In the absence of the Chairman, who is on holiday overseas, the meeting was opened by Bob Smith, the Vice Chairman. He commenced by welcoming all our visitors and apologising for the absence of the majority of our Committee, who are either overseas or called away on urgent business. In fact Bob was very much a one-man band that evening! After thanking Joan Marsh and Ivor Little for their work behind the scenes to make our Society meetings a success, Bob gave out the usual notices before introducing the first speaker for the evening.
This was Mr Klaus Kuhne who would speak on "The British Free Corps". Klaus was born in Cape Town and was a reporter with "Die Beeld" before taking a degree in Theology and writing a popular series of children's books. He has had a lifelong interest in Military History and served in the 10th Anti-Aircraft regiment at Youngsfield as a National Serviceman. He is currently Education Officer at Martin's Funerals.
The Britische Freikorps (BFC) was an element of the Waffen SS in the German Armed Forces during World War II and was made up of British citizens who, for various reasons of their own, had decided to fight on the side of Germany during that conflict. Klaus' interest in the BFC was first kindled as a teenager when he read a novel by Len Deighton entitled Horse Under Water that briefly mentions the unit. About two years ago, while browsing on the Internet, Klaus came upon a list of former members of the BFC as compiled by a Major Weale and noticed that some were South Africans. This piqued his curiosity and he decided to follow it up - hence this lecture. The BFC was neither British, nor free, nor a Corps and had a woeful history of non-achievement which has been well documented in other sources, so Klaus focused on the three South Africans listed by Weale. He found that two of these were tried for high treason in Cape Town in 1947, were found guilty, given a small fine and discharged. One was a Labuschagne, who subsequently joined the South African Police Force and served in the Western Cape. He is now deceased. The other was a Marden. Their trial elicited very little interest in South Africa at that time as the population wanted to forget the war and get on with their lives and it was mainly due to the SANDF Records Department that Klaus was able to find out anything at all about these men.
Their earlier careers before enlisting in the Union Defence Force are a mystery. Nothing is known about their personalities nor was the reason for them changing their allegiance ever determined. They were both prisoners of war in Germany at the time of their defection and Marden subsequently stated that he joined the German SS as a result of a German propaganda campaign for the prisoners to enlist and fight Soviet Communism. They were never in the front line and were never issued with ammunition and at no time fought against units of the Allied forces. In fact, with the advance of the Soviet forces, they surrendered to the advancing Americans at the earliest opportunity. The court found them guilty of "waging war against the Soviet Union" and imposed a paltry fine on each of them - a verdict which Marden unsuccessfully appealed against before disappearing into obscurity. The third man was Private William Johannes Celliers, who was very much a mystery man and, in addition to having possibly served in the BFC, may also have served in the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Like many other former SS men he quietly disappeared in 1945.
Klaus brought his talk to a conclusion by pointing out that although all the ingredients of a good thriller were present, i.e. mystery, high treason, war, the SS, the characters involved were so colourless that even he had given up on them!
Bob thanked him for an amusing and well presented talk and then introduced the next speaker.
This was Mr Tim Waudby who was born and raised in the UK before joining the British Army in 1940. He was appointed to the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and served on the North West Frontier and in Burma from 1942 to 1945. He was demobilised in 1946 and, after completing an interrupted apprenticeship and joining a large British engineering firm, he ultimately became Dealer Principal for Caterpillar in Tanzania. He moved to South Africa in 1967 and retired in 1986. The subject of Mr Waudby's lecture was "The Way Back - Burma 1943/45".
In a completely relaxed and informal manner, Tim Waudby began by explaining that he had attended a previous lecture at the Society detailing the British retreat in Burma during World War II and he had decided to tell us about the subsequent re-conquest of Burma by the British, in which he had taken part. Using excellent maps, Tim then proceeded to relate the adventures of Sergeant Waudby in Burma.
After the British were pushed out of Burma by the Japanese, in April/May 1942, they made an abortive counter attack in the Arakan Region of Burma in June and July of 1942. This resulted in a final border stretching across Burma from Coxes Bazaar in the South to Palel in the North. This was about the limit of the Japanese line of communication from Rangoon and both sides settled down to minor patrol activity in the area.
In the meantime, in April 1942, Tim had been assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers on the North West frontier of India. They left the Frontier in December and in January 1943 moved to the Central Province of India for jungle training that lasted until May. They then moved to Bihar for continued jungle training until August and then entrained for Madras. There the Battalion embarked on a ship for Chittagong, where they arrived in early September 1943, and after a four-day march arrived in Bawli Bazaar in Burma where they set up their Battalion Headquarters as part of the 7th Indian Division of the 14th Army.
Bawli Bazaar is between the Mayu Mountains and Naaf River and is an area of swamp, hills and jungle inhabited by the Maugs tribe who are mainly Muslim and whose loyalty was ambivalent. This was the scene of Tim's first action in Burma. There was a great lack of intelligence regarding Japanese troop movements and a reward of 2 000 rupees and two weeks leave in Calcutta was offered to the first troops to bring in a Japanese prisoner. This sparked great interest and when the locals brought in information that there was a Japanese observation post in Maungdaw, which was manned by two Japanese who arrived every morning and left again in the evening, a plan was hatched to collar these two. A patrol of 14 men was swiftly set up and travelled through the night to catch them in the morning. However, instead of the expected two Japanese a column of 50 Imperial Guardsmen came marching up! With these uneven odds an ambush was rapidly set up where, after one short blast of fairly effective fire, the British made themselves scarce - each man making his individual way back to HQ. Japanese losses were unknown but the patrol lost five men.
Another attempt was made by "A" Coy to grab a prisoner when a small party of Japanese were observed manning a feature known as "the Horseshoe", opposite them. The company attacked but were beaten off by superior numbers and artillery. During the attack their company commander, a Captain Bell, was wounded and rolled down the hill towards the Japanese lines. The next morning the Japanese staked him out in the full sun on the hill opposite where he was left to die, if he were not already dead.
In December 1943 the KOSB moved over Ngakedauk Pass (known to the troops as "Okeydokey" Pass), a mule track, and down into the Mayu Valley, also jungle and swamp. Here Tim was sent out as part of a two-man patrol to find out if the Japanese were occupying the hill opposite the company. Accompanied by a Corporal Ball, he climbed the hill and at the summit stumbled into a slit trench cluttered with a lot of equipment and occupied by a surprised Japanese sentry. Tim immediately shot him with his Tommy gun and then, following the example of Corporal Ball, turned to run back down the hill. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the ground, which was almost sheer, gave way beneath him and Tim tumbled rapidly down it and into a tidal creek at the bottom, landing up to his knees in thick mud! With the help of Ball he managed to extricate himself but on reporting back to his company commander, familiarly known as "Homicide Henry", he was invited to return and recover his Tommy gun that he had lost in his fall! This invitation was graciously declined.
The Battalion was then ordered to attack a major hill feature named "Able" which overlooked the Japanese line of communication between Buthidong and Maungdaw and through which the Japanese had put a series of tunnels. A night attack went in on 18th January 1944, which also happened to be Tim's birthday, and by day had fought its way to the summit by daylight. However, it took another 14 days of incessant Japanese counter-attacks (mainly at night), during which the Commanding Officer of the battalion was killed by friendly artillery fire dropping on their headquarters, before the position was finally secured. The battalion was then relieved by the 4/8 Ghurkhas and withdrawn for a rest period, which lasted only one day, before being sucked back into conflict as a Japanese force led by Colonel Tanahashi attempted to encircle and wipe out the British Division and so break through to Chittagong. After 18 days of vicious fighting, which included the famous Battle of the Admin Box, the Japanese suffered their first decisive defeat in Burma and were forced on to the defensive.
The KOSB were then placed back in Taung Bazaar for a rest period, but after only two days there, packed up for a night march over the Goppe Pass to Bawli Bazaar. From there they were trucked to Dohazari and then carried by train towards Assam, to join British forces attempting to stem a massive Japanese push northwards. This force had cut off Imphal and was attempting to reach India via Assam. The KOSB detrained at Silchar from where they were to be flown to Imphal, but heavy monsoon rains had left the aircraft mud-bound, so it was once again back onto a train to Sylhet, where there was an all-weather strip. On arrival at Imphal they found the landing strip was under continuous enemy fire, but they landed none the less and went straight into action.
After an initial reconnaissance patrol, during which a Japanese prisoner was taken, the battalion was ordered to take a large hill overlooking the Kohima/Imphal main road. They did a dawn frontal attack up a long grassy slope with two pipers skirling The Braes o'Mar and although the Japanese were ensconced in bunkers on the ridge, obtained the summit by that afternoon. This was followed by three days and nights of clearing the bunkers, using grenades, in incessant rain, before the battalion reformed at the foot of the hill to march to Ukhrul to attack a Japanese fort there. By this time Tim was suffering from both malaria and dysentery and, together with other wounded and sick, was left behind to await the battalion's return, spending their time in a leaky bamboo hut on starvation rations and kaolin.
This lasted for five days before they were picked up and the whole battalion was transferred by truck to a new base camp at Nerhima near Kohima. It was now September 1944 and the KOSB had been in continuous action for a year. The battalion was down to 60% of its strength and 80% of those were suffering from malnutrition and dysentery. To have a bit of a break, Tim was given charge of 50 men to take on 14 days leave in Calcutta but the party was struck by illness and only nine were able to return. The battalion spent three months in Nerhima being made up to strength and then on Christmas Day 1944 was once again sent south to pursue the by now retreating Japanese.
After an overnight stop in Palel, they pushed on to Sittaung for two weeks of training for a river crossing, before heading south through Gangaw, cutting the Japanese line of communication at Pauk, and then on to Yozayat in sight of the Irrawaddy River. The march had covered a distance of 170 miles at an average of 15/20 miles per day and under continuous skirmishing. Their supply was now mainly by airdrop and this enabled them to continue on with another 24 hour forced march through thick sand to Nyaungu where, in a collection of miscellaneous craft, they crossed the Irrawaddy (over a mile wide at that point) and established a beach head. The next day they launched an attack on Nakyo-Ang, a Japanese stronghold and Tim showed us a Japanese flag that he had taken from the body of a Japanese soldier he had shot. The campaign had now developed into a push south and leaving Nakyo-Ang the KOSB pushed on to the holy city of Pagan and then consolidated the British hold on the oil fields at Chauk. There they stayed for five days, recuperating, fishing for barbell and carrying out riverine patrols by kayak down the river to Yenangyaung.
This comparatively pleasant spell ended with a march to Kyauke and they re-crossed the Irrawaddy River on the night of 23/24 April 1945. At dawn they marched inland through swamp and jungle grass until they reached the Japanese line of communication to Salin, the Japanese headquarters. Here they set up a primitive road block and ambushed a small truck, loaded with a Japanese detail and 120 gallons of very welcome fresh drinking water. This was the pattern for the rest of the day as each Japanese party using the road was shot up. They were later joined by the first British tank that Tim had encountered in Burma and with this advanced in to Salin, which they found deserted.
The following day this tank was destroyed by a Japanese 75mm gun, with the loss of all except one crew member, in the course of a roadside Japanese ambush. The road was cleared in the skirmish which followed and the battalion pushed on to Singaung, by now clad in rags, short of supplies and in pouring monsoon rain. Marching and fighting they pushed on south to Minbu, had one rest day and then on to Kama. At this stage Tim was battling with a virulent ear infection and this became so bad that at Kama he was flown out to hospital on Ramree Island and from there to Dakar in Assam. After two years continuous fighting, with only a two-week break, Sergeant Tim Waudby's war was over.
After a question time, which revealed not only some very knowledgeable questions but also a captured pair of Japanese underpants, Tim was thanked by Bob for a fascinating, detailed and highly entertaining talk, and presented with a Society tie.
Bob then thanked Hamish Paterson for all his hard work as "stage manager" and setting up the facilities for every meeting before inviting the large audience present to refreshments and our usual book sale.
If your newsletter arrives by post on its own i.e. without the June 2007 Journal, please contact Joan Marsh at the letterhead address because it means she has no record of your having paid your subscription!!
As a further membership benefit you will find a copy of the Museum Despatches in your envelope, together with the June 2007 issue of the Military History Journal.
Hugh Sutherland sent this e-mail: Roland William Schikkerling's classic tale of guerrilla warfare during the Boer War, Commando Courageous - A Boer's Diary, which has been out of print for over forty years, is now available as an electronic book. Anyone interested can visit Igwababa.com for more details.
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