Don Moser, ed. China-Burma-India. New York: Time-Life.
The men who fought in Burma were up against one of the world's
worst climates and some of its most forbidding terrain. They
had to scale jagged mountains, hack their way through almost
impenetrable jungles, cross swiftly flowing rivers and pass over
dusty plains where temperature ranged as high as 130° F.
Some units were forced to beat their way through razor-sharp
elephant grass; others, using roads, found their way blocked
by mounds of debris pushed up by the Japanese. In the mountains,
the roads were sometimes so narrow that tanks crept along with
half the outside track hanging over the edge.
The monsoon added its own torments to the fighting. In some
places it rained as much as 15 inches a day, and soldiers were
mired up to their calves in porridge-thick mud. Diseases and
vicious biting and stinging insects were rampant. Men came down
with malaria, dengue fever, cholera, scabies, yaws, mite typhus
and dysentery. At one point casualties from tropical illness
outweighed those from combat by a ratio of 14 to 1, with malaria
accounting for 90 per cent of the cases. Swarms of black flies
drove men to frenzy. After heavy rains, trees and bushes became
so heavily laden with bloodsucking leeches that one officer described
the foliage as looking like a "wheat field waving in the
S. Seagrave. Burma Surgeon Returns.. Norton: New York,
We soon found that it was also a no man's land with regard
to climate. Assam has the world's heaviest rainfall but at least
the rain has sense enough to fall in season. Burma weather is
beautifully regular. But that of Hukawng follows no rules whatsoever.
It makes all its own climate and every bit of it wrong. July
was supposed to be the rainy season, so we had weeks of beautiful
weather. We shivered in Tagap in the hot season. As we marched
along it was the middle of the dry season, so it poured steadily
for a month. This was the country through which Stilwell's engineers
had to build their road from Ledo to China, and build it without
hard rock with which to surface it---nothing but clay and soft
Through these torrents of rain the Chinese had marched down
the Refugee Trail two days ahead of us and with animal transport.
As a result we were continually to our knees in mud even when
going up the steepest of hills. At every step you had to yank
your leg out of the mud with an angry suck and sink it in to
the knee again as you put it down. Stilwell's pace, with a ten-minute
rest every hour, had to be abandoned at once. We were lucky when
we didn't stop for oxygen every ten minutes. And when the deep
mud no longer hampered us we growled inwardly at the lack of
mud, for then the path, sloping in every direction at once, was
so slippery that we were continually negotiating the road on
our behinds. Ground leeches were everywhere. I had always thought
people were exaggerating when they claimed that leeches could
suck a man to death, but I'm sure that many of the refugees must
finally have succumbed to leeches.
N. Dupuy, ed. Asiatic Land Battles: Allied Victories in China
and Burma. New York: Franklin Watts. 1963.
There were two reasons why Stilwell and British General Wavell
decided to wait until the fall of 1943 to begin their reconquest
of Burma. In the first place, they knew that it would take about
a year to build up strength to prepare their defeated troops
for a new offensive operation. Secondly, the climate of Southeast
Asia is such that heavy and continuous monsoon rains make military
operations almost impossible for half of every year. The rains
begin in May and last into October, so the Allies planned to
complete their preparations in time to start back into Burma
when the dry weather began around November, 1943.
In the meantime, Wavell decided to try to restore the confidence
of British troops by two small operations in the coming dry season
of 1942-43. In the first of these, one division was to make a
limited offensive in the coastal region of southwestern Burma
known as the Arakan. The Japanese had very few troops in the
Arakan, and because of mountains and lack of roads they would
not be able to send in reinforcements easily. But the British
advance in the Arakan in December, 1942, was too slow and too
cautious. The Japanese sent reinforcements, then counterattacked,
and early in 1943 they drove the British back to the Indian frontier.
Scott Gilmore. A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurka Rifles.
A Burma Memoir. Brassey's: London, 1995.
When Gilmore's 4th Battalion is finally deemed ready to be
put to the test as part of General Bill Slim's Fourteenth Army,
it plunges into battle in the jungle-covered mountains of the
Indo-Burmese border. He and his comrades fight their way across
the dry plains of central Burma, execute a dangerous crossing
of the mile-wide Irrawaddy River, and press on to Rangoon, enduring
a hostile climate and tenacious Japanese opposition. As Gilmore
moves up in responsibility to company commander and engages in
night reconnaissance patrols and set-piece attacks, his experiences
give a forceful picture of the fighting in one of the most difficult
and remote theaters of World War II.
Brett-James. Ball of Fire. The Fifth Indian Division in the
Second World War. Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1951.
"The Medical Services of the Division, under the A.D.M.S.,
Colonel D. Panton, had great problems to face and overcome. Along
the Tiddim Road the Field Ambulances took up a new function.
Because the road had been closed behind, and no casualties could
be evacuated, the Main Dressing Stations became Field Hospitals
with a hundred or more beds. Feeding utensils were held only
for the authorized twenty-four patients. Though expanded in this
way, the hospitals had still to remain mobile and follow the
Division at each stage of its advance. And this could only be
achieved by opening as far forward as possible, closing as the
rearguard overtook them, and then leap-frogging one another.
Jeep ambulances, some of them driven with great skill and daring
by volunteers of the American Field Service, proved a success,
for they could go in places barred to the ordinary ambulance.
Yet, for all their mobility, these jeeps gave an exceedingly
rough ride across the ground where they. alone could be used,
and such journeys exhausted the sick and were hell to the wounded.
The sole alternative---hand carriage on stretchers---was too
slow and wasteful of man power."
A. Tegla Davies. Friends Ambulance Unit. The Story of the
F.A.U. in the Second World War, 1939-1946. London: Allen
and Unwin, 1947.
Before the first main party of reinforcements for the Middle
East had left England in July 1941, before the first clinic had
been opened in Syria, over a year before the section arrived
in Ethiopia, four members of the Unit had landed in Rangoon.
A vast new field was open, and the challenge of China's suffering
millions evoked from the Unit a wholehearted response. There
was never any difficulty in finding volunteers for China. And
internally the China Convoy, with members drawn from many nations,
provided an invaluable opportunity for demonstrating international
co-operation in the relief of human need.
In the summer of 1942 the threat of Japanese raids took a
smaller section to Calcutta. No serious raids developed, but
flood and famine supervened. The Unit was faced with urgent and
exacting demands. Here too, collaboration with American Friends
enhanced the value of what work was done.
So immense was the need in China and India that the efforts
of less than two hundred men and women over four or five years
were in some ways little more than a gesture of goodwill. But
they were a gesture, and that in a field in which the sowing
of goodwill and understanding were of paramount importance.
John Frederick Muehl. American Sahib.. New York: John
John Muehl saw India as few Americans, few Britons, and few
Indians ever have the chance to see it. He was with the American
Field Service, attached to the British Indian Army, and wore
British uniform. "I could travel the length and breadth
of the country, with the blessing of the Raj but without its
stigma. I was a 'pukah sahib' in the Poona Club, a tommy in the
Lady Lumley Canteen, an American tourist in Gorpuri Bazaar, and
simply a friend to Raman and Singh."
He mingled with the Sikhs and Gurkhas and other Indians who
fought under the British not for love of empire or for hate of
Japan but for their board and keep. "Nay British sahib---American
sahib," he would say when Indians showed reluctance to talk
with him. Admiration for America was great enough---though it
turned to suspicion by the end of this war in which America seemed
to make common cause with the Raj---so that this phrase usually
broke down the barrier. And AMERICAN SAHIB is John Muehl's journal
of a year. It is an inside story of appalling poverty, famine,
and political ferment among the Indians, and of bungling, brutality,
and hypocrisy on the part of the British rulers. Fortunately
for the reader, the dark picture is lightened with humor and
with a sense of the patient philosophy that sustains India.
S. Seagrave. Burma Surgeon.. Norton: New York, 1943.
The United States Army speaks of these girls of ours as Seagrave's
Burmese nurses. The nurses are not Burmese. Only Than Shwe is
Burmese. But I don't mind. The other girls were born Karen, Shan,
Kachin, Taungthu, and so forth, but we wouldn't tolerate their
remaining Taungthu, Kachin, Shan, and Karen. We wouldn't tolerate
any race differentiation. They had to be bigger than their race
or we had no further use for them. At first Kachin would clique
with Kachin and Shan with Shan. The old man didn't approve. He
fought them tooth and nail. The head nurses would report errors
of conduct of girls of other races, not of their own. The old
man would disgrace himself by getting downright angry. An occasional
Karen would start chumming with a Shan, a Kachin with a Taungthu.
The old man would praise them from the pulpit on Sunday when
it was his turn to preach. Now race has nothing to do with any
of them. They are much bigger than their race. Little Bawk and
Chit Sein, Kachin and Shan. When Bawk goes off on sick leave
Chit Sein mopes around and. gets sick herself. The Shan girl
can't live without the Kachin. Koi and Saw Yin, Shan and Karen.
Roi Tsai and Lu Lu, Kachin and Karen. Lu Lu thought I didn't
approve of her friendship with Roi Tsai, and for months she couldn't
work, until the matter was straightened out. Kyang Tswi and Esther,
Kachin and Karen. United by a wholehearted decision that our
fellow worker Paul Geren was a present-day incarnation of God,
they couldn't be separated.
J.H. Williams. Elephant Bill.. Rupert Hart-Davis: London,
IN the XIVth Army our soldiers varied in colour from white,
through every shade of yellow and brown, to coal black. The animals
we used reflected a similar variety. Pigeons, dogs, ponies, mules,
horses, bullocks, buffaloes and elephants, they served well and
faithfully. There were true bonds of affection between men and
all these beasts, but the elephant held a special place in our
esteem. It was not, I think, a matter of size and strength. It
was the elephant's dignity and intelligence that gained our real
respect. To watch an elephant building a bridge, to see the skill
with which the great beast lifted the huge logs and the accuracy
with which they were coaxed into position, was to realise that
the trained elephant was no mere transport animal, but indeed
a skilled sapper.
I could never judge myself how much of this uncanny skill
was the elephant's own and how much his rider's. Obviously it
was the combination of the two which produced the result, and
without the brave, cheerful, patient, loyal Burmese oozie our
elephant companies could not have existed. And we should have
had no oozies had it not been for men like "Elephant Bill"
and his assistants. It was their jungle craft, elephant sense,
dogged courage, and above all the example they set, which held
the Elephant Companies together under every stress that war,
terrain and climate could inflict on them.
They built hundreds of bridges for us, they helped to build
and launch more ships for us than Helen ever did for Greece.
Without them our retreat from Burma would have been even more
arduous and our advance to its liberation slower and more difficult.
We of the XIVth Army were---and are---proud of our Elephant Companies
whose story "Elephant Bill" tells so modestly but so
Bonham. Burma Rifles.. Crowell: New York, 1960. [fiction]
At Margherita, he left the plane. "You can catch a ride
with one of the trucks going down The Road," the pilot told
He wandered from the field in search of the motor pool, feeling
lost. Trucks slammed through their gears, careening up and down
the road. He saw engineer and signal outfits drilling with their
special equipment, and a few combat units in the field. An ambulance
with a red cross on its top lumbered in and headed for the hospital---the
only area Jerry knew.
He asked several men where the Second Battalion was, and all
gave him the same answer: Second had gone "down The Road."
Everyone referred to "The Road." The construction of
the Ledo Road was easily the most important project of its kind
at the time in Burma. Important or not, it was up to him to find
his own outfit on The Road. There had been a couple of battles
down The Road already---at villages bearing the exotic names
of Nzang Ga and Lanem Ga. Details were few. The actions hadn't
amounted to much, it was said. Only a few dead.
At Ledo, Jerry caught a ride with a Chinese truck driver leaving
for Shing, as the troops around Margherita called the village
of Shingbwiyang, near General Stilwell's jungle headquarters.
They had not gone a hundred yards when he became convinced that
he would never survive the ride. The Chinese soldier drove furiously,
a cigarette fuming in his lips like a punk-stick, changing gears
with a shrill scream of metal teeth, and frequently running so
close to the edge of the cliff that clods of red earth were thrown
over. It was no comfort to see the rusting hulks of trucks which
had gone over.
Masters. A Road Past Mandalay. Bantam: New York, (1961)1979.
Burma still contained thousands of enemy, but they were retreating
ahead of us, fighting tenaciously all the while as only Japanese
can, and trudging along side paths and tracks through the jungles
while Slim launched his spearhead straight down the main road
towards Rangoon. Pete and I were there one sunny morning on the
outskirts of Meiktila, our jeep parked well off the road, when
Bill Slim personally let slip the final advance. I had not seen
him close to since Persia, three and a half years earlier, but
he said, "How's it going, Jack? Pete driving you mad?"---and
then I stood back, wishing I had a camera, as Slim, 4 Corps Commander
(Frank Messervy), and three divisional commanders watched the
leading division crash past the start point. The dust thickened
under the trees lining the road until the column was motoring
into a thunderous yellow tunnel, first the tanks, infantry all
over them, then trucks filled with men, then more tanks, going
fast, nose to tail, guns, more trucks, more guns---British, Sikhs,
Gurkhas, Madrassis, Pathans, Americans---young men of the American
Field Service, the most popular and admired group in the Army.
John Patrick. The Hasty Heart. Comedy-Drama in Three Acts,
SCENE: The interior of a hut (basha) which is being used as
a convalescent ward in a temporary British General Hospital somewhere
within the South East-Asia Command.
The masking border which comes below proscenium arch is uneven
and is painted to look like thatch.
There are three doors. One, D. L. opening on, leads to the
outside. When this door is opened we see above it a cook-shed
with its own door opening into the shed. The roof of the cook-shed
extends to what would be the downstage wall of the hut, thus
forming a porch. On the edge of this roof we can see the edging
of the thatching. Beyond the porch we see the jungle. There is
a low door U. C., opening off into the Nurse's office, a shed
attached to the back wall of the hut. On the wall of this office
is a bulletin board to which are attached various reports and
orders. There is a door U. R., opening off into a shed, which
is the lavatory.
There are three windows: One U. L. C., one U. R. C., and one
D. R. below the lavatory. Through this window we can see the
mud wall of the lavatory. It is covered with a tropical vine.
Through the up-stage windows we see the jungle [a painted drop,
with clumps of bamboo bushes in the foreground]. The windows
have large overlapping bamboo shutters hung on the outside. They
are opened or closed by means of a long bamboo pole attached
to the inside, C. of the shutter. This pole fits into a niche
in outside window-sill, thus supporting the shutter when opened.
The bottom of the walls of the hut has a wainscoting of horizontal
strips of bamboo. Above this wainscoting is woven bamboo matting,
attached to the large poles of bamboo which run from the floor
to the roof. The roof of the hut is thatch [painted burlap],
and slopes from the front down toward the back. A large bamboo
pole runs across the hut from the L. wall to the R. wall over
the beds toward their head. From this pole various smaller bamboo
poles form braces for the side walls and the roof. From this
pole are hung mosquito nettings over each bed. These nettings
are attached by tape to a wire ring. The wire rings are attached
by wire to the back wall to keep them from swinging too freely.
At the back of each wire ring are two loops of tape. When the
matting is rolled up these loops are used to support each end
of the rolled net.