A BOY IN BURMA
CHARLES GERALD DELANY
PART ONE | PART TWO |
Delany family comprised, Sarah (Mother), and five children, Gerald aged
13, Doreen, 11, Peter, 8, Kenneth, 6, and Lavinia, ten months.
At approximately five thirty, the convoy left Maymyo arriving in Mandalay
in the late evening. We spent the night sleeping on the floor of Fort
Dufferin, which had been a Royal Palace. Early the following morning the
convoy continued its journey, and we were to hear later that Mandalay
and Fort Dufferin had been heavily bombed the morning we left.
Later that morning we were on the plains of Burma, which was very hot at this
time of year, the temperature could rise to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
in the shade. There was a great shortage of food and refreshments,
making it difficult for mothers with small children. With five children,
and Lavinia being the youngest at only ten months old, my mother must
have experienced great difficulty to manage this journey.
On the evening of the second day we arrived in Yenan Yaung a total
journey of 180 miles. In Yenan Yaung there was an abundance of bungalows
that had been abandoned by their owners at short notice, much as we had
left our bungalow in Maymyo. We found food and refreshments, which had
also been left in haste to flee the Japanese advance. This was our first
substantial meal since leaving Malmyo. At the time we did not appreciate
that moving so far south we were getting ever closer to the Japanese who
were advancing rapidly towards central Burma. The battalion at this time
was responsible for the protection of the demolition teams who had to
destroy all the oil installations in the area. This was necessary as
many local Burmese did not want to see them destroyed.
Early on the 10th March we continued our journey. We had covered approximately
twenty-five miles when we arrived at an airstrip. At this time we had no
idea where we were going, except we were being evacuated away from the
advancing Japanese. On the airstrip were a number of American Flying
Fortress B17s. We were quickly ushered into the fuselage of the
aircraft; it wasn’t long to take off. The aircraft was crewed by the
American Volunteer Group who had volunteered to fight for the Chinese
Government, not official airmen of the American Air Force.
At one point, machine guns, which I believe to be .5" Browning’s,
located in the side fuselage, opened fire on an attacking Japanese
aircraft, and sitting on the floor of the fuselage and to the side of
the guns I was showered with empty shell cases. I was able to obtain two
of these rounds which I kept for many years. The Japanese aircraft was
Landing in India we quickly learned that we were close to a town called Asansol,
west of Calcutta. Taken from the aircraft we were accommodated in native
huts [go downs] My mother was appalled and on behalf of all the families
concerned, objected strongly to this treatment. She was informed that
the authorities were not aware of who the passengers in the aircraft
were. We were quickly moved and billeted with coal miners or managers.
Their bungalows were quite magnificent, with swimming pools, tennis
courts, servants and mouth-watering food.
Our stay in Asonsol was to last some ten days, before we learned that we
would be moving to the north west of India. Food and water were in short
supply, occasional meals were provided in station restaurants. If meals
were not available there would be a mad dash to secure foodstuffs from
either the restaurants or shops at the station.
Arriving in Ralwalpindi in the north west of India, we were transferred to wooden
seated coaches for our onward journey to the Murree Hills Military
Station. Married quarters, which fortunately were vacant at the time,
were located in the village of Clifton, three or four miles from the
town centre. They were two storied brick buildings with running water
but no electricity, oil lamps being the only means of lighting. Money,
clothing, food and household items such as cooking utensils, were still
in short supply. Crockery, linen and blankets were issued from an Army
Store and Office.
The one concern among all families was the war progressing badly in Burma
and the whereabouts and welfare of the Battalion. Many rumours
circulated regarding the situation. The most serious one, which I
remember well, was that the battalion had been cut off and should be
considered lost. We were to learn later that being cut off was a fact
and that the message had been sent out by Army HQ in Delhi. It was in
fact in the area of Yenanyuang that the battalion was cut off, but
fortunately by that time the Chinese troops had arrived to help in the
conflict. They counter attacked and pushed the Japanese back and
relieved the battalion’s position. Soon after this engagement
Brigadier Orde Wingate formed his famous Chindits.
Many weeks passed before we heard from my father. On the 2nd June 1942 we
received a telegram saying he was safe and well and had crossed into
India almost five weeks after we had departed from Maymyo. This was a
tremendous relief for us but sad for those families who had lost
husbands and fathers – men that we had known for many years. The
Battalion had gone into action against the Japanese over 700 strong but
crossed over the Border into India with 85, all ranks, having completed
the 900-mile retreat. My father was the oldest soldier and oldest man to
survive this action.
The Army Commander, General Bill Slim, standing on a bank at the other side
of the road as the battalion moved past was to comment "All of them
were gaunt and as ragged as scarecrows yet they all trudged behind their
officers, they carried their arms and kept their ranks. They were still
a recognisable fighting unit, they may look like scarecrows but they
look like soldiers too." In the Rangoon Cathedral 123 names are
engraved on a plaque showing those killed in the Burma conflict with no
It was not long before we started to see some of those survivors coming to
Murree on leave. It was quite shocking to see their state of health. One
of the first I was to see was Sergeant Ernie Wood who had coached many
of us in the art of boxing and had organised many junior competitions
for us in Malmyo, he now looked no bigger than a small boy himself;
thin, haggard and yellow in colour.
As the RSM, my father was to be one of the last to take his leave. What a
home coming and relief after many anxious weeks of waiting. After his
leave my father returned to Assam to help in the reforming of the
Battalion. We were to spend the next eighteen months or so in the
delightful hill station, with an addition to the family, Ann, who was
born in Ralwalpindi Hospital on the 7th November 1943. As my mother was
taken into hospital some weeks before the birth my father came home on
leave to take care of the children and with the hospital some 40 miles
away it must have been disturbing being unable to receive visitors. It
is only as I write this story that I begin to realise the stress and
worry my mother and father must have suffered during the period this
short story covers.
Towards the end of January 1944, after almost eight years abroad in both India
and Burma, we were to commence our return journey to England. As with
most train journeys in India we faced yet again another two days from
Ralwalpindi to Bombay, but this time as a complete army family on an
official journey rather than as the evacuees we had been on our last
long journey. Food and refreshments were served at regular intervals
Arriving in Bombay we were housed in a hotel called the Namda Manzel, the whole
family living in one long large room with overhead fans at each end.
This was expected to be a short stay before embarkation on a troopship
but unfortunately my brother Kenneth developed pneumonia and was
admitted to hospital. Kenneth’s illness was to delay our departure by
some six weeks. Whilst on the one hand this was an unfortunate illness
we were lucky as the troopship we should have travelled on was torpedoed
and sunk in the Indian Ocean. Our hotel was close to the ocean and the
beach and this helped to cool the very high temperatures at the time.
All our meals were taken in an Army dining room some distance from the
hotel. To break the monotony of this army food father would take us to a
local Chinese restaurant two or three time a week. It was in Bombay that
I developed a liking for bread and jam, particularly apricot jam,
finishing off each meal with a slice or two. This habit was to stay with
me for many years causing much amusement and comment from the family.
Following Kenneth’s illness we waited embarkation impatiently and eventually we
were to embark on the P&O liner ‘Stratheden’ for our four weeks
journey home to England. As my father was a WOI we were allocated first
class accommodation, which proved to be quite comfortable. Food also
proved to be more than acceptable. At the first morning conference with
the Colonel commanding troops, all parents were warned to keep children
strictly under control and away from areas of the deck which could prove
dangerous. Should anyone, adult or child, be unfortunate to fall
overboard the ship would be unable to stop to effect a rescue.
Our journey across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea proved uneventful,
although sailing through the Red Sea I suffered my second experience of
severe sunburn sitting on deck with bare legs. My thighs became badly
burned and it was days before I could allow anything to touch them.
There was considerable excitement when passing through the Suez Canal
with much comment coming from troops on the banks suggesting that troops
on board should disembark and get their legs browned. This was quite
amusing, as all the servicemen on board had seen many years of service
either in India or Burma.
Travelling through the Mediterranean was uneventful apart from two incidents, the
first being an air raid alarm when all anti-aircraft guns were manned.
This turned out to be a false alarm as the aircraft proved to be
American. The second incident was to occur when passing through the
Straights of Gibraltar. It was well known fact that that Spaniards were
passing information to the Germans regarding shipping through the
Straights. To cover our convoys passage a smoke screen was laid by our
escort vessels. The first one I observed was a Corvette that appeared to
be thrown about like a cork. Much of the hull could be seen as it was
lifted out of the water. Onwards we travelled in convoy until we arrived
in Liverpool to face the hardship of rationing, blackouts and many other
wartime restrictions, a completely different lifestyle to the one we had
become accustomed to in the Far East. Our eight years away from England
had been a fantastic experience, the memory of which would last a
lifetime. We had been incredibly lucky and fortunate to escape capture
by the Japanese and apart from pneumonia, removal of tonsils in Maymyo
and severe sunburn, we experienced no serious illness or injury during
Charles G. Delany
PART ONE | PART TWO |