7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment in Burma 1944-45
Since leaving England, the 7th Battalion have served under six Commanding Officers. The present C.O., Lieut.-Col. C. A. Street, was originally in the South Staffordshire Regiment. He joined the battalion a few days after the road to Imphal was re-opened. Prior to that, Major J. B. Brierley had been in Command. He was an old friend of the Battalion, having done several attachments to us at our annual training camps, and has been with the Battalion since June 1940. Of the six Company Commanders, four are original Officers of the Battalion on mobilisation in September 1939. They are as follows :
"A" Company .... Major R. S. H. Watson.
"B" Company ... Capt. E. R. W. Tooby.
"C" Company ... Major F. G. Burrell, M.C.
"D" Company ... Major H. Elliott, M.C.
"H.Q." Company ... Major J. S. Boyt, T.D.
"Admin. Company " Capt. R. H. K. Evers.
There was still have good percentage of N.C.O.'s and men who were in the Battalion at the outbreak of war and before. The senior N.C.O.'s include the following :-
R.S.M. H. Brain (ex-P.S.I. to the Battalion).
C.S.M. A. Buckley (H.Q.). R.Q.M.S. J. Mountford (Admin.)
C.S.M. H. Matthews (C.). C.S.M. R. Teague (D.). C.S.M. A. Chapman (Admin.). C.Q.M.S. J. Flanagan (H.Q.). Sgt. J. White, D.C.M. (A.).
During the hostilities the battalion was awarded three M.C.'s, one D.C.M., two M.M.'s and two Certificates of Gallantry. In memory of those killed, the Pioneer Platoon constructed a carved memorial, which was set up on the scene of the most successful of the Battalion's operations. Headed by the Regimental Crest, every name-is carved into the woodwork. The Memorial was unveiled by the Divisional Commander.
Major F. G. Burrell
receiving the Military Cross
Major R. S. H. Watson
Major F. G. Burrell
Major H. Elliott
Captain E. R. W. Tooby
During the operations many trophies were collected, the best being a Japanese 75 mm. gun complete, except for sights. We hope to send this home eventually.
C.S.M. J. J. White, D.C.M. with collection of Japanese weapons
Major F. G. Thomson, another original member of the Battalion, left and was posted as 2 i/c of another Battalion.
7th Battalion men assembled on Mount Popa, west of Meiktila
gathered round a radio set to hear news of “the other war”
THE 7TH BN. THE WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT
The following three letters from senior officers add to the reputation the 7th Battalion attained in the fighting in Burma.
From Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Stocker. 20th April, 1944.
Dear Brigadier-General Grogan,
I write to give you the news of the battalion, which is now in contact with the Japanese on the Indo-Burma border.
I am proud to be able to say that we have done well and the men have fully earned the congratulatory messages, which I have recently received from our higher commanders. We have certainly killed a lot of these foul Japanese.
All ranks are in fine fettle and have more than upheld the Regimental Motto.
Until appointed to command the battalion on April 1st, I was Brigade Major of this Brigade. I therefore knew the Battalion well and, although all my previous service, apart from periods on the Staff, had been with the 24th, I have never been so pleased or proud as I was and am to get command of this fine battalion.
My predecessor, Francis Versfeld, has gone as chief instructor at an officers' school. He has left a well-trained and thoroughly "happy" battalion in my care, and to him is due the greatest credit for the past years of hard training which are now bearing fruit.
I hope you will excuse this short letter, but we are very busy. I will write again soon and give you all such further details as censorship will allow.
All ranks join me in sending you their best wishes and the hope that we may soon finish this end of the war and join you in a reunion at Home.
Yours very sincerely,
A. J. STOCKER, Lt.-Col.
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From Lieut.-Colonel Charles Street. 2nd July, 1944.
I have been appointed as commanding officer to the 7th Bn., as you may know already. It is grand to find myself in such a happy and efficient show. They are quite the best regiment I have been with since the war. I hope this will not sound excessive, but appears to me to be so. I have done all my service with the South Staffordshire Regiment up to a few months ago, so I know the Midlander well. The Bn. has done particularly well in the recent fighting and I got particularly good reports from both the G 1 and the Brigadier. I hope I shall be able to live up to the high standard so far set.
(Unhappily Lieut.-Col. Charles Street was killed later on while in command of the battalion.)
From Brigadier F. V. S. Hawkins. 8th Sept., 1944.
My dear General,
For the last twenty months (up till May last) .1 have been commanding the — Inf. Bde. One of the battalions in the Brigade was the 7th Bn. The Worcestershire Regiment (T.A.).
Unfortunately for me I got hit last May and so have had to give up command of the Brigade. I want, therefore, to write and tell you, as their Colonel, how well this battalion of your regiment did and how much I admire them. We had a long and never-ending period of training, over 18 months, during which we never let up There was every excuse for a battalion to get browned off. They went on working like Beavers. When eventually their time came and we got on Active service at last, they were quite magnificent They were actually the first battalion of this Brigade, and; in fact of the Division, into action against the Japs. They made first contact. From then on they never put a foot wrong. Any Jap who, tried fun and games with them was very sorry afterwards, if he was alive to be sorry. Since I left them I have heard that they have gone on their way rejoicing in exactly the same way, and one attack they did by themselves has been held up as "a model of tactics."
All I can say is they never put a foot wrong and they never failed. They gave me the utmost confidence and their spirit of aggression and pride in themselves was grand.
I hope you don't mind my writing to you about them like this, but I was so proud of them. I felt I should write and tell you so. They were grand chaps and I shall never forget them. I am very proud to have had the privilege of having them under my command.
VICTOR F. S. HAWKINS, Brigadier.
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JUNGLE ORDEAL - WORCESTER OFFICER'S EXPERIENCE
Strength, stamina, courage and, above all, unfailing patience—these are the qualities demanded of the British soldier fighting in the jungles of South-East Asia. That he possesses these in full measure is amply illustrated in this story told to me by an officer of the 7th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment which played a prominent part in raising the siege of Kohima and clearing the vital Dimapur-Imphal road.
Captain I. S. Spalding
The officer is Captain I. S. Spalding, formerly living at The Grange, Bromwich Road, Worcester, who describes an exciting episode during the battle of Kohima.
He told me:
"The plan was a simple one, a company of the Worcestershires was to set off by night, guided by Naga tribesmen, to cut across the Merema road and occupy a dominating hill on the other side. The road was important because it was the only supply route between Kohima-Merema and Bokejan, and the Japs were making extensive use of it.
"C" Company, under Major Burrell, M.C. (of Edinburgh), was chosen for this task and at eight o'clock at night we set out. The pace was necessarily slow because we had to move along goat tracks slippery with mud.
"As the crow flies, I don't suppose the journey was more than four or five miles and we reckoned it would take us till about midnight, but midnight came and we were still plodding along. Time passed and the company commander began to grow anxious; then at two o'clock word came back that the Naga guides had lost the track and could not go on.
"Detecting a certain shakiness in front, I went up to see if there was anything wrong. The column had broken and one platoon had disappeared into the blue, or rather the black. Dawn was rapidly approaching and suddenly a burst of machine-gun fire came from our left. I heard a voice I knew—that of our company sergeant-major. He was a link between the broken halves of the company.
Dawn Was breaking and still we had not reached the road, so the company commander decided to stay where we were on a round-topped jungle-covered hill, lie low till dark and then push on. We couldn't be very far from our objective, but the risk of travelling by daylight was too great.
"It was a pretty grim situation and the men were fully aware of. its seriousness. Nevertheless, though tired, they were quite cheerful.
"The C.S.M. had slipped down the cliff side, bruised his back and, worse still, broken his false teeth.
"There we lay for what seemed like endless hours. The sun came up, water bottles were emptied by and mid-day our throats were parched. Tentative crawlings revealed the road only three hundred yards away below us. One patrol spotted half-a-dozen Japs not more than 10 yards away.
"It was obvious that there was water in the deep nullah on the other side of the road, so I took a patrol loaded with as many water bottles as we could carry. We reached the bottom of the hill and then had to dive for cover. Nearly a company of Japs were marching past, three or four deep, with mules and full kit. That ended all attempts to get water.
"We knew that if we were discovered the Brigade would be imperilled. Guides went back for the main body, and early next morning they moved in. The company commander and I went to investigate. They were Japs, quite oblivious to the fact that we were there too—cooking breakfast in a huge aluminium dixie and talking and laughing.
"The Major, armed with pistol and grenades and accompanied by one man, went round the left, and I, accompanied by another man, to the right. .A full view revealed half-a-dozen Japs and as many mules and loads of kit. It was obviously a supply point on the route.
"We wriggled our way to within a few yards. The Major contributed his grenades towards the breakfast and we let go with all we had. It was all over in a twinkling. The mules were brought back alive and everyone in the company had souvenirs varying from Jap riding boots to regimental flags."
WORCESTERS' PLAQUE ON AVA BRIDGE
(By a S.E.A.C. Military Observer)
The troops who fought and defeated the Japanese holding the east end of Ava bridge, near Mandalay, belonged to a company of the Worcestershire Regiment, commanded by Major R. H. S. Watson, of Kidderminster, Worcestershire.
To commemorate the occasion, the C.O. has bolted to the bridge a plaque which reads :
East End Captured by 7th Btn. The Worcestershire Regiment, 17 Mar. 1945.
The capture entailed a bold crossing of the Myitnge river, which flows into the Irrawaddy at Ava, after a daring reconnaissance by an officer and a B.O.R. of the Worcesters.
Then followed a short but dangerous approach march up the steep bank and the destruction of a strong enemy position at the entrance to the bridge itself.
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"Daily Herald," dated 5th March, 1945.
WHY OUR SOLDIERS FACED BULLETS IN VAIN :
DUNKIRK BOATS TOO ROTTEN TO CROSS IRRAWADDY
FROM ARTHUR HELLIWELL
MANDALAY FRONT, February 25th (delayed), 1945.
Zero hour was 9.30, and we were to move off in ninety minutes' time. Before midnight we hoped to be safely across the Irrawaddy. There had been other crossings, but this one was different. We were going over closer to Mandalay than any troops had done before. The bridgehead we were to form would be within 30 miles of the city, and two days previously the General had promised me that once on the opposite bank, his British troops would " go like the hounds of hell."
I sat chatting to Captain Leslie Bailey, of Epsom, and men of the Worcester Regiment, in whose boat I was to travel.
Then it was time to leave. There was a last search of pockets for letters and other incriminating papers, and a final check of weapons. The colonel's batman helped me on with my pack and Mae-West, and handed me pick and shovel to dig my foxhole on the other side.
"Good luck, sir," he said.
We formed up in companies in the shadows of a banana grove. There was a rattling of rifle bolts, whispered orders, and then we were off, our shadows marching darkly with us along the dusty road. The moon was high and bright and it glinted coldly on our steel and drenched the countryside in silver light. The night was alive with the high-pitched shrilling of insects, and somewhere a long way off a jackal yelped.
Presently, as gunfire began to flicker along the horizon, we reached our boats. They were drawn up under cover 600 yards from the river bank.
We split up, 12 men to a boat, and began to carry them forward through rustling, shoulder-high sweet corn. It was hard work, for the boats were heavy and 50-yard spurts were all we could manage. In between we rested for three-minute spells, breathing hard and pressing our sweating faces into cool, sweet-smelling grass.
And then we came out on to the sands, flat and bare and white as the moon's face, running the 300 yards to the water's edge.
When we walked out on to them we felt as conspicuous as flies on a plate could look to right and to left and see how plainly we were etched against the shore.
The Japs were just across the river, and we knew damn well that if they were awake they must be able to see us. Now, when we rested between spurts, we lay flat and prayed, with faces pressed into sand. For the first time- that night, but not the last, I felt afraid. THIS WAS IT !
We came at last to the river and waded forward to launch our boat. Then we clambered in and knelt, waiting paddles poised and dripping. This was it. Zero hour was ten seconds off. We started in a long straight line paddling noiselessly, ears strained and eyes searching the dark shoreline.
Suddenly, when we were in midstream, there was a single vicious crack, followed by a sound like calico tearing, as machine-guns opened up. Someone shouted "They've seen us! Paddle like hell, boys!"
And then from the Colonel's boat came a cool crisp order, "Start up the outboards."
In our stern men fiddled and swore, but nothing happened, and we paddled furiously with bullets whining like angry bees over our heads. Two thudded into the boat and I felt a gush of cold water against my legs.
To right and left of us other boats were sinking under the men as they paddled. The commanding officer's boat had sunk too, and the water ahead was dotted with bobbing heads.
Boats were sinking faster than you could count them, and the rest of us were milling around in confusion as motors failed to start and the current carried us towards the Jap guns.
One youngster threw up his hands and shouted, "For God's sake save me," as we drifted past, but we were helpless. Other drowning men were clinging to our boat, and soon it was obvious that with so many boats sunk we could never hope to force a landing. BACK TO THE SANDS.
And so we turned back. We were luckier than most. We managed to reach the shore by wading waist deep in the ice-cold river, but scores of others struggled out drenched from head to foot and near exhaustion.
We scattered over the sands, trying to dig in with our elbows and knees. Bullets whipped around us. Everywhere men were swearing —cursing slowly and deliberately as they lay there.
You couldn't blame them. These men had been eager for a scrap. They were crack British Infantry, and all they could do was cower helplessly on that exposed beach.
The man next to me kept clenching and unclenching his fists. "If only we could get at the bastards," he kept repeating. "If we'd had decent boats, nothing would have stopped us."
This was true enough. The boats were five years old. They had gone to France and back with these boys in the dark days of Dunkirk, and out here they had rotted in the scorching sun. Seventeen sank, some riddled with bullet holes, it is true, but many were gaping at the seams before we were halfway across.
Farther down the river other units of the Camerons and Royal. Welch Fusiliers were fighting their way ashore against heavy Jap resistance, and as we lay on the sands, pinned down by Jap cross-fire, we heard that they had made it.
That was good news, but it made our own pill the more bitter to swallow.
"They'll think we've let them down," said young Jimmy Spencer, of the Orkneys, who had crawled up beside me.
Later that night, after we had withdrawn from the sands, I went out with the stretcher party to bring in our wounded. .Fortunately, casualties were miraculously light.
One lad recognised me as I helped carry him back. Blood was soaking through his blankets from a smashed leg, but he raised himself on one elbow to talk.
"It wasn't our fault," he said. "We weren't afraid of bullets. It was those bloody boats that let us down."
I spent the rest of the night drying out and resting in a first aid post. There was a bullet hole neatly drilled through my bush hat.
NOT THEIR FAULT.
I shall not need that to remind me of our attempted crossing. I shall not easily forget those men struggling in water, and the wounded who lay cursing angrily on their stretchers because they had not had a chance to fight.
"Tell the folks at home we were not to blame," said one. So I've tried to do as he asked.
Now, as I write, our bridgehead is firm. Tanks, guns, bulldozers, men and supplies are pouring across the water and the Japs are going back. It has been a success, but it might so easily have been failure. Only the gallantry and determination of the British Infantry men of Major-General Nicholson's Second Division turned the scales.
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The following account of the 7th Battalion's First of June 1945 parade is taken from the paper SEAC :—
The Seventh Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment stands on parade.
The field is a levelled paddy farm. It is an hour from noon, the sun pours down upon the slouch-hatted troops, and the sweat pours off them. Not a cloud drifts across the domed oven that is the sky. The Inspecting General marches to the dais. The Colonel roars "Battalion! General Salute! Present Arms! Slap, Crash, Stamp. And then the band.
The Inspecting Officer is General Sir Richard O'Connor, G.O.C.in-C., Eastern Command, K.C.B., D.S.O., M.C., a dapper, brisk and energetic figure.
The Battalion Commander is Lieut.-Colonel Irvine, D.S.O., T.D. (Cameronians), an athletic Scot; which he needed to be to swim the Irrawaddy in full kit under fire.
The troops who stand so steady have been fighting in the jungle and desert for 14 months, marching a thousand miles, driving the enemy before them. So they haven't had much time to brush up their square-bashing. But they are " firm " here, as they were there, on the road to Mandalay, which is what their regimental motto proudly claims they always will be.
When he has passed along the ranks of the Worcesters, O'Connor calls the troops around him, tells them that years ago in Palestine a Worcestershire platoon on recce saved his life, "for which I am very grateful to you, gentlemen." He reminds them of their magnificent regimental tradition, and how they set a fashion as long ago as 1794 in "Combined Ops" when they sailed to victory in Admiral Lord Howe's fleet at the great battle of the Glorious First of June.
Thus it is the Worcestershire carry on their colours the device of the naval crown, superscribed "1st June, 1794." This is their regimental day.
Kohima, Viswema, Maram, Myingatha, Shwebo, the Irrawaddy bridgehead, Sagaing and Ava bridge are milestones on their road to Burma glory.
"We needed men with your calibre to do the job," says O'Connor, "and we got 'em."
"Now, when you leave the Army, you should be good citizens as you have been good soldiers," says the General, adding that he knows everyone will be very sorry to leave the Army, at which there is what the old-time reports used to describe as "laughter and polite applause."
The General wishes them all good luck, and then it is Hats Off and Three Cheers for the General, and one more for Good Old Worcester.
Then, after it's all over and officers and men have finished for the morning, and the band outside the Mess is playing Royal Windsor (the Regimental March), the camp stands to attention.
The citizen-soldiers would naturally like to go home and be just citizens, but how great and justified their pride as soldiers.
The 7th Bn. are now resting in Southern India.
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The following extracts are from a letter sent to the Colonel of the Regiment by Major General. C. G. G. Nicholson, C.B., C.B.E , D.S.O., M.C., Commander 2nd Division, 21st September, 1945:
I have known the battalion (7th) for the last sixteen months, as I took over command of the Division just after their most successful action on the Maram Spur in May 1944. Since then they have been in the thick of the fighting with 5th Infantry Bde. throughout. They were up against an extremely tough problem at the crossing of the Irrawaddy in February 1945. Through no fault of their own, their initial attempt failed, but they made a most gallant recovery, not only crossing the river within the next 24 hours, but also to carry out a successful full scale battalion attack immediately after crossing. I shall always remember this as one of the most rapid recoveries I have seen in battle.
It is with the greatest regret that I lose them from the Division, but I am sure they will retain their connections with the 2nd Division for all time.
7th Battalion erected a signpost at Stonehenge Camp, between Imphal and Kohima, Nov. 1944 (Photo IWM SE2955)