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Burma Memories

by BBC Scotland

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Contributed by 
BBC Scotland
People in story: 
Albert Godfrey
Location of story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 January 2006

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Vijiha Bashir, at BBC Scotland on behalf of Albert Godfrey from Johnstone and has been added to the site with the permission of Johnstone History Society. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

Burma is a republic in South East Asia, on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea: unified from small states since in 1752; annexed by Britain (1923 — 85) and made a province of India in 1886. Burma became independent in 1948. It is generally mountainous with the basins of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy Rivers in the central part and the Irrawaddy delta in the south. The area of Burma is 678.00Km. (261.789 miles) and the language is Burmese and the main religion Buddhist.

THE BURMA ROAD — the route extending from Lashio in Burma to Ch’ung-ch’ing in China was used by the Allies during World War II to supply military equipment to Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in China.

KOHIMA — a city in North East Asia and capital of Nagaland near the Burmese border saw fierce fighting during World War II when it was taken by Japanese then recaptured by Anglo-Indian troops in 1944. This crucial battle of the Burma Campaign 1942-44 where the British and Indian forces held and drove back the Japanese, averted a catastrophic invasion of India.

Albert Godfrey — a Sergeant with the Royal Signals Corps and founder member of the Renfrewshire Burma Veterans who served as a Wireless Operator with the ‘forgotten Army’ tells of his wartime experiences;

Upon arriving at Bombay, we were told that we would be given six or seven weeks to acclimatise — unfortunately this was not to be, it just did not apply. Within a week we boarded a train which took us from Bombay to Calcutta. In Calcutta we boarded a riverboat which was like the Mark Twain’s river boat on the Mississippi as it was a flat bottomed boat, and we sailed up the Brahmaputra until we got to the edge of Burma and then life became very difficult.

The two main rivers in Burma are the Chindwin and the Irrawaddy which are about a thousand miles in length. In Burma from Rangoon to the extreme south of Burma, to the north of Burma is approximately one thousand miles.

The Japanese had overtaken Rangoon at the south and the only way out for residents (they couldn’t get out by sea) was to go up river, or by any other means. There was only one main road and so everyone trying to get to India had to go through the North of Burma.

Meantime the Japs had overtaken us, and we got to Mandalay, when we were ordered off the boats and the order came through that all the boats had to be sunk to stop the enemy getting further transport.

We had to make our own way then from Mandalay to a place called Imphal, which is north of Burma. There were huge battles going on, but eventually the Japanese were stopped at a place called Kohima this is a town near the border of India and Burma. There the crucial battle took place. Having defeated the enemy and having stopped them form getting their supplies, we next had to drive the Japanese back down from the north and right back to Rangoon. There were several battles, but the two principle ones were Mandalay and Mehtilla. These battles were very, very severe and the Army suffered a lot of casualties during the fight, but also, because of the terrible terrain and the conditions, and the disease there were as many casualties caused by sickness as there were from the enemy.

At Mandalay there is a fort known as Fort Dufferin. It is a mile square and it is surrounded by a moat. There are four entrances and four bridges, North, East, South and West and here the Japanese control was heavily concentrated. Our job was to dislodge them capture Fort Dufferin. That proved a formidable battle and there were many Army casualties.

The walls of this fort were about thirty five feet in height and thickness, very, very strong indeed, we pounded them with heavy guns and artillery and the air force bombed the fort but couldn’t manage to make a hole in the sides.

Eventually one morning, after about three weeks of all this effort we found that the Japs had all got out through one of the sewers at one of the entrances.

We occupied Mandalay and there believe it or not, we found things not seen for several years. Ordinary things like writing paper, matches, etc. All of the things we now take for granted and buy in quantities, but at that time, to us they were a wonderful sight.

Our troops like all men when in a foreign country would like to take a souvenir home but we were to busy, too involved. I’m afraid to get an opportunity to secure a geisha girl’s photograph, or Japanese sword. That is the sort of thing I would have liked, but our job was just to keep the communications going to the forward troops.

I feel it is incumbent on me to let the younger generations know that had we lost Kohima we, the British people, would not be free to enjoy life as it is today.

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