of our minds. Fortunately, we were in a fairly safe haven at the time. By the third day we were so physically sick of the sight of rum we decanted the rest into the fuel tanks of our jeeps — the vehicles never ran so sweetly!

In a more serious tone, we were engaged in heavy fighting around the area of Bagoo, slightly south of Mandalay. It was roughly at this point where we crossed the Irrawaddy, a fast flowing river with sandbanks and other hazards. At a point where it was between a quarter and half a mile wide, our tanks were ferried over in a convoy of barges, some fabricated out of oil drums with bamboo on top. It was a pretty precarious crossing. Miraculously, we succeeded in crossing, in spite of enemy bombardment from the Japanese. Sadly, we did lose one officer when he was ensuring that the pontoons and barges didn’t snarl up. Another officer also went missing but fortunately found his way back to the regiment the following day.

A funny incident occurred at this point. We had reached the east side of the river after a long night crossing, and perhaps we had let out guard down and were enjoying breakfast out in the open, away from trees that bordered the river banks. We heard aircraft overhead but paid little attention until one of our colleagues looked up and commented ‘those are funny red round markings on the wings of those planes.’ Not a word was spoken, but we were all back inside the safety of our tanks in a flash.

Being an independent tank mobile brigade all our supplies were by air drop. Ammunition, fuel, and food — in that order. We were deeply indebted to the Air Force for the risks they took to keep us supplied with the necessities of life. We were also deeply indebted to the Air Ambulande Service for coming in under very difficult circumstances to evacuate the wounded. Mention must be made of our tank protection troops from the Gurkha Regiment. The Gurkha’s were one of the finest forces in the British army and I can’t speak too highly of their professionalism and dedication to duty.

I must pay tribute to the Burmese people themselves; a charming, gentle people who had no particular love for the British, but who hated the Japanese more and, in consequence, they were our intelligence. A hill tribesman would emerge from the jungle and give us information about Japanese movements or Japanese ammunition dumps and then merge back in to the shadows.

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