The unstoppable Japanese Advance





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At first even the Pacific war had seem far away, with the fall of Hong Kong sad but not too unexpected. In the early months of 1942 this all changed. In short succession the Japanese managed to overrun the European possessions in South-East Asia. The fall of the fortress city of Singapore was great shock and in less than a month Rangoon also had fallen, and by the end of March the Japanese had reached India near Chittagong and the on the Andamans. 

Would Calcutta be next? Would there be a panic; would the British and their allies fight; would the independence movement welcome the Japanese? 

In the meantime there were many refugees from Burma with horrific tales to tell, many relatives were trapped, missing or killed behind enemy lines and in the city itself some fifth columnists working for the Axis.

Calcutta had suddenly found itself on the front line facing the march of a seemingly unstoppable enemy.



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15 February 1942 - The Fall of Singapore




          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________


Japanese Leaflet


collected by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service), Calcutta, 1942

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)





          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___






          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________


Ron and I stopped to speak to two of the boys

Earlier in the year, before the fall of Singapore, an English regiment arrived.  The men were put in tents on the Barrackpore Golf Course.  The following day when walking past, Ron and I stopped to speak to two of the boys.  They had almost been eaten alive by mosquitoes – their poor legs were inflamed and covered by blisters.  We invited them to come along to our house, which they did and were exceedingly grateful for the hot bath, a good meal and having their legs dressed.  We did not see them again as they had all left for what turned out to be Singapore where they arrived in time for the fall of the town and the humiliating surrender to the Japanese.

Eugenie Fraser, wife of a jute mill manager, Barrackpore, 1941

 (source:page 92 of Eugenie Fraser: “A home by the Hooghly. A jute Wallahs Wife” .Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing  1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Eugenie Fraser)


Lectures organized by the St John’s Ambulance Corps.

In our district many of the women, including me, attended lectures organized by the St John’s Ambulance Corps.  Later we were examined by the Military Doctor. Like all those who passed, I was very pleased to receive my certificate.

Eugenie Fraser, wife of a jute mill manager, Calcutta, early 1942

 (source:page 92 of Eugenie Fraser: “A home by the Hooghly. A jute Wallahs Wife” .Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing  1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Eugenie Fraser)


Soldiers’ Club was formed in one of the old houses in Barrackpore

A Soldiers’ Club was formed in one of the old houses in Barrackpore. Groups of some six or more ladies from the various compounds attended in turn each night for voluntary work there. Tea and cool lime drinks were provided free and for a few annas; sandwiches, cookies, fish and chips were offered to the men. It was quite hard work for us especially during the hot season, but much appreciated by the soldiers who flocked to the club in large numbers.

Eugenie Fraser, wife of a jute mill manager, Barrackpore, 1941

 (source:page 92 of Eugenie Fraser: “A home by the Hooghly. A jute Wallahs Wife” .Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing  1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Eugenie Fraser)


The Bengal Ladies’ Artillery

Not least important was the newly formed contingent of women willing to fight the enemy if need be.  I do not know whose mighty brain produced this child and named it the Bengal Ladies’ Artillery but a large number of women responded to the call with great enthusiasm - and I was one of them.

We were measured for khaki trousers and shirts to match and ordered to wear topis which was not in accordance with the Military Doctor who in his lectures told us that topis were no longer necessary as there was no such thing s sunstroke, but heatstroke, a statement soon to be confirmed with the arrival of the American soldiers who wore no topis.

Twice weekly transport was provided by the military to take us to and from the parade ground in Barrackpore. A young and rather bold sergeant-major taught us drill and wasn’t sparing in his comments on our behaviour and deportment.  W had to learn how to use a rifle. The Lewis gun also came into the picture and there it wasn’t just sufficient to know the usage, but to be able to dismantle and assemble it within a give time. Not being mechanically minded I was astonished at the ability so many of the girls possessed and with what amazing speed each piece was named as it was placed in proper order. There was no hope for my competing with such efficiency, but I did redeem myself a little on the range where by some miracle I was lucky enough to score a higher count than most of them.

Eugenie Fraser, wife of a jute mill manager, Barrackpore, 1942

 (source:pages 92-93 of Eugenie Fraser: “A home by the Hooghly. A jute Wallahs Wife” .Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing  1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Eugenie Fraser)


Calcutta was full of soldiers

Calcutta was full of soldiers and army trucks went up and down all day long.

Dum Dum airport in 1942-46 was one of the busiest airports in the world.

Katyun Randhawa, a young Indian (Parsi) girl, Calcutta, 1942-3


(source: A5756150 The bombing of Calcutta by the Japanese Edited at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Gas Mask Drill at the Kindergarten

We were all issued with little shouder bags that contained a gas mask, a large square rubber to place in the mouth (to absorb shock), a square bicycle lamp, a first-aid tin box, a pencil and notepad, some ointments in tubes and a tiny bottle of smelling salts.... oh and a football ref's whistle.

We had drill practise following assembly. We had to learn how to breath in the masks while running and jumping about: not as easy as it looks because we kept 'misting up' and smashing into one another. We really enjoyed squeezing ointments onto one another and taking sniffs of the smelling salts. If you sniffed to hard your eyes nearly shot out of their sockets and there were enough tear drops to make a few cups of tea.

Ron M. Walker, 7 year old boy, Calcutta, 1942-3


(source: A2780534 My Wartime Childhood in Calcutta, India at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)





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March 1942 - The Fall of the Dutch Eat Indies


          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________






          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___



New Pacific

The world and World War II changed last week. By their conquest of Java, the Japanese split the far Pacific. Its vast expanses ceased to exist as a single Allied war area. The great zone of strategy, action and command became a set of separated zones. Inevitably, in advance of Java's fall, the Allies dissolved the unified system of command which they had established to direct the far Pacific war from Java. General Sir Archibald Wavell, the Supreme Commander, flew in a U.S. plane from Java to Ceylon, then to India and Burma, then into China, then back to India. Like writing on a wall, his travels traced the perils which the U.S., Great Britain and their allies must now face, the changes which they must deal with and somehow use for victory.

Wavell for India. Of all the new zones of war, India was suddenly paramount. As a central Allied base for supplies and offensive action, it loomed even above remote Australia (see p. 21). To hold India, to bring its masses into the war, Britain must pay a price, both politically (see ,p. 26) and militarily. General Wavell, therefore, was taking no back seat when he resumed his command of India's (and Burma's) forces.

The Allies had to write off southern Burma (see p. 20). General Wavell now had to prepare the defenses of India proper. Defending India, he also defends China and its last supply routes. He defends Russia on India's north. He defends Suez and the Middle East from an east-west Nazi-Japanese pincer. Above all, for the final phase of World War II, he defends in India a necessary Allied supply center and base for future offensive action through China.

Ceylon for Wavell. At the southern nub of India, where the Indian Ocean meets the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, lies a focal center of General Wavell's task: Britain's island of Ceylon.

Holding Ceylon, Wavell holds the sea entrances to India's eastern ports (Madras and Calcutta) which are also inlets for China's supplies. On Ceylon is Trincomalee, Britain's secondary naval base, immensely important now that Singapore is gone. Trincomalee is now the Allies' only useful naval base north of Capetown and east of Suez. Whoever holds Trincomalee and Ceylon's airdromes holds the key to the Indian Ocean and all its vital sea routes between Africa, Australia, India and the Middle East. Without Trincomalee and Ceylon, the Japanese can make Allied transport in the Indian Ocean dangerous and expensive. With Ceylon, they could make it almost impossible.

Last week, when the Japs bombed the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, they were softening up a way station on the invasion road to Ceylon. And Ceylon, just 60 miles off southern India, is a way to invasion of India itself. It could even be a substitute for invasion. With eastern India bottled up, with ships and planes in position on Ceylon to raid even the Indian routes to the vital ports of Bombay and Karachi on the Arabian Sea, Japan could well let India soften and crumble under blockade.

Chiang for China. When General Wavell landed at Lashio in China, he did not receive Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek. The Generalissimo received Wavell. The meeting was a seal upon China's final admission to full estate among the Allies. It was also a belated recognition that China may yet be the only front for a direct land and air assault on Japan, that planes and tanks and heavy artillery for China may yet make the difference between victory and defeat in the Far East.

Australians for Australia. Simply by omitting Australia from his prodigious swing, General Wavell accented that menaced Dominion's status as an important and lonely zone. Even as the unified Command was dissolving, Australians complained that it had never been wholly unified or wholly effective. They took command of Australia for themselves, with their tough, hard-talking, fast-moving Lieut. General Sir Iven Mackay at the top. No sooner had they done so than the Jap appeared on the horizon (see p. 21).

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Mar. 16, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)


Oil Can Lose the War

Allied experts who once boasted that oil would win the war began to realize last week that the oil may get into the wrong hands. It was a rude awakening.Before Pearl Harbor the U.S. and Britain's fleets drew on the vast oil fields of the Western Hemisphere. Soviet Russia and the Armies of the Middle East had Baku and Batum. Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore were next door to the Dutch East Indies. The anti-Axis powers of the world controlled 97.5% of world production. It was as simple as that.

But the Japanese have closed the United Nations' filling station in the far Pacific. Adolf Hitler, if he drives into the Middle East, may capture Baku and Batum. Then the Axis would not only have oil enough for its war machine (after destroyed mills and refineries are repaired), but would force the United Nations into complete dependence on the Western Hemisphere.

Oil there is in the Western Hemisphere aplenty: last year's production was 1,761,951,000 barrels, 78% of world production. But nearly 7,000 miles of water -a four months' round trip for a fast tanker -lie between San Francisco and Melbourne. India's port of Calcutta is 16,425 miles from San Francisco. It is 4,673 miles from New York to Archangel. And all these trips will require some convoying.

Last week the Navy Department's count of tankers lost in the western Atlantic since Dec. 7 reached 17, an average of six a month. Although tanker production during 1941 was only 15 ships, 1942-43 calls for 215 new vessels, an average of 18 a month. But even these promising figures could not overcome the chill fact that the onetime Allied trump card, oil, was no longer a trump. The submarines that smacked shells at the refineries of Aruba and California were probing for vital or gans, for these refineries produce high-octane aviation gasoline, of which the hemisphere has none too much. Grumped the New York Herald Tribune's old Columnist Mark Sullivan: "It is by far the greatest problem of transportation and supply -what experts call 'logistics' -ever faced by any nation at war."

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Mar. 16, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)





          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________






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08 March 1942 - The Fall of Rangoon




          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________


Japanese Burma Rupees


collected by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart, I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service), Calcutta, 1940s

(source: personal scrapbook kept by Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart O.B.E., I.C.S. seen on 20-Dec-2005 / Reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Malcolm Moncrieff Stuart)





          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___



Chink in Armour

INDIA will long remember gratefully the visit of Marshal Chiang Kai-shek and his wife. They came at a critical hour in the history of India and China and their visit will itself help to make the future history of both countries. The Generalissimo has sought information which is vital. He must have wished to know what is the position in China's rear.  Japan has turned her flank and both by land and sea has made a threatening advance in her rear. The importance for China of Burma needs no emphasizing and now there can be few who do not see the importance of India and also the danger to India herself.

To know where India stands, how solid she is in support and, if not solid, how she can become so, what potentiality and resources she can be counted on to develop and contribute, what is the country's morale—all this information is vital for China. To discover or uncover the truth the Marshal has to confer not only with the civil and military authorities but also with the representatives of parties and with people in different walks of life.  His inspiring farewell message and Madame Chiang Kai-shek's address at Santiniketan show that they made good use of their time. They are not satis6ed with what they found. '

(source: The Statesman. Calcutta/Delhi, February 23, 1942.)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with The Statesman)


Bitter Blow

The Burma Road was cut. Japanese dominance in the Bay of Bengal left India's naked eastern coast exposed to attack from the sea. Rangoon was on fire. Reinforcements now would be too late.

On the muddy Sittang River flats, east of the Burma Road and a scant 60 miles north of Rangoon, the outnumbered defenders fought on bravely under General Sir Alan Fleming Hartley. A north-south British Imperial line west of the Sittang held under repeated Japanese assaults. Fresh divisions of tough Chinese troops were reported on the way down the Burma Road.

Toward Rangoon. The Jap had not reached Burma first, but he did have the mostest men. When the fiercely fighting, outnumbered defenders succeeded at times in stopping his slow push toward Rangoon, he simply slackened his fire, tightened his lines and waited for reinforcements from occupied Siam. When Allied fighter planes, notably those manned by American Volunteer Group pilots, scored heavily against him aloft, he prudently lessened his aerial activity. His lightly clad, lightly armed soldiers advanced through dense jungles and across three rivers. Additional reinforcements had been released by Singapore's fall for the thrust at Rangoon.

An American pilot, after visiting four large Burma towns, told U.P. Correspondent Karl Eskelund that many Burmese had sold out to the invader. His report: "Natives in many districts have rebelled and are killing unarmed Britishers. The Burmese are assisting the advancing Japanese in every possible way. . . . Rangoon is a horrible place. Foreigners risk their lives when they walk in the city, which is completely in the hands of looters and killers who are running amok."

Death of a City. Rangoon presented a sorry picture. Evacuation of the city continued, thousands of refugees streaming out along two roads to northern India. Authorities dealt summarily with looters and "incendiarists." but the situation appeared well out of hand. This time the scorched-earth policy was really being applied: wharves, mills, storage tanks, vast supplies of rice, a wealth of U.S. material destined for China were in flames. Because there was no time to assemble them. 100 General Motors trucks, which had been destined for service with Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek, were destroyed. The conquerors of once-beautiful Rangoon would find a looted, smoking city.

And it was not likely that the Japanese would do much, at first, about rehabilitating and repairing Rangoon. Their task was to consolidate their gains in southern Burma, to control the Indian Ocean, to see to it that China's supply lines were neither reopened nor revised. Two bombing attacks on Port Blair, capital city of the Andaman Islands, famed Indian penal colony and weather observatory sites in the Bay of Bengal, served notice as to which job the Japanese will tackle first.

With these islands as aerial and naval bases, they would be within bombing dis tance of Calcutta and Chittagong, Indian ports for the new highway linking Assam Province in India to Sikang in China.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Mar. 9, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)


The Flames of Toungoo

Rangoon was a grave. The roads of southern Burma were alive with miserable Indian  thousands, in flight both from the Japanese and from long-knived Burmese nationalists. To  every white man they saw, the Indians lifted dark hands, dark faces, and cried "Sahib!  Sahib!" They cried for water, for money, for safety from the lurking dacoits who knifed  and stripped the stragglers.

They cried in vain. The white men also were in flight from southern Burma. Some stayed in  Rangoon, to shoot Burmese looters and hold to the last, until the Japs finally entered  this week, the remnants of that golden city. British and Indian troops fought, fell back,  fought again. British crews arrived with a few U.S. tanks-too few. U.S. pilots in China's  American Volunteer Group had to abandon Rangoon, after taking a heavy toll of Japanese  planes with the few bullet-battered fighters left to them. Correspondent Leland Stowe  watched a bombed village burn, and wrote "When you looked again at the sagging skeletons  of these wooden structures, somehow you thought immediately of Japan-Japanese buildings  are made of the same tinderlike material as these Burmese dwellings. That seemed to be  what the flames in Toungoo were saying."

Over the Mountains. Southern Burma was all but gone. General Sir Archibald Wavell, taking  over the India-Burma command (see p. 19), had to assume that it was gone. He had then to  decide what more to defend for the salvation of India.

The immediate answer was: northern Burma. Its formidable mountain masses along the India  border would slow if not halt the penetrative Japanese. Mongols, invading India seven  centuries ago, had shied off from those ranges and chosen to enter by easier routes from  the northwest. But north Burma had one immense value which compelled its defense to the  utmost. Through mountains to the north the Chinese were boring a new truck route to  China, to replace the lost Burma Road. A regular air-freight route over the same  mountains was also in prospect. Through a few high and difficult passes (see map),  elephant trains had already borne some supplies to river and highway inlets into China.

It was almost certain that the Japanese would drive on northward, do their most to block  these lifelines. With the same stroke, they would further brace themselves for a  sea-and-air drive across the Bay of Bengal at India. The Allies, with all Burma gone,  would find it harder than ever to defend uncertain India, harder still to place bombers,  tanks and artillery in China to answer the flames of Toungoo.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Mar. 16, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)


Land of Three Rivers

Singapore gave Malaya meaning; nearly everyone knew that Singapore was a great naval  base. Burma had no Singapore. Burma was a strange place, with strange names, where  Japanese invaded, British retreated, and young Americans flew gallantly in the alien sky.  Last week, as the battle for Burma ran its course, it was still a remote, uncomprehended  struggle to most of the world.

Burma is a land of three rivers: the long, motherly Irrawaddy in the west ; the tired,  gentle Sittang in the center; the wild Salween in the east. They rise in the northern  hills, where God lives. They all run southward, through Upper Burma to the rice fields of  the south, and then into the Gulf of Martaban and the Bay of Bengal.

Who conquers Burma must win the rivers and their valleys. With them go Burma's chief  port, Rangoon; the oil of Yanangyaung, on the Irrawaddy ; the ruby and silver mines; 85%  of all the precious tungsten in the British Empire; Burma's rubber plantations; the  inland cities—Pegu, Prome, Mandalay—where Burmese kings once ruled their separate realms,  and the British were never quite at home.

Japanese strategy was first to seize the estuaries. The invaders drove from Siam into  extreme Lower Burma, and then around the Gulf of Martaban to ruined, abandoned Rangoon.

After Rangoon, the battle for Burma was a struggle to keep the Japs in the south, at the  river mouths. In the spring, the south is a grey, heat-beaten land, where only the rivers  are cool and even the wide rice paddies gape with cracks in the baking earth. It is a  time when prudent men, fools, even Englishmen stay out of the midday sun. But the Japs  fought in the sun, and drove the British steadily up the Irrawaddy and Sittang valleys.  Then the Chinese came down from the north.

The British and Indians concentrated on the Irrawaddy front. The Chinese took over the  Sittang—and, later, when the Japs opened a flanking drive along the Salween in the east,  that front as well.

By last week, the Chinese had pretty well taken over all three fronts. Like the British,  they lacked air support and tanks ; they had to retreat. But one good thing had come out  of the battle for Burma.

After long, bitter weeks of misunderstanding, Chungking reported that the Chinese had at  last reached an understanding with Great Britain's General Sir Archibald Wavell. King  George conferred the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on Generalissimo Chiang  Kaishek. The Chinese now feel free to send additional troops into Burma. There they fight  under their own commanders, who are in turn responsible to Chiang Kai-shek's Chief of  Staff, U.S. Lieut. General Joseph W. Stilwell.

Not Many Men. It was never a battle of great numbers. The biggest body of British troops  reported in the retreat from Rangoon was 1,000, and they had with them all the British  mechanized equipment in Burma. The largest British force reported in action last week was  7,000. There were also a few thousand Indian troops, and two or three battalions of  native Burmese riflemen, who were the exceptions to the Burmese natives' general  indifference or hostility. The R.A.F had very little in the air at the start, practically  nothing after a few weeks of combat. Because the Jap advance threatened the Burma Road to  China, Chiang Kai-shek detailed his American Volunteer Group to Burma's air defense. The  A.V.G. destroyed scores of Jap planes, but lost its own as well. By last week the A.V.G.  was using any old crate at hand. Finally, the Japanese faced not more than three  divisions of Chinese infantry, perhaps 40,000 men.

What Is Left? Southern Burma is gone. The oilfields around Yenangyaung are gone. The  coast whence the Japs can move across the Bay of Bengal to India is largely gone. But the  Allies still have something to fight for in Burma.

The mere existence of a fighting force in upper Burma is invaluable to the defense of  India. If they have an active enemy in their rear, the Japanese cannot complacently  advance on India.

Burma is a gateway to China's roads. If the Japs drive on to Mandalay—they were only 75  miles away early this week—and successfully entrench themselves in all northern Burma,  they will have a new front on China's borders. But Jap conquest of Burma is mainly  dangerous to the Chinese because of the great new land routes abuilding from India into  China. The Japs choked off the Burma Road when they won Rangoon; if they win access to  the northern roads, they might all but choke China.

Yet China might still not be altogether cut off. The U.S. is now equipping a great  air-transport line, to fly war goods from India to China. The Japs were never able to  ground China National Aviation Corp. by air attack. C.N.A.C.'s best pilots are helping to  establish the India-China service, and they think that it can be maintained and steadily  increased, unless the Japanese capture the bases at both ends.

What Next? Early May brings the rains to Burma. Southern Burma will be a green, cooled  land for the invaders. Its rice paddies will be lakes, many of its roads will be bogs.  But the best roads will still be usable, for bringing up supplies to the troops in the  north. So will the Rangoon-Mandalay railroad; so will the rivers, except when they are  flooded. In the north, where the fighting is headed, the monsoon will not halt combat. If  the monsoon has any real military effect, it will be in the Bay of Bengal. In monsoon  time the Bay and its air are stormy and perilous.

The defenders of India are doubtless aware by now that nature and geography are uncertain  allies. It was once an accepted fact that the mountainous borderland between Burma and  India was impassable to armies—that the only practical route to India was by sea and air.  Yet refugees from Burma filtered through those same mountains, 1,000 and more a day. The  mountains which overlap eastern Burma and Siam were also supposed to be well-nigh  impassable. Last week Japanese tanks from Siam wormed through the lower ranges, in dark  prediction of what they may do on the road to India.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  May. 4, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)





          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________


“People were making frantic efforts to get away …”

“People were making frantic efforts to get away … and to get their valuables away.  Large numbers of merchants and traders also left, and I was told that the ordinary shop commodities in Calcutta could be bought for next to nothing.  That was towards the end of 1941.  When I returned to Bengal myself in April, 1942, there was an athmosphere of tenseness and expectancy in Calcutta…. Houses were vacant. Bazaar shops had very largely moved off and a great deal of the population had gone out … [N]obody knew whether by the next cold weather, Calcutta would be in the possession of the Japanese”

LG Pinnell, ICS. Calcutta April 1942
(source: p. 88. in Paul Greenough: “Prosperity and Misery in Modern Bengal: The famine of 1943-1944”, New York: Oxford University Press 1982)

 (COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Paul Greenough)


far more grumbling in Bengal than in battered England

Our weakness in the Far Eastern air was still deplorable and this undoubtedly had a bad effect on morale. I had heard far more grumbling in Bengal than in battered England.

Harold Acton, RAF airforce officer. Calcutta, early 1940s.
(source: page 126 Harold Acton: More memoirs of an Aesthete. London Methuen, 1970)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Harold Acton)


Evacuating Rangoon

I was born in Rangoon Burma in the late 30s.

My earliest memories are of being rushed into underground bomb shelters, with sirens blaring and hushed voices guiding and soothing everyone, while bombs exploded with deafening sounds and frightening glares.

My mother was in hospital having my younger sister, and my father, who worked for the British Oil Co., was on war duty with the Engineers repairing roads and railways, to keep the oil and supplies flowing.

Hushed voices spoke with concern about the birth of my sister, while part of the hospital was bombed, but 'mother and child were safe'.

My next memory is of all of us rushing to get on a steamer, leaving everything behind, all my toys, and then my father, who was carrying me, got off too, and we were away without him. I held back my tears, gripping my mothers hand tightly, remembering I had to be brave for my sisters, while I watched the waves on the side of the ship grow as we progressed from the river to the Indian Ocean.

In Calcutta we were met by my uncle and stayed with our cousins, with a lot of fuss, and fun, while we waited for my father to arrive.

It took him a long time, as he missed all the ships, and came by road, on Lorries and Jeeps, when the British evacuated.

I can still feel the relief and joy shared by all the families, when he finally arrived.

But he was different, thinner, gaunt, quieter, thoughtful, slower to smile or laugh and his eyes didn't light up as they used to.

It took my father some what longer to return to us fully.

Jaidka Family,civilians in Rangoon , Calcutta, 194


(source: A4291157 Early Memories of the War. at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)



The Allies in Retreat

I could not have arrived at a more chaotic season. Our small air force in Burma had been decimated; our troops and thousands of civilian refugees were escaping through the jungles and mountains, an agonizing trek of six hundred miles, and the rains were soon expected. Half the Chinese forces had retreated to their own country, the rest were following General Stilwell to India.

Small wonder that I was eyed askance when I reported to P Staff. What the devil was I doing here and what did I think I could do?

Harold Acton, RAF  officer. Calcutta, 1942.
(source: page 126-7 Harold Acton: More memoirs of an Aesthete. London Methuen, 1970)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Harold Acton)






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Summer 1942 - The Arrival of the Burma Refugees




          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________






          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___



Lest Delhi Forget

Japan is still at India's door. The R.A.F. sharply reminded India's sahibs and  indifferent millions of this fact last week. A communiqué reported that in 46 days R.A.F.  planes had dropped 100 tons of bombs on Japanese troop and supply concentrations moving  into northern Burma, near the mountainous but by no means inpregnable,* border of India.

*New Delhi last week reported that 500,000 Burmese refugees had arrived in India. Some  traveled by sea and air, but most of them, surviving malaria and dysentery, living on  food dropped by R.A.F. planes, found their way over hidden trails from Burma into Bengal  and Assam.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Jul. 20, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)





          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________


A Refugees Tale

I also saw refugees from Hong Kong and Burma, who lad barely survived their escape.

Of the innumerable accounts I heard of the thousands, mostly women and children, who were trapped in the hills of North Burma by monsoon floods and had to lead 'Robinson Crusoe' lives for three miserable months, I was haunted by that of a fragile girl of Anglo-Chinese stock. Her ivory skin was almost transparent over the childish bones. She had left Moulmein with her parents in December, travelling through Prome, Mandalay, Maymyo to Myitkina, where her father fell dangerously ill. Unable to move, he urged his daughter to start hiking. Her mother stayed behind to look after him.

Though she had been told that the rest of the journey would only take a week, it took over four months. The first lap was comparatively easy, for she joined a troop of fifty evacuees, the road was not too bad, food was obtainable and she got an occasional lift. But soon the road dwindled to a track which was turned into a bog by the incessant rain, and they could only travel a few miles a day. Food became scarce and there was little to buy from the Kachin villages through which they passed. The party split into groups to forage for victuals and every evening when they met again a few were missing, either lost or attacked by dacoits or overcome by fever.

Another couple of girls from Moulmein, sisters aged twenty and eighteen, tried to nurse the fever-stricken: they had charming voices, and they sang to keep up their courage.. These had been joined by four Tommies. Though they were suffering from malaria, the soldiers helped them through the most difficult part of the journey, the ill-famed Seven Streams where many of their companions were drowned. The girls swam naked across the swollen currents and the soldiers followed with their haversacks, containing their scanty clothes and supplies. There were many halts, sometimes of several days. On account of the prevalent fever. Some died of it and were buried in graves one foot deep.

The sisters said prayers for the dying. Those who could still walk trudged on through the grim swamp of the Hukong valley.

Eventually they reached a large camp where they had their first solid meal for a week. Next day the soldiers who had accompanied then collapsed: three died and the fourth was far too weak to move. The sick decided to stay near medical supplies rather than struggle on through the Jungle.

The girls joined a group of thirteen women and children led by a Bengali who claimed to be a doctor. Among them was a boy of fourteen whose parents had died on the road. Twice the party was assaulted and robbed by hill bandits. Leeches fastened on their bare legs as they sank into the mud and they had no matches to bum them off.

The Bengali 'doctor' became a sadistic tyrant. He beat the women with a swagger-cane if they did not jump in obedience to his orders. If they fainted with fatigue he shouted at them them: 'You bitches are holding me back.' And he would thrash them until they got up. He monopolized the rations collected from dumps supplied by our food-dropping aircraft and he compelled the weaker women to submit to him by threats of starvation. The more spirited girls resisted. When he threatened the Anglo-Chinese girl with one of his six revolvers she said: 'Go on then, try it!' But he lost his nerve. However, she got even less to eat for her temerity.

The track grew worse and they had to slither on their bellies through lakes of mud. More often they had to stop from Weakness and exhaustion; even so they managed to cover between Seven and ten miles every day. The farther they tramped the more corpses and skeletons they passed and the 'doctor' robbed them of clothes and whatever money he could find. For a whole month they were detained by floods at a camp of bamboo huts containing five hundred refugees, half of whom died of meningitis within a fortnight. When the water subsided enough to let them continue their trek the girls found Kachin porters to carry them. They were so famished and feverish that they could scarcely remember the last lap of their journey. When they reached the ration dumps at a border camp they were barely alive. The rations were mostly tinned meat which gave them dysentery, after which they were found unconscious on the track by a rescue party organizer by some Assam tea planters. Thanks to these good Samaritans' who had been the first to help hundreds of refugees from Burma, they were carried into India on pack horses. At last they had medical attention, nourishment, and the comfort of clean beds. The Bengali 'doctor's' reputation had preceded him and he was arrested when he reached the India-Assam border. £30,000 worth of rupees had been scuffed in his knapsack, of which £7,500 belonged to the fourteen-year-old boy who had lost his Punjabi parents.

Others corroborated these stories. The ordeal of these refugees struck me as far more gruesome than that of our European fugitives. So much for Rousseau's notion of primitive goodness and the noble savage.

Harold Acton, RAF airforce officer. Calcutta, early 1940s.
(source: page 112-4 Harold Acton: More memoirs of an Aesthete. London Methuen, 1970)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Harold Acton)


There was not a day that we did not read in the ‘Statesman’ of the sad announcement of the death of some person who had died during that terrible trek

Meanwhile there was the tragic throng of refugees arriving in Calcutta.  They had walked across the slippery roads and hills of Burma, stumbling, falling and dying on the way until they reached the safety of Assam where the tea planter welcomed and helped them in every possible way.  In Calcutta there was not a day that we did not read in the ‘Statesman’ of the sad announcement of the death of some person - child, a mother or a grandmother – who had died during that terrible trek which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Eugenie Fraser, wife of a jute mill manager, Calcutta, 1942

 (source:page 93 of Eugenie Fraser: “A home by the Hooghly. A jute Wallahs Wife” .Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing  1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Eugenie Fraser)


Diary of a treck out of Burma


Sunday 22nd

We (my mother Daphne Johnson and I, Jose)finally left MAWLIAK by Loondwin this morning. It is a most uncomfortable way of travelling, but no doubt we shall live through it. The men pole the boats by putting the top of the pole in their shoulder muscles, and walking the length of the bamboo deck. We stopped at a place called TACON for the night, about half way to YUWA. It was a terrible place, as it was just the bank of the river and no flat space for doing anything.

Monday 23rd

We left TACON early in the morning; Last night was most uncomfortable as the boatmen insisted on sleeping on the boats as well. We went along all day stopping for our meal about 10:30am. We reached YUWA rather late about and the place we stopped at was a buffalo wallow, absolutely filthy, and being near the village we had a large audience watching us eat our evening meal!! The Phoongis (Buddhist monks) here presented Mrs. Wheeler with some fresh milk and a bunch of bananas.

Tuesday 24th

We left YUWA early. I feel we are really on the way now as we are going up the Yu. The day passed the same as usual, the scenery here is really worth looking at, lovely hills and trees. We camped at a place called NGAPUN just above a rapid. It was a bit dirty but considerably cleaner than YUWA and a good flat space to move about.

Wednesday 25th

I spent the day as usual sitting in the boat with Mummy and one or other of the American Padres, talking and reading. We camped the night at a place called KYAUKTINE. There was a marvellous creek, very secluded where we all proceeded to have a good wash!

Thursday 26th

The morning was spent as usual. There was great excitement caused in the afternoon by an aeroplane flying overhead, everyone wished they were in it. We are now approaching the part of the river which is full of rapids, we went over about six today and there are lots more of them tomorrow. SONCATHA is the name of the place where we camped, not a bad place, quite clean. We walked the last couple of miles along a jungle track.

Friday 27th

We made very slow progress today owing to numerous rapids; we spent most of the day getting in and out of the boats, as everyone has to get out for the boats to be pulled over the rapids. We spent the night at a ghastly place just above Maw; it was very dirty and muddy. The boatmen say they might get us to HLESEIK tomorrow if we are ready to start early. HLESEIK is where we get off the Loondwins and we are not due there until Sunday.

Saturday 28th

We were ready to leave this morning hours before we need as we were all woken up by mistake at 4. 30 Am.!! We made HLESEIK and when we got there we found a Forester to meet us, he had coolies and everything for our luggage, and took us up to the camp, which was practically finished. The sleeping quarters consist of bamboo huts divided into cubicles with four bunks in each. It seemed heaven to us, after the Loondwins.

MARCH 1942

Sunday 1st

As we arrived here a day early they were not ready for us at TAMU, so we spent the day here at HLESEIK most people spent the time washing and cleaning up in general. A BBTC extra assistant arrived in the morning to deal with the stores arriving for the evacuation camps, a Mr. Middleton by name. He had his wireless and we listened to the news and heard messages from people in Rangoon to their families in India.

Monday 2nd

We started out for TAMU. The luggage going all the way by bullock cart about eleven miles. We walked for four and a half miles to a place called PANTHA with the children in a couple of bullock carts with us, and there we got in an almost derelict bus, and proceeded along a most frightful road to TAMU. Charles Cook, who was in charge of the evacuation at TAMU, put us in the Court House, the filthiest hole imaginable. Other people in charge of the evacuation are Mr. Wright and Mr. Davies, both of the BBTC.

Tuesday 3rd

After a considerable amount of fuss on our part, Charles Cook finally said he would move us to the proper camp, a couple of miles outside TAMU, the camp was practically finished with the bunks in and everything, so why we were not put there on arrival is beyond me. It looks as if we shall be in TAMU for sometime as coolies are unobtainable at the moment, owing to the reduced rates of pay, and fright, a BBTC elephant gored a coolie yesterday. Fay and I found an attractive pool in the river that runs by the camp and had a lovely swim.

Wednesday 4th

There is no further news of coolies this morning. Mrs. Foucar washed nearly everybody’s hair, and we spent the rest of the morning cleaning up what clothes we could. Fay and I had another swim in the river and on our return to the camp, were thrilled to learn that coolies had been found and that we were due to leave in the morning. It will be marvellous to start off, as an enormous party of non-Europeans had arrived this morning and had filled up the camp.

Thursday 5th

The whole camp was up and ready to start at dawn, the other party coming with us, the coolies were late in turning up! We finally got started about 11:00.a.m. We left the other party behind as they had insufficient stores. We were only allowed one coolie each, and they refused to carry a bedding roll and a suitcase, so we had to repack frantically all the clothes from our suitcases into our bedding rolls, making our beds up on our clothes , as we had to discard our thin mattresses. The first mile was on the flat, but we began to climb rapidly after that, it was very hot owing to our late start. We got into camp about 2.30 p.m. it was very much unfinished, only a roof and outside walls, we all had to sleep in long lines on the floor. Jim Davies arrived about 4.30 p.m. to inoculate all the coolies against Cholera, we have already lost one. The water is contaminated and we have to be very careful with it.

Friday 6th

We got up early, and had a certain amount of trouble with the coolies, after their injections last evening. We marched seven and half miles, climbing for about five and the remainder going down to the camp. It was very steep and we arrived at the camp pretty exhausted. The camp itself was very nice, and was finished to all intents and purposes; LOICHAW was the name of the place. We had our meal and rested all the afternoon. After tea Fay and I had a bathe in the small stream that runs below the camp. The Indian camp which is further downstream, through which we had to pass to get to ours was burnt down owing to the Cholera outbreak.

Saturday 7th

We were rather late getting started this morning, the coolies were ready before us, and we were still eating our porridge!! It was a very steep climb again today and we were all very stiff after yesterday’s efforts. We got into camp about 11.00 a.m. The camp consists of half a roof and nothing else! We are all established in one long line under the half that is finished. We had our meal and the flies swarmed around us, this is the only place we have been troubled with them. The afternoon passed in the usual manner i.e. resting and washing. We had just got our bedding and nets ready for the night when there was a most terrific storm and most of us got drenched.

Sunday 8th

We got up early but had a disturbed night, the coolies were coughing and spitting all over the place. And some of our coolies seem to have run away which is annoying, but we seem to be able to manage without them. I have got some nasty blisters, which are painful. The march today was pretty stiff but we have nearly finished with it now. We arrived at TENGNAUPAL Camp about 12:15p.m. There are two Assam tea planters who are in charge of the camp, so things are in a slightly better condition. There is an acute shortage of water, and we are rationed to a pint or so each. We are over 6,000 ft. up here and it is pretty cold. Our highest point was about 7,000 ft.

Monday 9th

We were up early before 5 a.m. and marched for ten miles until we were about three miles from PALEL. The march was fairly easy as it was mostly down hill and of course we are getting into training. When we arrived at the bottom of the hill we were taken to a small camp where there were more tea planters, they gave us a cup of tea and put us in buses for IMPHAL (Mr Blanchard, one of the padres had walked ahead of us into IMPHAL and got the buses.) We arrived at IMPHAL in the early afternoon after a terrible bus ride, the road was awful. The camp is quite nice and we were given dinner and it was good, we had proper plates, cutlery and glasses for the first time for days and also BREAD.

Tuesday 10th

We got up about 6:30a.m. and packed all our kit ready to put on the buses, they were very late turning up. We had three buses between the party. The buses are really converted lorries and had no seats and we have to sit on our luggage. We have to go 133 miles like this but we do not mind anything now that we are nearly at the end of our travels. Those in our bus are Mrs. Foucar, Fay, Mary, Jenny, John, Mrs. Ricketts, Jill, and Don John, and Mummy and I. We stopped at a place called MAO for lunch. The bus doesn’t seem to have any springs and it certainly shakes your liver up! We passed a party of British Tommies on the road and we waved madly at them!!

We arrived at DIMAPORE about 7:00p.m., saw the Inspector of Police and afterwards were given tea, with mountains of bread and jam! We had dinner in the refreshment room on the station, the officers who were using it as a mess waited until we had finished. Two extra coaches were put on the overnight train and somehow or other we all got in, relieved beyond words, to have reached civilisation again.

Wednesday 11th

We spent the day on the ferry on the BRAHMAPUTRA River and then another overnight train.

Thursday 12th

We arrived in CALCUTTA.

The Party consisted of`:

Mr. Fletcher A.B.M. Padre.

Mr. Blanchard A.B.M. Padre

Mrs. Wheeler Wounded in the air raids in Rangoon.

Mrs. Foucar.

Fay Foucar

Mary Mustill.

Jennifer Mustill. Aged 7

John Mustill Aged 3

Mrs. Crawford

Nan Crawford Aged 4.

Pat Crawford Aged 18 months

Mrs. Young An American

Layle Young Aged 6.

Phillip Young Aged 4

Baby Young Aged 6 weeks

Mrs. Johnson

Jose Johnson


Miss Stewart Joined party at TAMU

Mr. Roach Joined party at TAMU

Mrs. Roach Joined party at TAMU

Mrs. Ricketts Joined party at TAMU

Jill Ricketts Joined party at TAMU

Don John Ricketts Joined party at TAMU

Two boys with Miss Stewart who left us at Imphal to go to school.


Before we left Mawlaik we had discussions with the two American Padres who were to act as our leaders, and they undertook to cook the rice (a large sack was loaded in one of the boats) and boil the drinking water for the whole party once a day.

It was up to us to provide any additional food ourselves and to allow for an estimated fourteen day journey. We split up into small groups in our case, Mary and the two children, Mum and I. We decided that a tin of meat or fish, plus the rice would feed us for one meal, i.e. once opened a tin could not be kept. So the drill was that when we camped for the night, Burramia proved him self adept at getting a fire going and would assist the Padres in cooking the rice and dishing it out to everyone. They also dealt with the filling of everyone’s water bottle which had to last all day. They insisted that everyone fixed up some sort of mosquito net at night and in the mornings we usually drank tea with powdered milk and perhaps watery porridge, ugh! It was entirely due to the care taken by the Padres in these matters that we all remained fit throughout the journey.

As to ablutions, the facilities were nil! Hence we took the opportunity to swim/wash in a river whenever it offered! Calls of nature were just a case of visiting the jungle and pretty uncomfortable it was! We did have toilet paper with us I am glad to say!!? I think that at a couple of the more or less finished camps Latrines had been dug but nowhere else! I have NEVER been tempted to go on a camping holiday since.

When reading this story it should be born in mind that the Burma-India border is a very remote region and many of the place names I have given are nothing more than locations on the map. The only places where there were any modest habitations were either wooden or bamboo were Tamu and Palel until of course we reached Imphal.

It is perhaps worth noting that on the journey to the railhead at DIMAPORE we passed through KOHIMA later to be the scene of the most important battle with the Japanese and which stopped their intended advance into India. It was a beautiful spot when we saw it - hard to imagine the devastation and horror that was to come.

Although our journey was not exactly comfortable, we were much better off than those who came later, or found themselves up in the North of the country and hoping to fly out from Myitkyina. There were simply not enough planes and in any event the airfield was soon under attack by the Japanese and the refugees ended up walking through the notorious Hukawng Valley, the rains had broken by this time and the area was a sea of mud, very few had adequate food supplies or clothing and many thousands died of disease.

Whilst we were waiting in the camp at Tamu those in charge made arrangements for small bamboo chairs on poles to carry the children and a larger one for Mrs. Wheeler who could not walk.

The coolies were mostly Naga tribesmen, we could not speak their language and they could not speak ours, but we got on fine with those that remained with us. They were keen to salvage our empty food tins possibly to make tools or weapons and we got used to being a ‘spectacle’ when we ate our meal! Jennifer had one toy with her - a baby doll which shut its eyes when laid down, it was an object of great fascination to the Nagas! Jenny still has this rather battered doll!

Jose Johnson ,schoolboy in Burma , Burma to Calcutta, 1942


(source: A3338804 DIARY OF THE TREK OUT OF BURMA 1942 at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)



Flying out of Burma

I was born in Shillong, Assam, India on 23rd December 1932 and in 1938 together with my parents, brother and sister we moved to the beautiful hill station of Maymyo, fourteen miles from Mandalay in Burma. My father was an official in the Survey of India and had been transferred to the Burmese territory

During late 1941 the Japanese invasion of Burma was imminent and Britain and its allies started to reinforce Burma. There was a small British army Garrison in Maymyo at the cantonment not far from our home and the reinforcements set up tented camps there.

There were British and Australian Infantry Regiments stationed there and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) was one of the Regiments. The soldiers favourite drinking place was Fosters’ Hotel, an establishment situated not far from our home, which had to be passed by the soldiers on their way to the Hotel and back to camp.

I also witnessed columns of soldiers on route marches dressed in shorts, bush jackets and headdress of various kinds including the Australian bush hat, with its wide brim.

They were always equipped with rifle, water bottle and other accruements.

Heavier equipment was usually carried on mules or very sturdy mule carts.

Gurkha soldiers were also stationed in Maymyo and I loved seeing them march in their very wide legged shorts, which seemed to stand still as their stout little legs went back and forth. This military display impressed me and probably had some influence in the choice of my career.

In 1942 two Japanese divisions advanced into Burma, accompanied by the Burma National Army of Aung San, capturing Rangoon, and forcing the British forces to begin the long evacuation west. They captured Mandalay in May 1942 and the British forces under General Alexander withdrew to the Indian frontier.

Early that year, Joe Wamick, a Sargent of the KOYLI, was assigned to help us with home defense. I remember helping Joe and my father to dig a trench at the front end of our garden and to build a roof of bamboo poles and banana leaves before covering it all with earth to make an air raid shelter.

One day before the roof was complete Maymyo was attacked by Japanese warplanes. We ran for the trench and I held my Daisy Airgun up to the sky in determination to shoot them down as they flew above us. This was in about March 1942 and I was 9 years old.

Because the Allied forces were short of equipment, many forms of improvisation was needed to deter the Japanese enemy, and one of these was the building of dummy Ack-Ack gun emplacements in open fields not far from our home.

About this time my father came home one day in the uniform of a Captain in the Corps of Indian Engineers and a few days later we prepared to leave Burma.

The son of a Doctor Cox joined my mother and us three children to make a party for our evacuation. Our fathers were to stay behind to fight the Japanese.

After nearly four years of bliss in this beautiful country this was to be the last time that we lived as a family in our own home. We had to leave everything behind and just walk away in the clothes we wore and some other minor articles we could carry in our hands.

All our possessions, including the many silver trophies won by my parents in Tennis, ballroom dancing and other events were lost.

We left Maymyo by taxi in April 1942 and headed to the village of Shwebo situated across the Irrawaddy to the north west of Mandalay. The British army had made an airfield here and put up some huts to shelter reinforcements, these became swamped by refugees like us very quickly.

The five of us were allocated one bed in a dormitory and told to wait further transportation.

There was very little food and with my mother’s foresight we survived a few days on the dried Horlicks we carried with us from Maymyo and boiled water. There was a canteen of sorts but the food was suspect and inadequate.

My mother discovered that there was one DC3 Aircraft doing as many flights a day as possible between Chittagong, on the Bay of Bengal, and Shwebo and managed to get our names on the waiting list.

I had my first lesson here of ‘relative size’; it happened when we heard an aircraft noise and thinking it was Japanese warplanes we all rushed outside and saw an approaching aeroplane much larger than the Japanese fighters we had seen in Maymyo.

Word went around quickly that it was the DC3 and therefore safe. The plane looked small in the sky but as it approached over our heads to land, its wingspan seemed to fill the sky. Frightened, I tried in vain to run from under its shadow.

We stayed in Shwebo for a few days and watched many people become very sick and frightened. We were lucky and managed to get on a flight but many were left to trek out over the mountains for the safety of India. Many died and I met some survivor’s years later at school in India and learnt of their harrowing experiences of death, sickness and starvation.

The DC3 aircraft had bare metal seats, which flapped up against the fuselage wall, and a row had been added along the middle. The plane was packed with people. As we rose into the air the seats got very cold, but this first experience of flying was so exhilarating that nothing else concerned me. To see the mountainous jungle below was awe-inspiring. On arrival in Chittagong, a very hot and humid sea port we were able to catch an overnight ferry boat running across the Bay of Bengal to somewhere east of Calcutta. This was a fearful voyage because there was a terrific storm with thunder and lightening and torrential rain and the behavior of drunks on board frightened me. From our landing we were put on a train by the British/Indian authorities and sent to Fort William at Calcutta.

We were allotted officers quarters at Fort William, which was garrisoned by the British Army, and where we were well looked after. We stayed here for a few days while arrangements were made for our onward destination. My mother was able to contact her sister in Lahore, over in the Northwest of India and arrange for us to live at her home. With this the Army allowed us to leave the Fort and we set off on the long rail journey to Lahore. I never knew what happened to Derrick Cox, the doctors’ son who came out of Burma with us.

Clearly, my mother must have had a very trying time and showed her determination and strength.

My father spent the next three years as part of the British 14th Army opposing the Japanese Army in Burma.

Richard Hurley, schoolboy in Burma, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A4036961 A British Boy in Wartime Burma at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Escape down the Irrawaddy

My parents were in Burma at the start of the war, having sent me back to England in 1937 at the age of 5. I stayed in Yorkshire with my grandmother.

My father had passed the Indian Civil Service exams and by the outbreak of the war he was the Commissioner of the Irriwaddy Division. The Japanese invaded in 1941/2 and civilians started to move north away from the invading army. Many died on the walk.

My father requisitioned boats in the Irriwaddy Flotilla and sent my mother south (towards the Japanese!) down the delta to the coast and round to up to Akyab and from there up to Calcutta.

My father followed the same route later as the last to leave. Together my parents travelled from Calcutta up to Simla and then across to Durban, Cape Town and back to England in the spring of 1943. I had not seen my parents for 6 years.

John Bennison, Agnes Bennison, Commissioner of the Irriwaddy Division, Calcutta, 1942-3


(source: A3453716 Lateral Thinking at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


To Calcutta through the storm

We didn’t have to report in at Mhow for another 2 weeks anyway. However, within a couple of hours or so upon arrival in Rangoon we were once again airborne in a Dakota, bound for Calcutta. These planes had not been used for dropping supplies, therefore no seats! Halfway up the coast of Burma we ran into a storm, lightning flashing all around, buffeting around, dropping like a stone and then flying at tree top height. Indian soldiers on the plane were on there knees, praying as hard as they could. After landing at Calcutta, we were informed that a Dakota which had taken off just before us, had crashed in the jungle!

So, that very same day, from being south of Kalaw at 8.00, found us at Calcutta airport not really knowing what to do next, certainly not getting to Mhow before we were supposed! We stayed a few nights at the Salvation Army hostel and spent the days looking around Calcutta. Soon tiring of the masses, the beggars, the sick and the dying and the young, I decided we would take a circular tour of northern India by train.

Ronald Hodgson, Army, Calcutta, 1945


(source: A5961170 The Black Cats: Part 3 at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Escape from Burma

I spent most of my childhood in the Far East — Burma.

My father was in the Colonial Service. I had an unusual and privileged upbringing until the war started, and was at school at a boarding school in Rangoon. I was 12 years old. Father had an elephant that he used for his touring as part of his work and as a treat, when it came for medical attention each year from the Arakan - Yomas mountain range, we rode it round the town!

The Japanese had started their invasion of Burma, Singapore had fallen and they were moving across to Mandalay where we were stationed at the time.

We were asked by the Government if we wanted to evacuate, so a group of about 20 started our trek from Mumbai to the Indian Border. We walked for about 14 miles a day, from camp to camp. We had a soldier at the front and the back for our protection. Coolies carried our treasures and essentials and everyone was allowed to take 60lbs in weight of possessions, but as children we took our treasures, rather than essentials. We took quite a lot of money which my brother carried in a money belt. The camps, of bamboo huts, were constructed for us. I was with my mother who was 40, and my two brothers, one older, one younger, and we were the only children on the walk. When we left we were told to bring provisions (mainly tinned foods) that had to be ‘handed in’ and then from then on we would be feed. We were up at 4 am, and walked until about 11 am, from one camp to the next, where we were given rice or lentils to eat, nothing much more and then rested for the rest of the day. As children, we thought it all a big adventure. Mother had asthma and had to rest and at times she had to be carried in a sedan chair. Everybody helped each other and we bathed in the rivers to keep clean.

And the next day came more walking, and for the next 21 days until we came right to the border of India. From there we took a bus into the Head of the Railway. We got the train to Calcutta where we were billeted in a convent, sleeping on the ground. We were grateful for a mattress and to be under cover as we had been on the move for 2 months. As children we were delighted to see ice cream on a stick!

The authorities asked us if we had any relations, or places that we wished to go. We had an Aunt in New Delhi, so we went there and the remainder of the group went to another camp down south. From there we went to another Uncle at Lucknow, who had 5 children. We were asked if we wanted to go back to school so my brothers went to a Christian Brother’s school and I went to a convent. We were all day pupils.

My Father eventually came across from Burma. He walked with part of the 14th Army to join us, up until then we had been very much alone with my mother and in the end, we went back to Calcutta, once more a family.

Thelma Jolly, Rangoon Schoolgirl , Calcutta, 1942


(source: A5230450 A Childhood in Burma at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


I was a young Indian (Parsi) girl living in Calcutta

I was a young Indian (Parsi) girl living in Calcutta during World War II. My family consisted of my mother, father and three daughters, I was the eldest daughter. My brother had not been born yet. We lived in an apartment block in Mission Row, not far from Dalhousie Square — the spot where the “Black Hole of Calcutta” was supposed to have taken place — though Indian historians deny this episode.

My neighbours consisted of a Chinese family who had trekked from Burma, an Anglo-Indian family - Mr and Mrs Carter, a Portuguese family — Mr and Mrs Coelho and their 4 sons, and 2 Baghdad Jewish families — the Nahoums and the Manassehs.

My family lived on the top floor and from our veranda (whose doors and windows had been plastered with black and brown paper, as protection from broken glass during the air raid), I could see the steeple and weather cock of St Andrews Church, and in the background Howrah Bridge, the life-line of Calcutta connecting the 2 sides of the mighty Hooghly River.

Katyun Randhawa, a young Indian (Parsi) girl, Calcutta, 1942-3


(source: A5756150 The bombing of Calcutta by the Japanese Edited at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Escape from Burma

My dad came to Burma in 1923 from America with fellow countrymen to work for The Burma Oil Company, to help to open the oil fields in Yenanyung alongside a British workforce. Travel in those days was on horseback.

My mother was Burmese and I was born in Yenanyung. When we were of school age we had to go to Rangoon for our education. My brother, Clyde, was first to go. Five years later I went followed by my sister Ethel. We had to stay with my mother's relatives. My brother and sister stayed with my mum's sister,Lucy, who already had five children of her own. They lived in Rangoon.
I stayed with my mother's aunty and family. I don't know why but I called them Nana and Grandpa. I suppose it was because they had a grandson.I was educated at St.John's Convent in Rangoon. I used to travel by train. It was a pleasant journey. My school days were happy days but I did not enjoy holidays, living out of town, not seeing my school mates, but I enjoyed both cultures.

There was always some kind of celebration among our Burmese neighbours and we all joined in. There were street parties, water festivals and as we were Christians, Easter and Christmas were very special. We went to church most Sundays and after the service we used to go and have a meal in the market square. Very enjoyable.

Grandad worked at the High Court, he was the Clerk. He went off to work in the morning and in the evening, after work, he would go shopping and bring food in for the evening meal. I used to love nana's cooking and loved watching her prepare the evening meal.We were all more then ready to eat.

I did not see a lot of my brother,sister or mother but I do remember the three of us going to visit our mother. We had to take the river boat on the Irrawaddy River to get to Yenanyung and it was very exciting for the three of us to be together to visit our mum, even though it was only for a short time. As mum and dad were separared we did not see dad.

One time we returned nana and family were not very happy, I did not understand why. They were discussing war and were very worried. It wasn't very long before I realised why they were so worried.On Christmas Day 1942 Rangoon was bombed and we all had to find shelter. Nana told us to soak whatever we could find and to cover our mouths in case it was a chemical attack.Fortunately it was not.When the bombing stopped, we ran out to see the damage but all we could see were palls of smoke on all sides. We felt trapped with nowhere to run, no escape, only to be burnt alive.Everyone was in a panic- a very frightening experience.

Nana and family realised it was the beginning of of the Japanese invasion and by evening, where we lived was like a ghost town. Where everyone had disappeared to we did not know.

Out of 90 houses in our street there were only 4 houses left occupied, it was very scary. Everything was so quiet, eerie, where everyone went to this day we did not find out. After a couple of days things did not look too good so nana and family decided we had better move on like the rest as the place was like a ghost town. Like everyone, we just took only the very necessary things we could carry and left everything behind us. We went to stay with friends 20 miles away but did not realise what hardship was to follow and that this was just the beginning. It was just as well we left because a few days later our house and the area we lived in was bombed and everything raised to the ground. We were lucky to have left in time.

Things did not look too good. We could not get in touch with any of our family. It was utter confusion with no one to guide us or tell us what to do or where to go. It seemed every family had to make their own decision. My sister, Ethel, had just started boarding school and we were unable to contact them.

the Japanese army was fast approaching. The elders decided we had better go north and put as much distance between us and them as possible, so off to Mandalay we went. When we arrived it was so hot and dusty we had to move on. Nana remembered one of Aunty Lucy's daughters had got married recently and had gone to live in Maymyo.It was a beautiful hill station and garrison town where expats went for their vacation to escape the heat. Although it was beautiful we were still a long way from our destination. The journey was slow and we stopped at various villages or towns, staying wherever we could find shelter. At one point it was so dark we had no choice but to we find shelter in a Chinese cemetery.Once darkness fell we were among thieves but they never bothered us. However we felt very uneasy and after a couple of days Grandad went into town and found an empty house and moved us there for a while.

We had not realised, once we left Rangoon, how many lovely places there were along the way. At the time, being a teenager and only concentrating on moving on with the family, it did not mean much but now I remember there was a place, where farms were deserted, like a miniature Yorkshire Dales. So many beautiful places, I'd love to see it again but it won't happen. I'm too old now.

After a long journey we finally reached Maymyo- a long way from the Japanese we hoped. It was a lovely hill station, mostly bungalows with climbing roses- a little England. I can't remember how we found my cousin but we were also reunited with Aunty Lucy and family who had a house we could move into. Unfortunately still no news of my sister, mother,dad or other pupils and form teachers.

We were just getting settled when without any warning, once again the bombs returned. We had no time to get to the shelters and just had to hide under tables or wherever it would be safe. It was indeed a very frightening experience and now I know what it must have been like for the people of Rangoon when they were bombed.

When the bombing stopped, we went out to see who had survived. It was devastating to see people dead and the damage to houses. Fortunately, we all survived. When we arrived at Maymyo it was the only place we'd been where there were air raid shelters but unfortunately Maymyo was taken by surprise.

Not long after the bombing the authorities came around and advised the families to move on as Chinese troops were coming and as they would not be able to communicate they would help themselves if they to what they needed. The family all got together and had to make a decision about leaving. My Aunty Lucy decided it was time for the family to trek to India as the Japanese were fast approaching. Nana, Grandpa and family decided to stay on. I guess they felt they could not make the journey because of their age. I decided to leave Nana and family and join Aunty Lucy and her family on the trek to India.I did not realise at the time how much pain this must have caused Nana and family when I left. I feel the pain now and feel so sad when I reminisce.We began our journey at the station where I remember seeing a troop train full of wounded British soldiers.I hope they managed to get away with the help of the Chinese army.I am sure Aunty Lucy knew where we had to go a there was no supervision.At the end of our train journey we had to cross the Chindwin River where we began to see other refugees escaping like us. Before long we reached Sampans where fortunately for us a boat filled with marines, I believe the last boat to leave with British servicemen onboard, picked us up, no doubt saving our lives. Lives that were about to change for ever.

Along the way at one of our frequent refuelling stops we could hear a lot of noise on the opposite bank. We were told it was the villagers celebrating the arrival of the Japanese army. We all had a very uneasy feeling.We finally arrived at our destination, the start of our journey over the 5,000-foot range of mountains to India, alongside many other refugees. There were no camps, everyone had to fend for themselves and do the best they could. Sometimes we travelled by bullock carts but it was a very slow journey. We were lucky if we found a village with food and shelter for the night.We moved on to reach the mountains, not knowing how far behind the Japanese army were.They did drop bombs but luckily it was always after we had left a place or just before we arrived at the next stop.

Finally we reached the hardest part of the journey- over the mountains.All along the way we would see people stopping to rest but just dying as they rested.So many of them, we thought will we aver make it? By now going through the hardest part, we only had what we stood up in and were starving and tired and right at the highest point of the mountain, when what I can only describe as a miracle happened. Right in the middle of the road was a big basket full of tins of peaches and evaporated milk. I can't remember how many cans we opened but by then we were in the company of some British soldiers who had the same goal to reach the railway junction, Manipir to Calcutta.

Things were beginning to look hopeful. I remember a beautiful choir singing in the distant Naga Hills, probably a mission station, it was very uplifting.We started to hear trucks in the distance. It was the British and Indian Army trucks picking up refugees.You can imagine how happy we were to see them- our troubles were nearly over, we were being taken care of.But the journey was still very harrowing, narrow, winding roads and especially at night. Some of the trucks didn't make it but at last we made it to the junction where the train took us to the Calcutta Refugee Centre to find out if we could be reunited with our loved ones but unfortunately not. There was no newa about anyone, except for my sister and her school mates-32 children and 4 teachers who made it to the aerodrome at Myitchine but missed the last flight and had to trek through the jungle.They got caught in the monsoon rains and all died.

My brother and Aunty Lucy's husband joined the Medical Corp. My brother survived but not my uncle.We were sent to Fort William because my uncle was in the army. As refugees were coming we had to move on again and this time to the Hill Station. While Aunty Lucy and family were preparing to go to Kashmire, I decided,unwisely, to be a companion to a lady who was housebound. Things did not work out so I got in touch with my Aunty Sophie, another of my mum's sisters, who was working for a family in the Digboi oil fields before the war started and we had always been in touch. I told her I was very unhappy and she was surprised to receive my letter.To my surprise she wrote back saying she had bumped into my dad at the Oil Company's store.She had told him where I was and that I was very unhappy. He arranged for Aunty Sophie to come down to Calcutta and fetch me home.

I was reunited with my dad whom I hadn't seen since I left to start school and it was a happy reunion. I told him about my sister and fellow pupils and teachers. Dad told me how they had had to blow up all the oil wells and how he and fellow drillers were the last to leave the fields. They escaped while the place was on fire using the smoke as camouflage. He was awarded a medal, the British Service Medal,one of only two Americans to receive the award alongside fellow British workers.

Although we had journeyed out of Burma the same way,perhaps at different times, I don't think we were ahead of them. I wished I had asked him at the time. I was happy to be with Aunty Sophie who was not so far away and felt settled and safe but not for long. I couldn't believe it when dad said the Oil Company told all employees to evacuate women and children as the Japanese were heading for the oil fields at Digboi.I was shattered. Here we go again.

Dad told me to make a choice, go to school or take a Nursery nurse training at Kalimpong, a hill station, at the foothills of Darjeling in the Himalayas. I made a big mistake and chose Nursery School. At the time I was too young to train as a hospital nurse.So off I went but what a shock when I arrived. It was a two-year hard course. Matron was very strict and I could not go back home so I had no choice but to stay. I kept asking dad to leave but it fell on deaf ears so I decided to run away.Where to I did not know but then one of the girls told me I wouldn't get very far as there was only one way out. I'd be sent straight back so i just had to get on with my training.There were good times.Towards the end of our training,once we had done all the hard work and worked our way up we were put in charge of two-month-old babies.Matron, who trained us, got married just before I finished my training and when we finished she invited us to stay at their tea garden in Darjeeling. It was a lovely house. We were spoilt and had a lovely time and then it was time to go back home fully qualified.

Dorothy Brown maiden name Soliday, Anglo-Burmese schoolgirl, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A5572028 The Long Walk at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


A letter to my daughter

Ann, Dear,

Until December 1941 ‘war’ was just a word to us British people living in Burma. From 1939, when England declared war, we had followed it with the help of letters from home and the radio. Many times I wished your grandparents and uncles there in Tidworth were with us in Maymyo, which we thought was a safe place. Germany was a long way from us; we knew they couldn’t reach us. At this time we were living in Maymyo, a small garrison town in Upper Burma, a pretty place with hills, lakes and gardens. The shopping area was small, only one British shop, but by hunting around in the bazaar you could buy most things. Fruit, vegetables and flowers were plentiful. The Garrison, a Cantonment, was about two miles from the town centre. The married quarters were modern bungalows, about sixty of them, placed in a semi-circle with two in the centre; we lived in one of these. Except for the worry of our folks at home life at that time was really great.

It was September 1941, when things began to change. The men in the regiment of the K.O.Y.L.I. were issued with various things, which had to be always ‘at the ready’. I cannot remember all the things, but I do know they had a small kit-bag packed with jungle kit, tin hat, identity disc, mug, plate etc. and that they had to carry their rifle with them at all times. When a certain bugle call was heard you would see the men running with their ‘goods’ to the parade ground. Several times they went off in a train, returning the next day, or the day after, no special time away, it was always a case of ‘expect them when you see them’ after the bugle call.

Between the 12th and 29th September (our respective birthdays) your Daddy was Orderly Officer, one of his duties being to inspect the guard during the night. This particular time he decided to do so at 4 a.m., usually he would be away about an hour, I always had a cup of tea ready for his return, I was in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, when back he came, telling me he could not stop. They were off again, took his kit-bag and he was away. Soon after this the bugle sounded. We all thought they would be back in a day or two. It was July 1942 before we met again. For weeks we hoped they would be home ‘to-morrow’, until we were told they would be away for an indefinite time. Mail was regular, the men, of course, could not say where they were. It was months later when we heard they were in the Burmese jungle.

December 1941, Japan declared war, we knew that there was trouble ahead and that ‘war’ would cease to be just a word- but a reality. It was December 1941 when Pearl Harbour was bombed, also Rangoon. Hong Kong had to surrender and Malaya was also being attacked. All over Maymyo air-raid trenches were dug, air-raid sirens were heard many times as a practice.

We were allocated places in a trench not too far from our bungalow; of course, when the siren went our orders were to get to the trench as quickly as possible. Ann, you were two and a half, so you and I made a game of it because I knew it would be quicker for you to run on your own and me to follow than to carry you. If the Bearer or Ayah were near they would take you to the trench, if not as soon as the siren sounded, you would be away, by the time I arrived you were so excited and always greeted me with “Mummy, I was first”.

Early in January 1942, the Gloucester Regiment families, who were stationed at Mingaladon near Rangoon, were evacuated to Maymyo, we were asked to share our homes with them, a Mrs O’Neil and her three year old daughter Jill came to live with us. We agreed very well for the few weeks we were together. Black-out was introduced, because now the sirens really did mean an air-raid. Several times a day, day after day, the Japanese planes flew over, dropping bombs only once. Little damage was done but it caused havoc with the Burmese and Indians, they disappeared into the jungle for days. Shops were just left open; there was of course a lot of looting. Food became very short; fortunately most of us had well-stocked larders. I had a gem of a bearer, if he heard of an open shop, off he would cycle to buy whatever he thought I would need, bread was the most difficult to get. I remember being in the town, near the bakers shortly after the ‘All clear’. I went back to the shop, the baker and his staff had gone, people were helping themselves to bread and cakes. I did so want a loaf, all I had at home were a few slices of very stale bread. I was so tempted to help myself, it was the nearest I have ever been to becoming a thief. I waited hoping the baker would return so that I could buy one from him. The bread had gone and so had I before he returned. When I arrived home there was Anthony, the bearer, with two loaves, no doubt he had stolen them but I paid him for them. It became harder to get food. The raids were more frequent. A census was taken of all families; my form was brought back — “Had I made a mistake?” I certainly had. I had stated ‘I was married in 1939 and you were born in 1937’!!

The Japanese had a habit of raiding us at meal times so we started having breakfast and lunch at about 10.30 and calling it ‘brunch’. One brunch time early in February, Mrs O’Neil and I, in fact all the families had a notice telling us we had to be ready to leave our home by two o’clock. We were to be evacuated. I was allowed 44 lbs weight for us two; it had to include food for four days, mosquito net, pillow, blanket and strong walking shoes. It is very difficult to describe my feelings. We had a very nice home, we had bought all our furniture, because in those days army furniture was dreadful, this was also our first home together, we really did take a pride in it. Just pause for a moment, look around your home then imagine how you would feel at leaving so much, believe me the smallest thing becomes a treasure. A week before we had this notice several of our families had left to hike to India, we thought we were on a hike. I had visions of you and I gradually falling behind the British party, they getting further and further away, the Japanese getting nearer with you and I between. However I did not have time to worry about that, I had to get packing.

At 1.30 p.m. I had another notice to tell me not to leave at 2a.m. to wait further instructions. It had been decided that owing to my affliction, to fly us out of Burma with the expectant mums. Mrs O’Neil and Jill went off in army lorries about 2 o’clock. My bearer, ayah and houseboy asked if they could go, they were heading for India. I was sorry to say good-bye.

I felt so alone, all the houses were empty, or most of them, the place seemed dead. I dare not leave the house to see who else was left in case someone came with another notice. I did see another lady and her children in the distance. I waited and waited, had tea, around 8 o’clock you were so tired I put you to bed-dressed. Still I waited, listening to the dreadful news on the wireless, Malaya and Singapore had fallen, Rangoon and Mandalay in flames, nothing cheerful or hopeful I felt sure the Japanese would be in Maymyo soon and decided, Ann, they would not have you. I decided I would drown you in the bath. I have often wondered if I could have done such a dreadful thing.

Sometime later I heard footsteps on the veranda and someone trying the front door and was terrified until I heard a Yorkshire voice asking “Anyone at home?” It was C.S.M. Birdsall and a corporal. Norman Birdsall greeted me with “What the!!! are you doing here?” I told him my story and learned that the expectant mums had left at 4 o’clock; he was surprised to hear I had seen his wife late in the afternoon. He told me not to leave the house, as he would be back for us. It seems he and the corporal had been to Mandalay taking rations to the fighting troops, he had been told his wife and children were flying out with the ‘mums-to-be’ because she had difficulty in walking, he had taken it for granted they had gone. When they arrived hack from Mandalay they decided to visit all quarters to check that all doors and windows were locked. Lucky for us they did!

It was not very long before they were back with a box gharry, a dreadful thing, in normal times Europeans were not allowed to ride in them. It was a square box on four wheels with a horse that was skin and bone and was driven by the corporal. The men had seen the gharry near the Sergeants Mess, as there was no-one near they drove it away. You and I, Ann, squeezed inside with Mrs Birdsall and her children, Joyce 12, Raymond 11and Lorna 5, also inside were all our ‘worldly goods’. Our goods tied, in a blanket, apart from food were two dresses and pants for you (you were wearing blouse, slacks and cardigan) a set of undies, one dress and one surgical shoe for me and, for some unknown reason, your baby potty. On our way to the station Norman told us that the ‘Walking Party’, the 2 o’clock Party and the expectant mums flight were organised evacuations, we must have been forgotten and must fend for ourselves. We must get as far away from Maymyo as we possibly could.

Eventually we reached Maymyo railway station, here the place was packed with Burmese, Indians and Chinese with their goods, anything they could carry, and we seemed to be the only Europeans. The noise was dreadful, everyone shouting. At last a train arrived, now it was murder, so much pushing, our escorts found seats for us and at 1.15 a.m. we were away.

What a journey!! We were in a 3rd class compartment (never used by Europeans) the seats and backrests were wooden lathes. We had a bench affair, which seated five, so Mary Birdsall had Lorna on her knee; I nursed you, Joyce, Raymond and our bundles between us. We were packed like sardines, all the seats were full and every inch of the floor covered with people squatting. The windows were blocked by people hanging on from outside, there were no fans or toilets. Your potty came in useful for you children, Mary and I were uncomfortable but managed to control ourselves like ‘Pukka-Mem-Sahibs', some of our fellow passengers were not at all particular!!!

At 2p.m. the next day, after 13 hours in the train we were more than pleased to leave it, we were hot, hungry, thirsty, dirty and dying to ‘spend a penny’. We did not know where we were; it was only a small station, packed of course because everyone was getting off the train. Suddenly we saw a notice ‘White Gents Only’ and as we could not see a ‘Ladies’ we sent Raymond in to see if the coast was clear. What a relief! We were all busy at various jobs, washing etc. when in walked a fellow in the R.A.F. He was as surprised to see us, as we were pleased to see him. There we were in the ‘Gents’ telling him our tale of woe, he said if we would wait a few minutes he might be able to help- it was then we woke up to the fact of why he was there. He had heard of an evacuee camp a few miles away and offered to take us there in his three-tonner, we had to sit in the back out of sight because he was not allowed to carry anything but rations. After a lot of pushing and pulling, we and our bundles were in the back of the truck and away. We were about two hours driving, during which time we drank orange juice and ate biscuits. You children thought it great fun. We arrived at a disused airfield, which had been opened up as an evacuee camp by voluntary workers, at a place called Shwebo. We said goodbye and thanks to our kind friend and made our way to a building marked ‘Office’. We were told there were about 200 people in the camp no Europeans. Many hundreds had passed through; this was evident by all the things that had been dumped. The dumping ground was a special part of the camp that had been wired off for that purpose, there was everything in it, mostly bedding and clothing. Nearby a place for the cars, all neatly parked, dozens and dozens, just left there. For weeks people had been leaving Burma, driving to Swebo with as much as they could pack into their cars, waiting for planes, only to find they had to leave most of their belongings at the airfield. There was also a hanger packed with bags of mail. Having reported to the office, we were given three tickets and told to go and find three beds, we did in the first building we came to. I thought all 200 people were in this long narrow room, they weren’t, there was another similar building near by. Everyone seemed to be lying or sitting, just waiting.

We had been told that we could get tea and smash potatoes at the kitchen, off we went with tins of soup, meat, fruit and cream, at the kitchen we were given a plate, mug, knife, fork and spoon. There were many tables and chairs around the camp, when the food was ready we went and sat at one of these and enjoyed our meal because we were so hungry. We walked around the camp, just to see ‘what was what’. We had left our bundles on our beds because we had noticed most beds had a bundle on them, however when we returned, my bundle had been put on one of the other two beds, also my ticket. The lady who was lying on what I thought was my bed said it was hers and had been for three nights. We decided to put the beds together. We put you four children in them and Mary and I slept on the floor either side but it was only for one night. It was while we were sorting ourselves out that we found someone had stolen from our bundles. My one and only clean dress and undies were missing and one of your dresses, Ann. Mary also lost several items of clothing. I was now left with what I was wearing plus one shoe and you had one dress and two pairs of pants. This was had enough, but when we found that food had been taken we felt that was a really mean thing to do. I now had soup, cheese, biscuits, milk and four bars of chocolate, certainly not enough for two of us for four days; a lot of Mary’s food had also been taken. No-one had seen anyone near our beds, there was nothing we could do about it except pool what food was left, tighten our belts and hope we wouldn’t be at the camp for very long. We didn’t know where we were going, just hoped a plane would arrive to take us — anywhere. We were there for ten long days. There was not much to do except wander around the camp, queue for the toilet and for a wash. The toilets were dreadful. Just a tent, inside just trenches. The bathroom, another tent with a few pipes coming out of the ground, from the tap on top a trickle of water falling into a bucket. You had to wait ages to get enough water to wash hands and face.

We had several air-raid alarms, the planes were always very high, they took no notice of us, flew on just as well as there were no shelters or trenches. One afternoon we were strolling around when the alarm sounded, we decided to make towards a clump of trees, once again we could see the planes as specks in the sky when suddenly from no-where, so it seemed, came a plane flying low, shooting a machine-gun, right across the camp. We threw ourselves to the ground; I laid over you Ann, this you did not approve of, you really did yell. The plane had gone, I was just about to get up when I noticed a young R.A.F fellow crawling towards us, telling me to stay put as the plane would be back, he was right and back again before he joined his fellow fighters. I did suggest to this fellow that he made his way to the trees, he wouldn’t, he stayed with us, you Ann protected by both of us. I felt sorry for this man because he had lost both his parents in a bombing raid in England.

Each day on the notice board would be a list of the names of the people who would leave on the next plane that arrived. The planes came at any old time, it was a case of when the plane landed, those concerned made their way to it and were away very quickly. On the eighth day our names were on the list. All day we waited, but instead of a plane coming to take us away, we were given the grim news that Burma had capitulated, the Japanese had taken over. I cannot explain how we felt, we were also told there was little hope of any more planes coming, if they did they might be intercepted on the way out. We had to decide if we wanted to return to our homes or stay there and hope for the best. Many people left the camp. We were the only Europeans left and very few others remained. It was difficult to know what to do. Mary and I talked about it for ages. We were hungry, thirsty and dirty, food and water were scarce, in fact, neither Mary nor I had eaten for three days or drunk for two. You children had a little, it was awful to hear you ask for food “Mummy I’m hungry”. We would put you off for as long as we could and then try and make a little go a long way.

We had somehow or another managed to contact an old man who used to pass the camp, with signs and our limited knowledge of his language we made him understand we wanted food. Most days he would bring bits and pieces, perhaps two or three eggs (these were always scrambled by us as they were easier to divide between you children), tomatoes, mangoes and the most dreadful looking stale bread. We, of course had to barter for it, even so we paid high prices, but we were glad of it.

After many discussions we, that is Mary and I, decided to stay at the camp, if the Japanese wanted us they would have to come to us not us go to them, plus the fact that we didn’t really know how we would get back to Maymyo.

Our tenth day at camp was much the same as the previous ones; except for the last four nights we had a bed each. We watched and prayed for a plane to come at the same tine expecting the Japanese to appear. Early in the evening a plane arrived, it was not very long before we were on it. Before we boarded our ‘baggage’ was searched we had to throw away anything we didn’t really need, all I had was a blanket, mosquito net, towel, potty and shoe. I was told to throw away my shoe, an odd shoe was not important- it was to me- however, I had to leave it there on the ground. Imagine my surprise when high in the sky, Mary produced it from under her cardigan, when the searcher looked away she had picked it up.

I have no idea what kind of a plane we were in, but there was a sort of tin looking bench around the inside with dents in it, on which we sat, it was quite comfortable. Before we took off, we were told to hang on to the strap above our heads and put our fingers in our ears. How on earth we were expected to do that I don’t know, plus the fact I had you, Ann, on my lap.

After a while Raymond decided to walk to the front of the plane, he came back with the news that the pilot was a Japanese. It was not very long before a man came from the front of the plane, gave each of us a paper bag in case we were sick- much to our joy he was Chinese. We asked where we were going, all he did was grin, guess he did not understand. We were about two hours flying, the lady sat facing me had her eyes closed most of the time with her paper bag ‘at the ready’. I remember all her fingers seemed to be covered with rings. Just as I was thinking of taking you back on to my lap ready for coming down the ‘ring lady’ was sick, missed her bag and I received the lot on my one and only dress. She was sorry and so was I. I cleaned it as best I could, it did not really matter because by now we were all smelly, not having washed properly for twelve days, plus the fact I hadn’t changed my clothes, in fact I had not taken them off, all those days. We arrived at Chittergong and were met by two men with a truck.

It was dark and we couldn’t see anything as we were driven away, but when we stopped we were looking at a ballroom scene. All the people in evening dress, the ladies in long flowing robes of every colour dancing to music- soft, but clear. It was the Chittergong Social Golf Club Dinner Dance. They had heard evacuees were expected, had arranged for us to be taken to the club and to be given their dinner. As soon as we appeared the music stopped and everyone looked our way, we must have looked a very sorry sight, talk about chalk and cheese, here we were about thirty, dirty, smelly women and children- they were immaculate. Much to my surprise I heard “There’s Mollie Birch”, it was a lady who had been on the ‘S.S. Mulberia’ four years earlier when I was going out to Burma.

In no time at all we were given cups of coffee and you children milk. It had been arranged that each lady would adopt a woman or child whilst the men arranged more transport for us. The lady from the Mulberia adopted me and another lady you. We were taken to a cloakroom where we could have a really good wash. The next time I saw you Ann you had a shiny face (first time for days) and a clean dress. We were then taken to the dining room where the table was beautifully laid. We were advised by a doctor not to eat too much, as we were not used to full meals. I know I had soup and sponge pudding. I don’t know what you had as your ‘friend’ was attending to you. It really was a strange sight; ladies beautifully dressed feeding babies and toddlers who were none too clean. I am sure there must have been more than one dress ruined that evening.

Soon we were on our way again, this time in super cars, to the station where we were put into a four- berth compartment. Now we were comfortable, with full tummies and fairly clean, with four wide berths and a toilet between the six of us. So with Joyce and Raymond in the upper berths, Mary and Lorna in one lower berth and you and I in the other, we settled down for a good sleep in spite of the fact that we realised we had not asked where the train was taking us. I know it was about midnight when we settled down, it was not long before we woke up, the train had stopped, not at a station, but everyone was getting off the train. We were told there was trouble on the line the train could not go any further and all we could do was to follow the crowd, and there certainly was a crowd. To our surprise everyone was walking towards the back of the train, the way we had just travelled. It’s no fun walking along a railway line in the dark.

I have no idea how far, or for how long we walked, but I know I had had more than enough when, still with the crowd, we came off the rails on to a path which led down a hill, there at the bottom was water and boats. I don’t know the difference between a boat and a ship. Anyway it was a sailing vessel. It had one large wooden deck in the centre. A hut with two men inside, who I suppose were the ‘drivers’. Each side of the boat were two huge wheels, which turned as we sailed. I suppose it was a paddle steamer.

When it was daylight we saw several boats nearby. They looked as packed as we were, you had two choices, standing or squatting, but where you were, there you stayed. We moved away very slowly and once again we did not know where we were going. To me it seemed a very wide river because most of the time, although we could see land on either side it was in the far distance. It was not a bad trip, a beautiful day, we were in the fresh air, ate biscuits and chocolate and drank from bottles of water given to us at the club.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at a shaky jetty, which was at the foot of a high bank, everyone scrambled up so we had to do the same. Mary helped you Ann, Joyce and Raymond helped Lorna and I followed with my bundle. When we reached the top we saw the railway line stretching for miles either side of us, like everyone else we sat down for what we thought was a rest. There were many, many people but we could not see any other Europeans. We sat there for a long time. In fact we had reached the stage when we wanted to be on the move again but dare not be the first to move. We had decided to stay with the crowd, as there was safety in numbers and wait to see what would come along. Suddenly we heard a train coming, everyone jumped up and stood on the lines waving and shouting. As it was now getting dusk I hoped the train would stop, it did. Mary and Raymond hurried with the crowd to meet it, we four followed, after a lot of pushing and shoving we were all on the train, so was everyone else. It is surprising how high a railway carriage is when away from a platform. When the train was slowing down Mary had lifted Raymond to it and he had reserved that carriage for us, stood guard at the door. It was a two-berth compartment with a toilet, which was great. Your potty had worked overtime on the boat, but Mary and I visited the toilet in spite of the fact it was not moving- well it was not at a station.

Later, after more biscuits and water we settled down to sleep, Lorna and Raymond sharing the top bunk, Mary and you in the lower, Joyce in a chair, me on the floor with my bundle as a pillow and believe me we all slept soundly. The next day, every time the train stopped we looked for the name of the station; we also bought more biscuits, chocolate and fruit. Early evening we arrived at Calcutta station, where we decided to leave the train. We went to a Military Policeman who escorted us to the Railway Transport Officer who in his turn sent us away in staff cars to Fort William. We had been wondering how we would get passed the ticket collector because we had travelled from Burma to India by train, plane, boat and train again without tickets.

Fort William was a Garrison Town on the outskirts of Calcutta, surrounded by a high wall. I understand it was built as a fortress, in case of riots, the British families would be safe in there with the gates closed and guarded. Once again we had to report to an office where we were told they were over-crowded with refugees, there was not a spare bed but they would see what they could do. We would be all right the following night, as the next day, many people would be moving on to other places in India. First of all we were given a light meal and then taken to a barrack block, which certainly was crowded. We were taken to a large room; there was one single bed, at one end lay a very old lady at the other end a young lady with her four-day-old baby. The floor was covered with women and children, there did not appear to be room for any one else, our escort moved a few closer together and there was a place for me to sit in a corner, which was lucky because I could rest against the wall. So with you on my lap we spent our first night in Calcutta, not comfortable, but nice to be with British people again. Mary and her family were on the floor in another room.

Next morning after breakfast several coaches took lots of people away. I was allocated a room on the second floor with two beds, two chairs and best of all a shower and toilet. Mary was next door with four beds and four chairs. We were the only people on the second floor and as there was a verandah the whole length of the building, there was plenty of room for you to play. We bought washing powder from a small N.A.A.F.I. and washed our clothes. I had nothing to change into so I had to do my washing in bits and pieces, first bra and pants (they did not take long to dry, it was so hot), next my petticoat, then after lunch, when it was decided everyone to their beds, I washed my dirty, smelly dress. By the time we had our evening meal, all of us had washed our hair, had a shower and were dressed in clean, if not ironed, clothes, I don’t think I ever felt so good.

During the night Ann you were taken ill, long before the doctor arrived the next morning I knew you had dysentery. The doctor said you had to go into hospital. When I explained we had only one towel between us and you did not have a nightdress he gave me a pass to leave the fort, provided me with a jeep and driver and instructions to go to a certain shop — nowhere else. Eventually you were in hospital, clean, in a nightie and in a clean comfy bed, the first time for over three weeks.

Daily coach loads of evacuees left the fort, on the third day Mary and her family left for the Murrey Hills, I was so very sorry to see them go. By the end of the week I was the only woman left in the fort. I spent as much time as I could in the hospital, it was being on my own on the second floor I did not like, so asked the officer in charge if I could have a room on the ground floor. All the evacuees were well looked after regarding meals. The first meal on my own, in what at other times had been a full dining room, was very strange, the four soldiers who were on duty as cook and waiters were still on duty just for me. After my lonely meal it was suggested that if I wished I could have my meals in a smaller dining room with the staff. This I was only too pleased to do. The staff, two cooks and six waiters, slept in the room next to mine so I felt safe at night in spite of the fact I did not have a lock on the door. The staff were kindness itself to me, lent me an iron and shoe brushes. Every morning there would be a knock on my door and there would be a mug of tea on the step. For the first few days when I visited the hospital, I saw you, but you did not see me. I had to have a pass to leave the fort and was only allowed to go to the hospital, not to town. The hospital was a long way from the fort, so I used to have a taxi most of the time, and sometimes I went by jeep.

After a week I was allowed to visit you from 2p.m. until 8.30p.m. this I used to do, at the same time rolling bandages for the hospital. I still do not know why I did not ask one of the hospital staff to buy me a set of underclothes and a dress. Every morning I washed my clothes in bits and pieces, now of course I could iron them. I said I washed my clothes every morning; really I started just before going to bed. One night I would sleep in bra and pants, the next night my petticoat, my dress I would wash between breakfast and lunch. The only time I was fully clothed was when I left the fort. When our evening meal was finished the staff and I would sit talking until about 1.30 a.m. waiting for more evacuees to arrive. Several small parties had arrived; but only stayed the one night. Towards the end of my second week there I had gone to bed late, only to be awakened by someone grabbing hold of me. I screamed and pushed with all my strength until I heard “It’s Mollie Birch”. The ‘hiking party’, which had left Maymyo weeks before had arrived, hearing there was a ‘white lady ‘ in the fort they had come to see who it might be. We were all so pleased to meet again. Now I had my three friends and their two children for company. The hiking party consisted of twelve families including an Anglo-Indian girl who was deaf and dumb. Next day at breakfast an appeal was made for anyone who could understand the sign language to report to the C.O.s office. This I did, because eighteen years before when I was in a children’s hospital, we were taught the sign language so that we could ‘talk’ to a deaf and dumb child in our ward. The result was that within a few days her parents had been contacted, brought to Calcutta and had taken their daughter home.

After three weeks you were out of hospital and a week later, we and our friends, were in a first class compartment of a train on our way to the Simla Hills. My friends, as you know Ann, were Lottie Goldthorpe and her son Keith, Betty Bootland and her son Ian and Lil Butler. Twenty-four hours later we arrived at a small station called Ambala. Here transport was waiting to take us on a two-hour drive. Round the hills climbing all the time to a place called Subathu, our journey was over, seven weeks after leaving Maymyo- a journey that was to have taken four days.

Mollie and Ann Birch, British civilians in Burma, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A2820214 Ann Dear at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Escaping over the Hump

In 1942 I found myself in Burma, in the Shan States. I was 22 years old and had been in the army for a few years already, but it was still a long way from Batley in West Yorkshire where I had been brought up!

I was there as part of a group of Special Forces. At the end of 1941, on 7 December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the following day Britain and the USA declared war on Japan. This war didn't go well for us at first.

19 January 1942: Japanese advance into Burma

1 February 1942: British army retreat to Singapore

15 February 1942: Singapore falls to Japan

1 May 1942: Japanese capture Mandalay, Burma

The only way out

I was stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to find somewhere to go before the Japanese came. There were no proper roads. Even now the area is very desolate. A small group of men and I decided that the only way out was to walk out.

We had to cross the foothills of the Himalayas, which rise to over 8,000ft. There were many rivers, which ran in steep gorges and were difficult to cross. To cross we had to climb down 2,000ft through very thick jungle. The wide, fast-flowing river at the bottom was made up of 'ice melt' water from the mountains, so it was very cold. Once we had crossed the river, we then had to climb all the way back up to 8,000ft.

The jungle was so thick that we couldn't walk in a straight line. We often walked five or six miles to climb back up to the top of the gorge, which may only have been three quarters of a mile as the crow flies. On the map it looks as though I walked about 400 miles, but in reality, because of the number of rivers to cross and the difficult terrain, it was much further. When we got to the top of each gorge, we would look back and could see the other side. We had probably only travelled half a mile and it had taken several days.

I had a map made of silk, so that it could be stuffed into a pocket. However, only parts of this region were mapped. Most of the map was just white! I still have this map on my wall today.

Even a current map of the area describes the roads as very primitive and there are still large areas of the map that are shown as 'Relief Data Incomplete'.

The villages were very small and we didn't dare stay in them for health reasons. We always camped a mile or two away, and usually upstream. The villages were always by a mountain stream and the people who lived there drew their water from upstream and used the lower stream as a sewer.

Our route

On 28 April 1942 we left Kentung in the Shan States in an old lorry, heading north west.

Day 4 - Mongnoi, Wa State. On foot with ponies

Day 11 - Crossed Nam Loi River. Originally heading for Lashio but we changed plans here and decided to head for China.

Day 12 -Tolou, Wa State.

Day 22 - Crossed Nam Lan River. Now in China.

Day 27 - Ta Ya Koi, Yunnan Province, three miles from Mekong River. We were warned not to go to crossing point at Sau Mao as it was held by Chinese army deserters and bandits. Camped up river.

Day 28 - Crossed Mekong River. The Mekong River is approximately 2,800 miles long. It runs in steep gorges for most of the upper course. Where I crossed the river the gorge was an incredible 8,000 feet deep.

Day 29 - Crossed Taku River. Camped here.

Day 41 - Hsia Pa. Crossed Black River.

Day 42 - Tung Kuan. A broad cultivated valley.

Day 48 - Yuan Chiang Chou. A walled city approximately 1,600 feet above sea level. Camped here preparing to cross the Red River. The delta of the Red River is in Vietnam.

Day 51 - Crossed Red River.

Day 56- Hsin-Haing Chou. Also called Ishi or Yu-Hsi. Start of motor road to Kunming. We did the last 80 miles in a battered old lorry! What luxury!

I got to Kun Ming after 62 days of walking. I am quite a tall man and when I got there I was very, very thin and weighed less than eight stone. We had to eat our ponies on the way to stay alive.

In Kun Ming I stayed with the American Volunteer Group (AVG), who were American civilians flying fighter planes and transport planes for China.

I was then 'flown over The Hump' to Dingjan in Assam, India, then to Dum-Dum near Calcutta the following day. 'The Hump' is a region in Western Yunnan consisting of high mountains running in long ranges from north to south. The Salween, Mekong and Yangtze Rivers run parallel to each other in spectacularly deep trenches separated by snow peaks.

There were no seats, no crew, no gunners, and no wireless operator, only a pilot. The loss rate was more than 25 per cent. The pilots were paid in gold American dollars and allowed two hundredweight of 'profitable goods' (ie smuggled contraband) on each trip. But it was better than walking!

My pilot was a Texan who never took the cigar out of his mouth for the whole trip. To avoid being attacked by the Japanese, we had to fly through the gorge of the Kali Gandaki River, which is much deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon, and cuts through the Himalayas. The mountains on each side soar to over 28,000 feet, but the plane couldn't fly this high.

The pilot said in a broad southern American drawl, 'See those mountains over there? They're thirty thousand feet! Wanna know the ceiling of this kite? Eighteen thousand feet! We're lookin' for a pass that is fifteen thousand feet… sometimes we find it - sometimes we don't...'

I didn't ask what happened if we didn't find it, but you can guess!

Ronald Schofield, Special Forces in Burma, Shan States to Calcutta, 1942


(source: A1135027 A Soldier's Long Walk from Burma to China Edited at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Introduction to a Letter Home

c/o Lloyds Bank Ltd

37 Chowringhee



My dear Mum, Dad and Henry,

This is going to be a long long letter and will take a long time to write. It is the first letter I have been able to attempt since mine dated 1st December 1941 — nearly seven months ago! These seven months have been the most eventful of my life so far and whilst I sincerely regret not having written to you therein I think you will agree, when you have read this letter, that the opportunities for writing have been few and far between and if they have occurred at all the circumstances were hardly conducive to the production of a reasoned letter. I have tried to bridge the gap by sending you a cable now and again to let you know that, despite many attempts by the Japs to introduce me to the next world, I was still alive and kicking. I also thankfully received your cables in Rangoon congratulating me on being commissioned and in Mandalay in reply to mine from there. I was also delighted to get Aunty Mina’s cable in April last.

Remembering Mum’s unfailing habit of always reading the end of a book first (and how it used to annoy me, at home) I will start this story at the end by telling you what you presumably want to know most — that I arrived in India from Burma in good health and unscathed after being on active service throughout the entire Burma campaign. I lost a good deal of weight, however, having dropped from about 9 stone 7 lbs to 8 stone 6 lbs. This loss I am now regaining under the influence of rest and good food once again. I am starting this letter in Mhow where I arrived on 18th June and am resting for a few days preparatory to going on 31 days leave. I have lost everything that I ever possessed except my cash in the bank, having arrived in India with nothing more than the shirt and shorts which I was wearing, my topée, my boots and socks, a mud sodden blanket and a waterproof cape. Of these only the boots and topée were really my own and they cannot be worn again in a civilised community. Everything else is gone with the yellow wind but what the hell, so long as I still have my life and health!

Before I start my story let me explain that some of the events I am about to describe may not appear in their chronological order and some of the dates I mention may not be accurate. I did not keep a diary — even had I done so it would have been lost — and whilst “on the job” one was inclined to be oblivious of the date or day of the week. Also I am writing from memory starting from seven months ago and some of the memories may not come back to me in their proper order although I shall do my best to encourage them to do so. However, I do not suppose this will worry you so long as you have a cohesive account of my adventures. Here, then, is the story:-

Fred Millem , Rangoon Battalion Burma Auxiliary Force, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A8062616 Rangoon Battalion: Foreword and Preface at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)







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23 March 1942 - The Japanese reach the Bengal at Chittagong




          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________






          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___



Lest Delhi Forget

Japan is still at India's door. The R.A.F. sharply reminded India's sahibs and  indifferent millions of this fact last week. A communiqué reported that in 46 days R.A.F.  planes had dropped 100 tons of bombs on Japanese troop and supply concentrations moving  into northern Burma, near the mountainous but by no means inpregnable,* border of India.

*New Delhi last week reported that 500,000 Burmese refugees had arrived in India. Some  traveled by sea and air, but most of them, surviving malaria and dysentery, living on  food dropped by R.A.F. planes, found their way over hidden trails from Burma into Bengal  and Assam.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Jul. 20, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)





          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________



The Japanese were getting closer

In the meantime, my mother had been evacuated from Calcutta to Dehra Dun for safety. The Japanese were getting closer and my father had a motor launch packed with vital equipment ready to make a quick dash up the river Hooghly.

We were six days and five nights altogether on the train. Troops were travelling eastwards towards the front line and our train kept being put into sidings to let their trains move on - hence the length of the journey.

Mary Anderson (nee Hezmalhalch), schoolgirl, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A2640601 A Schoolgirl’s War in the Far East at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


I went to boarding school in Shillong & Simla

Being of school age, in March 1941 I went to boarding school in Shillong, Assam, and my brother went to school in Darjeeling. We came back to Calcutta in December for three months, then back to school again in March 1942. We were only back at school for a short while when we had to be evacuated. The Japanese were making headway up through Burma and, in fact, were near Imphal - just over the hills from Shillong. My destination was a sister school in Simla, at the other side of India.

In the meantime, my mother had been evacuated from Calcutta to Dehra Dun for safety. The Japanese were getting closer and my father had a motor launch packed with vital equipment ready to make a quick dash up the river Hooghly.

We were six days and five nights altogether on the train. Troops were travelling eastwards towards the front line and our train kept being put into sidings to let their trains move on - hence the length of the journey. Trains in India have different rail gauges, which means changing trains as and when the gauges changed. The last part of the journey was by bus on the winding mountainous roads. On arrival at Simla we were a sorry bunch - very dirty, hot, hungry and, above all, thirsty.

I hated the school in Simla. Since we were all caught up in the emergency, we had to sleep on camp cots in a large dormitory and the sanitation was very basic. It was wonderful when December came along and we left Simla. On our way we stopped off in Delhi and were taken for a sightseeing tour in a Tonga. Eventually we were on our way - next stop Howrah Station, Calcutta.

Mary Anderson (nee Hezmalhalch), schoolgirl, Shilong, Calcutta, Simla, 1941-2


(source: A2640601 A Schoolgirl’s War in the Far East at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Leaving Calcutta on Guerilla duty

On Saturday 31st October we were issued, that is the wireless operators of our unit, with a document asking for volunteers to man observation posts hundreds of miles away in the jungle hills of the Assam Burmese border. If the Japanese advanced we were to stay until the last, then take off and become guerrilla fighters under Army Officers and would become part what was to be called a special "V" Force army. We didn't stop to think what we might be letting ourselves in for, so we all volunteered and I've got the document to prove it!

On Monday 16th November 1942, we left Calcutta for Silchar in Assam by train, this was to be the start of what we had come all this way to do.

Cliiford Wood, RAF Wireles operator, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A4254059 AN RAF WIRELESS OPERATOR ON THE BURMA FRONT (Part 2 of 3) at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Gandhi’s noble action

In all, I was in India forty-three years, and my opinion of the Indian people stands very high, in spite of all my hardships from time to time.

The war with Japan in the early 1940s was a hard trial for India, as there were many Indians who wished the downfall of the British Empire and, in 1942, it was near open rebellion.

Mahatma Gandhi, at that time, showed his real, true nature. He had the sway of the masses and when the ill-feeling toward Britain was at its highest, he stood firm and announced:

'It will be to India's lasting shame and disgrace if she stabs England in the back when she is so sorely pressed, fighting the fight other life for the freedom of nations.'

His cry was heard and upheld, and the Indians followed his advice; and, instead of revolting, rallied around the old British flag and put their manpower and resources at England's disposal. I think that was a most noble action, especially from Mahatma Gandhi's side, considering all he had suffered at their hands during his long and bitter fight for India's freedom.

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, Calcutta 1942
(source: page 207 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)





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23 March 1942 - The Japanese take over the Andaman Islands




          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________






          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___



Mr. Pig's-Hair Meets the Jap

Mr. Pig's-Hair and Mr. Turtle-Liver thought that the yellow men had come from the spirit world. Whether the yellow men were good or evil spirits, Messrs. Pig's-Hair, Turtle-Liver and the other naked Negritos of the Andaman Islands did not yet know. The little blacks had just seen the British leave the Officers' Club and its lovely promenade on Ross Island in Port Blair's harbor, the weather station and the stores in Port Blair itself, and sail off to India across the Bay of Bengal.

Now yellow soldiers had come with guns, ships and planes to the Andamans. The change made very little difference to the Jarawa and the Onge on the coasts and in the jungle. They were too far gone in native malaria and imported syphilis. Whoever owned the Andamans, there would soon be no more of the little men and their little women to watch, with sick and saddened eyes, the comings & goings of the conquerors from the sick world beyond their islands.

Hopeful Forfeit. The Japanese conquest of the Andamans made a great difference to the Japanese, to Britain and to India. The British at New Delhi had to admit that it was conquest by default. The small garrison, the few colonials, civil servants and guards at the Indian penal center in Port Blair had abandoned the Andamans to the Japs. Ready for plucking were the 204 big & little Andamans and the adjoining Nicobar Islands, which curve between Burma's central coast and the northern tip of Sumatra, locking a gateway to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.

From the many harbors and airdrome sites in the Andamans, the Japs can now send ships, submarines and planes against the sea traffic of Calcutta and Madras, along India's eastern coast. Getting supplies to the British and Chinese troops in Burma will be even more difficult and risky than it became after the Japs took lower Burma. With the conquered coast of Burma, the Andamans can become bases for the invasion of India itself, or of Ceylon.

Yet in military terms, the British withdrawal made good sense: lacking the men, ships and planes for effective defense of the Andamans, General Sir Archibald Wavell had wisely chosen to save what he had for the coming Battle of India. It was a sign that the British were done with brave but hopeless sacrifices. It was also a sign of their military weakness in India.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Apr. 6, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)


Jewels of Bengal

As the Japanese squeeze India through Burma and the Andaman Islands, they grasp at the biggest remaining segment of Britain's Empire. They close on United Nations routes to China, Russia and the Middle East. But, aside from India's strategic values, India also has an industrial area which is well worth grabbing for itself.

Indian ironmasters in the Fourth Century knew how to work bigger masses of iron than any European foundry could handle 1,500 years later (Europe and the U.S. caught up in the 19th Century). Now, at the great Tata works in Jamshedpur, 135 miles inland from Calcutta, the inheritors of that tradition produce most of India's steel (1,250,000 tons per year—about 1½% of U.S. production). They make armor plate, steel bars for guns, shells, other munitions. At last reports, 600,000 complete shells and 150,000,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition had gone out from Indian plants to British war zones. Also near Calcutta are many of India's textile mills, its richest coal and iron deposits.

Southward, in the State of Mysore, is another great industrial concentration, where Indian workmen produce iron & steel, even a few airplanes (trainers and Curtiss Hawk fighters). Now the British wish that more of India's industries were on the west coast, fewer on and near the Bay of Bengal's vulnerable shoreline. India's industrial prizes, in the Calcutta area, lie at the end of the shortest sea and air route from Burma.

To the south is Ceylon, only 50 miles from the Indian mainland, across a string of partially submerged sandspits called "Adam's Bridge." Once in Ceylon, holding its naval base at Trincomalee and the great commercial port of Colombo, the Japs need not cross Adam's Bridge. For they would then have the Bay of Bengal. If they dominate its routes to Calcutta and Madras, the Japs will be very near to having India.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York, Apr. 6, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)


Over the Bay

The Japanese invaded India. When their warships and planes struck in the Bay of Bengal, they struck as directly at the troubled mainland as if their troops had landed in Calcutta.

If the Japs win the Bay of Bengal, they will have all but won the Battle of India. They did not win the Bay last week. But they inflicted terrible naval losses on the British. Near the key island of Ceylon, at the southwestern entrance to the Bay of Bengal, R.A.F. fighters knocked down at least 75 Jap planes. Yet, after a week of combat, the British were weaker, the Japanese were relatively stronger than they had been when the battle started.

Off Malaya, off Java and now off India, the naval story was the same: the U.S. and British were caught by superior Japanese forces. The Allies in these areas had lost the equivalent of a formidable fleet: two capital ships (Prince of Wales, Repulse), four heavy cruisers, three or more light cruisers, twelve to 15 destroyers. At any one place and time, with effective air support, they could have beaten the Japs. As it was, piecemeal, the Allies lost both the ships and the battles.

The Admiralty Regrets. Jap battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers, destroyers, probably submarines moved toward India from the recently occupied Andaman Islands, some 900 miles across the Bay of Bengal. The U.S. Air Force's Major General Lewis Hyde Brereton had led a flight of Flying Fortresses to the Andamans and bombed Jap troopships there. From their Indian bases, his Fortresses presumably roved the embattled Bay last week. They were not enough; the Bay was too big, and the Japs too many.

The beginning was bad. Off eastern India, between Calcutta and Madras, Jap warships and planes closed on a British merchant fleet. Some 500 survivors said nothing about air defense from nearby India, nothing of defense by any accompanying British warships. Tokyo later claimed that in this and other attacks, the Japanese sank 2 merchantmen, damaged 23 more. New Delhi admitted some merchant losses.

Worse was to come. Fighter-bombers from Jap aircraft carriers spotted two heavy cruisers, the Dorsetshire and the Cornwall. Both ships had proud records in the Royal Navy; the Dorsetshire's torpedoes sank the Bismarck in 1941 (after she had been crippled by aerial attack). Under Jap bombs the cruisers went down. If they had air protection, neither British nor Japanese communiques mentioned it.

Worst was last, for finally the many Japs struck at sea-air power. Carrier-based bombers attacked Ceylon's naval and air base at Trincomalee. R.A.F. fighters in the area concentrated on the defense of the base. That was too bad. Some 70 miles from Trincomalee, only ten miles offshore, was Britain's ancient, smallest aircraft carrier, the 15-plane Hermes. Perhaps her planes never got off the flight deck, perhaps they, too, were engaged over Trincomalee. Or perhaps they were simply overwhelmed. Down went the bombed Hermes.

British and U.S. planes roamed the Bay. Some of them, probably R.A.F. bombers from Ceylon, tracked down a Jap carrier and attacked. They missed; they also "suffered some losses." The Royal Navy still had "substantial forces" in the Bay of Bengal; enemy accounts mentioned at least several more cruisers, another aircraft carrier, two battleships (including the old, U.S.-repaired Malaya). The British figured that the Japs had three of their newest 50,000-ton battleships, five aircraft carriers, a strong complement of cruisers and destroyers. Gloomiest index of the results of the first battles for the Bay was a British call for help from the U.S. Navy.

(source: TIME Magazine, New York,  Apr. 20, 1942)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Time Magazine)





          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________







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Pro axis activity in Calcutta




          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________






          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___






          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________



… boasting of Germany’s lightning victories

Walking down Chowringhee Avenue under my bright-coloured parasol, feeling happy, boasting of Germany’s ligtning victories and talking of the coming world New Order in Indian tea-parties.

Savitri Devi, right wing Hindu propagandist (of Franch-Greek descent) and axis spy. Calcutta, 1940
(source: p.453 Savitri Devi: Defiance. Calcutta : A.K. Mukerji, [1950] Seen on pp. 71,72 In Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke: Hitler’s Priestess. New York: New York University Press, 1998)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke)



As the local families departed for the cooler hill estates each of the Squadrons were offered large houses as self-contained Squadron messes, complete with staff. 136 Squadron was billeted in a very pleasant two-storeyed villa known as The Woodpeckers’ Hole after the Squadron signature tune. They shared at least four to a room except of course, for the CO and it was pure luxury, for a while, with linen and ceiling fans. Little did they know that they would not see such luxury again.

One hot and sticky Calcutta night, those on dawn readiness had retired early hoping to get some rest if not sleep. Just as Connie was falling asleep, two pilots who had been chatting quietly on the outside verandah shook him awake. It was purist John Bucchan. A series of morse code flashes had been spotted, emanating apparently from an upstairs room in the house next door.

They were quick to dress as flying kit, boots and revolvers were on the bedside chairs ready for the following day. The intrepid pilots set off quickly but quietly down the stairs, across the garden and up over the wall, under a moonless sky towards the flashes.

Connie and Ian Adamson were first to enter the house. Brought up on a youthful diet of Kipling and Biggles, they made their way quietly and undetected, drawn pistols in hand, up to the turret room at the top of the house. In the centre of the room which had a panoramic view over Calcutta and the Ganges Delta stood a powerful transmitting lamp and several open books on tables nearby. Half a dozen astonished Bengalis stood frozen, caught in the act!

When challenged they urged the Woodpeckers to put away their revolvers. They protested their innocence, they were only bookmakers’ clerks going about their daily business. The books were not code-books, merely the tools of their trade! The Woodpeckers assuming suitably stern exteriors, continued to cover them with their revolvers, standing with their backs to the door, until to their relief they heard the ringing tones of the C.O. ( Jimmy Elsdon) demanding to know where his men were. Being twice wounded in the Battle of Britain, he had come round the longer route with the remaining pilots. He immediately took in the scene and sent for the Provost Marshall. The latter on arrival promptly took command and the Woodpeckers went home.

Some weeks later as Connie was feeding Babu, the tame Squadron brown Bear, some tea from a soft drinks bottle, the C.O. arrived with news from the PM. The Squadron received hearty thanks for their aid; the men had been convicted of being fifth columnists and duly dealt with; the Bear choked on his tea!

Gordon (Connie) Conway, Royal Air Force Squadron Leader 136 Fighter Squadron ‘The Woodpeckers’, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A6784653 MORE TALES FROM THE WOODPECKERS - GORDON CONWAY and 136 Fighter Squadron Calcutta 1942 at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


The Japanese spy in Fort William

They [the bombers of Kidderpore Docks in 1943] were above the range of our anti-aircraft guns and must have been well informed, because our air defence fighter squadron had been sent away on a mission, so the Japs knew themselves safe.

It is correct when I say that a man was later discovered at Fort William, who said he was half-Chinese. He had a job in the Wireless Telegraphy Department and was sending messages on the QT to the Japs. He was then put against the Fort's wall and shot for treason.

It was obvious that someone had been busy because, prior to that, a convoy of seventeen ships leaving Calcutta was met about 100 miles out, in the Bay of Bengal by a Japanese cruiser - and not one of them escaped!

August Peter Hansen, Customs Inspector, Calcutta 1943
(source: pages 209-210 of August Peter Hansen: “Memoirs of an Adventurous Dane in India : 1904-1947” London: BACSA, 1999)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with 1999 Margaret [Olsen] Brossman)



Cloak and Dagger in Calcutta

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION: […] Paperback readers believe that spying and attendant dangers occur only in the pages of novels. Not so. The event which is the subject of this issue of MEMORIES occurred during the Christmas holidays of 1944 in Calcutta. James Garcia had served in the 40th in Puerto Rico and Panama. He returned to the States, rose to colonel and went to India as Intelligence Officer of the XX Bomber Command.

On June 15,1944, the first B-29 raid on Japan was carried out. Col. Garcia flew on the raid with his brother-in-law, Winton Close (40th and later 444th). The world, and especially Washington, was waiting for word that bombs had been dropped on Japan. A code word was established to be flashed over the radio when the bombs were released if the mission was a success. That code word was "Betty," the name of Jim Garcia's wife.

Against the possibility of capture if he flow over enemy territory, special permission had to be obtained from the XX Air Force in Washington for Col. Garcia to fly the mission. Approval was received by scrambled telex at the Bomber Command Headquarters in Kharagpur only just in time. Meanwhile, as is known, U.S. cryptographers had cracked the Japanese most secret code. Security was so tight that transmission of such information was extremely limited.

In fact, only just prior to the June 15 mission, an officer was dispatched from Washington to brief Gen. K.B. Wolfe and his Intelligence Officer, Col. Garcia, on information derived from this code- cracking effort.

Col. Garcia sensed that the briefing would hold such high classified information that he would be precluded from flying the mission if he knew it. Accordingly, he sent his deputy Col. George A. Stinson, to attend the briefing in his place.

By the time Christmas 1944 had come around, Col. Garcia had received orders transferring him to Guam. Celebrating Christian holidays in a non-Christian land was an alien experience; but American troops, with their British counterparts, carried on their traditions in India at this season as best they could! Garcia was invited to a Christmas party in Calcutta. As Leonard Lozano, who was, at that time, M/Sgt. and chief clerk of the Bomber Command Intelligence section notes, "The Christmas party was only an incidental part of an official trip to Calcutta. I remember Col. Garcia would not go 60 feet from his quarters to attend a party-much less 60 miles."

On this evening in Calcutta, Col. Garcia was driving his own car. He agreed to drive some nurses, who were attending the party, back to their quarters. It was his intention to spend the night with a U.S. Naval officer friend who was stationed in Calcutta and who had an apartment in the city. Heading toward his friend's apartment after returning the nurses to their quarters, Garcia became uncertain of directions. (How could it be otherwise in the streets of Calcutta at night?) To orient himself, he stopped to read a street sign at an intersection. To better read the sign, he got out of the car leaving the engine running.

It was at that moment that he was jumped by perhaps four men. They asked him to come with them. Garcia protested, saying that he was just an American officer having no knowledge of anything that would be of use to them. One of his captors responded by saying, "We know who you are, Col. Garcia."

Well his captors could say they knew who he was. Garcia recognized one of them who was Chinese and who walked with a decided limp. He had attended the Christmas party where Col. Garcia had also been a guest. (Knowing that Col. Garcia could not possibly fail to identify him, removes from speculation the chances that the Colonel would have survived this kidnapping.)

Garcia was forced into a car which he recognized as being of American make. Garcia also made another life-saving observation, it was that, on this make of car, the door release was activated by pushing the door handle forward. The car was being driven at moderate to slow speed. The captors drove in a pattern of turns and changes of direction intending to confuse Garcia so that he would not know where he was when they reached their destination. Thwarting this move, Garcia kept track of the turns that were made and continued to hold a picture in his mind where they were. He was being loosely held in the back seat between two of his captors, with another in the front and the fourth driving. As they made a turn, Garcia leaned in that direction and eased forward as if to absorb the turn. In doing so, he suddenly fell forward, pushed down on the door handle and opened the door. As he tumbled forward, one of his captors reached out and slashed Garcia in the back with a knife. Garcia got to his feet and dashed back in the direction of his car, backtracking from the spot of his escape. He reached the intersection and there his car still stood with the engine running. He jumped in and made his escape. He made it to the quarters of his Navy friend and together they patched the slash in his back sufficient to hold until he could get to a military hospital. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in this encounter.

British counterintelligence was brought into the case and they said they believed they knew who the perpetrators were. One of the kidnappers had a friend in a Calcutta hospital. When it was known that his suspect was going to visit the hospital, it was arranged to have an appropriate CID man bedded next to the patient. Screens were positioned and Garcia was introduced into the screened area in an effort to listen to the voices to see if he might be able to identify them. The effort was inconclusive.  Being scheduled for transfer to Guam, Garcia did not participate further in the investigation of the incident. No successful conclusion ever was reached.

General LeMay, in 1988, noted that the purpose of the kidnapping was never determined for sure although it was thought that somehow the Chinese might have been involved. The only action taken by the Bomber Command was to close the Chinese restaurants that had concessions at some of our bases. That was unfortunate, this officer observed, because we were on British rations and the Chinese restaurants were the only places a good meal could be found.

Garcia served in the Marianas as Intelligence Officer of the XXI Bomber Command. He had not previously qualified as a pilot of a B-29 and he wished to be so qualified, before returning home when the war was over. Tragically, he was killed in a crash while shooting landings on the last day of the war.

Col. James Garcia, Intelligence Officer of the XX US Bomber Command. Calcutta, 25-31 December, 1944.
(source: Mrs. Betty (Garcia) Stinson: “Cloak and dagger in Calcutta”, in Issue #23 September 1988 of “40th Bomb Group Association Memories” / reproduced courtesy of 40th Bomb Group Association






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The Losses




          _____Pictures of 1940s Calcutta________________________






          _____Contemporary Records of or about 1940s Calcutta___



A Name on a War Memorial

Private Harold Hillary

Service No 3601798, 4th Battalion, Border Regiment

He died aged 24 on 12 August 1942. He was the son of John and Margaret Hillary; and the husband of Agnes Hillary, of Egremont.

Remembered with honour at Calcutta (Bhowanipore) Cemetery , India

(Grave Reference : Plot H. Grave 49)

Private Harold Hillary, 4th Battalion, Border Regiment, Calcutta, 1942


(source: A5394927 Sons and daughters of Egremont, Cumbria who laid down their lives in World War Two. at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)



A Name on a War Memorial

Colour Serjeant Robert Wells Postlethwaite:

Service No 3594553, 2nd Battalion, Border Regiment.

He died aged 33 on 24 March 1940. He was the son of James and Barbara Ann Postlethwaite, of Egremont, and the husband of Mary Jane Postlethwaite, of Workington (a town a short distance to the north of Egremont).

Remembered with honour at Calcutta (Bhowanipore) Cemetery

(Grave Reference: Plot H. Grave 73).

Colour Serjeant Robert Wells Postlethwaite, 2nd Battalion, Border Regiment Calcutta, 1940


(source: A5394927 Sons and daughters of Egremont, Cumbria who laid down their lives in World War Two. at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)



Could that be the Dark I went to school with

[…] then came to my quarters where I have been reading through a swath of Republican-Couriers. I noticed a J. Dark Moore was listed as a casualty. Could that be the Dark I went to school with?

Richard Beard, US Army Lieutenant Psychologist with 142 US military hospital. Calcutta, October 14, 1945

(Source: page 217 of Elaine Pinkerton (ed.): “From Calcutta With Love: The World War II Letters of Richard and Reva Beard” Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2002 / Reproduced by courtesy of Texas Tech University Press)




          _____Memories of 1940s Calcutta_______________________


… missing, presumed dead

The letter was dated 22May [1943]. We heard no more. In late July Mae received a letter from Roy’s mother. Aunt Jessie and Uncle Stephen had been informed that Roy was missing, presumed dead.  No other information was given. […] one day by sheer chance met an officer in the RAF who dealt with reports on missing pilots.  He gave us all the information that was available.  It transpired that on 24 May, Roy, along with another Fighter pilot, was sent on a reconnaissance mission over Burma.  Having completed their mission the two young me were talking to each other on the radio during the return fight when the surviving pilot lost contact with Roy.  After circling around in a futile search for some sign and hearing no answer to his call and with his fuel running out he was forced to return to base.

The supposition was that both pilots were flying low up a valley and Roy was unlucky enough to strike the hillside. […] Neither he or his plane were ever found.

Eugenie Fraser, wife of a jute mill manager, Calcutta, Summer 1943

 (source:page 104 of Eugenie Fraser: “A home by the Hooghly. A jute Wallahs Wife” .Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing  1989)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with Eugenie Fraser)


we flew into a monsoon storm

On the 10th August 1944, all of our aircraft Royal Air Force 615 (County of Surrey) Fighter Squadron were flying from Palel in Assam to Baigachi, Bengal. We where about 80 miles east of Calcutta when we flew into a monsoon storm.

I saw the Commanding Officer's Section disappear above me and I glanced in the cockpit, my instruments had, had it. There was no visibility and none of the planes controls were working. I made up my mind that it was time I parted company with the aircraft. This wasn't easy, the hook stuck and I had a hell of a job. Finally, it came away and to the right mainplane about three feet from the centre section. Hells teeth, I thought I had been in a hurry up until then, but I really got going now. In fact, I jumped out helmet and all plugged in. I must have swung like pendulum going around for few seconds, that seemed like hours, waiting for the thud of the ground, when I felt a jerk.

I looked up and from that moment on I have a passion for mushrooms. There above me was the chute letting me down and the chute began to fold in and spill air. I pulled on the rigging lines, as I had been told and was able to control the rate of descent. It was about 20 seconds before I saw the ground or should I say river. Yes, I landed up to my neck in water. I was helped by natives to shelter. After an hours rest, I heard news of another pilot who was a few villages away, who had been injured. I was able to get to him later that day and a sampon took us to the nearest motorable road.

We arrived in Calcutta the following day. Here, we received news that the Commanding Officer had been killed and three others. Eight of the other machines got through safely after being sucked right out of the cloud into brilliant sunshine. An airman at control ops was able to vector them in safely. This airman for his wide awake action received a mention in despaches. The Commanding Officer's body was the only body recovered, as it was thought the others were in an area that it would not be possible to get to. So these were posted missing believed killed.

The Commanding Officer was buried in Calcutta. He was thought so much of by his Squadron, that a letter was sent to his mother asking what she would like as a memorial to him. Funds were raised and a stainless glass window is now installed in the church in his home town in Australia.

He was held responsible for the accident by a court of enquiry, but I still wonder, if it was an error on his part. Three pilots bailed out successfully and one force-landed.



*Squadron Leader D. McCormack, Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, Royal Australian Air Force (Killed)

*Flying Officer W.S.Bond Royal Canadian Air Force (Killed)

*Flying Officer M.Pain Royal Australian Air Force (Missing believed killed)

*Warrant Officer Chappell, Royal Australian Air Force, (Missing believed killed)


*Flying Officer Costain Royal Air Force (Broken leg)

*Flying Officer Armstrong Royal Canadian Air Force (Dislocated knee cap)

*Flying Officer F.P.Fahy, Royal New Zealand Air Force (Twisted knee)


*Flying Officer Watson Royal Air Force (Unhurt)

8 other Squadron Aircraft and Pilots landed safely.


Flying Officer Francis Patrick Fahy, Royal Air Force, Calcutta, 1944


(source: A2590634 RAF 615 FIGHTER SQUADRON IN MONSOON OVER INDIA WORLD WAR II at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)


Missing in Action

Another month or passed when the atomic bomb was dropped on to Japan, this bringing the far eastern hostilities to a close. There were a number of us girls that were married to young men of the Suffolk Regt, and soon after V J. day had passed some of these girls were getting a card from their husbands stating that they would soon be getting home, also receiving official conformation that their loved ones were safe and would very soon be returning home .I was not one of the lucky ones to receive this information, Soon after this some of the lads were arriving home, by plane, ship or train. There was going to be a homecoming party. The girls at work were so discreet, and were unable to confide in me as to what was happening as they knew that I had not yet heard of any news of my husband tried to adapt myself to the situation as best I could. I still have pictures of some of the lads arriving at the station, As the days passed the lads gradually left to take their wives to their own homes, leaving me still without any further news at this point.

I did visit the doctor and he did advise me to try to get out and socialise more, if not I would likely be around, when eventually my husband was able to return. He more or less advised me not to give up entirely. I took his advise, although my health began to suffer due to the long hours that I was doing, and my mother having had a serious accident, plus four children to be looked after (we have two evacuee children staying with us now) I was obliged to leave the factory. But believe it or not, after a short period I took on another, job also an exempt job, this time I was working for the government with the Forestry commission. This job was more suitable to me because of the shorter workday; it gave me more time to help out at home as my mother was more handicapped now. My job was to receive the cut wood from the saw and to gate tally it as it came through the mill. I was taught to do gate tally and other various work with wood. I still love the trees and always have, (even when they are cut up)

By this time my thoughts were well into my work but out of working hours my prayers and thoughts would be of my husband and in my heart I knew that God would spare and send him back to me if at all possible. And low and behold at the end of September 1945, in the evening at about 7 0’clock,we had just finished, tea and was getting the children ready for bed, when the door bell rang, one child was in the bath the other one was ready, mother was sitting in her arm chair, I answered the door, and to my horror there stood a policeman on the door step. I was amazed, and my first thoughts were, have the children been up to mischief anywhere?

The policeman said, “Good evening, is Mrs Stebbeds in?” .I said “yes I am Mrs Stebbeds, is any thing the matter”. He said “May I come in” I replied “please do “, He entered our house and after offering him a seat addressed me and said that a phone call had been received from the War office stating that my husband was alive and safe and was in a military hospital in Calcutta and that I would receive official notification from the war office in the morning. This I did receive next morning with an address to which I could write to .The children cried, mother fainted, and I am sorry to say that I cannot describe to you the way I felt .All I knew was that my prayers to God had been answered and that he was sending him back to me .A week after these events I did receive a letter from my beloved husband himself. But it was not until the end of November that I heard from him to say that he hoped to be home before Christmas .The last few months had been a living nightmare, then came the final letter from Sid to say he would be arriving home on the 7-30 p-m train from Norwich to North Walsham

Please don’t ask me to explain my feelings to this news, as they are so vivid.

Babs Stebbeds , housewife, Norfolk & Calcutta, 1945


(source: A3240424 My Husband Was Missing at BBC WW2 People's War' on Oct 2006)

(COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms as part of a non commercial educational research project. The copyright remains with the original submitter/author)







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