In northern Burma the clashes between the Anglo-Indian forces and the Japanese were becoming more frequent. The Japanese were now building up in strength and attempting to infiltrate the British lines. On the 7th February they broke into a Field Hospital run jointly by the Royal Army Medical Corps and the the Indian Army.
It was a widely dispersed series of buildings and the Japanese force, which appeared to be searching for medical supplies, shot or bayoneted patients in their beds when they were found.
They did not discover everyone – and a party of doctors and patients lay undiscovered overnight. They were not spared for long. Lieutenant-General Sir Geoffrey Evans was subsequently able to piece together what happened:
When day came, they lay still so that the Japanese might not notice them. During the morning they heard a shout outside and the RAMC Captain asked: ‘What do you want?’ The shout – it sounded like ‘You go’ – was repeated. The Captain shook his head and lay down again. ‘Who is it?’ asked the Lieutenant.
‘It’s a Jap,’ said the Captain. At that moment one of the Japanese soldiers appeared and shot him through the right thigh. The Captain shouted: ‘I am a doctor – Red Cross – I am a medical officer.’
The Japanese shot dead the Captain, the Gurkha Major, two British soldiers and a mess servant. The Lieutenant and the three surviving British soldiers lay still. They stayed like that all day, and when darkness came they managed to leave the hospital and find the safety of the nearest West Yorkshire post.
A British private of the RAMC – one of a party of twenty – survived to describe his experience. He was tied by his neck to another man – as they all were – kicked, cuffed and cracked over the head by rifle butts, and used as a shield on top of a trench by the Japanese when the carrier attacked. Just before dark on February 8 a Japanese officer told the twenty men: ‘Come and get treatment.’
They were taken along a dried-up watercourse to a clearing with a running stream. Through the whole hot day they had been allowed only two bottles of water between them. And now they stood by the stream. But they were not allowed to drink. The Japanese opened up at them with rifles. Seventeen of them were killed.
That night Lieutenant Basu and nine men who had been wounded when a mortar exploded near them lay in a watercourse, some dying, some crying for water. The Japanese shot one man and bayoneted another who cried too loudly. Just before they left, the japanese stood in front of them, their rifles ready. ‘We are Red Cross people,’ said Basu – he and another doctor both had their stethoscopes slung round their necks. ‘We are doctors and hospital workers. We have nothing to do with actual warfare.’ Most of them wore Red Cross badges on their arms. It made no difference. The Japanese shot them all.
Lieutenant Basu was shot at twice. He was left stunned. At first he was not sure whether he was alive or dead. He felt at his ear, but there was no blood on his fingers. He could still see and his thoughts became clear once more. He realised how vulnerable he was lying there still alive.
So he reached out to the body of one of his dead friends and put his hand on the wounds until it was covered With blood, and then he smeared the blood over his face and head and down his shirt front, so that the Japanese would think he, too, was mortally wounded. He slipped groaning into a trench, and there he spent the night.