Back into the front line after 40% casualties

View of the Garrison Hill battlefield with the British and Japanese positions shown. Garrison Hill was the key to the British defences at Kohima.

View of the Garrison Hill battlefield with the British and Japanese positions shown. Garrison Hill was the key to the British defences at Kohima.

In May 1944 the Queens Royal Regiment were already veterans of the campaign in Burma. They had been engaged in the Arakan campaign, where prolonged survival on basic rations had reduced the fitness of many men. The level of malnutrition was so great that it was recommended that they be allowed to rest and recuperate until Septemebr.

Instead they were thrown into the battle at Kohima. In less than a week they suffered 173 casualties. Nevertheless they had held onto their position on Jail Hill with grim determination. On the 14th May they were relieved.

Michael Lowry was an officer who had been with the Regiment since 1939, he had survived again, just:

Jail Hill had been blasted so much from the air and artillery of both sides and our tanks that there was not a leaf or a blade of grass left on it. It had, of course, been thick jungle; some of the tree stumps still remained standing. Jail Hill was void of any cover except shellholes and battered bunkers; it was littered with kit, smelt of death and rotting flesh.

The desolation was augmented by millions of flies as they tried to do justice to the feast that ‘civilised’ man had delivered to them, moving from corpses to latrines, then to our food and pricking and sucking the naked parts of our bodies, such as hands and faces, which might then absorb some disease.

They have been so thick on this now battered, barren and debris- scattered hillside, that complete corpses have been almost buried by them. I, for one, have eaten several of the largest filthy-looking bluebottles, having settled on a bully—beef sandwich between the hand and the mouth.

The men who had been lost were more than just comrades, the Battalion had been through so much together. There was little time to adjust to the changes they had undergone.

The Battalion casualties during the week of the Jail Hill battles were very nearly 40%, with a disproportionately high rate among the officers, sergeants and corporals; they were such that Colonel Duncombe decided to hold a conference for company commanders on 15 May to discuss the Battalion’s reorganization.

Since [the 14th] all companies had received reinforcements of about ten men. B Company, including its administrative element, was fifty-three strong, and the other companies were marginally larger; all companies agreed to reorganize to about sixty and to operate on a two-platoon basis.

We received the bad news that Mervyn Mansel had died of the wounds to his stomach; gangrene had set in. His dying from his stomach wound might have been inevitable.

Even so, it was a great shock to all of us. The sadness to his parents, brothers and sister must have been all the more painful, as Mervyn had known, and they would have known, that he was due for repatriation to England very shortly, as he had already completed five years and four months in the Far East, longer than any officer in the Battalion.

After the conference I was told that B and C Companies were to amalgamate under my command and then move further up our ridge to relieve the 4/1 Gurkha company, about thirty-five minutes’ walk beyond our present position and about 200 yards below the Assam Rifles at the top of the ridge.

It sounded the simplest of moves, as indeed it was, but it entailed moving all the administrative bits and pieces. We had all the blankets and mosquito nets, as well as our change of clothing, reserve ammunition, which included 2-inch mortar bombs, grenades, tommy guns, sub-machine gun ammunition and two boxes of .303 rifle ammunition. The ammunition alone required six mules.

Additionally there were the cooking pots, cooking oil, two days’ rations, picks, shovels and water. That was a total load of about twenty—six mules, but we only had twelve at our disposal. Colour-Sergeant Fraser, as always, worked it all out and saw all the kit up from the bottom, our own mules working on a shuttle service.

He also had to sort out all the bundles of kit that belonged to our casualties so that it did not get sent up with everything else.

We had our midday meal at noon and left the old area an hour or so later. Our new positions had been well dug by the Gurkhas. Large logs and earth had been built on top of the dug-outs. We found that We were to occupy a series of ring contours that were connected by narrow saddles. The position was fairly well wired, but it needed to be strengthened in places.

As they settled into their trenches, it began to rain. the Monsoon had arrived.

See Michael Lowry: Fighting Through to Kohima: A Memoir of War in India and Burma.

Read the background to 1st Queens in the Kohima battle .

Recruits of the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) in their barracks, 1939.

Recruits of the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) in their barracks, 1939.

Recruits of the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) present arms during rifle drill, 1939.

Recruits of the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) present arms during rifle drill, 1939.

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