A wounded Chindit is placed in a light aircraft for evacuation back to India.

A wounded Chindit is placed in a light aircraft for evacuation back to India.

An RAF wireless operator attached to a Chindit column with his equipment in a jungle clearing in Burma

An RAF wireless operator attached to a Chindit column with his equipment in a jungle clearing in Burma

In the depths of the Burmese jungle the Chindit’s 111 Brigade still hung on at the Blackpool strongpoint. 2000 men were isolated and under attack by a strong Japanese Force, well equipped with Anti-Aircraft guns that made re-supply from the air dangerous, if not impossible. The acting Brigadier, John Masters, had sent a Most Immediate message requesting permission to withdraw. He had still not received a reply.

Now Masters reached a decision. They would withdraw. The worst that could happen was that he would face a Court Martial for disobeying orders.

Yet this was not the last difficult decision that Masters faced, he had to face up to what to do with men who were too badly wounded to be moved. There must have been other Allied commanders who faced the same problem. Masters was rare in being a man who was subsequently prepared to write about it, in detail:

I went to the mule lines and saw Maggy quietly eating bamboo, a red gash in her belly and her entrails hanging out of it. She seemed to be in no pain and I hugged her neck, then Briggs shot her for me.

Henning reported 90 Column in position astride the water point. I looked through my binoculars at the westward ridge, which the Japanese had occupied during the first battles. If they held it now we would have a bad time, as it dominated the Namkwin for at least a mile. Mortaring from it we would have to grit our teeth and bear as we trudged past. No, I could cover it with machine guns, for a time at least. I sent a man back with a message to Alec Harper, to be sure to put strong protection on that flank of his layback.

The men passed and passed, walking, limping, hopping, supporting others, carrying them. Tim Brennan reported that he thought he could break contact when I ordered. The Japanese were not pressing their advantage, and at the moment seemed to be under shell fire from their own artillery.

A doctor spoke to me – ‘Will you come with me, sir?’ I followed’ him down the path. It was clear of moving men. The whole block was clear, except for a part of 26 Column.

A little way down the path we came to forty or fifty ragged men, many slightly wounded, who had carried stretchers and improvised blanket litters from the Main Dressing Station as far as this. Here they had set down their burdens, and now waited, huddled in the streaming bamboo, above and below the path. I noticed at once that none of them looked at me as I stopped among them with the doctor.

The stretchers lay in the path itself, and in each stretcher lay a soldier of 111 Brigade.

The first man was quite naked and a shell had removed the entire contents of his stomach. Between his chest and pelvis there was a bloody hollow, behind it his spine. Another had no legs and no hips, his trunk ending just below the waist. A third had no left arm, shoulder, or breast, all torn away in one piece. A fourth had no face and whitish liquid was trickling out of his head into the mud. A fifth seemed to have been torn in pieces by a mad giant, and his lips bubbled gently. Nineteen men lay there. A few conscious. At least, their eyes moved, but without light in them.

The doctor said, ‘l’ve got another thirty on ahead, who can be saved, if we can carry them.’ The rain clattered so loud on the bamboo that I could hardly hear what he said. ‘These men have no chance. They’re full of morphia. Most of them have bullet and splinter wounds beside what you can see. Not one chance at all, sir, I give you my word of honour. Look, this man’s died already, and that one. None can last another two hours, at the outside.’

Very well. I have two thousand lives in my hand, besides these. One small mistake, one little moment of hesitation and I will kill five times these nineteen.

I said aloud, ‘Very well. I don’t want them to see any Japanese.’

I was trying to smile down into the flat white face below me, that had no belly, but there was no sign of recognition, or hearing, or feeling. Shells and bombs burst on the slope above and bullets clattered and whined overhead.

‘Do you think I want to do it?’ the doctor cried in helpless anger. ‘We’ve been fighting to save that man for twenty-four hours and then just now, in the M.D.S. [Main Dressing Station], he was hit in the same place.’

His voice changed. ‘We can’t spare any more morphia.’ ‘Give it to those whose eyes are open,’ I said. ‘Get the stretcher bearers on at once. Five minutes.’

He nodded and I went back up to the ridge, for the last time. One by one, carbine shots exploded curtly behind me. I put my hands to my ears but nothing could shut out the sound.

See John Masters: The Road Past Mandalay.

Chindit Operations - General: A railway bridge behind Japanese lines is blown up by Chindits

Chindit Operations – General: A railway bridge behind Japanese lines is blown up by Chindits

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May

24

1944

Canadian infantry hold bridgehead against Panzers


24 May 1944: Canadian infantry hold bridgehead against Panzer attack

Early in the action, Major Mahony was wounded in the head and twice in the leg, but he refused medical aid and continued to direct the defence of the bridgehead, despite the fact that movement of any kind caused him extreme pain. It was only when the remaining Companies of the Regiment had crossed the river to support him that he allowed his wounds to be dressed and even then refused to be evacuated, staying instead with his Company.

May

23

1944

Breakout from Anzio


23 May 1944: Breakout from Anzio

The timing of the attack from Anzio again caught the enemy off-guard. As the artillery fire suddenly ended our tanks drove through the smoke, followed by swarms of infantry that caught the enemy outposts unprepared. Some of the Germans in dugouts had to be dragged out with only part of their clothes on, completely unready for battle.

May

22

1944

Chindit jungle strongpoint faces third Japanese attack


22 May 1944: Chindit jungle strongpoint faces third Japanese attack

With a heavy heart I sent a Most Immediate signal to Joe asking for permission to abandon the block at my discretion. The direction of the new Japanese attack would prevent night supply drops on the airfield, and, with the A.A. guns, only night drops were now possible. Night drops on the block, or on the jungle to the west, could never keep us supplied with ammunition in heavy battle. It would take too many men, too long, to find and bring in the boxes.

May

21

1944

Tension in Britain during wait for ‘Second Front’


21 May 1944: Tension in Britain during wait for ‘Second Front’

There is a curious new something in their expressions which recalls the way people looked when the blitz was on. It’s an air of responsibility, as though they had shouldered the job of being back in the civilian front line once again. It’s evident in the faces of women looking up thoughtfully from their gardens at the gliders passing overhead, in the unguarded faces of businessmen wearily catnapping on trains on their way home to all-night Home Guard duty, in the faces of everybody except the young fighting men themselves.

May

20

1944

US Navy ‘practice gunnery’ targets Japanese strongpoints


20 May 1944: US Navy “practice gunnery” targets Jap strongpoints

Our ship knocked out the Jap radio tower and some anti-aircraft guns, we also helped knock out some of the big shore batteries. The cruiser Cleveland fired over a thousand rounds of six inch shells not to mention what the rest of us fired. The Japs must have thought they were at a shooting gallery firing these big 8 inch guns at us and shell and shrapnel falling all around us. Those Japs have plenty of guts, they are not afraid of anything.

May

19

1944

British 6th Airborne are ready for Normandy


19 May 1944: British 6th Airborne are ready for Normandy

Then they cast off: you could see the tug aircraft rising and flying away, the drone of their great engines lessening, whilst round in enormous spirals sail the gliders. The sky seems thick with them. Then you hear the swish as, engineless, they come in to land. First one then another, then half a dozen at a time, and the sky still full of them. How are they all going to get in? They touch down at between seventy and eighty miles an hour. Swish they roar across the ground. How is it that they do not crash into one another?

May

18

1944

Polish troops capture Monte Cassino


18 May 1944: Polish troops capture Monte Cassino

But when the infantry probed the outskirts they found little opposition, and many Germans gave themselves up. There was some sniping and some machine gunning, but this was soon overcome, and in due course the place was mopped up. Some casualties were caused by time bombs left by the Hun. Later we learnt that the Polish flag was flying over the Monastery. It was very fitting that this should be so, for the Poles have suffered dearly.

May

17

1944

Merrill’s Marauders capture Japanese Airfield in Burma

By now my dysentery was so violent I was draining blood. Every one of the men was sick from one cause or another. My shoulders were worn raw from the pack straps, and I left the pack behind… The boys with me weren’t in much better shape… A scout moving ahead suddenly held his rifle high in the air.

May

16

1944

First Hungarian Jews arrive in Auschwitz


16 May 1944: First Hungarian Jews arrive in Auschwitz

Almost daily several trains consisting, on average, of forty to fifty cattle trucks, arrived on the newly built ramp at Birkenau. The trucks into which up to 100 people had been crammed were bolted; they were unlocked only when the train had reached its destination. The people were parched with thirst since, during their journey lasting several days, they had been given not a drop of water. Many died en route from the rigours of the journey.