- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Dr. Harry Good, M.D.,M.B.,B.Ch.,B.A.O.,T.D.
- Location of story:
- Middle East, Tobruk, India and Burma
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 04 November 2003
This article was written by my father to record his personal experiences of WW2. He was R.M.O. 4 Border Regt., 1940-1945 and R.M.O. 6 Royal Ulster Rifles, (T.A.) 1947-1959. Sadly he died on 6th. September 2003.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 4th Bn. THE BORDER REGT.
1940 — 1945
From the recollections of
Capt. H.W.W. GOOD, T.D., R.A.M.C
In October 1940 I joined 4 Border at Kington Camp, Hereford, where I had been posted as Regimental M.O., following my officer recruitment training at RAMC Depot, Crookham, Aldershot. The Bn. had come out with the withdrawal from Europe, not through Dunkirk but further west through Cherbourg and Brest. I believe that the Bn. lost a Company as POWs in France but was made up by the time they re-assembled at Kington Camp, including quite a number of newly commissioned officers.
As winter was approaching the Bn. moved, shortly afterwards, into billets in Hereford, a nice city with a fine cathedral. Intensive field training was carried out but, in addition, we enjoyed the considerable amenities of Hereford. Just before Christmas we again moved, this time to Malvern, in the neighbouring county of Worcester, the home of a famous English school. The officers were billeted in, and had the Officers’ Mess in, the school buildings, the school having been evacuated by staff and pupils. Again, intensive training was carried out for the next three months and again all enjoyed the amenities, which were just as good as in Hereford. During the training period from October the only time the Bn. left there was for a brief visit to Birmingham to participate in bomb-damage relief. Over the six-month period, the Bn. consolidated and people got to know one another with the result that when the time came to embark for overseas, the Bn. was in good shape, an efficient unit, discipline and morale were good, and the unit well trained. I might point out that 4 Border was in peacetime a Territorial Army unit, in other words part-time soldiers and there were still a considerable number of T.A. personnel with the unit with a smattering of regulars and the remainder war service troops and emergency Commissioned Officers.
On the night of 19th March, the Bn. entrained in a railway tunnel in Malvern presumably for security reasons, although the whole town knew that we were leaving for overseas. We arrived at Avonmouth Docks in Bristol and embarked on the liner Orontes. It was the last east-bound convoy before the liner was converted to troop carrying and the accommodation was of the 1st Class passenger variety, as was the food, though the troop’s mess decks were fairly cramped. We set sail down the Bristol Channel on 21st March. Almost the last sight of land which we had before going out into the Atlantic Ocean was the coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland, where my wife, Hazel, was then living and where she stayed for most of the war. Our journey was uneventful and our first landfall was at Freetown, Sierra Leone, though we had previously had a glimpse of the Azores. We did not go ashore there, nor at Cape Town, where we lay off Table Mountain for a day, but we had four very pleasant days in Durban, entertained royally by the very hospitable residents. After that it was Suez, Egypt, and a transit camp, until we entrained for the Western Desert.
At this time things were going well in the second Wavell offensive and the Bn. joined 23rd Brigade as a reserve brigade in the 4th Indian Division. We first took over Baqush Box, a defended area east of Mersah Matruh, which was uncomfortable living, excepting for glorious Mediterranean sea bathing, and the companies were on detachment on aerodrome defence further forward. Later we moved forward to Mersah Matruh itself with even nicer sea bathing and I accompanied our C.O. to a Company at an airfield at Side Barrani, where a roving Messerschmidt attacked us. No ground action was experienced by the Bn. at this time.
Fighting had broken out at this time in Syria and the Lebanon, so the Bn. was withdrawn and dispatched across the Canal Zone by troop train to Beit Lid in Palestine. From there we travelled by road up the length of Palestine through Tiberias and past the Sea of Galilee to Khiyam in Southern Lebanon. There had been some severe fighting around Marjayoun, a nearby village, but after our arrival the main area of battle moved to the Coastal strip and, apart from twice daily shelling by the Vichy French forces, the only activity on the ground was infantry patrolling in the surrounding villages mostly at night. It is of interest that one of our officers, who was wounded on a night patrol, was Anthony Steele, who later became a British film star and was married to Anita Ekberg!! On July 12th the Bn. moved north and an armistice was signed on July 14th and we settled in to camping conditions on the outskirts of Qabb Ilyas. We remained here three weeks during which we had the opportunity to visit Beirut, which was a beautiful town with wonderful amenities and it is so sad to think of the horrors that it has suffered in recent years. Especially we enjoyed the amenities of the St. George’s Hotel.
Now it was a question of taking over internal security that had been under Vichy French control. The Bn. moved by road the whole length of the Lebanon and Syria to Aleppo, where we were billeted in the aerodrome with companies on detachment to towns on the Turkish frontier - Djerablus, Actarine and Azzaz. I used to go in a truck to visit a different Company each day from Aleppo, so that I really saw a lot of the country. On one occasion I was present in Djerablus for a conference with the Mayor of the town and a gathering of Bedouin sheikhs. It was like Beau Geste excepting instead of arriving on camels, they came in the latest American cars. I met here one Sheikh Hamoudi, who was a friend of Lawrence of Arabia, and Glubb Pasha.
Our H.Q. moved from Aleppo to a town called Idlib, some distance away, where we remained for a further three weeks, and then returned to the military barracks in Aleppo. Here a lot of the time was spent in processing Greek refugees, who had travelled from German-occupied Greece through Turkey to Syria, and were being sorted out for referral to the Greek authorities, in exile, in Egypt. After three weeks in Aleppo Barracks we were relieved by an unruly lot of Australian A.E.F. troops and travelled by road and rail down through Beirut, Tyre and Sidon to Haifa, where we entrained and eventually ended up at Amyriah transit camp west of Alexandria. After kitting up we were transported one morning to the dockside in Alexandria and boarded R.N. vessels en route by sea to Tobruk. The vessel in which I travelled was the destroyer, Jackal.
We arrived in Tobruk Harbour just after dark in the evening, after an uneventful journey, during which we had the nicest English breakfast of bacon and eggs in the Wardroom that we had tasted since coming to Egypt. A pathway over sunken ships and merchandise had been constructed from ship to shore and we were guided in the dark by Australians. We spent a day or two in a transit area before being taken by guides up to the perimeter defences. Here we took over from 2/13 Bn. A.E.F. and I met their M.O. whose name, curiously, was the same as mine, Capt. Good. The Tobruk perimeter defences were not a system of continuous trenches like WW1, but consisted of underground concrete strong points built by the Italians before they came into the war. Bn. H.Q. was at the centre and in rear of the strong points and in my Regimental Aid Post, we lived in dugouts as did the rest of H.Q.. The programme in Tobruk perimeter until November 18th, this being early October, was as follows: At early morning and again in the evening, we were subjected to periods of artillery fire in Bn. H.Q., which was replied to by our R.A. batteries. During the day there were frequent attacks on the Company positions by Stuka dive-bombers, but I only remember two fatal casualties from all these attacks. At nighttime, the Companies sent out patrols between their fronts and the enemy but no major clashes occurred before November 18th.
It was planned at 8th Army H.Q. that Tobruk Force, as we were called, would make diversionary incidents on the night of November 18th and that the real assault would be by the 8th Army to relieve Tobruk, which they expected would be on November 20th. As so often happened, things did not work out that way. We carried out our diversionary attacks but the 8th Army never appeared. After a few days, an H.Q. column from 8th Army arrived but was quickly cut off by the enemy and had to remain in Tobruk. The 8th Army then got involved in very heavy fighting at Sidi Resegh, south of Tobruk, and our battalion was ordered to make a frontal assault from our side. This was carried out by C Company. Heavy casualties resulted, with 27 killed and I had 97 wounded pass through my R.A.P. that day. The result was that, although no ground was secured by the attack, the next day the enemy had moved off westward. Some days afterwards the Bn. was ordered to move along the perimeter road that the Italians had built during the siege and press on towards El Adam Aerodrome. The Durham Light Infantry Bn. had attacked a strongpoint ahead of us and occupied it and we passed through them with a squadron of Matilda tanks and, by daylight, had occupied an escarpment short of El Adam. I had been left behind the advance attending an officer of ours who had been wounded by one of our own tanks, and when we were being guided back to join the battalion, as we approached, we saw two crowds like at a football match with about a quarter of a mile between them. One lot was our battalion and the other lot was the enemy, which we discovered to our cost when they opened up on our truck and ambulance with anti-tank guns. However we got into the unit lines without casualties, only to be shelled by our own Howitzers from inside Tobruk. They had not been informed as to our whereabouts. After a night of patrolling, the next day the enemy withdrew and we reached El Adam aerodrome where there were 10 New Zealand wounded left with a Medical Orderly. The 8th Army eventually arrived on December 8th and we were subsequently transported back by truck to railhead at Buq Buq and then in goods wagons to a transit camp in the Canal Zone of Egypt, from which we were given four days leave in the fleshpots of Cairo, especially Shepherd’s Hotel and the Mena House at the Pyramids. Some weeks later we were off again by train to Suez. In Suez Harbour lay the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, which were transporting Australians to Egypt and Italian prisoners to Australia, and the Mauritania. Our whole Brigade embarked on the Mauritania and so began the next phase of our travels, this time much further east.
After an uneventful voyage across the Indian Ocean, we eventually arrived at Bombay. To give the reader some idea of the preparedness for, and the attitude of the British Indian Establishment, it is of interest to relate that the first action of the authorities was to try to carry out a customs examination of a mobilised British division arriving in the country complete with weapons and transport from a war zone to a potential war zone. Subsequently we found that this Col. Blimp and N.W. Frontier attitude appeared to exist right up to G.H.Q. Delhi, hence Louis Mountbatten’s action on arrival to take command of S.E.A.C. in moving his G.H.Q. to Ceylon. However, having brushed aside the customs hiccup, we were duly transported to Poona, which may be described as the epitome of the Indian Army. We spent a very pleasant few weeks in Kirkee Barracks, which in peacetime was an R.A. Barracks and in the Officers’ Mess was the longest dining table of any British Army Officers’ Mess in the world. However all good things must come to an end, so we left Poona and travelled by troop train across India to Ranchi in the State of Bihar, which was to be our home for the best part of a year, with a few short breaks.
We were deposited in a paddy field area around the village of Khunti, which was 20 miles from Ranchi and had never before been occupied by troops and we proceeded to set up camp. From a health point of view, the area could not have been worse as it was infested with malaria carrying mosquitoes and near a village in which malaria was endemic. The result was that out of a battalion of some 950 strong, we had, in just under a year, 1,500 hospital admissions, mainly from malaria and relapses despite full anti-malaria precautions which, by and large, were rigorously carried out. Normal infantry training was resumed and included two weeks jungle warfare training, which gave us a welcome change of location from our camp area.
Early in the year, disorders amongst the civil population in India organised by the Gandhi Congress Party resulted in a call for assistance of the military to the Civil Power to restore order. As the Bn. at that time had no other role than a training role, we set off in motor transport and arrived at Patna on the River Ganges, where we were billeted at Patna University, which was not operating and without students. We subsequently moved across the Ganges to Muzzaffapur, where H.Q. was established in a school and detachments were sent out to areas north of here, right up to the Nepalese border. The main duties of the battalion in this situation were the control of and dispersal of mobs and setting up of roadblocks and checkpoints. All this was in support of the civil police and little or no force was required. The disorders soon settled down and we returned to Ranchi, but were shortly called upon again to assist the civil power, this time at Gaya, south of Patna. Gaya is supposed to be the birthplace of Buddha and there is an interesting Buddhist temple there, although India was at that time largely Hindu/Moslem and Buddhism associated more with Ceylon and countries further east. The troubles at Gaya were not serious and we returned to Ranchi after two weeks.
Shortly afterwards we left Ranchi and went to an area of West Bengal, east of Calcutta, where we were billeted in a deserted village. Just at this time the dingdong battles with the Japanese in the Maungdau/Buthidaung area of the Arakom District in Burma flared up and the Bn. was called upon to reinforce the area. We duly set sail from Calcutta in a British India ship, the Ethiopia, and arrived at the port of Chittagong in East Bengal (now Bangladesh). On forming up we travelled by train to railhead further south and then by road to Bawli Bazar. Little in the way of operations were carried out, though the battalion did march to Shabe Bazar and “B” company was sent to a supposed area of Japanese activity at Taung Bazar, but despite active patrolling no contact was made with the Japanese. Just then the monsoon broke and all military operations became static. The battalion spent an unpleasant time bivouacking without cover, but eventually formed up for embarkation on river transport. Whilst waiting to board the riverboat, a Japanese Zero fighter flew over but did not attack and that was all we saw of the Japanese during this period. We then returned to Chittagong where we remained for a further few weeks, before joining a troop train for an 11-day journey to Bangalore in South India.
Bangalore was a comfortable station where we were in a semi-permanent camping site but where I discovered that I was suffering from amoebic dysentery. However, 21 days in 38th British General Hospital in Bangalore and a fortnight’s convalescent leave in Ootacomund, a very popular hill station in peace time with quite a colony of permanent British residents, soon put me on my feet and I never looked back. Bangalore was a fine town and the climate was temperate for India. Whilst we were there, we received the news that, on its return from its exploits behind the Japanese lines in Burma, Gen. Wingate’s Chindit force of one brigade was going to be absorbed into what became Special (Chindit) Force India. 70th Div. included our brigade, 23 Bde., and the 4th Border Regiment. So, once again, we moved from Bangalore to the Jhansi-Sangor area of Central India.
Now began a period of intensive jungle training on Chindit lines. I shall describe briefly our training and operations, so as to give the reader some idea of the conditions obtaining. The training was severe and, apart from the tactical training, consisted, quite frequently, of marching up to 40 miles a day with full equipment. As the training took place from October to April, it was not in the heat of summer, nor during the monsoon period, so we did not suffer those discomforts. Our heavy equipment was transported by mules, who were the most wonderful animals, and the muleteers became most attached to their animals. There was the odd troublesome one, but mostly its own muleteer learned how to control it and to keep it in line. Perhaps to the dismay of animal lovers I must relate that the braying of mules could be of great danger to the columns during operations, so a massive “devoicing” programme was organised throughout the brigade. Over a period of a few days, an army veterinary team removed the vocal chords of the brigade’s mules under anaesthetic without causing much distress to the mules, which were given 10 days convalescence and seemed none the worse for their operations, which were a big success. At the end of the training period, the battalion was not only highly trained in jungle and Chindit operations but, with the constant exercise and increased rations, was very fit.
In May the training period finished and we were transported by the Bengal Assam Railway to Mariani in Assam, passing through one railway town with the Boys Own Paper sounding name of Lumding. At this time, the Japanese advance into India west of the Chindwin had begun and we were quite ignorant of the exact location of the forward Japanese troops and felt that there was a threat to the railway line with its many bridges, but we arrived safely without incident at Mariani. During the few days that we were assembling at Mariani, word came through that Gen. Wingate had been killed in an air accident. This immediately changed the role of 23rd Brigade. Instead of being flown by glider into Burma to remain during the monsoon period, whilst the other brigades of Special Force were withdrawn, 23rd Brigade was put under the operational command of 14th Army to harass the Japanese L. of C. from the Chindwin to the Imphal/Kohima area, the former town now having been infested by the enemy and the main supply road from railhead to Dimapore cut between the two towns.
Orders soon arrived for us to move south towards the area of the Japanese L. of C. Our first objective was Mokokchung in the Naga Hills, east of Kohima. From there patrols were sent out, during which areas occupied by the Japanese were attacked and in all cases the enemy were routed with many casualties and few casualties sustained by our troops. I would like here to pay tribute to the RAF, who kept us supplied with all the necessities of life from rations to supplementary and replacement equipment, and to the “Q” side of Force H.Q., for an almost 100% response to requests for such supplies from Column H.Q.. During the whole period of operation from May to August, we missed only one meal, despite most difficult flying conditions due to mountainous terrain, and frequent early morning mists common in this area.
As patrolling was the means of harassment of the Japanese, I will describe one patrol, which I accompanied. It was against a Japanese occupied village named Phakedzumi. We left the Column concentration area at break of day and marched all day through sometimes dense jungle, where we had to cut our way through with machetes. We arrived in the early hours of the morning at the Christian village of Phakedzumi, where the inhabitants gave us hot tea. As the troops were pretty tired from lack of sleep and the exertions of the two days march, I doled out a dose of Benzedrine tablets, which had a miraculous effect in shrugging off the inertia. Our force consisted of two platoons and a headquarters platoon. The two platoons set up two roadblocks outside the village and H.Q. Platoon, with Major Douglas Scott in command, attacked various areas around the village itself. During these engagements the H.Q. Platoon killed 30 Japanese and wounded 10 more and suffered two casualties only. The column commander, Major Scott, was wounded in the arm and, as I was dressing his wound, we were fired upon by a machine gun from the top of the hill. As we were not now in touch with the two platoons on roadblocks, and as I was not an infantry officer and Major Scott was wounded, it was decided to withdraw as the party was no longer large enough to carry out an assault on the strong point on the hill from which the LMG fire had come. After we had travelled a mile or two from the village, Major Scott said that there was a wounded NCO left in the village and would I return there with a section of ten men and try to recover him. We set off up the hill to join a track running into the village. As we rested before finally stepping up onto the track, a Naga hillman came up and said “Japani”. We looked up and saw a Japanese officer looking down at us. We immediately realised that we were almost caught in an ambush, so, at the double, we made for the rice paddy fields at the side of the track in the direction of a secondary jungle area 100 yards or so lower down. Thanks to the step-like formation of the paddy fields, where we jumped down every few yards, and to the poor marksmanship of the Japanese, we arrived without any casualties in the jungle area, for the Japanese opened up with everything they had — rifles, machine guns, mortars and grenades. Two M.C.s and two M.M.s were awarded for the Phakedzumi Patrol Action.
On the subject of the environment, I would like to make a comment here on the conditions in which the columns were operating. First of all we had no cover and just lay and slept in the open excepting when we were in the Naga villages and managed to get some shelter from the veranda type fronts of their wooded buildings. Nowhere in the Naga Hills was there 50 yards of flat terrain. The hills were 6,000 to 8,000 feet high and, as we marched up them, so we had to march down them and up the next hill. When we had an airdrop, with five days rations, our packs weighed 80 lbs., which, along with the troops’ equipment and weapons was a considerable weight to carry up and down the hills. As M.O., I had my own difficulties. As casualties were left for my attention, I and my orderly marched at the rear of the column and, rather than be left behind, we carried the casualty’s pack ourselves as well as our own, and it sometimes happened that I arrived at the midday or evening rendezvous with two 80 lb. packs on my back. The casualties were mainly exhaustion with malaria. Even though suppressive Mepacrine tablets were regularly taken, malaria was not entirely suppressed. Usually relief of the pack enabled the casualty to finish the day’s march to the rest area, but we had a small number of ponies in the column on which we transported the more serious casualties. Evacuation of casualties was a further problem. The set-up for columns entering Burma proper was that a stronghold was formed from which the columns operated and which contained an airstrip. Such was not possible in the Naga Hills. We had a difficult, but frail, L. of C. back to Brigade H.Q. where they had an airstrip. So, into the breech stepped the Naga Hillmen. They were small, around 5 ft. in height, but wiry and capable of running up and down hills with heavy loads. Stretchers and litters were constructed of bamboo and casualties were evacuated with Nagas acting as stretcher-bearers. No escort could be provided but all casualties evacuated by these means arrived safely at Brigade H.Q.. The Naga Hillmen were 100% loyal to us and never let us down. It is a tragedy that since Indian independence they have been harassed to this day by the successors to the British Raj. Although up to recent years they have been head-hunters, when we were amongst them, they behaved in a civilised and friendly manner and each village had a detached Christian village where those who were converted went to live and they all lived amicably if separately.
We now proceeded towards the concentration area at Column H.Q. and after a night in the open, we rejoined the complete column. Major Scott was evacuated and did not rejoin us until we returned to Bangalore. The column now moved to another hilltop village, Thetsemi, and after many more harassing raids against the Japanese, one night we noticed heavy traffic along a track leading to the Chindwin River crossing into Burma proper. The withdrawal of the Japanese from the Imphal/Kohima area had begun. As a last “thumb-to-nose” effort the Japanese next day rained artillery shells on Thetsemi, but little damage and no casualties resulted. After the obvious withdrawal of the Japanese, the column moved westwards to Ukhrul and here then operations were complete. Not in any way belittling the heroic battles fought around Kohima by the 2nd British and 7th Indian Divisions, the harassing operations by 23rd Brigade of which 4 Border Regt. was an integral part made a major impact on the Japanese to bring about a withdrawal from the Imphal/Kohima area of operations and they did not again attempt an invasion of India.
The Brigade now moved into Imphal and was thereafter moved by truck to railhead at Dimapur. Passing through Kohima was like viewing a scene of Flanders in the 1914-18 War with skeletons of trees with no leaves on them. Amongst all this chaos we noticed a guard mounting of the Durham Light Infantry, complete with blancoed equipment — this within a week or so of one of the bitterest battles of WW2. After a week or two of rest at railhead, during which malaria began to take it’s toll, we once more entrained for the long journey back to our old haunt Bangalore. We were given fourteen days leave, which Bob Watt and I took together. We spent one week in the fleshpots of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay and the second week we spent at Krishnaraja Sagara in Mysore State. The hotel there was situated in an elevated area above a lake with broad steps the whole way down from the hotel to the lake, which, when lighted up at night, was a lovely spectacle. The hotel served the best curry we had ever tasted. Bob and I had a bathe in the lake the first day we were there, but, as someone told us that a woman had been carried off by a crocodile the previous week, we did not repeat that event. I was unlucky enough to develop malaria, but, as I carried plenty of Mepacrine tablets, I treated the attacks myself and did not go to hospital. Between 1944 and 1946 I had in all nine attacks, but none after that. We remained in Bangalore until coming up to Christmas and, just before Christmas, we entrained again, this time for Dehra Dun, a military cantonment in north India. We were actually on the train on Christmas Day, 1944, and it stopped all day at Delhi Station platform. As I had an attack of malaria that morning, I was unable to go up to the town and my Christmas dinner consisted of bully beef, army biscuits, pickles, cheese and tinned fruit, whereas all the other officers had their Christmas dinner in the New Imperial Hotel in Delhi.
Repatriation to the U.K. had begun for those with three years and eight months overseas service, so the strength of the battalion was gradually diminishing. The battalion was moved to Dehra Dun to concentrate 23rd Bde. and for reinforcement, which eventually led to the amalgamation of 4th and 9th Bn., The Border Regiment.
It was quite pleasant living in Dehra Dun, a regular peacetime station, but early in February we moved to the transit area for repatriates at Deolali. Deolali has always been a time-honoured name in the army, associated with the expression “The Deolali Tap”. It was always a view held amongst commentators that Deolali was a centre where those who had become mentally deranged after long service in “crab” stations were congregated prior to repatriation to an appropriate institution for their disablement, hence the anxiety of anyone posted to Deolali as to whether they would survive to arrive home or not, a view supported by the fact that the camp area allotted to us was just over a wall around the graveyard which contained graves of servicemen, extending well back into the last century. However, the day did eventually arrive when we were instructed to march to the station to entrain for Bombay Docks. As I had always feared, I had an attack of malaria that morning, but, on taking Mepacrine, and on having my pack carried on a vehicle, I managed to march to the station and duly arrived at Bombay Docks, where we embarked on the Queen of Bermuda. After an uneventful journey through the Suez Canal, with a visit to Simon Artz store in Port Said, and a few days lying in Gibraltar Harbour, we arrived at Greenock.
I finished my army career, excepting for T.A. and A.E.R. service, in Northern Ireland, my final posting being with a unit of Lancashire Fusiliers at St. Patrick’s barracks, Ballymena, my dear wife’s home town, and where both my sons were born. I could not imagine a more appropriate ending.
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