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I Remember ..... Chapter Six

by carolynchoir

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Archive List > Books > I Remember - Ronald Cox

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Ronald Cox
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29 January 2006

Chapter Six

Crossing the great Irrawaddy

We pushed on to Monywa, on the west side of the Irrawaddy River. It was about a mile across; a formidable obstacle. We laid back about a mile from the bank. As previously mentioned, a boat building industry was carried on there and teak trees put into the river, floated down stream to mills. The Japs made determined efforts to stop us but our air cover increased and we pushed on to the banks of the great Irrawaddy River. Here resolute Japs fought to prevent our crossing. Being skilled at night, we were leaving the cover of the jungle to the plains and finally, across the river. The Battalion was ferried across the river, about a mile across, in large wooden boats constructed by the engineers (in a few days) and a number of amphibious boats. I swam across with the mules. It was five times wider than the River Rhine! Some of the mules swam across, only to hang about on a sandbank in the centre but we got them safely to the opposite bank; a short stretch of sand and then into elephant grass (blades like knives)! We had no resistance and formed a bridgehead at Myinma. The first day on the other side, we tramped through the elephant grass all day, finishing up where we had started, checking if there was any reception committee. I suppose we moved on a short distance, to hear a plane coming from our rear in a dive and it let go some rockets, which hit the ground to our front, about 400 yards away with a hell of a racket; a frightening experience! We pushed on, coming across a burnt-out tank and many bodies. We had no casualties on the crossing, to my knowledge. We discarded our tin helmets. Some had been knocked about and used for all sorts and the metal caught the sun. Bush hats became the ‘order of the day’ and we were issued with small pig-sticker bayonets, in place of our old, long ones.

I was ordered to become a bodyguard, to the then commanding officer, who turned out to be from the Somerset Light Infantry and there hangs an amusing tale. The Company was moving up a narrow track in single file. I was standing alongside the officer. We were in full kit. The officer, who was tall and slim, had only small ammunition pouches and straps. It was very hot. The men were tired, some almost drawing furrows with their noses, continued slogging on. One fellow, almost bent double, remarked "Look at that beggar over there, I suppose his kit is on our jeep." Whereupon, he received a stern rebuke in a commanding voice, "My man, I was carrying a pack thirty years ago", and got the reply "A bigger fool then you!" The officer turned to me and said "I asked for that" and I said, "You certainly did." The officer was in the same predicament as all of us - in the ‘sherbet’ altogether! Whilst looking after number one, there was comradeship, more so in action. In watching 'This is your Life' on television in 1999 or 2000, the subject was John Snow (a television presenter, who amongst other things, announces the results, following a general election and speculates on the probable final position of the parties). He referred to his father being in the Somerset Light Infantry and I could see the resemblance.

The carnage that followed our crossing of the Irrawaddy, I do not wish to describe. We took only one prisoner who went back to Brigade HQ, under escort of the Gurkhas. Our Artillery could not keep up with us. We were moving quickly as the monsoon rain was approaching again, to get to the main route from Mandalay to Rangoon, as soon as possible. We took over from the Gurkhas, somewhere near Mt Popa and fought on towards Kyaukse, south-west of Mandalay. We had been on the go for over five days and nights and got to a ridge and settled down for the night.

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