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Chindit Lit

by Dave Richards

My local watering hole is the British Legion. It's a boozer for a certain circle who share a common taste for cheap ale, a full selection of togger via the Arab Channel on the big screen, Channel 4 Racing on the other telly, the facility for placing bets behind the bar, complimentary hot-dogs on a Sunday and a restrictive door policy for women and kids. Around the bar are various plaques and insignia for regiments whose former members have bevvied there over the years. Pride of place is given to a "Chindits" plaque behind the bar, just next to the picture of a tremendous bint disrobing behind the packets of Dry Roasted Peanuts. Above the bar are various other "Burma Star" mementoes. One afternoon I got talking to one of the old codgers from The Top Table about the various plaques and it turns out that loads of them were given to The Leg by the son of one of the old boys who had passed away. He'd fought as a Chindit after the Kings Liverpool Regiment, amongst others, had been seconded into Burma as part of a guerilla force to be inserted well behind the Japanese lines - "The Chindits was full of Scousers lad", said the old boy before shuffling off for a go of the pipe. A load of scousers causing pandy behind Jap lines in the Burmese jungle ? That's got to be worth a Google .

From http://www.burmastar.org.uk/chindits.htm

"The Chindits were first in action in Japanese Occupied Burma as Long Range Penetration Troops led by their Commander Maj/Gen Orde C. Wingate (D.S.O.) Their second expedition was as part of the "Fourteenth Army" but made history by being the first troops in Burma to invade by glider and parachute, this took place in the Chindwin area of Burma. By destroying railway lines and harassing the Japanese they caused havoc through out the area, in the later stages they were seconded to Gen Joe Stillwell's American Chinese Forces and suffered further casulties, they were eventually withdrawn and returned to India where they were disbanded. The original unit comprised :

13 Battalion Kings Liverpool regt
3rd Bn 2nd Gurkha rifles
2nd Bn Burma rifles
142nd Commando company."

The basic gist of the two Chindit campaigns was for a well trained guerilla force to operate for long periods behind enemy lines. According to plans laid down by Wingate, they would create a "stronghold" - a heavily fortified base in the jungle with a airstrip which would be used for both resupply and evacuation of wounded. From the strongholds, units called "columns" would go out and kill Japanese forces in the area and blow up railways and lines of communication, making the Japs move troops away from the frontline where they were massing for a planned invasion of India. It was a bit like marching to White Hart Lane for a night game in 1981. In the first campaign, personally led by Wingate, the troops went into Burma on foot, using rafts and boats to cross rivers. They spilt up for various objectives and when achieved they made their own way back (one column in Northern Burma ended up lost near the Himalayas and were led back to India through the mountains by a hermit who befriended them). The success of this initial expedition led to the formation of a larger force for the second campaign with Wingate in overall command. Most of the Chindits were flown in by glider. The gliders also took heavy guns, mortars, mules, tractors and equipment for constructing airstrips.

There's a number of books available recounting both the Chindit campaigns and the biographies of the key individuals. I ended up getting a load of them second-hand from amazon marketplace and these two are worth a look.

"Wingate And The Generals" - David Rooney. This book is part biography and part reappraisal of the career of Orde Wingate, the Chindits commander, who died in 1944 after a plane crash at the start of the second Chindit campaign. His reputation was left in tatters after the publication of the Official History Of The Burma Campaign in 1961. Wingate's undiguised contempt for non-combatant pen-pushers made him many enemies at the HQ of the British Army in India, and his eccentricities led many to question his sanity. In staff meeting he occasionally wore an alarm clock around his wrist and a raw onion on a string around his neck, which he would bite into as a snack. He often went about without clothing. Soldiers were used to him giving them orders, wearing nothing but a shower cap, and continuing to scrub himself with a shower brush. Lord Moran, Winston Churchill's personal physician wrote in his diaries that "[Wingate] seemed to me hardly sane --- in medical jargon a borderline case". One of the administration staff he had upset, Major General Woodburn Kirby, was later tasked with writing the Far East Campaign section and he took his revenge in print. The surviving Chindit veterans were incensed at the revisionism, as Wingate was an inspirational and respected leader. As well as detailing the Chindit campaigns and redressing the damage done by the Official History, the book covers Wingate's early life and pre-WW2 military action. His early life was influenced by his upbringing as part of a ascetic Old Testament-inspired Christian sect called the Plymouth Bretheren. Through this Wingate became a comitted Zionist, and one of his first overseas postings was to Palestine in the late 1930s where he helped the Jewish settlers organise themselves into military units to resist the local Arab population. The success of his methods meant that even now Orde Wingate is a Zionist hero. From Palestine he went to Ethiopia to form "Gideon Force" to help Haile Selassie's army fight the invading Italian force. It was Wingate, riding on a white horse, who led the victorious procession of Haile Selassie's men into Addis Ababa after the Italians had been defeated. His report on the Ethiopia campaign was seen by Winston Churchill, who ensured that his expertise in guerilla warfare would be used against the previously invincible Japanese Imperial Army in Burma. Overall this is a tremendous book, both for illuminating Wingate's life and for putting the boot in on the jobsworths who slit him up a treat over a decade later.

"Prisoners Of Hope" - Michael Calvert. "Mad" Mike Calvert was a senior commander in both Chindit campaigns and later one of the commanders of the original SAS. It covers the second Chindit campaign and is a personal memoir of his command of 77th Brigade. One thing that strikes you when reading this book is how blase these men are when it comes to violence, especially when you compare it with any of the jarg "battles" described in nearly every football hooligan memoir. There's a famous and bloody battle called "Pagoda Hill" where the Chindits and the Japs fought hand to hand for an afternoon, samurai swords versus kukri knives and bayonets. With the odd grenade getting lobbed in the mix as well. A posthumous VC was awarded to one soldier who fought on after getting a arm chopped off by a sword. Calvert covers the thing in one paragraph. It's all proper old school stiff-upper-lipness. Although there's lots of military stuff in here where he goes into detail over the complex planning required to keep the forces operational behind enemy lines, it's the anecdotes that make the book so readable - the various beard styles of the Chindits ("Navy Cut", "Shakespearian"), his favourite animals (mules - he went off dogs after he saw a officer's cocker spaniel eating the face of a dead Tommy lying in the road during the withdrawal from Mandalay), riding capsized elephants down the River Chindwin, Nigerian soldiers spreading blood plasma on crackers because they thought it was jam - and getting whipped for the privilege. And loads more. There's an informative appendix, including interviews with captured Japanese who reveal how impressed they were with the Chindits as a fighting force. This book is still available and well worth a nose.

One other book to mention is called "Dingle To Delhi" by Jack Lindo. It is only available via mailorder and is proving difficult to track down. In contrast to the other two, this is a private's account of the jungle fighting from scouser Jack Lindo who fought in Mad Mike's battalion. If it ever turns up I'll update this page ! In the meantime check out Jack's website http://web.ukonline.co.uk/jack.lindo/ for more Chindit fun.








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