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A Bombardier in Burma

by peterjamesmorley

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peter James Morley
Location of story: 
UK to India & Burma
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 August 2005

A Bombardier in Burma (No. 14392693)

I was born 24th September 1924 in East Grinstead, Sussex, the second of two boys. My father worked as an Insurance Agent and was a veteran of WW1. He survived the trenches, was twice wounded and fought in many battles including the Somme, and in the Salonika campaign. My mother went to work in the local sorting office during WW2.

In September 1939 I was staying with my grandparents at Hove to watch Sussex play Yorkshire at cricket. On Sunday 3rd September when war was declared I listened to the announcement with them on the wireless. Resuming the match on Monday I was most disappointed that there was a quick finish: there was no heart for cricket matches that day.

In 1940 my brother was ‘called up’, but during 1940 and 41 I was still at school preparing for school certificate (O levels). There was always great excitement about the ‘plane crashes locally and homework had to take second place to visiting crashed ‘planes and collecting odd parts, bullets, cannon shells, etc. (no Health and Safety then). Lessons were also often interrupted by air raids when we had to go to the air raid shelters and I was soon in trouble for teaching the younger boys ‘risky’ songs to take their minds off being frightened.

I then worked for over a year for the local Registrar for births, deaths and marriages until I was conscripted in 1942 at the age of 18. I was a bit upset to have to report to Warley barracks (Essex) just one week before Christmas. After basic training in marching and using a rifle, bren gun and hand grenades, I was posted to the Royal Artillery at Whitby in Yorkshire for specialist training in driving, wireless operating, morse code and field telephones, this because of an aptitude for Morse code which I had learnt in the ATC. I was then posted to different camps around Britain; Kingston-on Thames, Attleborough, Dalry, Marske-by-Sea, Clay Cross, Manchester Ringway, Middlesbrough, Watford and Woolwich to name a few.

I found life pretty boring, so joined the Para’s, for a bit of excitement, a red hat and an extra shilling a day (normal pay three shillings). I was injured on my final training jump and landed up in hospital. When recovered I had to undergo another medical, but failed when they found I was very short-sighted (on the first medical I had been in a queue and had had time to learn the eye chart off by heart). I was pretty fed-up at the time, but due to this I escaped being sent to Arnhem.

I then rejoined the Royal Artillery and was almost sent to The Gold Coast (Ghana), but having volunteered to be attending man was not needed on the draft. (Attending man is the reserve to ensure that numbers are made up if anyone drops out sick.)

Finally, in December 1944 we sailed from Greenock to Bombay, India on HMS Strathnaver, a passenger liner designed for approximately 550 passengers plus crew. There were 12,000 of us (plus crew). At first we just stood because there was no room to sit or lie down and no-one was allowed on deck at this stage. Finally we sorted out how to sleep three deep; one in a hammock, one on a mess table and the rest on the floor. We sailed south-west out into the Atlantic to avoid the German control of the Bay of Biscay and then turned east and passed Gibraltar 10 days after leaving Greenock. We then broke convoy and made a dash across the Med. to reach the Suez canal. At this stage we were allowed on deck and, when we first saw some camels, all rushed to one side, before being ordered to boat stations to level the ship.

We finally arrived at Bombay after 4 weeks and on to Deolali by train. Here we handed in our serge battle-dress, greatcoats, respirators (gas masks), gas capes and kit-bags (we were going to travel light) and were issued with light-weight ‘jungle green’ uniforms and a ground sheet. Everything had to be green, so the white socks we had and any handkercheifs all had to be dyed in a big vat. We then travelled across India by train and embarked on a steam boat up the Brahmaputra to a place called Comilla (now in Bangladesh). We were then flown by Dakota into Burma as the 14th Army began pushing back the Japanese after the battles of Imphal and Kohima. Just north of the River Irrawaddy we joined the 28th Jungle Field Regiment (equipped with 3.7 howitzers and 3” mortars) who shortly reverted to the 28th Field Regiment RA, 5th Indian Division (equipped with 25 pounders). When we joined the Regiment, we had to discard our spare boots, tear our blankets in half and discard half (we were to travel really light). We crossed the Irrawaddy by pontoon bridge and advanced to Meiktila, being involved in the battles at Thazi, Toungoo, Pyawbwe, Pyinmana, Sittang Bend, Yamethin, Shweeyin and Mawchi Road as well as many minor skirmishes.

My main job was working with the infantry at the Observation Post and sending instructions back to the guns when support was required. Having had wireless training on No.19 sets I was issued with a No.22 set which was unsuitable for the terrain and communications were extremely difficult. We were also issued with No.18 sets (manpacks) but we never made contact at all with these. At various times I worked with the Dogras, Punjabis, West Yorks, Jats, Burma Rifles, Manrattas, East African Corps, Royal West Kents and Ghurkas (the latter along the Mawchi Road with the 19th Indian Division). We crossed the River Salween by monkey bridge and shortly afterwards we had the welcome news on 15th August 1945 that the Japanese had finally surrendered after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and the fighting was over: the formal surrender being signed on 13th September.

No going home yet! First we were billeted at the Agricultural College in Pyinmana (at this stage at 6 foot I weighed less then 7 stone). Whilst at the College there was a shortage of personnel in the sick bay and I became a Medical Orderly (I had done some first-aid in the Boy Scouts). During this time there was an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the area and we had to inoculate the whole regiment.

We were then posted to Taunggyi in the Shan States for a few months and finally drove to Rangoon where we enshipped for Calcutta. On arrival it was the end of the Calcutta riots and the place was covered in vultures who could not take-off because they were so over-fed. After a week or so we entrained for Deolali, where I remained until April 1947 before getting a ship back to the UK. On disembarking at Southampton, we were issued with a set of civilian clothes and at last arrived home in May 1947.

I was one of the lucky ones. I had caught dengue fever, amoebic dysentery, tinea and prickly heat, but survived in reasonable health. I had a recurrence of amoebic dysentary in 1950/51 and was finally cured by an astute local doctor in the late 1970s.

The delay in getting home so long after the war had ended seemed extremely tedious as we had nothing useful to do and could see little purpose in it. I had left home as little more than a schoolboy and spending five years in the army between the ages of 18 and 23 was not a good start to a civilian career. However, there was no time to think too much about it, like everyone I had to re-adjust, start a new life and try to make up for lost time.

Peter James Morley
Bombardier No. 14392693

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