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Service in the Burma campaign

by Blackpool_Library

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Jack F. Nield
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29 September 2005

These memories were written by Jack Nield, Honorary War Pensions Officer of the Burma Star Association, and were added to the People’s War website by the staff of Blackpool Central Library with his permission. Mr Nield served with the Royal Corps of Signals in the Burma campaign.

Having croosed the River Brahmaputra we were stationed at 14th Army Headquarters in Comilla in Eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh). We had the very latest technology and were responsible for maintaining communications between the Army Headquarters under General Slim and the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and onwards direct to the War Office in London.

In many ways disease and ill health were a greater enemy than the Japanese. The conditions under which we lived were very primitive and our section was accommodated in “bashas” in the grounds of Comilla gaol. The climate was most unhealthy and temperatures often exceeded 45 degrees centigrade. At one time the humidity rose to 98.4, when 14th Army orders of the day advised all personnel not on duty to rest on their “charpoys” and not to exert themselves physically.

Tropical diseases were rampant. Most people suffered from dysentery, which usually ended up with a period in hospital. Fair-haired troops suffered badly from prickly heat, which often became septic and the only real cure would have been to move to a cooler place, which was not possible at that time. We suffered from tinea “Bengal footrot” especially in between toes and in the crutch. Ringworm was very common. I myself was struck down with heat exhaustion. This was a condition mainly caused by not taking extra salt (which needed to be taken regularly when in the tropics), and this could be a killer. We were in an area endemic for malaria, which was also very common. Mepacrin tablets were taken to suppress the symptoms. These tablets caused the skin to become yellow. Sunburn, normally considered to be a self-inflicted injury, particularly affected fair-skinned people, and of course we were not to know that in later life it would lead to skin cancer and other skin conditions. Jaundice and sprue were also quite common.

Horrific experiences during jungle combat left many servicemen stressed, causing mental conditions. In later life post-traumatic stress disorder would be diagnosed, with many suffering from nightmares associated with wartime experiences. This is very common amongst those who served with the Chindits operating behind Japanese lines, and those taken prisoner by the Japanese (Far Eastern Prisoners of War).

In 1943 one could expect to serve five years in the Far East known as “Python” with no leave home to the UK. With the sudden end of the War my section went on to Sri Lanka, Malaya, Singapore and Java, returning home just in time for Christmas 1946 and having served almost four years in the Far East.

As a War Pensions Officer my prime function is to encourage those who served in India, Burma and the Far East to make claims for war disability pensions for medical conditions for which they may suffer as a result of their service. Advice is given on how to complete the various application forms and, where the claim is disallowed, help them to make an appeal to the Independent Pensions Appeal Tribunal.

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