The final stages of the Burma retreat

An example of the road conditions in Burma during the monsoon season, a tarpaulin has been spread across the hillside in an attempt to stop it sliding down onto the road.

The retreat through Burma to India – the longest retreat in British history – was now drawing to a close. General William Slim had been brought into the campaign half-way and had overseen the long haul north through Burma, as the weakened Anglo-Chinese force sought to evade their Japanese pursuers. In the finals days many men had only the clothes that stood up in. Some had completely worn out their boots in the long march:

We had already had one or two heavy showers to give us a foretaste of what the monsoon would do to us, when, on the 12th May, it burst in full fury. On that day our rearguard was leaving Kalewa and our main body toiling up into the hills. From then onwards the retreat was sheer misery.

Ploughing their way up slopes, over a track inches deep in slippery mud, soaked to the skin, rotten with fever, ill-fed and shivering as the air grew cooler, the troops went on, hour after hour, day after day. Their only rest at night was to lie on the sodden ground under the dripping trees, without even a blanket to cover them.

Yet the monsoon which so nearly destroyed us and whose rain beat so mercilessly on our bodies did us one good turn – it stopped dead the japanese pursuit. As the clouds closed down over the hills, even their air attacks became rare.

A couple of marches south of Tamu we received our first helping hand from India. An Indian mechanical transport company met us, but its recruit drivers had been so scared by the stories fugitives from Burma had told them and by the of the half-made road, that many of them would not drive any farther south. When ordered to do so they took their lorries into the jungle and hid.

This difficulty was overcome by putting beside each driver a man from 7th Armoured Brigade who saw to it that they went where they were told – a last service of this magnificent formation. Then the company was of inestimable value in ferrying wounded and sick and sometimes whole units forward.

On the last day of that nine-hundred-mile retreat I stood on a bank beside the road and watched the rearguard march into India. All of them, British, Indian, and Gurkha, were gaunt and god as scarecrows. Yet, as they trudged behind their surviving officers in groups pitifully small, they still carried their arms and kept their ranks, they were still recognizable as fighting units. They might lookme scarecrows, but they looked like soldiers too.

See Field Marshal William Slim: Defeat Into Victory

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

P Redpath February 26, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Wot [photo?] is chaung warfare 20th may 1945 or liberating yandoon south burma

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: