"IF YOU WANT ME COME AND GET ME"
Cpt. Leonard Arthur Pocock 200309
Our father, Leonard
Pocock was a member of the 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment from
1942 to 1946. The following account has been written by his daughter Julie
with valuable contributions from his sons Richard and Robert. Along with
family recollections and assorted official records we've also drawn on
information gathered from the following publications:
'China Dragons' by John Hill Published by Blandford
'The History of The Royal Berkshire Regiment 1920 - 1947' by Brigadier Gordon Blight Published by Staples Press.
"IF YOU WANT ME, COME AND GET ME"
My father, Leonard Arthur Pocock (Len) was a red headed Berkshire man, born in 1916 in Burghclere, a village to the south of Newbury, and one in a long line of Berkshire Pococks. Although he didn't speak with a local accent, I remember him slipping into a 'Berkshire Burr' when reading stories to my brother Robert.
Between the ages of eleven to eighteen my father attended St. Bartholomew's School in Newbury, and we have photos of him in the school rugby team for the years 1932 to 1935.
As well as being a keen sportsman my father was also an excellent artist, being particularly talented in creating very detailed pencil drawings. Between 1927 and 1932 the artist Stanley Spencer was painting the WWI Memorial Chapel at Burghclere and my brother Richard recounts hearing that our grandmother somehow persuaded Stanley to give her teenage son some informal tuition. Robert remembers hearing from our father that Stanley Spencer criticised his drawing as being too realistic, and not creative enough to be 'art'.
A couple of years later and despite Stanley's criticism, my father gained a place at The Slade School of Art in London but his father refused to allow him to attend, insisting he 'get a proper job' instead. My father followed his own father and other family members to work in the Post Office and began his training at Newbury Post Office.
After a few years at Newbury my father transferred to Bedford Post Office. He continued to play rugby and was selected to play for the Bedford Rugby Club, one of the more famous rugby union league clubs. Shortly after moving to Bedford he met his future wife, Kathleen (Katie), who also worked at Bedford Post Office. There is a family story that early in their relationship my father invited her to a dance, (possibly their first date) but he wasn't an accomplished dancer and kept treading on her feet, spoiling her shoes. He later presented her with a small ornamental ceramic court shoe that for many years was used as a cake decoration - perhaps on an anniversary cake, but in my memory the shoe seemed to appear quite frequently (my mother made lots of cakes!).
When my father received his call-up papers he was courting my mother and I believe their relationship was very romantic and intense. It may be because of this, that according to my mother, he refused to comply with the instructions, saying 'If they want me they'll have to come and get me' which of course they did! I can quite believe something like this occurred - it wouldn't have been out of character. I believe that 'as a punishment' he was assigned to the Pioneer Corps which my mother wasn't at all happy about it, in fact she was disappointed he was in the Army at all as she would have much preferred him to be in the Royal Navy, or at least the RAF.
My father's army records certainly support the fact that he was serving in the ranks between May 1940 and August 1941, although a photo from that period suggests he did become a corporal. After attending the 163rd OCTU Pwllheli, Wales he became a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Berkshire Regiment and in August 1941 joined the 7th Battalion based in Maidenhead.
Shortly after receiving his commission he married his Katie and the wedding photos show him looking very smart and handsome in his brand new officer's uniform. The three day honeymoon was spent at The Mitre Hotel on the banks of the River Thames at Hampton Court. My mother was very proud to be an officer's wife and really loved it when he was saluted by other soldiers as they walked out together with him in uniform. She did so like a man in uniform!
Some months after his wedding, my father was attached to Assembly Centre No 16 ITC Slade Camp, Cowley and later moved to Leiston, Suffolk for tropical climate training. In spring 1942, having been transferred to the 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, he was posted to India and arrived in Bombay (most likely to Colaba Barracks) in May.
His army records suggest he was on active service in India and Burma with the 2nd Battalion from May 1942 to March 1945. He always gave the impression that his time in India was one of the best periods of his life, and I'm sure he would have loved both the ceremonial and training activities, as well as the internal security duties that the regiment carried out. He learnt to drive during this period and, despite continuing to drive into his early 80s, claimed never to have taken a civilian driving test.
Always a keen sportsman he mentioned learning to ride a horse and play polo whilst in India, and as a child I remember him riding during a family holiday. Although I was never aware of him playing football a photograph of him with a regimental football team suggests he had some involvement with the team. He spoke about spending time at Ootacamund, which he referred to as Ooty, a hill station in the Western Ghats, a line of hills running along southern India's west coast. He also mentioned Poona, which I believe was also a hill station, located south east of Bombay. Robert recalls hearing about an 'episode' that occurred while my father was in Ooty. Apparently our mother discovered he had taken a woman out in a rowing boat, on Ooty Lake. Our mother was very upset and jealous as many of their courting days had been spent in boats on the River Ouse at Bedford. She felt extremely put out as she was enduring war-time austerity in Britain while he was abroad 'larking about in boats' with another woman!
Sometime after arriving in Bombay (and possibly participating in the guard of honour and parade mounted at Government House for HRH The Duke of Gloucester), records suggest that my father travelled, with his battalion, to various places throughout southern India.
In August 1942 my father's battalion, 2nd Royal Berkshires, moved from Bombay to Poonamallee near to Madras on India's south eastern coast, as it was feared the area may be invaded by the Japanese 'The History of The Royal Berkshire Regiment 1920 - 1947' Brigadier Blight describes how they lived in 'basha huts, constructed of bamboo poles, interlaced with palm fronds and reeds'. Apparently in the tropical heat and humidity these huts provided more comfortable accommodation than the army issue tents.
In January 1943 my father was with his regiment, at St Thomas Mount, in the Tamil region, undergoing training in 'open warfare', under the command of Lt. Colonel Atkins. The aim of the training was to practice, (a) Advance to contact (b) Attack against modern enemy in hill country and special admin problems involved (c) Air co-operation and direct air support. During this period my father is recorded attending a course at D&M (Driver and Mechanical) School.
Training in 'open warfare' continued at St Thomas Mount into March 1943, the objective being: 'To practice in all types of country from open downland to thick scrub, jungle and hills up to 2300 ft.' Officers also attended courses and my father is recorded as having participated in a 'Battle School' course.
In May 1943 the battalion moved further south to Bangalore where they practiced jungle warfare and later in the year continued this training in the teak forests, situated along the Malabar coast, which were considered to be comparable to the Burmese jungle.
At the start of 1944 my father's battalion moved northwards to Bidada, in the Gujurat region, where 'Combined Ops Dryshod Training and Open Warfare' were carried out. My father is listed as Lieut. L A Pocock (PI Comd). From the middle of May he also attended a three week Rifle Pl Course at Tactical Training Centre - Battle School.
By June the regiment had moved to to Janori near to Deolali in the Wester Ghats, north east of Bombay. Here 'Jungle training in all its forms and Dryshod training' continued for some weeks. Whilst training at Janori the battalion was alerted to a possible autumn move into Burma, so jungle training continued despite it being the height of the monsoon season. John Hill in his book 'China Dragons' recalls 'This training, in torrential rain for ten days, tested us severely' and Brigadier Blight states 'It was ‘hard going’ and that it was carried out in the monsoon season added to their difficulties. It was recorded that on the first night 8½ inches of rain fell, and the average daily rate was 1¾ inches. Temporary casualties due to 'foot rot' were high'. In addition to the torrential rain the temperatures were very high averaging over 90 degrees F creating an unbearable humidity of 80%.
In October 1944 the battalion left for Assam, assembling on the Kohima Imphal road ready for the move into Burma.
In November the battalion was given the task of building a twelve mile stretch of road through the jungle to the Chindwin River, beyond which lay the plains of Burma. The surrounding jungle of teak and bamboo spread right down to the existing bullock-cart track, which was steep and narrow and littered with the wreckage of war - skeletons of men and animals, vehicles and equipment. The work consisted of levelling the steep gradients where the track crossed a 3,000 foot high ridge and widening it sufficiently to enable the passage of lorries and tank transporters. According to Brigadier Blight, no-one was exempt from the work, from officers to cooks, they all 'navvied' until the road, named Broadway (the Royal Berkshire's section was christened Berkshire Lane) was completed.
In early December the battalion travelled along Broadway to reach the Chindwin River which they crossed on improvised rafts before travelling over the border into Burma. After the Chindwin crossing the battalion faced a 350 mile march to Shwebo, with a further 70 miles to their eventual target, Mandalay. In addition to carrying 60 pounds (almost 4½ stone) of equipment on their backs, Blight recounts how 'They would need to maintain an average of ten miles a day through jungle clad mountains and across rivers and innumerable chaungs* which made it the worst fighting country in the world'.
*'Chaungs' were 'streams', but at up to 30 yards across, were more like rivers and posed a significant obstacle to the advancing army.
On Boxing Day, at Kanbalu the battalion encountered the Japanese for the first time; the enemy patrols, uttering intimidating cries, attempted to attack the battalion's defended area. Brigadier Blight recounts how 'enemy shells fell, with some bursting in the jungle canopy, sending lethal shards of wood and bamboo raining down. These shards could main or kill and casualties quickly mounted'. Roads and tracks in the area were heavily mined but the advance to Shwebo continued steadily despite persistent opposition from the Japanese, who were entrenched and well-hidden in the villages and along the route, and supported by mortars and machine guns. Robert remembers hearing a story about when stalking the Japanese, they would sometimes have to lie silently in a hollow in the jungle, barely a few yards from a Japanese entrenchment, for up to a day without making a move or a sound.
Early in January 1945 Shwebo was captured and the next objective was Mandalay which involved crossing a formidable obstacle, the Irrawaddy River. Potential crossing points were heavily defended by Japanese troops and the battalion was ordered to clear a crossing point located near the village of Kabwet, and for the remainder of January heavy fighting, including air attacks, raged in the area. My father told Robert a story of wading through swampy water and coming out with leeches clinging to his legs and only the lighted end of a cigarette could persuade them to loosen their hold. It was not until the beginning of February that the battle for the Irrawaddy crossing was over and after more than a month of intensive fighting, the battalion spent a rest period in the Shwebo area.
It was during this period, in the middle of January, my father was granted four weeks sick leave. I'm not sure why sick leave was granted, although a statement written by John Hill, commanding officer of B Company, states that in March my father 'returned from hospital to re-join the battalion having been wounded earlier.' As far as I'm aware my father was only wounded once, and that occurred later during the attack on Mandalay, I have no recollection of there ever being mention of an earlier wounding; however I do remember my mother saying he had contracted malaria in Burma; could this account for the sick leave - who knows? Wading through swampy water in previous weeks must have been a risk for this and my father did suffer attacks of shingles in the 1950s and 60s, which is said to be a residual feature for those having suffered malaria.
My father's army records show that following a medical in mid-February, at British Military Hospital Wellington, he was sent to a Reinforcement Section before re-joining the battalion. BMH Wellington was a hospital located in India about 8 miles from Ootacamund and some hundreds of miles from the battalion's location in Burma, so I assume he was flown there, but it seems a long way to be sent for four week's sick leave.
February 19th was a momentous day as the battalion crossed the Irrawaddy and the advance to Mandalay was underway. On route at Shwegondaing, where the Japanese were well dug in, one of the heaviest artillery bombardments in Burma took place.
The Regiment reached Mandalay in early March and my father was attached to B Company as 2nd in command to John Hill. He appears to have been 'promoted in the field' to the rank of Captain, although according to his service record this was not made official. My mother used to say that although he received promotion the 'paperwork didn't catch up with him' perhaps this was the case here?
During the Regiment's involvement in the battle for Mandalay my father received a gunshot wound to the leg. Many years ago when I was a young child, he told me the story of the incident. As I remember it he'd been a passenger in a jeep driving through a village in Burma when he was shot (My brother Robert always believed it happened in Rangoon but we now know it to be the outskirts of Mandalay). He'd been sitting in the front seat of the jeep beside the driver (another soldier), with one leg out straight and the other bent up at the knee. The bullet passed through the side of the jeep, from right to left, making a glancing blow through the underside of his right thigh, but then entering his left thigh hitting right into the bone. I believed his driver was shot and killed. Our father told Robert that after being shot, his left leg simply 'flopped over to the left' with no real pain, but as the bullet exited his thigh it threw out much of the thigh bone causing a huge gash more than a foot in length.
In 2016 I read John Hill's book 'China Dragons' which includes a more detailed account of the incident. It was interesting to discoverer that my recollections are broadly accurate except that thankfully, the driver was not killed, but only slightly wounded, despite the jeep being fired on by 'light machine-guns, rifles, grenades and every weapon bar the 75 mm' and when they got back to the company area the jeep was 'pepper-potted with holes'. They clearly had a very lucky escape and I believe my father owed his life to the skill of his driver who 'raced through the attack at 60mph'. I was amazed to discover, when Vic Sharman (Royal Berks web-master) sent me a copy, that this incident was featured as a 'True War Story' in a 1978 issue of Victor comic. My father was still alive when the comic was published but I assume was totally unaware of it. Robert feels my parents would have had a good laugh about it, with our father rather fancying himself as that rugged, racy soldier depicted in the comic story.
For some reason I've always assumed my father was shot with a rifle by a lone Japanese sniper, but having read more about the incident, as recorded by both John Hill and Brigadier Blight, I wondered if his wounds were perhaps the result of machine gun fire. However Richard remembers being told he was shot with a 'dum dum' (exploding) bullet, which were banned by the Geneva Convention, but as the Japanese hadn't signed up to the agreement they continued to use these bullets in their weapons. This would actually make more sense as my father's left leg was severely damaged, his thigh muscles torn to pieces and his femur shattered; an injury perhaps more consistent with a 'dum dum' bullet than a normal rifle shot or machine gun fire.
The War Office Casualty List 1712 (Officers) dated 22nd March 1945 includes the following entry: Royal Berkshire Regiment. Pocock W/Lt L.A. 200309. Dangerously ill 18.3.45. Date of casualty 14.3.45.
The 14th March 1945 marked the day my father's war was over but also marked the beginning of his own personal battle.
After being wounded my father believed he lay in a shed or hut-like structure for three days mainly unconscious but remembered someone going through his pockets and his watch being stolen. He also remembered 'things' crawling over him.
Sergeant Bertram King, helped my father when his jeep returned to the company area and recounts the incident in a 2008 interview (a transcript is available on the Royal Berks web-site), 'Len Pocock, that was the bloke who got shot up, we took him out of his jeep and he's been shot to pieces, his mess tins he was sitting on in the jeep, everything was cut up, and we put him on a stretcher, on one of those jeep type stretchers and he went off………he stopped a load from a Japanese machine gun. Didn't think he would make it to be quite honest'. It's clear from Bertram's account that my father was taken by Jeep, possibly to an advanced dressing station or field hospital for emergency treatment and not left in a 'shed' as he believed.
Another memory my father recounted was that after he was wounded he was in hospital (Burma? India?) in plaster from the chest, down his left leg to his foot and half way down his right leg. He had maggots under the plaster and could feel them crawling about over his skin and the sensation drove him mad.
My father was in hospital, possibly in Burma initially, then in India (18 BGH and 134 IBGH) from March to October 1945 when he was repatriated to England. He remained in hospital until about June 1946 and relinquished his commission at Aldershot in October of that year.
My brother Richard and I have always understood he was repatriated by hospital ship and I believe I was told that a stuffed toy panda I had as a child, was made by him during the voyage, however the Army records suggest otherwise. The records show he embarked Bombay for the UK on 11th October 1945 and was admitted to hospital in Berkshire four days later, so it seems he must have been flown home - something we didn't know.
During his time in UK hospitals my father was allocated to 17 Infantry Holding Battalion (ex. overseas, medical) and classified as category D, a classification for service personnel who were deemed to be totally unfit for any kind of military service. Holding Battalions 'held' troops who, for a variety of reasons, would otherwise be temporarily 'homeless', for example the medically unfit, those awaiting orders or reposting to other units.
It's likely I first met my father in the spring of 1946 when I was about 3 years old. At the time he was hospitalised in St Albans, an easy train journey from our home in Bedford. I remember him semi-reclined in a hospital bed with covers over what I later realised was a 'leg cage'. This frightened me as I didn't know what the strange shape was hidden under the covers. Over his bed was a trapeze bar which he used to lift himself up, but for my visit it held an assortment of plasticine models, possibly animals, that he'd made for my amusement. I think my father was understandably more interested in talking to my mother than to me and I seem to recall the plasticine figures soon transferred to the 'trapeze' belonging to the soldier in the adjacent bed, who entertained me for much of the visit and it's him I remember most.
My father's time in Burma had a lasting psychological effect on him and these days he would probably be diagnosed with a severe form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For most of his life, in times of stress, he had recurring nightmares believing he was back fighting in the jungle. He spoke occasionally about the Japanese, hidden in the jungle calling out in English, taunting the British soldiers (known as 'jitter parties'). He remembered not being able to rescue dead or wounded colleagues, as the enemy were hiding in the surrounding jungle waiting to shoot anyone who tried. He spoke of his distress at hearing the sounds of wounded or dying men and not being able to help them and the smell of rotting bodies. In 'China Dragons' John Hill relates having to reinforce to his men that 'In an attack….if a man was hit, whoever he was, all had to understand that they should not be rescued or looked after until the attack was over…it was paramount to maintain the momentum of forward at all costs if we were to kill the enemy and seize their ground'.
About 1954, after a visit to the cinema, I remember my father saying that the way films depicted people being shot, wasn't anything like it was in real life. Some years later he also told Robert that in films, people got shot and instantly fell over dead, which was pure fiction – in the reality of warfare that he had witnessed, soldiers more often died after many minutes or even hours of pain and agony.
My father left hospital in 1946, probably about June, and returned to live in Bedford. Initially he spent much of his time in an upstairs bedroom and I remember him sitting in a chair wearing a dressing gown patterned with green dragons. I remember a day late in 1946 when, at the age of four, I'd been sent off to Kindergarten on my own (that would not be allowed these days but not unusual back then). Finding the building closed I took myself back home - it was only a street away. I remember banging on the front door and eventually shouting through the letter box but no-one answered. I knew my father was upstairs and I thought he was deliberately refusing to let me in. I felt scared and rejected and worried that I'd done something to upset him and ended up siting on the doorstep crying until my mother, having 'popped to the shop', returned to let me in. it wasn't until years later that I wondered whether he'd been unable to manage the stairs unaided and just couldn't get down to answer the door.
In the early months at home my father's leg was obviously quite stiff and he always sat with it stretched out. His shattered femur resulted in a shortened left leg and for the rest of his life he walked with a noticeable limp and for many years used a walking stick. Initially he was issued with a built-up shoe which he hated and eventually refused to wear, preferring to limp instead. Before the war my father had been a keen and competent sportsman, playing rugby and cricket for his school and later rugby for Bedford Rugby Club. Now his injury prevented him taking part in any of the sports he enjoyed - even walking was a challenge and in the months after leaving hospital his physical ability was very limited. Even after his fitness improved he was never able to play rugby again, although he remained a keen follower of the game, attending matches at Twickenham. He did however take up cricket for a while but only as a batsman (he required a runner). but was unable to field and eventually had to be content with following cricket on the radio.
My father eventually returned to work in, I think, 1949 when he joined the Ordnance Service as a cartographer, based in Surrey. For some while he lived away in digs, returning to Bedford at weekends. I'm afraid I rather liked it when he was away as I was allowed to play in the street with my friends; when he was home I had to play in the garden.
In 1950 we moved to Surrey and between the years 1955 and 1961, and maybe beyond, my father was a member of the Army Emergency Reserve of Officers (I believe this became the TA) and in 1955 was at last, officially awarded the rank of Captain. He regularly attended 'camp' which I believe was an annual event involving two weeks, spent under canvas. Robert remembers that he took an old green army ‘grip’ bag with brown leather handles, which would bulge with all his clothes and equipment. Going to ‘camp’ seemed to be the high spot of his year and probably awakened memories of the army camaraderie which he seemed to like. Before going off, he would show Robert the maps of where he was going, Rob thinks it was the Lake District. Rob remembers poring over the OS maps and being amazed at the mass of brown lines showing the steep hills.
In 1956 we moved again, this time to Hertfordshire as my father had accepted employment with the De Havilland aircraft company in Hatfield, which subsequently became Hawker Siddeley Dynamics in the early 1960s. From there he retained a lifelong interest in aircraft, and would take Robert many miles to aircraft shows in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire on the back of his blue ‘Lambretta’ scooter. When in 1966 the government of the day scrapped the pioneering ‘TSR2’ fighter aircraft (which at the time was the most advanced fighter jet in the world) he was bitterly disappointed, but he did have the compensation of sitting with Robert watching the maiden flight of Concord on TV in March 1969.
Back at De Havilland's he worked with early computers when they were the size of wardrobes. He was also involved in Britain's Blue Streak rocket programme and was present at the launch at Woomera, in South Australia.
In August 1965 the family moved to Hampshire where my father became director of a company (which we knew as The Data Centre, based in Aldershot), which was set up by one of his colleagues, Jim Hayes, from Hawker Siddeley. The company had a contract with the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, which involved analysing the data tapes used in the early versions of the ‘black box’ flight recorder, still broadly the same as those used in aircraft today.
After his retirement my parents lived in Devon for a while, then Lincolnshire where my father died at the age of 86 on 25th February 2003. At his funeral our mother placed his old Royal Berkshire beret and folded brown gloves on the lid of his coffin. At the end of the service the pre 1900 Royal Berkshire regimental march, 'To Be a Farmer's Boy' was played.
Unfortunately I had a very unhappy and difficult relationship with my father but researching and writing this account has enabled me to understand more about the man I knew as my dad, and the experiences that made him the person he was.
Lord Louis Mountbatten, Far East Commander addressing the troops in Burma said, 'I understand you believe you're the forgotten army. That's not true. The truth is nobody's ever heard of you.' We hope by contributing our father's story the men of the 'Forgotten Army' will not be forgotten and their contributions in the Far East during WW2 will be recognised by future generations.
Cpt. Leonard Arthur Pocock
Cpt. Leonard Arthur Pocock
Cpt. Leonard Arthur Pocock's