Claim A Charmed Life
Cpl. Arthur George Pike 14260370
.....I was always
interested in regimental numbers and could tell at once if a man was from the
Royal Berks or the Northampton’s, Devon’s, etc. I understand that
following the capture of so many prisoners from the same home area in Singapore
a new system of numbering began and I was 14260370 and labelled general service.
It did not escape my notice that the winning line recently on DREAM NUMBERS
would have been an R. Berks number!
.....When I arrived at the 2nd Battalion in November, '43 they were operating as an internal security force looking after the Indian people south of Bangalore, and undergoing a training exercise involving the 19th and 25th Indian Divisions.
.....We were built up to full strength to go into the line, but did not have a Major as second-in-command, so when the Colonel was transferred to a signals unit on the first day in action we had some very temporary arrangements and Col Finch was called out from Ireland to take over. In the meanwhile some Majors took over and we had rather a shaky time.
.....The first day in action was Christmas Day, when some men in jeeps from C Company struck a defensive position with landmine's on a jungle track leading south to Kanbalu. The battalion was advancing on Kanbalu, half on the jungle track, and half on the single track railway line. Our half on the railway line came across a single sniper, who wounded the Pioneer sergeant who had to be carried about because we were operating Chindit fashion with all supplies coming in by parachute. It was not clear what we should do, and eventually a new officer came through the jungle behind us to fetch us back to the battalion perimeter.
.....There was one snag. Although the enemy were near, we were not permitted to dig as they would hear us and be able to attack. The whole operation was carried out in radio silence. An enemy patrol of two men came along in the night with their grenade discharger, set it up virtually within touching distance of men in A Company positions, fired a number of grenades over our position and into the jungle beyond. So ended our first day in action. I was lying on the ground listening to the thing firing and hoping the bombs would not fall on me, as I had no semblance of a trench or foxhole.
.....Next day we were off again and passed through Leiktu and other villages towards Shwebo, which our battalion cleared, and were granted a rest nearby. This included getting eggs from the natives, but we were suddenly required to face an enemy unit which had crossed the Irrawaddy to our side, and caught the Sikh machine-gun battalion without any mortars.
.....Sometime after the war I was contacted by an officer from the Sikhs and he personally thanked the R Berks Regt through me for saving their lives. We had mortars and were able to combat the mortars being used freely by the enemy.
.....When it came to crossing the Irrawaddy, I claim to have been at the back of the last boat carrying the 19 Division across. We were soon in Madaya, and then onto Mandalay. This seemed very important but I learnt after that the forces clearing Meiktila had probably achieved greater success than we had, but that didn't really matter - it was a team effort. We had been switched from that Corps in a move that bamboozled the enemy.
.....I am finding it difficult to remember happenings in Mandalay. We were pushed down the river bank past the fort and then turned east to cut off their retreat, but they succeeded in using the sewers to escape our attentions. I don't think many got away, especially after Maj Twidle’s efforts up on the hill. My buddy from Codsall was up there with him, but we simply pushed ahead along the streets.
.....After the withdrawal we were sent to Maymyo, a hill station to the east. The existence of the unmistakable shapes of a golf course gave us something completely different to think about, but we were soon needed to support the advance to Toungoo, where the road to the Mawchi tin mines started. We then had a slow advance to the flank, capturing the Thandaung tea factory, and ultimately Mawchi itself.
.....Japanese organised resistance had come to an end and we settled into an encampment at Toungoo. Isolated enemy troops were still infiltrating behind us trying to find a way home.
.....August 14th saw an official end to hostilities, and in December my name came out of the hat for blighty leave? This was the last time my name would be in. After being rushed to Rangoon the boat did not have room for me, so for a month my soldiering consisted of waiting for the next boat and I was home in mid-February.
.....They took me back by air for a further three and a half months. The battalion remained on service in Burma until February, '47, but I had resisted the temptation to sign on, believing it important to get home and back to training as soon as possible. My War Service neatly carved out four years exactly, and I was back in training a week or two after getting off the boat.
.....If someone wants me to claim a charmed life, it does seem likely that everywhere I went, they seemed to be doing something somewhere else. Just as well their numbers had been so shrunk in the battle of Imphal. The 1st Battalion took part in that action, when we were still defending Southern India.
Cpl. Arthur George Pike