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War Experiences in Nigeria and Burmaicon for Recommended story

by Julie Salmon

Contributed by 
Julie Salmon
People in story: 
John William Moore
Location of story: 
Burma
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3249047
Contributed on: 
09 November 2004

Essex Regiment Sergeant John Moore (1943)

Second World War Record of John William Moore (Army No. 6016041)

I volunteered to join the Territorial Army in 1937 at Queens Road, Barking, Essex — the depot of the 2.4th Battalion. The Essex Regiment. I went each week for training, and after passing my weapon training I decided to train as a cook. In 1938 I went on a 2 week course as a cook where I (and others) cooked for over 1,000 men.

On 3rd August, 1939 I was called up for regular service and sent to Shellhaven, Essex where I was told to guard the petrol tanks. I was billeted in a large, empty house where about sex officers were billeted. I did cooking etc for the officers. Food as not rationed then so we bought our food from local shops. We lived reasonably well but had no beds so we had to sleep on the floor. During the winter it was very cold, a large pond nearby was frozen which we used to skate on. I fell over and broke a bone in my wrist and had my arm in plaster for six weeks. It was not far for me to get home so I was able to get weekend passes and go home.

War with Germany was then declared in September 1939. I was engaged to Lily (nee McCarthy) in 1938 so we decided to get married on October 7th, 1939. I had 48 hours leave from midday Saturday to midday Monday — that was our honeymoon! During that cold winter I got influenza twice and finished in hospital with pneumonia — I was on home leave at the time. On returning to my unit, I asked to go back into the ranks as I realised that it was not doing my health good working in the hot cookhouse and also I wanted promotion. I worked hard on my turnout and on Battalion guard duties and I was often chosen to be stick-man (that is I would not go on guard duty but go round with the Commanding Officer on his duties). My Regimental Sergeant Major noticed this so I was soon awarded my first stripe to Lance Corporal.

During that year we were sent to East Anglia to defend the coast should there be an invasion by German troops. I got home leave fairly often (once every to months). The Germans tried to land troops on the East Coast, I saw bodes of Germans that had been washed up on the beach — we were told that the R.A.F had bombed them with petrol bombs! At the weekends I helped to train the Home Guard, they were very keen to learn but usually we finished up in the pub! Our pay was one shilling a day (10p today) plus one shilling a day married mans allowance, so we didn’t have much money to spare. I went on courses as a sniper and became and expert on camouflage, first class shot with rifle and Bren gun. I got promoted to Corporate in 1941. During this time the Essex regiment was in the Middle East and I was helping to train men to go there and fight the Germans. We had many forced route marches of 30 miles, exercises lasting three days and nights, eating off the land whatever we could find. We had assault courses of barbed wire, marsh land and rivers, getting across by rope bridges. Between 1940 and 1943 I was stationed at Henley-on-Thames, Sunder and Newcastle, training men to fight, and also the Home Guard to defend this country if needs be. In 1943 I saw a notice for volunteers to go to Nigeria, West Africa to train African troops. I volunteered to go and by this time I was a Lance Sergeant. About September 1943 we were taken to North Wales to await a troop ship to take us to Nigeria. We sailed from Liverpool and made a big detour into the Atlantic to avoid ‘U’ boats. We stopped at Gibraltar and then on to West Africa. Life on board ship was good, but due to sea sickness many men were ill. Fortunately it did not affect me and so I could enjoy the good food, especially the bread which was baked on the ship everyday. The last part of our voyage was sunshine all the way. On arrival at Lagos, Nigeria I was promoted to full Sergeant and attached to the 6th Battalion. Nigeria Regiment. We were sent to the north of Nigeria to a town called Kano where the Battalion was stationed. It was very hot (about 103 degrees F at mid-day) so we would start parade at 0600 hours until 1200 hours after that time it was too hot to do anything but lay on our beds and sweat. All N.C.O.’s and officers had a personal servant whose duty it was to do our washing, ironing and other general duties. It was common to see 100 men on sick parade everyday. About once a week we would take a lorry and go to a village in the bush and recruit about 20 men into the army, most of them had never had clothes before and when they were issued with boots they did not know what was the right or left foot. Being ignorant they often sold their clothes to the local villagers and we often had the trouble of going to the village to get the clothes back. Some of the Africans were able to speak English so these were promoted to N.C.O.’s up to the rank of R.S.M. There were no African officers. After about nine months I was promoted to Quarter Master Sergeant (Q.M.S.) this suited me as having been an army cook I knew a lot about catering. We had a fresh delivery of food and meat every day as there was no refrigeration to keep food and naturally in that heat it would soon go bad. I got on well with the African troops, they seemed to respect us because we had more intelligence than they did and they were better looked after by the army than in their own villages. I soon got to learn their language which was Housa and it pleased them when we were able to speak to them in their own language. Although I took Mepacrin tablets every day it did not stop me from getting Malaria quite a lot. It did not affect the Africans the same as us, I think they were probably immune from it.

By the end of the 1943 the Battalion was fully trained, so we started our journey to Burma. We went by train to Lagos and embarked on a troop ship which took us to Bombay, India. This journey took us via South Africa and across the Indian Ocean — it was an uneventful journey. We disembarked at Bombay and from there went by train to the border of Assam, where we did more training for jungle warfare which we would encounter when we went to Burma. We were under tents at this time, myself and other N.C.O.’s got seven days leave and we went to Poona which was enjoyable. I also went to Calcutta to take a prisoner to a prison to serve his sentence. While at Calcutta I went to a horse race meeting, although I knew nothing about race horsing the Sergeant I was with said he did. Anyway I finished winning more than he did! There were a lot of mosquitoes in Assam so we always had to sleep with a mosquito net and wear long sleeve shirts and long trousers in the evening, but with all that I still got malaria many times. We then became attached to General Wingate’s “Chindits” who were fighting behind the Japanese lines. The Burmese jungle is very dense and very hilly, air strips had been made in the jungle for aeroplanes and gliders to land and that was how we landed in Burma behind the Japanese lines. We went in columns of about 300 men, we had many mules to carry heavy equipment like our wireless sets — we had R.A.F. operators with us, all our other equipment we had to carry on our backs, so we did not carry anything that was not absolutely essential. Our food was America ‘K’ rations which was mostly dehydrated packs, the packs we could burn to cook our food on which did not give off smoke so they would not give our position away to the Japs.

Our main job was to blow up bridges, railways etc and ambush Japs in small villages wherever we could find them. We did not take any prisoners because we were always on the move and we could never trust the Japs anyway. We got our food and other supplies dropped to us by plane every three days, using a clearing in the jungle. On one occasion our mules broke loose and smashed the wireless sets beyond repair, so we could not radio our position back to base for our supply drops. It was six days before we could contact another column to radio back to base our position, so our three days supply had to last six days, we all knew what it was like to go hungry. During my time in Burma it was the monsoon season, so it rained for many fays at a time. We were always wet, having to take off our socks wring them out and put them back on again. After some weeks we were supplied with light-weight hammocks with groundsheet and mosquito net combined. These were very good as we slept off the wet ground, the groundsheet kept us fairly dry and the mosquito net stopped us from being bitten all the time. Of course, we had to sleep fully dressed at all times ready for action. I carried the American Tommy Gun which was very good for jungle warfare. I had some narrow escapes from being killed, on one occasion I had set up an ambush on a path leading from a village where we knew the Japs to be. I gave orders that nobody was to fire until I did, we waited in the thick jungle until we saw the Japs walking towards us along the path. Suddenly there was a loud noise (I afterwards found out it was caused by the Bren gunner firing but it did not fire, only the working parts went forward). The Japs went into the jungle and everyone was firing by then and I felt something heavy hit my pack on my back and saw a hand grenade. I instinctively picked it up and threw it, for some reason it did not go off otherwise I would not be here writing this today. The Bren gunner was put on charge because his Bren gun had gone rusty through lack of cleaning, he was given 20 strokes of the cane (bare bottom). There was no other punishment he could be given in the jungle.

I saw many atrocities that that Japs had committed, on one occasion I saw women who had been staked to the ground with arms and legs outstretched and who had been raped to death. We had a Burmese guide with us who knew the country well and was a great help. We had officers sent out to us straight from England, they had no experience of jungle warfare and none of the African troops — so they were of little use. Mostly I had to take charge of our unit. As I said we had to carry everything on our backs; we were given the option to shave or not, so I discarded my shaving kit and grew a beard as most of us did. After some months in the monsoon season, with all the rain and mud we became a dilapidated looking lot. Although the ‘K’ rations were quite good, it was mostly tinned or dehydrate, but we became quite good at making something out of nothing! There was quite a lot of animal life in the jungle, monkeys used to scare us at night — they sounded very much like Japs chattering! Leeches were the worst, they were blood suckers and the only way to get them off was by burning them with a cigarette. If you pulled them off they would leave their fangs behind and that would fester!

We had cleared a village of Japs when we came across an Englishman who was starving. He had been a prisoner of the Japs. We gave him food and he said he owned a hotel called the ‘McCarthys’ — that was my wife’s maiden name. He made us take gifts in return for the food. I accepted a tankard of silver engraved with ‘McCarthys Hotel’ which was the only thing I brought home with me. After many months in Burma we were evacuated out to India by road and rail and of course on our feet. At the bridge head of the Allied forces we met with some Americans. We were amazed at the amount of food and supplies they had, especially bread which we had not seen for months! We were very thankful to get back to India, to shave off our beards, shower and get a new issue of uniforms etc. We went into a vacant camp of tents and settled down to have a well-earned rest. We made latrines which were trenches about ten foot deep with a pole to sit on and do the ‘business’ — these were for the Africans. The officers and N.C.O.’s had a latrine which the trench was covered by branches and leaves then covered with mud, boxes were put on top with lids and a tent for privacy. One day I went to the latrine and while sitting on the box I had a smoke, I dropped the cigarette into the trench but shortly noticed that the trench was what appeared to be a small firework. I jumped up and ran out of the latrine still with my trousers down and flapping round my ankles when suddenly there was a loud explosion — the latrine and then blew up and caught fire and everyone was running with buckets of water to put out the fire. I afterwards found out that the R.S.M. had put some H.E. mortar bombs down the trench which he had wanted to get rid of. It was the practice of an African to set light to an oily rag and drop it down the trench to kill of the flies. I told the R.S.M. it was not that that had caused the explosion but my cigarette end that I had dropped down the trench — that was how I nearly got blown up in the last World War, sitting on a toilet!

I was soon promoted to Company Sergeant Major (acting rank). One day we heard over the radio that the war with Germany was over. It did not meant much to us as we knew the war with Japan would have to go on, but we were thankful for our family and friends and millions of people in Europe. We continued our training and hot new reinforcements. General Wingate was killed in an aeroplane crash — he was a great leader who would not ask us to do something he had not done himself. He told us he had done it so now we could do it — so the ‘Chindits’ were formed. It was about the time that we were ready to go back into Burma that we heard over the radio that the Americans had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that the Japanese had surrendered. So the war in the Far East was also over. This was a great relief to us as we now knew we would not have to go back into Burma. After six years of service I was looking forward to going home to my wife and son who I had not seen for three and a half years.

At the end of 1945 quite a number of officers and N.C.O’s were sent home, the night before their departure we had a party and quite some party that was! I was sent to a place called Dodali just outside Bombay to wait for a ship to take us home to England. It was a camp of just tents and beds and nothing else, no amusements, shops, cinemas of any kind. I had often heard of people being doolali (out of their mind) and now I knew why because we waited six weeks for a troopship to take us home and we nearly went out of our minds. Early January 1946 we embarked on a troop ship for our journey to England. We sailed across the Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal and through the Mediterranean where we went through a storm. I stood at the front of the ship as it went through the very rough seas, I wondered if after all we had been through whether the ship would sink and we would all perish at the end. But we arrived in due course at Southampton and although we were anxious to get off the ship we were not allowed to until the next day. I was finally discharged on February 11th, 1946 after six and a half years service in the Army. I was given an Exemplary record which I am very proud of to this day. I was awarded the following medals: 1935-45 Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Long Service Territorial Medal.

John William Moore

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