The main talk was given by Col. Dickie Bullen MC on his war experiences with V-Force in Arakan, Burma, 1942/44. Originally formed to collect intelligence of local conditions, enemy positions and movements, they did a sterling job under most difficult circumstances. Incredibly, quite often the reports they brought in were ignored and not acted upon, even when backed up by Japanese documents, perhaps out of inter-unit rivalry or plain ignorance. The terrain the British troops had to fight in was not only hilly, but often inaccessible and rough, and there were large stretches covered with thickets of bamboo and monster elephant grass, with the monsoon adding to the already hard living conditions. The narrow strip of coastal plain was populated by 2 main streams of mutually hostile people, divided by race, language and religion, which the members of V-force had to consider in their dealings with them. The Buddhists were pro-Japanese, the Muslims pro-British. The coast was cleft by creeks which had no bridges making progress slow, very often soldiers had to use dug-out canoes. Tramping the countryside for weeks, Dickie carefully built up a team of native assistant, dealing with a motley crowd of men, and sent detailed and reliable reports back to H.Q.
Unfortunately, his career in V-Force was cut short by dysentry, a not unexpected result of his hazardous living conditions and Major Holmes took over temporarily.
To describe the fighting between British and Japanese troops over Arakan is complex, often units fought back to front and not in regular lines, or battled it out for possession of individual villages, bunkers, camps and boxes. Often surprise more than anything could swing the fortunes of one side or the other.
The battle of the Ngakyedauk Pass serves as an example. In early morning hours and under cover of morning mists, 5 000 Japanese slipped through a narrow gap on the British flank and split into four "tentacles" to swing south and west, while a smaller group cut the main roads. They carried rations for only ten days, counting, as they often did, on seizing the large stock of British provisions when they retreated.
But the British did not pull out, and a remarkable battle took place. For three weeks they fought a day-and-night engagement against fanatical hordes of Japanese, who, when Indian divisions came to the rescue, found themselves encircled. They lost most of their men, and the rest struggled back or surrendered.
At last British, Indian and West African troops gained the upper hand in the fighting. However, the days of V-Force' independence were over, H.Q. wanted them on a leash and ignored the valuable work they had done. Dickie, who had been working in the south, was wounded when his jeep was mortared and, after spending some time in hospital, returned to the U.K.
Major Tony Gordon thanked our speaker for a most interesting lecture, and a lively question time followed.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167