With the Gloucestershire Regiment in Burma
Donald, OBE (Indian Police)
(Back Badge 1947)
Rangoon had fallen, the city in flames, and the demolition squads, better known as "The Last Ditchers", had just gotten out in time before the occupation of the town by its new but temporary masters. To be honest, up to now I had not the faintest idea what I was supposed to be. At times I was to be liaison officer, then without warning an officer to the 7th Burma Military Police Battalion, then an intelligence officer with some other unit. But I was no longer head of the Police in my old district, which was now in the hands of the Japs. At GHQ I asked for definite orders. I was given a sheet of yellowish-brown paper and appointed a 2nd lieutenant, acting major, and posted to the 1st Bn The Gloucestershire Regiment as Special Intelligence and Political Officer, whatever that might mean.
As I had left the army soon after the end of the First World War I was out of touch with military matters. I was wishing that I had stuck with the 7th BMP, but no one seemed to know where they were, only that they had put up a grand show in the Sittang river battle. I arrived at the Glosters camp and went in search of Battalion HQ or the Officer's Mess. I found it tucked away in a Burmese village, and what a mess it was. The Gloucesters had only just arrived and Sergt. G. Ransome, the Officer's Mess Sergeant, was busy trying to clean up the hut. In the same building I met the CO, Colonel C.E.K. Bagot, MC, and his Second-in-Command, Major Victor Morton. I handed them the form and emphasized that I had left the army over 24 years ago and knew next to nothing about soldiering!
I fully expected Bagot, who had a reputation throughout Burma of being a bit of a "man-eater" to catch me by the seat of my britches and shove me out of the hut. I was greatly surprised when, in a most friendly way, he said "So now you are one of us. Well, this is the Officer's Mess. Have a mug of tea, or perhaps you would like some whiskey? What about your kit, we better have that brought in.."
I had none, having lost everything 3 days before in the railway bridge battle, and I stood there with a 3-day growth of beard, in hot, sweaty, smelly clothes. Bagot came to the rescue: he called up the Mess Sergeant and said: "The new major has lost all his kit. Just see what you can do about it."
Victor Morton, in his usual charming way, came to the front and said, "Why are worrying about not knowing anything about soldiering? We professional soldiers know damn-all about it, just learning ourselves. The Jap is teaching us a thing or two - so good; we will learn together!" That was typical of Morton, always quiet and unassuming. I came to learn, and also later to hear from those in authority, that anything Bagot and Morton did not know about soldiering would not be worth knowing. Before long I had met all the officers, and through their kindness had been given a blanket, a shirt, cake of soap etc. All of this was given to me by officers who, themselves, had lost a lot of their own kit, opening the Taukkyan road block just out of Rangoon.
Once the battle started, I played a very small part. My job, as far as I could make out, was to follow the CO round the place trying to look intelligent, and at times, when we were short of D.R.s, to act as his errand-boy. On one ocassion there was a small wood on our flank and Bagot wanted it. In order to get to the wood one had to pass over about 100 yards of open paddy land with no cover, and it was at that time under Japanese fire. Turning to a sergeant he gave his instructions, but told the sergeant to wait until he was given to time to go; then turning to me, he said: "Come on friend (he always called me that), let us go and see for ourselves what that cosy corner looks like." I could not believe my ears. Orders were orders, so along with Charles Bagot I went, and I freely admit that my heart was in my mouth. On our return from the wood, he sent in his troops. This was typical of Bagot. He knew well from his map what the wood was like, but it was that 100 yards of open paddy land under Jap fire which was the snag, and I am sure in my own mind, that Bagot took the risk to go himself, merely to satisy himself that he was not expecting his men to do something he could not do.
The last time that I had the honour of serving in battle with Bagot was at the Shwedaung road block. We arrived in the village early in the morning, but were unable to get out, as north of the village the Japs had put up one of their road blocks. Every half-hour or so the Japanese bombers were coming over and dropping their loads, and there we were, like a lot of helpless rats in a trap.
Towards evening - around 5 pm - word came that the road block had been cleared, but there were of course, strong forces of Japs on either side of the road in well dug-in positions, only waiting for us to run the gauntlet, and they were still shelling the northern part of the village. Just then orders came for us to get to Prome as best we could. In spite of the shelling and the commotion going on, Bagot stood his ground in the middle of it all directing the dispersal of his battalion, then suddenly he turned to me and said, "Friend, I wonder if you would mind giving one of those junior officers a hand to get his men out?" At the time I couldn't understand why Bagot should have given me this order. He knew perfectly well that he could rely on any his officers, even the most junior. But now, looking back, I can see his motive. It was just his way of saying, "Get the hell out of this! There is not much use in the two of us being killed."
I went forward and found Major Victor Morton instead. At that time everything was a shambles, noise and confusion everywhere. Victor was standing near a jeep filled with wounded men at the same time giving orders which I could not hear owing to the noise of musketry. On getting a bit close to Victor, I saw him step forward to rescue another wounded man not far from him, and he did so he was riddled with bullets and down he went. I was close enough to hear his last dying words: "Get these lads to Prome as best you can. Good-bye and good luck to the Gloucesters." In his own quiet, unassuming way he faced his end like the gallant soldier that he was. His last thoughts were of his men, and were expressed in his last words. His men meant everything to him, and they in return thought the world of him.
No story about the Gloucesters would be complete without a few words about that grand fellow Sergeant George Ransome, of the Officer's Mess. How many tickings-off I had from that old warrior! "Do you know, sir, that you smoke far too much - you and the CO smoke more than the whole Battalion put together. It's bad for you sir, and one day you eill run out of cigarettes and then you and the CO will be the 2 most miserable men in this war." Ransome was right; we did run out and we were miserable.
On another ocassion; "Do you know sir, the last time you went out scouting you went before breakfast and did not return to lunch. That is not good enough sir, one may be expected to die for one's King and Country, but to go without one's lunch is carrying war a bit too far."
In action Ransome was grand. Always in his cool, calm way, he would hand over some food and badly needed hot tea amd say: "British Army fights on its stomach sir, here are some eats for you." Poor Ransome! He was reported missing in the Yenangyaung Battle. His loss to his unit, especially the officers, must have been great. He was second to none.
Last, but certainly not least, was that outstanding figure in the Gloucesters called "Molotov." I am afraid that I never could catch his real name; it was one those typical Russian ones, with umpteen letters I could never get my tongue around. I called him "Molotov" and "Molotov" he remained to the whole Battalion, including the CO and even the Sergt-Major.
I do not know how these Russians entered the British Army; there were quite a few of them in the Gloucesters, and astoundingly good fellows they were too. Molotov was a grand fellow; he was detailed as my jeep driver; he had the heart of a lion, and on 2 occasions it was he, with great courage and much personal risk, who saved my bacon from the Japs. The last time that I saw him was at the Shwedaung road block. He had been wounded and, although unable to walk, was still able to drive my jeep. After putting several wounded into my jeep I told Molotov to drive like hell and get to Prome. This he tried to do, but a shell landed near the jeep and blew it in all directions. Molotov was not killed, but was certainly badly wounded, and a second jeep coming up from the rear picked him up and managed to bring him to Prome. I did not see him at Prome, as he was taken straight to hospital base miles away, but I heard later that he died there. He was a grand fellow, cool and courageous like all Russians.
After Prome we withdrew to a place called Taungdwingyi, in Central Burma, where the Gloucesters were taken out of the line for a rest, as by this time all that was left of us was pretty worn out. Just before I left the Gloucesters I was sent for by GHQ and told that if I wanted to go out with the Battalion I had every right to do so, but as I knew the country and had old police friends and spies dotted about the place, would I mind staying on as Intelligence and Reconnaissance Officer?
I wanted to tell everyone to go to hell and that I was going out with the Gloucesters, I nevertheless had to tell a white lie and say, "Oh delighted! I would love to stop on." I was given Lieut. Peter Innis, formerly a Forest Officer in Steel Bros. in Burma, as my No. 2 and told to get out and find a lost Chinese battalion somewhere in the jungles that had not been of for 10 days, and bring them to Taungdwingyi; (we found the Chinese and brought them in).
Before we set out on this expedition I went over to say goodbye to the officers and men of the Gloucesters. The new CO's words: "Now you are leaving; if ever you come our way, drop in and see us. Once a Gloucester always a Gloucester."