India prepares for battle

Indian women training for air raid precautions (ARP) duties in Bombay, 1942.

The War Effort In India, 1942. Workers at an Indian railway workshop now employed in the construction of armoured vehicles.

In Burma the Monsoon Season had brought a pause in hostilities and the British forces regrouped in India. It comprised elements from Britain as well as from the Indian Army. General Slim now began a vigorous programme of training to prepare his troops for the coming battle. No part of the Army was spared his attention, not least his own Headquarters staff:

Meanwhile, we had really got down to training ourselves – the Corps Headquarters. As a battle fighting headquarters it was neither mobile nor efficient, and we had to make it both. I think we got most fun from making it mobile.

First we had to make the individuals who composed it fit, staff officers, signallers, cooks, clerks, mess waiters, and menials, themselves mobile. Physical training started the day, with route marches increasing in length and toughness as time went on, varied by a little brisk drill under selected instructors from the 70th Division.

At first, protests, mainly from the Indian clerical establishment, were indignant and vigorous. Our worthy babus averred that:

1 In many years of honourable service they had never been subjected to such an indignity as parades.

2 The drill instructors were harsh men who used rude words.

3 The exhaustion consequent on these warlike goings-on rendered them incapable of performing their clerical duties.

4 If compelled to continue this violent exercise, all the internal organs of their bodies – enumerated with unblushing details! – would cease to function and they would indubitably die.

5 Their boots would wear out.

On the third morning before a route march the whole of the Indian clerks of one section of the headquarters paraded sick, complaining of divers obscure but incapacitating aches, pains, and distresses.

I told the doctor attending them that, whatever was or was not the matter with them now, I relied on him to see that they really did feel ill within the next couple of hours. What dismal drench he administered I do not know, but, pale and shaken, they were on parade next morning. When I asked how they felt and inquired whether they would not like to see the doctor again, they assured me most earnestly that they were in no further need of medical attention.

After the first month there were no attempts to avoid parades, and everyone took a pride in toughness and soldierly skill.

See Field Marshal William Slim: Defeat Into Victory

A later portrait of William Slim when he was Field Marshal Sir William Slim

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: