Lochbroom Folk

Lochbroom's Sacrifice in the Second World War

Page 27


In 2005 Donnie and Mary Mackenzie took part in a WW2 Oral History Project carried out by Ullapool Museum and Ullapool Primary School

Donnie served with the 111th Indian Infantry Brigade (The Chindits) in India and Burma,

Information obtained from various sources listed in the biography regarding the Chindits is shown in blue

Donnie’s experiences are shown in italics.

When war broke out you had to go where you were told to go which we were transferred from Braemore down to Fort William - Torlundy was the name of the place - and they had decoys which looked like the factory buildings, on the hillside, on the side of Ben Nevis actually. They just looked like canvas, you know, and they were built - made to look like buildings to draw the enemy, when they came over, they thought that that was part of the factory. And, when they came to bomb the factory they bombed all these - there's bomb craters still I suppose there's still down there today, on the hillside - but there was only one bomb that actually hit the factory at Fort William and it's just the one I'm telling you about that's still standing, it never exploded. But they did get the imitation buildings. That was all - they were all blown off the hillside. You know? So anyway, that was that and I call my calling up papers then to go into the army.

I did my six weeks' training down in Ayrshire; I went from there down to Norwich; I did advanced training down there for about two months; and then I was sent out to India.  So, we joined the 'Forgotten Fourteenth Army' as it was known as and we did advanced training down in the Indian jungle and we did about four months jungle training in a place - I'm sure you'd have heard the place said, a place called 'Doollally' [Deolali].

After arriving in India, it’s likely that Donnie travelled by train to the Deolali Base Reinforcement Camp.  This vast encampment was located roughly 100 miles north-east of Bombay and was formerly a Staff Training College.  The Chindits were formed to put into effect Major General Orde Wingate’s newly developed guerrilla warfare tactic of long-range penetration, and they were trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines.

Then we moved up to Imphal - The Japanese at that time were knocking on the Indian frontier ready to make their deep penetration into India which they were wanting to do - was to conquer India. And the first expedition of the Fourteenth Army went up here, and the first Chindit expedition came in, with the Chinese, into Burma down here, and that wasn't successful; they had to withdraw. Now, the Japanese had the whole of the Burmese border here like, here, this area here, and then Wingate, he went over to America, and he asked President Roosevelt for assistance to have another attempt at it . And this is the attempt that I happened to be involved with - the second attempt, to go into the battle of the Chindits, we were known as the Chindits and we went in behind - flown in by gliders, towed by Dakotas, two gliders to a Dakota, and I can't remember now exactly how many men and the mules were put into the gliders as well and the gliders were only constructed of cardboard, that's all they were constructed of.

Operation Thursday, March 1944
The objective of Operation Thursday would be to cut the supply lines of the Japanese forces facing British, American and Chinese forces in north Burma.  As part of Operation Thursday, the initial Chindits’ move centred on 16th, 77th and 111th Brigades.  The aim was to fly in a force of 10,000 men, 1,000 mules, equipment and supplies into clearings in the heart of Burma, behind enemy lines, and from there attack road, rail and river traffic in the area. This type of operation had never been attempted before.

Three sites were selected for the initial landing grounds and were given the code names Piccadilly, Broadway and Chowringhee. These landing sites had been chosen in inaccessible areas to avoid contact with Japanese ground troops and all sorties were to be flown at night to avoid Japanese aircrafts.  The plan was for a first wave of gliders to land troops to secure the site.  A second wave would land more troops and American engineers to construct an airstrip so that C47 Dakotas could bring in the remaining troops and equipment 

On the night of the 5th March the first wave of gliders flew into Broadway.  The initial glider landings did not go well.  Aerial photographs had failed to show ditches and two trees on the landing area at Broadway and these had caused several of the gliders to crash on landing and were now blocking the path for further gliders; 30 men were killed in the landing and a further 28 wounded.  However, on the first night, 35 gliders managed to land successfully and by dawn 400 men were ready for action in Broadway.
The next morning a runway was cleared for Dakotas to land, and over the next six nights, 579 Dakota sorties flew into Broadway, successfully bringing in 77th Brigade and two battalions from 111th Brigade.  In all, some 18,000 troops with their animal transport “had been inserted into the enemies guts” (as Wingate described it), 200/150 miles behind the main Japanese front in Assam.

We landed in at a place…they had three different areas - there was one area called White City; one area was called Aberdeen; and the other area was called Broadway.  So we, our 111 Brigade - that was our brigade - we went into Broadway. The other brigades, there were five brigades altogether; they went into the other areas.  The 111 Brigade was the biggest brigade, and as we were flown in all these gliders, they hadn't a clue where they were going, there was only a strip cut out of the jungle for the Dakotas to land on.  Well, the gliders were let loose before the Dakotas came down.  They were left - they were untied from the Dakotas and they just came down in the jungle and they just landed and they just broke up into pieces, so we had to find our way from there after we came out of the gliders.  The Dakotas couldn't take off again. Once they landed they were finished.  That was it.  That's all they could do. 

Wingate now had three brigades in Burma, and Broadway was rapidly developed into a powerful air base with firmly constructed defences. Within days of landing, Chindit columns were marching off along jungle paths to establish themselves in the region. The columns would strike against the railway, road and river systems used by the Japanese army.  111th Brigade probed further into the jungle, setting up new strongholds including ‘White City’ and ‘Aberdeen’.

So we moved ourselves into the jungle then and made some sort of fortification for ourselves, and we took an area of the jungle, a little hillock, it was, not so big as Beinn Ghobhlach, that was sitting in the heart of the jungle, so we put the Dakotas in barbed wire.  We got this round the perimeter of where we were and we waited.  There was no sign of the Japs coming, no contact at all where we were landing, and we managed to get into this built up fortress that we'd made for ourselves in there with this barbed wire, and it was about a week after we went in there that the Japanese actually discovered where we were.

And once they discovered where we were they were sending out patrols the same as we were - deep, what they call deep penetration patrols - we used to go out at night, you know?  Most of the walking was done by night and, it was right on the edge of the Burmese Railway Line, the Burmese road, and all their heavy equipment was going up that road, up to the Indian border and our job was to demolish them, destroy them, before they got up there.  So we went out on patrols at night, laid booby traps on the railway lines, and as soon as the trains came they were just blown high sky.  And they were - same with the roads.  And then we used to disperse into the jungle, lie in over there again until the following night, and we just kept on doing that all the time'

We weren't allowed to light any fires of any description because if we lit any fires it was giving signals to the Japanese as where our positions were, so we couldn't cook anything for ourselves.  So all our supplies was just dropped by parachute to us and what we got we got. What we didn't get, the Japs got it. So, our daily rations were a package containing - they were called K-rations and they were American made.  And the package consisted of three tins - one of lun- (Oh, I don't know what you would call it) for breakfast and another one was cheese, and another one luncheon meat for evening.  It was just the size of that cup, the tins, were about half the size of the cup there.

That was it. And there was - in the packet - five cigarettes, two packets of chewing gum.  That was our daily rations and once we ran out of that then we had to find for ourselves - food.  It was mostly bamboo shoots we lived on, and whatever we could scrape up, as we were going into the native villages and trying to get some eggs, or something like that  When I went in there I was eleven and a half stone, and I came out of there six and a half stone.

We kept moving all the time, and we were in touch with the others - what we called walkie-talkies - that was our only means of communication we had with the other, the other forts and we used to have to go and deliver messages from one fort to the other, through the jungle, following elephant tracks.  And we had a map about that size - it was made of canvas - which the walking wouldn't destroy and each member was issued with a compass and one of these maps and we had to make our own way with the compass and the map from fort one to fort two.  Sometimes we were ambushed on the elephant tracks and, it's very hard to say this, but I lost one of my best mates you know, doing that, conveying a message.  There were two of us were sent out on a message to deliver to one fort from the other, from our commanding officer, and we went to deliver it and on our way back we lost our bearings on the elephant tracks in the jungle.  We weren't sure whether it was this way, that way, or the other way. And we stood at the junction of the elephant track and we were debating which was the right track to get back to our own fort.  And he said, 'Well, I'll tell you what we'll do.' He says, 'If you go so far up that track, I'll go up so far at this track; we might get our bearings that way.' Well, he never came back.  So I was on the right track but he was on the wrong track, and he ran into a Japanese patrol.  So, following that, when I went back and I told my commanding officers that my mate was missing, they sent out a recce in the morning and they found his body with his head off.  He just ran into a Japanese patrol

They bombed us; they plastered us with everything they could plaster us with.  There wasn't a tree left standing on that mountain - a jungle mind you?  And we were under the ground, in foxholes.  And as the commanding officer said to us, 'Now', he says, 'I'm afraid it's every man for himself from zero hour - whatever zero hour was - and it's up to yourselves to get off.  If you don't get off, you don't get off.  If you get off, you're lucky.'  So there were three of us in this first foxhole and we debated, 'What are we going to do?' And, I know, if we came out and showed ourselves that was it, we were finished, because we could actually hear the Japanese - talking, and we were under the ground.  And we just lay there until the darkeness came in - we decided to do this - and then when daylight came out in the morning, we decided to creep out and we went - crawled on our bellies - I don't know how far we travelled on our bellies - this sort of, we wouldn't be seen, and we got into right into the jungle again and we hid ourselves in the jungle.  And we were living on bamboo shoots and for say, three to four days - nothing else.  And then we heard voices and we thought it was the Japanese and we just, more or less, 'This, is it. We've had it.'  But it turned out to be Gurkhas and these Gurkhas were sent out to look out - to try and find out some sick or wounded that might be living and we were fortunate enough to be picked up by Gurkhas.  After a while, the Gurkhas fed us on tea and they were really good at making tea, the Gurkhas. We enjoyed their tea.

Operation Thursday was successfully over and Churchill sent Wingate a telegram congratulating him and the Chindits on their outstanding success. This was the largest Allied airborne operation ever conducted until D-Day.  However, tragedy soon hit. On 24th March a plane on which Wingate was travelling crashed.  All on board were killed including a number of war correspondents.

By 30th May work was progressing to establish a flying boat based to evacuate the sick and wounded from Indawgyi Lake.  Around 350 men required evacuation, and their numbers increased at an alarming rate following the two weeks of Monsoon rain (malaria cases spiralled) and with little or no food.  The men were also short of arms and ammunition.

They [the Gurkhas] took us to the rendezvous point where they were supposed to take us to - and then they decided they were going to get a Sunderland Flying Boat to come in from India to take out the sick and the wounded.  So, the Sunderland Flying Boat came in and landed on a lake - the Indawgyi Lake it was called - and they hadn't a clue how deep that lake was but they came in and landed on it and the engineers, they made rafts, of bamboo, like boats - to take us out to the Sunderland Flying Boat.  So we got onto the Sunderland Flying Boat and they took us to the Brahmaputra River in India.  But when it landed on the Brahmaputra River the pilot said, 'Try and get them out as quick as possible - the sick and wounded - we are taking in water, we are taking in water.'  And the water started coming in.  What they did was, when they landed on the lake in Burma, they'd damaged the undercarriage of the flying boat.  They didn't know it like, landed on the Brahmaputra so we - we just got off when the Sunderland Flying Boat sunk into the Brahmaputra River.  So, were taken from there to a hospital and I think I was there in that hospital for seven weeks and then we went into a convalescent camp, up in Pakistan.

I got back on compassionate grounds.  Mrs. Mitford, she was our representative here, was our Welfare Officer for the community, and my mother was on her death bed and Mrs. Mitford did her utmost to get me home, through the War Office.  And after I came out of that convalescence we were sent to a place in India called Punah and we were reorganised, and the battalion was reorganising, rebuilding it, and our next step was the invasion of Singapore.  That was to be our next move.  But as it so happened the atom bomb came in and the invasion never came off.  The regiment did go to Singapore but there was a lot of sabotage going on, you know, after the war had been more or less finished like, you know?  The Japanese were still resisting in pockets, in Singapore.  I was sent from the convalescence camp down to Bombay and I came home on the ship 'Strathnaver' and the sick and the wounded came back on the same ship. 

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