We underwent intensive jungle training in Bangalore then joined Brigade Special Forces (Chindits). The brigade consisted of the Queens, Leicesters, West African Troops and Phil Cochran's American Force. We marched 360 miles from the railhead at Ledo to Mawlin, north of Mandalay. I spent three months in Burma before being wounded in action at the battle of lndaw Lake during April 1944. The pilot who flew us out in a Mitchell aircraft was none other than Colonel Jackie Coogan, the American film star.
From Imphal we were flown on to Comilla in Assam and I finished my recovery in the British general hospital there before going to the convalescent depot at Bangalore.
I arrived back in Blighty four months after the war ended. It was not a day too soon, as I missed the big upheavals going on at Independence time. But I do remember passing through a village new Nasik when the Congress supporters threw stones at our troop train.
Les Thomas CHINDIT
Chindit Thomas refers to former American film star "Jackie" Coogan in his tale above.
COOGAN, John L. ("Jackie"),
in addition to staring in American movies was the ex-husband of Betty Grable
of movie fame. The term “Pin-Up" came into existence during World
War 11 as American troops of all theaters place photographs of their favorite
starlet in their footlockers, on the wall or where ever space was available.
Betty Grable was, by far, the majority choice to receive this honor.
I do question the rank Thomas gives Coogan. A glider pilot in the D-Day operation he carried the rank of Flight Officer. It is doubtful he could have advanced to the rank of Colonel in such a short period of time.
Coogan was the pilot
of the first glider into Chowringhee in the establishment of that stronghold.
Harry A. Blair
Historian Twenty-Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron
La Crosse, Wisconsin 6 May 2001
I arrived in India in 1940. After staying t the Royal Signals Depot at Mhow in the Central Provinces, I then traveled all the way up to Dera Ismail Kaan in the North West Frontier Province, the perpetual trouble spot of India. With an infantry brigade I went on several expeditions against marauding tribesmen and was later sent to the fortified town of Razmak, where tribal trouble was, if anything, worse.
By now Pearl Harbor
had been bombed. The Japanese had captured Hong Kong and Singapore
and were virtually in possession of Burma. The Chindits were being
trained at Jhansi where I joined them under our brigadier Michael Carver,
later known as 'Mad Mike'. After jungle training the brigade moved
to Assam where it was split into two separate columns. We flew into
Burma in Dakota aircraft and gliders, with the express purpose of blocking
the Japanese supply routes to Kohima and Imphal. After completing
our mission we then hung around waiting for the United States General Joe
Vinegar Stilwell's American and Chinese Force to relieve us. But
they never did. So we had to fight our way up to Myitkyna where Stilwell
was. I was wounded on the way up at Maungdo. Fortunately, I
was flown out by alight aircraft to Myitkyna and transferred to a Dakota
(C-47), eventually reaching hospital in Assam.
G. Liddell Chindit
A CHINDIT TALE
We were pressing deeper into the Naga Hills, a mountainous region of Assam and the centre of the Japanese drive into India. Our column was a new concept in military operations, the brainchild of General Orde Wingate, and we were beginning to feel the strain of the campaign.
The road, better described as a jungle track, wound through the hills with never-ending monotony. Our packs were getting heavier and we kept easing their straps to stop them biting into our shoulders. The water chaggal hanging from my wrist flapped against my leg. The silence of our march was only broken by the jangling of the mules' harness and the creaking of the leather panniers on their back. Slowly we descended into a valley although we were still thousands of feet above sea level. As we rounded a bend in the track we could see the head of our column moving along the valley bottom alongside a narrow, fast-flowing river in full spate.
The column was coming to a halt, panniers were being unloaded. My thoughts flew to the blackened dixie tied to my pack. Soon it would be boiling merrily over a fire set between two stones and the hot sweet tea would refresh me and the rest of the platoon, who knew my prowess as the fastest tea brewer in the column.
We lay to one side of the track, our aching bodies cushioned by our backpacks and side-packs. Cigarette smoke drifted up lazily and low babble of human voices chattering filled the valley. The mules, stripped of their heavy yakdans, stood relaxed grazing on the greenery of the valley floor enjoying a brief respite from their hard labour. Watching a platoon of Royal Engineers bridging the raging torrent that stood in the way of our line of march, we hoped for a long break before the bridge was completed and we had to move on.
Behind us was the village of Cheswizumi where just one American Dakota aircraft, the faithful old 'Dak', had dropped supplies and rations. Here also we had eaten some apples that were as sweet as any nectar. What lay ahead now?
The column had started from the railhead at Mariani which controlled the American Forces serving the Ledo Road, and was the supply route to Allied troops in Myitkyna, North Burma and the Mogaung Valley. We had marched right around the flanks of the invading Japanese Army to harass their supply lines from behind.
Our brigadier commanding 23 Infantry Brigade was a man whose appearance fitted him exactly for a role in a Noel Coward West End play. It only needed the addition of a cigarette holder and
Velvet smoking jacket and the casting director would have seen him as a 'natural'. Instead, he was in charge of operations to create havoc behind enemy lines in some of the most difficult terrain possible - mountainous jungles with some areas quite uncharted and only inhabited by primitive tribes.
The Naga hill men were a particularly muscular race; scantily clad in short beaded trunks with an apron front. Some of them had on ivory armlets with bright coloured feathers attached and some wore similar ornaments just below the knee. All of them had fascinating jet back hair cut 'pudding basin' style and with their brown skin and almond-shaped eyes made a striking picture. The women wore skirts with beaded belts and necklaces often made from animal's teeth but were bare breasted - the variety of shape and size was limitless.
There was no doubt,
however, we were regarded as friendly because often as we passed through
the Naga would gather with their womenfolk at the edge of the track to
smile and wave to us as we and our mules tramped wearily by in single file.
Peter Mortakis CHINDIT
A CHINDIT TALE
I was a pre-war regular soldier and spent some time with the Sudan Defense Force in Abyssinia before going to the Western Desert. Then off to Crete for that gallant but quite hopeless fight. I returned to Egypt for the battalion to be brought up to strength for a fourth time and then it was off to India for jungle training. We learned how to load horses, mules, heavy equipment and vital stores on to gliders.
The day came in March 1944 when we emplaned into Waco gliders. At half-minute intervals Dakota (C-47s) rushed down the runway, each towing two Wacos. The gliders lifted into the air first and it was touch-and-go whether the aircraft took off safely before reaching the end of the airstrip. Heavily laden with Chindits and equipment they climbed into a darkening sky. It was, at the time, the biggest and most hazardous air operation ever attempted. Between 5 and 1 0 March 100 gliders and almost 600 Dakotas (C-47s) had carried nearly 1,000 troops and over 1,000 mules.
But I can tell you nowhere near that number actually arrived at the dropping zone, a clearing hacked out of the dense jungle. Gliders crashed into trees, fell into swamps, and disappeared down ravines. Can you imagine the sheer size of the job trying to recover animals and equipment from splintered gliders?
All our supplies came by air with RAF officers attached to the Chindit column to fix the drops. After an air drop we were laden down with twelve boxes of the American K rations, blankets, machete, rifle, ammunition and grenades. With our water bottle and webbing we had a fair weight to carry.
Theft of food was considered a most serous offence when the column was on the march. Culprits were given strokes from freshly cut bamboo rods and salt was applied. Witnesses were told to forget they had seen this happen. I think some column commanders were quite expecting to be court-martialled for this drastic and quite unofficial punishment. After all, it is not permitted under army regulations.
But I came through
it all safely, for which I thank whoever was up there looking after me.
The funny thing is that when I was eventually repatriated back to Blighty
I became a dispatch rider. I had a crash and ended up in Edinburgh
Frank Browne CHINDIT
Eck dum, eck dum, the monsoon's come
The basha walls are drawn,
When strong men mutter, grim and glum,
'We'll all be drowned by dawn."
They decko through the water spout,
Observing with a grin
The flying dhobi, flying out,
To fetch his washing in!
The fruit wallah has
Complete with nuts and mangoes,
The car-wallah was heard to mutter,
'You've had your egg banjos'
The QM sorting suits,
Gave a loud and horrible sigh
As several pairs of army boots,
Float by before his eyes.
It is time to hit the
And get below your net.
The flying ants will soon be here
And other things, I bet.
Eck dum, eck dum, the
No use to sigh or sob!
just fill the mugs with char, old pal,
And talk about demob.
charpoy = rope
decko = look
dhobi = laundry
wallah = servant
And did you serve in
Or Burma's wild green land?
And did you have the fever there?
Till you could scarcely stand?
And does the fever catch you still
When England's winds blow bitter chill?
And does you head throb once again
As it did then, my lad?
And do you feel the dulling pain
The same as you once had?
And do you, soldier, curse the day
When under those hot skies you lay?
And do you shake and
And ache to Jay you down,
As you did then, short years ago,
Under the 'jungle's crown?
And do you sigh for water now,
and drink the salt sweat from your brow?
And do your limbs feel
In ague's sudden grip?
And do you like the price you pay,
The fever-cup you sip,
For being young in England's Isle
When Hitler saw his war-god smile?
Or do you think of
Men of your Company,
Who, uncomplaining, met their ends,
Nor looked for sympathy;
But tinder Asia's brassy skies
Died with this England in their eyes?
Their rotted bones
in jungle lie
Six thousand miles away -
Lad, what's a fever? You won't die.
You’ll live another day
that God forgive, if you forget
They paid in agony, our debt.
Harry A. Blair
Historian Twenty-Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron
La Crosse, Wisconsin 6 May 2001