William (Bill) Dalton
was born on the 4th August, 1916 in the Village of Croston near
Chorley, Lancashire. He was the only son born to Jethro and Grace
Dalton (nee Catterall). Bill had three sisters, one of whom survives
to this day and has attained the grand age of 92 years.
Bill still lives in Croston
Village, not a stones throw from the house in which he was born.
His son John lives nearby and his daughter Audrey visits frequently.
Bill had an uneventful,
happy 'normal 'childhood and after leaving school was apprenticed
as a Painter and Decorator.
In March 1940, along with
thousands of other young Lancastrians, his life was changed forever
when "Duty Called", and he was conscripted into the Army
for War Service.
And so it was that on Thursday 15th March, 1940 William " Bill"
Dalton at the age of 23 years reported (along with many other young
men) to Wellington Barracks Bury, and there began Basic Training
as Fusilier 3454270 Dalton W. (see gallery
photograph of Bill in Battledress taken shortly after
he was conscripted)
Matters had moved very
swiftly prior to his arrival at Wellington Barracks. Only the previous
Saturday he had presented himself at Croston Post Office in answer
to the Conscription Notice (a Military Administration necessity
at that time), and at the beginning of the following week he attended
at Pole Street, Preston for his compulsory Medical Examination.
Having been found to be 'fit in wind and limb' and having had his
testicles weighed with the obligatory cough, he was declared fit
for Military Service.
Along with numerous other
young men who had attended their
Pre Entry Medical, Bill was given a Military Travel Warrant and
ordered to report to Wellington Barracks post haste to begin training.
Thus began approximately
three months of rigorous Basic Training, the format and undoubted
pleasure of which will be instantly recalled by all former soldiers.
During his first week of
training Bill was to receive his first (and perhaps not last) Army
'b***cking' from non other than the Depot's Commanding Officer at
that time Lieutenant Colonel. Slingsby. (CO)
Bill was heading for the
dining halls and had his 'side cap' stuffed under his epaulette,
and was carrying his knife, fork and spoon in his right hand. (all
former soldiers will know these items as simply K.F.S!).
Bill saw the CO who he was about to pass and already knew enough
that he was required to salute officers. What he had forgotten or
simply did not know was that you do not salute officers when not
wearing your headdress.
Nor do you give the CO
a threesome K.F.S. salute with the right hand!
Bill was 'spoken to' by
the CO and asked how long he had been in the army. Bill rather sheepishly
replied "only a week Sir!!"
Lt. Col. Slingsby clearly
took pity on Bill and 'offered' him appropriate advice. It must
have been good, Bill can recall the incident 65 years later as though
it was yesterday!
Another story of that time
is perhaps a good reflection of how discipline was enforced and
how it was possible to very quickly fall 'foul'.
Daily Orders always stated
the 'dress of the day' i.e. working dress, shirt sleeve order, buttons
done up or open neck etc. and the 'dress code' was also applicable
to troops leaving barracks for the occasional night out.
One Saturday afternoon,
Bill had obtained a pass to leave barracks and in accordance with
the dress of the day wore his greatcoat with buttons 'fastened'.
On leaving Wellington Barracks, he entered the Guardroom where he
was required to produce his pass. Whilst doing so the Guard Commander
leant over his desk and pointed out that Bill had not fastened the
bottom button on his greatcoat. Needless to say Bill was ordered
back to his billet and never had his night out in Bury!!
At the conclusion of Basic
Training (approximately late May 1940), Bill was given the choice
of joining one of three specialist units.
This was not perhaps as
glamorous as it may sound!
The choice was one of the
Motorised Transport (MT)
Bren Carrier Section or
Bill who was already a
qualified driver and a keen motor-cyclist chose the MT Section.
He was therefore posted to the Depot's Motorised Transport (MT)
Section, which at that time was based at Lower-Croft Mills near
the Village of Walshaw (about 3 miles from Wellington Barracks).
Although part of the 'Mills'
are still intact, the area of the Lower-Croft Billets just north
of the Lower-Croft Mills Depot, now form part of a large housing
development. (See Bill's Gallery
- photo taken outside the 'Wooden Huts' at Lower-Croft Billet)
During the following weeks and months Bill undertook various driving
duties, including transporting Officers 'here, there and every where'
and also performing duties as a motorcycle despatch rider.
As a qualified driver on
both four and two wheels, Bill later found him self assigned to
Driving Instruction Duties and spent numerous hours teaching Army
recruits how to drive. It is a fact that in the late 1930's early
40's the ability to drive was not common and Bill's "teaching
skills" were in great demand.
Bill tells a truly sad
but heartwarming tale of the "knock-on" effects of the
war during those early dark days of 1940, whilst based at Lower-Croft
On the 4th June, 1940,
the German Army seized the Port of Dunkirk, and in the days prior
to and thereafter, members of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
began arriving back on the UK mainland.
The returning troops, many
in sheer desperate state were subsequently billeted throughout the
United Kingdom. Such was the scale of the Evacuation and administrative
turmoil that followed (with due regard to the monumental and sterling
efforts made by many individuals both Military and Civilian, as
readers will be only too well aware), quite a number of the evacuated
BEF troops found themselves in the Bury area.
In the true spirit of Lancastrians
everywhere, Bill and his fellow Fusiliers based at Lower-Croft Mills
actually gave up their billets and blankets in favour of the returning
troops, and spent several nights sleeping in the fields adjacent
to the camp. Bill says that no orders were necessary, it was just
done. It would suffice to say that the needs of the many outweighed
the needs of the few!
At about this time Bill
was assigned as a temporary driver to a Major Crawford, who was
overseeing training (and living on) at the Holcombe Moor Training
Camp. Major Crawford's regular driver had gone on leave (as it turned
out much to the annoyance of Bill).
The Camp at Holcombe is
about 5 miles north of Bury and to this day remains MOD Property
and regularly used as a Live Firing and Explosive Demolition Training
In June/July/August 1940,
Manchester, along with many other British Cities (Coventry in particular
along with London) was the subject of heavy bombing by the German
Air Force (Luftwaffe).
Major Crawford was most
adamant that Bill remained at Holcombe Moor Camp with 'his vehicle',
and should be readily available at all times to return him ( Major
Crawford) to Wellington Barracks should the need arise.
After two and half weeks
on stand by and being confined to Holcombe Moor Camp, Bill had become
thoroughly cheesed off and therefore asked Major Crawford for a
Very reluctantly, Major
Crawford gave Bill the evening off, but issued strict instructions
that Bill should return to camp A.S.A.P.. should bombs start to
drop on Manchester!
Right, fair enough thought
Bill, stuff Manchester, I need a break, and I'm off!
Bill enjoyed his night
off and no bombs fell on Manchester that night! (well, non that
Bill knows of!)
A further tale told by Bill about this time is of a Captain or Major
Peacock, a Bury man through and through. (Major) Peacock was based
at Wellington Barracks and came from a prominent business family
Readers will no doubt recall
the ladies of the ATS, many of whom were based at Wellington Barracks
throughout the war years. One of Bill's many duties as the 'Duty
Driver' of the day, was to convey various personnel 'hither and
thither' around the County.
One day he was instructed
by a Lance Corporal who had a very curious Polish sounding name,
to convey a particular ATS Lady into Bury Town Center. She visited
several commercial premises, purchased various goods which turned
out to be destined for the Officers Mess.
The ATS lady having visited
numerous 'emporiums' throughout Bury then asked Bill, to be taken
to Silver Street, Bury.
A short time later Bill
found himself parked outside the premises of "Peacocks of Bury",
Wine Merchants of Distinction. Our ATS lady there placed a substantial
'drinks order' to be supplied directly to the Officers Mess at Wellington
Barracks! Keeping it in the family seems an appropriate term!
As a member of the MT section,
Driving Instructor and Dispatch Rider, Bill subsequently found himself
being sent on a three month Vehicle Maintenance Course at 'Lookers'
of Manchester. Bill describes it as a basic mechanics course. Lookers
were at that time the main Agent for Bedford and Vauxhall Motors
and one of the biggest motor dealers in Manchester. Upon completion
of his training course Bill was issued with the 'Red Book' which
appears in his photo gallery. All the civilian instructors at Lookers
signed the back page.
During his time at Lower-
Croft Mills Depot, Bill regularly drove for the following Officers:
Holcombe Camp Story
Major Dodds ?
Lieutenant Apps (in charge of the Bren Carriers)
(Lt. Apps was the officer who gave Bill his Military Driving Test)
From March, 1940 when Bill
was conscripted into the Army until approximately August/September,
1941 he remained at either Wellington Barracks or Lower- Croft Mills.
During these early days
of Army life Bill freely admits that he had a relatively easy time
of it and was able (as and when granted leave) to travel to and
from his home in Croston Village on his Rudge motorcycle. (See
However, Bill's apparent
cushy Army life was about to change for ever, when in September,
1941 he was posted to the 10th Battalion the Lancashire Fusiliers.
Bill's life in the Army
had taken a serious turn.
He was shortly to go to
A war that he would be
extremely lucky to survive
The 10th battalion the
Lancashire Fusiliers (along with the 9th battalion) was raised on
the same day, 4th July, 1940. The 9th were later converted into
a RAC Regiment, but later disbanded and dispersed. The 10th battalion
however remained intact, and after initially being formed at Exeter
from cadres supplied by the Devonshire Regiment and the Somerset
Light Infantry, the Battalion received its first intakes of recruits
at Coatbridge, near Glasgow.
The battalion's first commanding
officer, Lieutenant- Colonel G .C. H. Stannus, was later to go on
to command the battalion with great distinction and led the battalion
in their first operations in Burma. Bill was later to be assigned
as his driver and drove his "CO" for many thousands of
He speaks of his former
CO with huge respect
Following its initial establishment
and shake down as a new unit, the 10th battalion was posted to the
Lowestoft area on the east coast where they were employed on Coastal
In September, 1941 the battalion received orders for mobilization
overseas and were thus withdrawn to the Gloucester area. It was
at this time that Bill joined the battalion, perhaps in truth not
knowing what the future was going to bring.
He was initially billeted
in the Village of Adlestrop 3 miles east of Stow-on-the-Wold and
recalls staying at Dalesford Hall. The battalion however was only
there for a very short time before being re-located to Unsworth
Mills, near Whitefield not far south of Bury. (this area is now
a huge housing estate)
It was whilst stationed
at Unsworth Mills and in preparation for service overseas, that
Bill recalls the story of the "disappearing Rudge Motorcycle".
As previously mentioned
Bill was a very keen motorcyclist and the owner of a very fine '
Rudge '. Upon his return to the Bury area, he had once again begun
to use his motorcycle, which whenever possible, he kept at Unsworth
At some time in perhaps
late November, 1940 (Bill cannot recall exactly) the battalion (to
a man) found themselves confined to barracks. This it later transpired
was due to the battalion's imminent departure for "duties overseas".
Bill was very concerned
that he would quite literally have to dump his motorcycle at the
camp for the "duration". Not wishing to leave what was
in fact an expensive piece of machinery to the attentions of any
passing Tom, Dick or Harry Bill decided to speak to the then RSM
Bill his sought permission to leave the barracks and return his
beloved motorcycle to his home in Croston Village for safe keeping.
RSM Whitcher) however,
issued Bill with the sternest of warnings (as only an RSM can!),
regarding the dire consequences that would befall anyone leaving
camp in contravention of the confinement order.
Bill had known 'Bert' Whitcher
for quite some time and they had in fact got on quite well. Whilst
been warned of the serious repercussions of failing to obey orders
Bill noticed something, something special
a little twinkle in the RSM's eye!!!
Bill therefore decided
that he was going to risk it, and set about a devious plan to sneak
the bike off camp and get it back to his home in Croston Village.
A short time later he put
his plan into action, and with the help of several mates he started
the bike up on the pretext of 'showing off' the bike to the assembled
group. Anyone passing he believed, would assume it was just a group
of enthusiasts talking 'bike'.
However Bill's motives
were far more devious. He was actually getting the bike warmed up
for the escape!
His plan though had one
huge potential drawback. 'Bert' Whitcher!
The topography of the camp
and lay out of buildings meant that to leave camp there was no other
option but to have to pass directly in front of the RSM's Office
/Billet. Surely he would be heard.
Again, a further complication
was that Bill could not be seen to be riding a civilian motorcycle
whilst in Uniform, and therefore had to opt for a disguise from
a mixture of civilian and military clothing.
Cutting this story slightly
short Bill, with a sharp intake of breath a lump in his throat and
a thumping in his chest decided that the time had come and he roared
off straight past the RSM's Office as quickly as he dared.
Much to his own surprise
as anyone else's he made it out of camp without being challenged,
and rode along a dirt track, and then by devious pre planned route
headed off through Unsworth, Whitfield and Radcliffe.
His luck however was about
to run out.
He was spotted
spotted by the boys in blue!!
At around that time the
local Constabulary had started using MG Sports Cars as Road Patrol
Vehicles (most probably 2 seater MG TA's).
The chase was on!
Had he been seen or heard
leaving camp??........ had the Police been informed and were they
actually looking for him?.....a whole host of questions went through
.is Military clink really that bad??!!
Bill was not going to hang
about waiting for the answers
.he was off!
What followed as described
by Bill would undoubtedly have formed a brilliant script for an
episode of the Keystone Cops.
Bill was chased here, there and every where. Down side streets,
up side streets, main roads, alleys, you name it he rode
down it, along it and up it!!
It will be enough to say
and as an indication of how long and far the chase ensued, that
Bill finally shook off his pursuers on the far side of Bolton near
the Horwich border!!!
Bill thankfully, finally
made it back to Croston Village without further incident
A relative later drove
him back to Unsworth where Bill sneaked back into camp and anxiously
asked if he had been missed? Yes you daft **^>++!!!
you should have been on guard two hours ago!!!! Thankfully a fellow
Fusilier had stood guard duty in his place, and as far as anyone
knew Bill had not been missed.
As a post script to the
story, Bill says that the RSM 'Bert' Whitcher never asked him about
the whereabouts of the bike..
..but he knew
'Bert' was to survive the
war, and in the early 1950's became instrumental in organizing Burma
Star Veterans re-unions at the Derby Hotel, Bury and later at the
55 Club in Preston.
Within days of the disappearing
bike trick, the realities of war time Britain became very apparent
and it would be almost four years before Bill again rode his beloved
At the beginning of December,
1941 in a flurry of activity, the battalion departed Unsworth Mills
Camp, and was transported by train (leaving Bury - Bolton Street
Rail Station) to Liverpool Docks.
There the battalion was
embarked onto the SS Reina del Pacifico, which departed Liverpool
at 0400 hours on the 15th December, 1941. (See.www.cofepow.org.uk/pages/ships_reina_del_pacifico.htm.)
Due to the needs of secrecy at that time, very few on board knew
of their destination, rumour and speculation were rife but one thing
was for sure
a place in history awaited them
(Photo Gallery) XX
The SS Reina del Pacico was a typical Troop Ship of the time, offering
the most basic of accommodation, and the type of ship that it was
far better to get off than get on!!
Built in 1931 for the Pacific
Steam Navigation Company, the ship was initially used on the Liverpool
- Valparaiso route, but was brought into service in 1939 as a Troop
Ship and saw service as such until 1946. During that time she conveyed
quite literally thousands of troops throughout the world.
After War Service, in 1947
she was sent to shipwrights for a refit and refurbishment prior
to being returned to commercial service.
As a sad footnote to her story, following refurbishment and during
subsequent sea trials an engine room accident killed 28 personnel.
She later resumed South American Service (1948 - 1958) and was finally
scrapped in Wales in 1958. Perhaps a sad end to a ship that conveyed
hundreds, if not thousands of troops around the world, and held
many memories of fighting men who were destined 'never to return'.
Moving back to our story.
Having departed Liverpool,
the ship made its way to the Clyde Estuary in Scotland, and then
onto waters off northern Scotland. There it joined a convoy which
Bill recalls as numbering as many 70 ships. This was a very large
convoy for the early 1940's.
The threat from German
'U' Boats was a continuing serious danger to shipping as the convoy
set sail. Thus the convoy embarked upon a zig-zagged pattern, initially
west through the Atlantic Channel and into the North Atlantic then
turned due south, their destination? Now, there is a question.
Although Bill and his comrades
were never officially told of their ultimate destination, it was
generally believed by all on aboard that they were headed for Singapore
to bolster the Garrison.
As readers will know, Japan
entered the Second World War on that "date in infamy"
7th December, 1941, and thereafter made quite startling advances
throughout the Pacific Basin and South East Asia.
The Japanese advance down
the Malayan Peninsular towards Singapore, was to have serious consequence
for Bill and his comrades aboard the SS Reina del Pacifico.
Newspaper reports at the
time quoted Winston Churchill as saying that "Help was on the
way!!" (see copy Singapore Times in Bill's Photo
Gallery). Sadly, as it turned out for the troops Garrisoned
in Singapore, very hollow words indeed
. they were
about to undergo five years of living hell!
Whilst the as yet unknown
carnage and depravity of the Imperial Japanese Army steamrollered
their way throughout the many dependent territories of South East
Asia, Bill and his fellow Fusiliers passed the time as best they
could onboard ship.
Thankfully they were oblivious
to the horrors about to unfold!
The SS Reina del Pacifico
continued on its journey southward, and after calling at Freetown
to re-fuel and take on supplies, passed down the African west coast,
rounded the Cape of Good Hope,
South Africa, and eventually docked in the East African Port of
Bill along with many others
was granted a 24 hour shore pass, and spent a very enjoyable time
in the company of several ex- pats who had taken it upon themselves
to play host to the transient soldiers. Sadly, their chance to "stretch
their legs ashore", soon passed, and they were very quickly
on their way again.
The New Year had turned,
and the convoy of ships sailed north along the east coast of Africa
without incident. They eventually entered the Gulf of Aden, where
they remained at deep anchor for several days.
Unknown to Bill and his
comrades onboard the SS Reina del Pacifico, whilst they had been
travelling out to the Far East the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy
had continued their advances throughout South East Asia, and Singapore
was now in imminent danger of being over-run.
Bill recalls the date as
being somewhere in mid January, 1942 and after several days at anchor
in the Gulf of Aden the SS Reina del Pacifico departed the convoy,
alone, and headed straight across the Indian Ocean as fast as her
propellers could rotate! They were heading for Bombay, India!
Bill's assumption (probably
correct) was that the convoy had been held at anchor whilst the
'powers that be' back in the UK decided upon the best course of
action to take in view of the potential loss of the Garrison in
Whatever the true reasons
were, it was thus that Bill and his comrades of the 10th battalion
found themselves landed at Bombay on the 27th January, 1942.
The surrender of Singapore
occurred on 15th February, 1942.
The battalion was immediately embarked upon troop trains and made
a none too comfortable 5 day and 5 night journey to Quetta which
is situated in north east India not far from the border with Afghanistan.
(now forming part of Pakistan). For more information about Quetta
There, the 10th battalion
relieved the 1st battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who were
to later mark their own place in history.
Bill was only stationed
at Quetta for 3 or 4 weeks before being
sent with a detachment (company strength) to Spinnateezi (phonetic
spelling), a tented and very makeshift camp about 60 miles north
of Quetta, and just a few miles north of the village of Goolistan.
gallery). The company
marched all the way there and eventually all the way back!! Only
'heavy' materials along with the cookhouse went by transport!
At around this time, perhaps
March / April, 1942 it is Bill's recollection that the Russians
had not yet sided with the Allies, and there was a firm belief (particularly
in Whitehall), that the Russian Armies might try to take advantage
of the turmoil unfolding and force an entry into India across the
Throughout his time at
Spinnateezi, Bill was engaged on border protection duties (foot
patrols), and he, along with his colleagues were assisted on their
patrols by "Pathans", the local hill tribesmen. The Pathans
were recruited and paid by the War Office.
Bill recalls them as being
very independent, and that they supplied there own equipment, particularly
their own rifles. He recalls only one rule applied where the Pathans
were concerned, you never ever, ever, tried to touch their rifles!
Bill cannot recall for
sure how long he was at Spinnateezi, but he and the rest of the
company were certainly back with the main battalion by late May
At the beginning of June,
1942, the battalion was unexpectedly given secret orders, and shortly
thereafter transported across India to Comilla in East Bengal. (now
forming part of Bangladesh)
The journey from Quetta
to Comilla was undertaken by troop train, and took 8 days and 8
and very long nights. Bill and his fellow fusiliers found themselves
transported from the mountainous regions of the North Western Indian
/ Afghanistan Border where the weather was 'bracing' by day and
"bloody freezing by night", to the hot tropical jungles
of East Bengal.
The contrast in both weather and topography could not have been
greater. Bill was soon to discover that June in East Bengal was
not a very pleasant place to be.
The sudden move to East
Bengal transpired to be part of early preparations for impending
operations in the Arakan Region of Burma (see maps at www.burmastar.org.uk/arakan_mountains.htm
Within days the battalion
moved yet again to Chittagong, and took its place in 123 Indian
Brigade of the 14th Indian Division, together with two Indian Regiments,
the 8th Baluch Regiment and the 1/15 Punjab Regiment. The Brigade
was under the Command of Brigader B. Hammond. See www.burmastar.org.uk/14thind.htm
The 14th Indian Division,
later to be commonly referred to as the Eastern Army was originally
formed in May 1942 by Major General H. H. Rich. The Badge for the
Division depicts a Mountain Range in Black (the center peak being
Takath at 10,000 feet overlooking Quetta set in a white frame on
a black background, the frame taking the form of a letter Q to link
The 14th Indian Infantry
Division should not be confused with the Fourteenth Army, the "forgotten
army", who were formed later.
All of the above in truth
really meant nothing to Bill and the others
in the 10th, all that he and they knew was that they were plunged
into a fervent period of 'jungle training'. It didn't take a genius
work out where they were headed.
The object behind concentrating
the Division in the Chittagong region was to give all the troops,
where possible, a period of concentrated training in jungle warfare
prior to the planned operations in the Arakan.
Few in the British, or indeed Indian Army, had any experience of
jungle warfare, whereas the Japanese had gained intensive knowledge
in this field of warfare. Indeed their military advances of recent
weeks and months had simply honed their 'skills' even further.
Regrettably, during this
period, the Division was called upon to meet a huge number of extra
demands for internal security duties, so when they did finally met
the Japanese they were still comparatively inexperienced in jungle
At that time the Japanese
Army had gained a reputation for invincibility that was rather depressing
for morale. However, as later events were to prove, as soon as the
British and Indian Armies had learnt jungle warfare techniques,
they were more than a match for the Japanese.
It would be very easy at
this stage to submerge the reader in a myriad of facts, figures
and information about the events leading up to, and the need for
the operations in the Arakan Region.
However, in order to place
in context the events about to be described, it is necessary to
make some reference to the reasons surrounding what became known
as the First Arakan Campaign.
Scroll down to First Arakan Campaign. It would also be beneficial
to give a brief description of the topographical area of the Arakan
itself, which was to play a huge part in forthcoming events.
NB: Further detailed and
comprehensive information can be found in the book 'History of the
Lancashire Fusiliers 1939 - 1945' by John Hallam (Major). His book
has proved an invaluable resource in writing Bill's story. Copies
are readily available through most libraries
When the Japanese overran Burma, and occupied the Port of Akyab,
adjacent to the Bay of Bengal, it appeared highly likely that the
Japanese would continue their advance, and attack Chittagong by
sea and air.
Fortunately two factors
conspired against the Japanese; first, the difficult nature of the
No Man's Land that lies between Burma and India, and, second, the
necessity to halt the advance and consolidate their position after
the rapid advance which had stretched supply lines to the limit.
The Arakan 'Yoma', a range
of steep, jungle clad hills and mountains passable by only a few
rough tracks, runs parallel with the coast from the Indian frontier
down to the Irrawaddy Delta.
Between the 'Yoma' and the sea, the country consists mostly of thick
and virtually impenetrable jungle and low hills, interspersed here
and there with low lying valleys and swampy paddy fields and infrequent
The buildings in theses
villages were mainly constructed of local materials (bamboo), and
in some cases had the luxury of a corrugated tin roof. Invariably
they were built up on stilts in an attempt to thwart the effects
of the monsoons.
Near the coast, the country
is an utter maze of creeks and mangrove tidal swamps, through which
communication is difficult in the extreme, and only possible by
native boat. The whole area is intensely malarial and a serious
threat to good health.
Other than from the period
between November and the middle of May, the Arakan region it is
exposed to the full forces of the southwest monsoon, with its torrential
rains and damaging winds of unbelievable ferocity.
A further difficulty to mounting any operations in the Arakan, was
the extreme difficulties of communications between the Indian Frontier
and the rest of India. Roads were virtually non existent, and the
only railway in the area was a single narrow gauge line which came
to an abrupt end only a few miles south of Chittagong. Thereafter,
all equipment no matter what, had to be carried by beasts of burden
(mules in the main) or man.
The operations for the
Arakan planned for the winter of 1942 -43 were, by intention, limited
in their scope, and were intended to recapture the Port of Akyab
and the reoccupation of Upper Arakan.
The first part of the operation
involved pushing columns south from Chittagong towards the Burmese
Border, in order to establish and improve communications, and to
build up reserves of both men and equipment for an advance into
the Arakan Region later.
Again at this stage of
writing it would be possible to give a plethora of information about
intended tactics, planning and movements etc but that information
can be gleaned from other sources.
It would suffice to say
at this stage that Bill now found himself in very different surroundings
from the green fields of Lancashire, evenings out at the Palais
de Dance in Bury, and Wellington Barracks.
The tales of saluting KFS's,
disappearing motorbikes and undone buttons seemed a lifetime away
and had become a total irrelevance.
The original plans for
the recapture of the Port of Akyab had involved an assault from
the sea, with elements of the 14th Division advancing down from
Chittagong being a diversionary tactic, whilst the main force would
attack from the sea.
However, because of severe
difficulties in locating sufficient Landing Equipment and supplies
(being used by other theatres), the 'plan' was modified several
times and led to the operations being delayed several times.
A radically different assault
plan was formulated and adopted, whereby the 14th Division was to
rapidly advance down the Arakan to the southern end of the Maya
Peninsula, and then launch an assault on Akyab, supported by an
assault from the sea using whatever landing crafts that had become
It was in accordance with
this modified plan that Bill's Brigade began to move forward during
the latter half of October, 1942.
However, one thing that
had not been expected, nor in truth could have been foreseen was
the unusual weather. As mentioned earlier, the Arakan Region is
subjected to the full force of the southwest monsoon.
In a 'normal' year, the
monsoons could be expected to have finished by early November and
not return until the following May. Sadly during the winter of 1942
- 43 the monsoons extended well in November and December.
High winds and torrential
rain were to make the troops existence, which was never comfortable
to begin with, little short of a living nightmare!
Moving through the jungles
of the Arakan Region was not easy at the best of times (a wildly
vast understatement), but to do so in 'full kit' whilst carrying
heavy loads in the middle of monsoon conditions, is truly beyond
On the 21st October, the 10th battalion was at Cox's Bazaar, south
of Chittagong. From there it moved southward by stages, to Ukhia
and Nawapara, and then onto Bawli Bazaar, which is well within the
Burmese Frontier. The battalion had marched / walked all the way!
(a truly outstanding feat of human endurance) See
photo taken at Bawli Bazaar
The mention of Ukhia brings
to mind for Bill an incident involving one of his comrades, Jimmy
Ince who came from Chorley. It can hopefully bring into focus for
the reader the sheer desperate difficulties faced by the troops
at this time.
The approach to Ukhia was
made during the early evening, and throughout that day the monsoon
rains had made life for everyone virtually unbearable. They had
been knee deep in mud travelling through difficult terrain, and
the sheer physical strain being placed on the fittest and strongest
of men was bearing down hard.
At one point Jimmy Ince
fell forward face down in the mud, undoubtedly from utter physical
exhaustion? Jimmy just lay there. Bill quickly dragged him out of
the quagmire, turned him over and began cleaning and clearing his
nose and mouth of the mud and filth. Bill, in a very modest manner
accepts that Jimmy would have without doubt, drowned in the mud
had he not been rescued.
Later that evening the
battalion encamped at Ukhia for the night and Bill recalls up to
one hundred men trying to sleep under one enormous basha that had
been constructed. Throughout the night the monsoon with its heavy
rain and wind continued relentlessly, and at one stage during the
night Bill was awakened by the sounds and feelings of movement.
Shortly after, the roof of the 'basha' came crashing down on top
of the sleeping troops. To use Bills own words, "We were so
knackered we couldn't have cared less and we just went back to sleep
as best we could".
Jimmy Ince died that night.
Bill says that Jimmy who
was perhaps not physically the strongest of individuals had simply
given of his very best and "had been walked to death".
He was buried at Ukhia
the following morning.
XX Photo Gallery
Bawli Bazaar is the junction
point of the road from the north with tracks that lead south towards
the secondary road connecting Maungdaw with Buthidaung, both of
which had been occupied by the Japanese. Other tracks from Bawli
Bazaar lead eastwards to the Kalapanzin River, and beyond that to
the Kaladan River. Bawli Bazaar at that time, therefore, had a certain
Whilst at Bawli Bazaar
the battalion pushed companies forward to Goppe Bazarr and Taung
Bazaar on the Kalapanzin River.
The 10th's first encounter with the Japanese took place on the 11th
November 1942 when a patrol from 'A' Company under the command of
Lieutenant Foster, laid an ambush for the enemy, which was successful.
It would now be an easy
trap for the writer to fall into and embark on a lengthy description
of the military operations that followed which were varied, many
and complex. However, to give clarity to Bill's story it will be
necessary to describe in brief detail some of the operational events
that took place during late December 1942 and January, 1943. (detailed
account of operations at this time are contained in John Hallam's
Following the first encounter
with the enemy the next step was to attack the enemy positions at
Maungdaw and Buthidaung, but preparations for these attacks were
delayed by the difficulties of moving and supplying troops in the
Adding to their problems
was the continuing freakish weather conditions which showed no signs
of abating. Finally it was not until the middle of December, 1942
that the attacks could be launched.
The division was led by
123 Brigade, and the 10th battalion passed the starting point during
the night of 16/17th December. Having passed it, they bivouacked
for the rest of the night and resumed the advance the following
By the time they came to
within a short distance of Buthidaung they had seen no sign of the
enemy. A reconnaissance party under Lieutenant Colonel Stannus then
went forward of the main column to investigate Buthidaung and found
it clear of Japanese.
Buthidaung was entered that afternoon, 17th December, and the battalion
remained there for six days while plans were worked out for the
next phase of the advance. The division now moved on a two- brigade
front, with the 47 brigade advancing down the coast towards the
Mayu Peninsula (see maps) while 123 brigade (Bill's brigade) was
directed on Rathedaung, east of the Mayu River estuary.
Two days before Christmas,
'B' and 'C' Companies with Advanced Battalion Headquarters under
A.A. McKay went by sampan to Taungmaw and Singgondaing,
and from there pushed patrols forward to Rathedaung. They met no
opposition. The rest of the battalion moved up to Kindaung on Boxing
Day, and were ferried across the Maya River. Next day they marched
During the early evening
of December 27th, from Taungmaw, 'C' Company, under the command
of Captain G.E. Pendlebury, moved by sampan to Kyaukbbinzeik, while
from their advanced position at Singondaing 'B' company and Advanced
Battalion Headquarters moved, also by sampan, down the river in
the direction of Rathedaung.
It is important to point
out at this stage that Bill was in 'B' Company and his platoon sergeant
at that time was Cyril Robinson.
had reported that Rathedaung had also, like Buthidaung, been evacuated
by the enemy.
As the detachment came
up to the jetty with the intention of landing and occupying it,
they came under heavy fire from the bank. A heroic attempt was made
to force a landing on the jetty, with varying success. The detachment
was scattered into small groups during the turmoil that unfolded.
Just prior to their arrival
at the jetty, Bill, like any soldier worth his salt, had been trying
to get some sleep in the bottom of the sampan and was awakened by
one of his comrades with the words, "we're here Bill".
He had just popped his head up and fastened his belt when the enemy
machine guns opened fire.
Bill threw himself over the side of the sampan into the water with
bullets quite literally 'crackling' past his head and punching into
the water and banking all around him. He didn't care how deep it
was he had to get out of the sampan! Luckily he was able to stand
up but the water was up to his shoulders.
Bill recalls that it was
at this point that
Major McKay who was not "but a yard and a half away"
was shot in the head and fell back into the water. To use Bill's
words "There was nothing I could do for him, I wish I could,
but I couldn't".
Frantic efforts were made
to find cover from the enemy fire, and those who were able to make
a landing (including Bill) made their way towards the square in
the center of Rathedaung village. There the splintered individuals
and small parties re-grouped under the command of Lieutenant Pierce.
At was at about this point
that Bill was separated from Cyril Robinson (his platoon sergeant)
who was to lead a party back to the battalion by a different route
that Bill was to eventually take.
Cyril survived the war and at the age of 90 years, scripted the
following story about the ambush at the Rathedaung Jetty. It is
perhaps pertinent to repeat it now, word for word with no alterations:
The Story is headed:
The Shambles at Raithidong
This is a story from the
first Arakan campaign in 1943. At this time, I was a sergeant in
the Lancashire Fusiliers. Information had come to us that the Japanese
had vacated a place called Rathidong. which was on the river Mayu
just above Akiam Island.
It was decided to send down a standing patrol from B Company under
the control of Lieutenant Pierce. I was a senior sergeant. A flotilla
of 6 sampans sailed down the Mayu on an ebbing tide, to stand and
patrol Rathidong with the idea that the battalion would follow the
following day. If we met opposition, we would vacate Rathidong and
rejoin the battalion. We sailed down the river for some time till
we reached the bend where Rathidong was. As we reached the jetty,
we found that the Japanese had now occupied Rathidong town and they
opened fire on us. The main body of the patrol managed to land,
but my sampan wallah (the man who rows the boat) was shot in the
head and fell overboard. My sampan floated down river, past the
jetty, and I managed to steer it further into what they call a chaung,
which is tidal from the main river. I steered it further around
the chaung, and met up with another sergeant, Jack Hallowes, who
had managed to get to this area. As we sat there, we heard firing
going on in the town, so I decided to leave the sampans where they
were, with one sampan wallah, dump our blankets (we only carried
a blanket), and join the main body.
We left the sampans there
and we moved towards where the firing was taking place. As we did
so, I was suddenly halted by a Lancashire voice saying, "Halt,
who goes there?" I recognized the voice as Sergeant Ron Southworth,
so I said, Don't shoot, Its Robbie, me!!" and he said "advance
to be recognized". After he recognized me I advanced and asked
him what was going on. He said that the main body were now engaged
with the Japs who were in the town. So I said the best thing to
do would be to join the main body and see what was going on. So
we joined the main body, which was roughly in the centre of the
town and met up with Lieutenant Pierce.
All this time, there was firing going on, up and down the village
at various points. At the top of this road where we were talking,
there was a temple, and I understand that it was occupied by the
Japs with some of our soldiers inside as prisoners. So I asked Lieutenant
Pierce what he intended to do. He said that our instructions were,
if we met opposition to make our way back to battalion. He had already
sent one sampan back, but he'd heard firing in the river, and we
could only presume that they had met trouble. I said that I'd left
2 sampans up the chaung at the south end of town, and I suggested
he took as many men as he could back with him and rejoin the battalion.
I would go back to my 2 sampans with Sergeant Southworth's platoon,
go back down the chaung, and rejoin the main river.
We decided that he would
give me a signal. Like a whistle, when he was clear of the river
so that we could then move off ourselves. After some time, we got
the whistle blast so I moved off to where I'd left the 2 sampans.
But lo and behold, they'd gone. The sampan wallah had obviously
taken them, with the blankets. So for a time I was in a quandary,
wondering what to do, because we had no means of transport. I thought
the best thing to do was to cross the chaung at the bottom of Rathidong,
move due east, then cross the chaung further up and strike north
back towards the battalion position, which was further north.
We gathered the party together,
which was approximately 20 people. There was Sergeant Southworth,
Sergeant Hallowes, approximately 17 fusiliers, and myself. As senior
Sergeant I took charge of this party. We then moved on and we came
to a concrete raft across the chaung, which we crossed and walked
south for perhaps ten minutes. Then I decided to strike east. This
would take us as far away from the Japanese positions as possible.
And into some shade which was provided by some wooed areas. We did
this for some time, and then perhaps after an hour and a half, I
decided we should lay up. So we positioned ourselves into a defensive
area and laid up for perhaps half an hour. After this we struck
off again up this chaung till we came to a man made bamboo bridge,
which was a ramshackle affair which crossed the chaung at a narrower
point. The tide was now ebbing, and these chaungs used to flow down
and leave mangrove swamps at each side of these. I sent as many
as possible across the bridge- most got across- and it left me and
a fusilier, Joe Carter, on this side. I had my rifle and Joe had
the bren gun. Anyhow Joe decided to try and get across this bridge,
and he got so far and fell off. Of course, he fell off with the
bren gun. I pulled him out of the mire, and I carried the bren for
We eventually struggled
and got across the bridge. We were now across the chaung and the
obvious thing now was to get back to battalion. The only way to
do that was to strike north. Having no compass and no means of directional
finding, I decided to work on the stars which were now well up,
and the time must have been perhaps midnight. Anyhow, we located
the North Star in the sky and worked on that for quite some time,
keeping into the shadows of this heavily wooded area. We must have
worked on this for 2 or 3 hours, then we decided to lay up again.
It was kind of open scrub, and the sky was getting lighter. I decided
to let half the party
have a sleep while we kept guard in a defensive area, laying down,
providing as much cover as possible.
After a time we went to
sleep, and when I wakened up everybody was asleep
.if the Japs
had have come, they'd have had the lot of us! But fortunately they
didn't. We set off again and it was now getting light, and we crossed
open scrub again for some time, not meeting anything or anybody
in any areas, till eventually we came to another chaung. Luckily
there was a boat at this side, on its keel upside down. So giving
3 sharp cheers we turned it over on its side, put it in the river,
and it sank right to the bottom!!!!.
There was a hole in it.
On the other side of this
chaung was a village which we came to know later as Thalindora,
and we managed to entice two of the villagers across. They got us
2 sampans, which we neded for approximately 20 people, and we decided
to get back to the battalion that way. So we sailed out of the chaung
into the main river Mayu, and by now the tide had changed so fortunately
it was taking us up stream. So we started making our way up the
river Mayu. We got so far uo - we were making slow progress - when
suddenly from up north, a British Spitfire came. We gladly waved
to him, and what did he do, he decided to fire on us!!!! So he fired
on us and we were over the side like wild ducks!! Fortunately, he
didn't hit any of us, and he merrily went on his way.
We got back into the sampans
and made our way further up the river. It was now getting late again
so we made very slow progress till eventually we joined the battalion
at about 9 o'clock at night in a place called Zedidong. The RSM
welcomed us quite freely with cup of tea and something to eat. They
told us to get our heads down
.which we did.
XX Photo Gallery
Moving back in time to
the 're-grouping' in the village square in Rathedaung.
Bill recalls being in a
group along with Lieutenant Pierce discussing what would be the
best course of action and at that time there was the sound of machine
gun fire and general small arms fire all around. Lieutenant Pierce
instructed four of the fusiliers to take the only one remaining
sampan (the rest had floated away) and make their way back to the
battalion and seek 'help'.
Bill recalls thinking at
the time and saying to another fusilier that it would be suicide
and they would get blown straight out of the water the moment they
appeared on the river.
The four left and a short
time later Bill and the rest heard "an almighty burst of machine
gun fire, we have never seen any of those four again" (quote).
Of the four, Bill recalls
one was called Leslie Critchley and
another was Tommy Goff.
A short time later Lieutenant
Pierce having located a 'dug out' canoe type of craft, instructed
Sergeant 'Jim' Ward (from Liverpool) to take 10 men and try and
make their way back up the Mayu River to the battalion. Bill was
'selected' as one of the party.
Everyone knew, in light
of what had happened to Tommy Goff and Leslie
Critchley, that they were about to embark upon a highly hazardous
journey. Sergeant Ward, who Bill knew quite well, commented to Bill
about having the responsibility of the lives of men in his hands.
It was Bill who suggested
that if they were to take the same route as the others they to may
well end up with the same fate. He therefore proposed that once
in the boat, they should go straight across the river (an actual
tributary from the main Mayu river at this point) and head for the
The river at this point
was about 40 yards wide. The route oddly enough, would take them
south towards the Japanese positions, but the hope was that the
Japanese had not occupied the far bank. (everyone knew it was high
risk and a gamble) Had they stayed on the same side of the river
however and attempted to sail into the Mayu at that point they would
have undoubtedly come under fire from the Japanese who had attacked
the four man sampan.
Sergeant Ward adopted Bill's
It should be pointed out
at this time that the approach to the Jetty at Rathedaung was made
in the early evening of December 27th and that by now dark had set
in and that they were operating in moonlight.
The first problem to be
overcome was getting across the tributary without being heard. It
was suggested that paddles should not be used and that they used
their hand as 'paddles' to keep noise to a minimum.
They finally reached the
far side of the river and were able to use the riverside bushes
and mangrove roots as cover. Again with the need for utmost silence,
(it was not known if this side of the river was occupied by the
Japanese) they began to pull themselves along the river bank hand
over hand along using the bushes and mangroves until they reached
the main Mayu River.
There they headed north back towards Taungmaw where the main battalion
In a modest understatement
Bill simply says of the event
"We were lucky, it
Sometime later, Sergeant
'Jim' Ward confided in Bill that he was thankful that he had come
up with the plan.
He also expressed to Bill
his concern that he had a 'feeling' that he was not going to "get
through all this". Sadly, very prophetic words, in early March
1943 he was killed in action. He was aged 37 years.
The official 'count' for the Ratheduang Jetty Ambush was twenty
one missing, including Major McKay and Lieutenant J.N. Wild, besides
two wounded. As a happy footnote, at the end of the war
Lieutenant Wild, who had been taken prisoner, was released and attended
many subsequent re-unions in later years.
In moving our story forward
it is necessary to go back in time to events which no doubt, were
to form the basis of the life long friendship between Bill and Cyril
Robinson. (apart from the fact that Cyril was instrumental in saving
Bill's life on at least two occasions!!)
As mentioned earlier, the
123 Brigade and the 10th battalion after many unexpected delays
finally began the advance towards the Port of Akyab during the night
of 16th /17th December, 1942.
Pre planning had foreseen
the need to attack the tunnels running through the mountains, connecting
the villages of Maungdaw and Buthidaung which were occupied by the
At around that time Cyril
Robinson was a sergeant in charge of a guerrilla platoon and Bill
was a member of the platoon. The platoon was made up entirely of
single men and they were to be given what might be termed as "the
more difficult tasks".
One of these "difficult
tasks" was to attack the tunnels linking Maungdaw and Buthidaung.
In his 90th year Cyril wrote the following account of that operation:
It is entitled
The Tunnels Battle
At the beginning of the first Arakan Campaign, the 10th battalion
Lancashire Fusiliers, of which I was a sergeant, were detailed to
advance on to a river port known as Buthidong. At this time we were
just south of Gopi Bazaar. I was in charge of a guerilla platoon,
and it was decided that the 2 tunnels which connected the road between
Buthidong and Mondo were occupied by the Japs.
It was decided that I would
take the guerilla platoon down to the east tunnel. On the 17th December,
1942, we would attack the tunnel whilst the battalion would attack
a village known as Letwidet. But the plan was that I would leave
the battalion 10 days before they moved, with complete radio silence
and no communication at all. However, the Japs had vacated both
the tunnels and Letwidet and moved further south.
But we had no means of
communication when I moved off, a week before the battalion. (Incidentally,
on our way to these tunnels, we passed a place known as the Admin
Box, which later became famous for a battle). It took us a week
to get there, but we duly arrived at our position, at about 6 o'clock
in the morning. We were sitting on top of the tunnel and it was
We didn't know that the Japs had left this tunnel, so when we spotted
some people patrolling the tunnel mouth and surrounding area, we
presumed they were Japanese.
At this time, there were
2 bombers which had been detailed to bomb Letwidet, along with the
attack from the battalion. They moved down a position to attack
it, and we attacked the tunnels. Our position was slightly above
the position of the tunnels, because they had been built on a road
which cut through the mountain side. So we were higher than the
road. The road levelled out, then dropped away again.
Some time later, when I'm sure we must have inflicted quite some
casualties on them, I decided to take a section of the guerilla
platoon onto the other side of the road. We managed to get across
the road, and another section of the platoon got on top of the tunnel.
But as we were firing into the tunnel, and more or less reducing
them to a shambles inside, a British Officer came up from the direction
of Letwidet, shouting "stop firing, stop firing!" So everybody
stopped firing. He came up to me and said, "what are you doing?"
I said "well. Were attacking the Japanese!!". He said,
"you're not, you know! You're attacking the first 15th Punjabs!"
What happened was that
the Japs had vacated this position, without anybody knowing. Due
to this radio silence that had been imposed on us by the move south,
we weren't aware of this fact, and you've a job to tell the difference
between a Japanese in the monsoon in a rainmac, and a 15th Punjab!
So that was the cause of the mix up.
Anyhow we eventually formed
up in position. The officer liaising with our battalion must have
been from the Punjab. The battalion in the meantime had simply walked
into Letwidet, which had been vacated by the Japanese. So we marched
the 5 miles to Letwidet. From Letwidet, they'd walked into Buthidong,
which was then a navigable port on the river Mayu, the last port
where mechanized vehicles could use the river. We joined the battalion
there, and we were put into the village school.
We stayed there for a time
and celebrated Christmas Day 1942 in Buthidong.
While we were there, a
patrol went out from 'A' company under Sergeant Burns, and he brought
back 2 brothers, part of a native tribe known as the Mogs who were
joined up with the Japanese. These brothers were known as the Kings
of Burma, and he'd captured them and brought them back.
We stayed about a week
in Buthidong. The plan was to move further down the river, and proceed
down with this attack on the Japanese, the main objective being
Akyob Island which was right at the bottom of the river.
On the West bank of the
river at Buthidong were 2 sandstone plinths. Lying on top and facing
the river were 2 lions pr sphinx like figures. These were thought
to be local deities and were called Chinths. This is thought to
be the word from which Wingates force derived its name: the Chindits.
Photo Gallery XX
Bill's recollection is that he, Cyril and the remainder of the guerilla
platoon had rejoined 'B' Company on Boxing Day morning, sadly just
in time to join the party destined for the approach to Rathedaung
Jetty the following night.
Following on from the aborted
attack on Rathedaung the battalion reformed and embarked on several
operations, and again the complexity and variety of those operations
would take too long to describe here.
Needless to say, the fighting
continued, and during the period late December into early January
a number of assaults took place in and around Rathedaung including
a further aborted assault on Rathedaung.
During this time planning
took place for an assault in late January, 1943 on Donbaik and on
18th and 19th January, 1943 an attack was made. The Japanese sadly,
were prepared for it, and it failed. Orders were then given for
123 Brigade to prepare a fresh attack on Rathedaung.
Prior to the attack on
Donbiak the battalion was engaged in a series of operations designed
to soften up the enemy's defenses north of Rathedaung and from 9th
to 19th January, 1943 was engaged in continuous operations.
The 9th January, 1943 was
to be the day that Bill got shot.
Cyril Robinson wrote about
Following the stories I've
told about the Arakan Campaign, on 9th January, 1943, we were at
a place called Thalindora. The battalion had been instructed to
attack the features beyond Thalindora, leading into Rathidong. This
was a densely wooded area with hill tracks and the plan was that
C Company and A Company would go in advance companies. B Company
would be in reserve and the battalion would follow up. We crossed
the chaung after a small bombardment or two by 2 Blenheims. C Company
met stiff opposition and so did A Company. So it was decided to
advance B Company and take up the attack against the Japanese. We
crossed the chaung and I had no platoon officer, so I was acting
as platoon officer with Sergeant Southworth as my platoon sergeant,
and Billy Dalton a fusilier as my platoon runner. His position was
in advance of me. We went through some deeply wooded scrub land
and he was perhaps 50 yards in front of me.
We'd just turned this corner
coming out of cover and he was going along this track towards the
cover again, perhaps 100 yards in front of him. Suddenly we saw,
well heard, as machine guns opened up and I literally saw bullets
dancing along the ground, coming towards Billy Dalton. He was in
front of me, and of course one struck him, it must have struck him
and he went down.
So without thinking
don't think about these things at the time, you just do it, I dashed
out grabbed him and pulled him in. What had happened was that a
bullet had struck him close up in his right groin and I think he
was actually bleeding to death, I pulled his pants down and when
I looked there was a gaping hole in the top of his groin and his
eyes kept rolling in the back of his head.
We have a field dressing
on part of your uniform, it's a big piece of wadding, so I pulled
this out and stuffed it into his wound. I know nothing about medical
things but I did just that and then called up for the medics. Percy
Ely, who was our sergeant in charge of all the medical side, came
running up, looked at this and he got a big wad out and filled it
with Vaseline and bunged that in the wound and then of course we
shoved him back.
From then on of course
we went into this battle. It was a battle of nothing actually, we
advanced and reached stalemate as it were, because we laid up for
the night till we decided what to do the following morning. As a
matter of fact we were pinned down for at least 4 days before we
And that's the story about
Billy Dalton and his wounded leg
The War Diary entry of Bill's injury
Photo Gallery XX
As one might expect given the circumstances, Bill's recollections
of what took place thereafter are rather hazy. He was however 'passed
back down the line' and carried by 4 Burmese or Indian stretcher
bearers to the river where he was placed in a boat with other wounded
Bill says that Sergeant
'Percy' Ely who undoubtedly saved his life was also instrumental
in saving numerous other soldiers lives during their time in Burma,
many, many of whom but for his 'medical' skills would have never
returned home to their families.
Percy was to survive the
war and attended the re-unions in Bury.
Bill can recall to this
day the moment after he had been shot, placing his hand over the
wound and with each heart beat, blood was spurting out between his
fingers. Percy Ely's prompt action to stem the flow of blood certainly
saved Bill's life, who was there and then quite literally bleeding
Sadly others who were also
caught up in the same action were not so fortunate. Bill recalls
a Fusilier Sam Agger who was virtually along side him. He received
By total contrast, others
had what can only be described as near miraculous escapes.
Bill brings to mind a fusilier
who must be one of the luckiest men on the planet, Harry Halliwell,
who came from Oldham.
Harry was hit by a machine
gun burst of nine bullets which tore into the side of his trunk
and inside his arm. He must have been turning at the time. By some
miracle, all nine bullets (that left a pattern down his body) although
tearing off 'lumps' of flesh, actually missed any thing 'vital',
with none hitting any bones! Harry Halliwell survived the war and
returned home to Oldham.
Moving back to our story,
After having been carried
by stretcher back to the river, Bill and three other wounded men
were placed in a boat. They then made there way back to Maungdaw,
a journey that took a day and a half or perhaps two.
There, he and the others
were admitted to a Forward Treatment Centre which had been set up
under canvas. Bill describes it as being makeshift and holding only
the very basic of medical equipment.
He was seen by the Units
Doctor (a Major) and underwent treatment to stabilize his condition.
At that time it could not be determined if the bullet that had hit
Bill had passed through his body or not.
The absence of an 'exit
wound' suggested that the bullet may have still been inside. Because
of the basic equipment held at the Forward Treatment Centre (no
x ray equipment etc) it was decided to 'leave well alone' for the
time being. Also, it had become apparent that the bullet may have
hit the sciatic nerve, because one of Bill's legs had lost all feeling.
A couple of days or so
later Bill mentioned to the orderly that he thought he could feel
a hard sore lump in his buttock. The Doctor was summoned and he
considered it a possibility that the 'sore lump' was the 'missing
The Doctor asked Bill what
he wanted him to do about it and Bill suggested that the Doctor
"get the knife in and dig it out".
Thereafter by means not
known to Bill, he was laid unconscious (possibly by ether) and when
he awoke the Doctor presented Bill with "the bullet out of
your backside" (See
From the Forward Treatment
Centre Bill along with many other wounded men were transported by
various means and finally by medical troop train to Barelli Hospital
(BMH) in India.
Bill recalls the journey
as being rather unpleasant and that the soldier in the cot opposite
to him (all were lay down on stretchers/ cots) had an arm blown
off and an orderly was regularly treating the open wound. Not a
pretty site to see says Bill.
Bill recalls that they
all arrived at Barelli in a very 'poor state' having remained unwashed
and unshaved for a long time. Most had beards of sorts and were
in a very unkempt condition.
"It was absolutely
glorious being placed in a bed with sheets!!.......is one of Bill's
lifetime memories of his arrival at Barelli Hospital. He was to
stay there for several weeks. During his time at Barelli Hospital,
Bill came into conflict with one of the Doctors (a Major) who was
returning soldiers 'back up the line', who he felt had been 'swinging
It was clear to Bill and
others around him that anyone thinking rationally would see that
many being returned to their units, were just not yet fit enough
to be returned to frontline duty.
It would suffice to say
that he (the Major) and Bill had a moment where 'they expressed
their views' and Bill asked to be moved from Barelli Hospital. His
'request' was granted and Bill, rather than being moved to another
hospital was sent to a Transit Camp at Gaya. Upon arrival there,
he (like all other new arrivals) was seen by the Medical Officer
The MO having examined
Bill was appalled that he had been sent to a Transit Camp. He considered
Bill's medical condition so poor that he immediately had Bill admitted
to the hospital at Gaya
Bill was to spend several
weeks at Gaya Hospital during which time he began to get the feeling
back in his leg. In fact he began to feel so much better that he
was getting bored and asked to given a job. He was given the task
of guarding the fresh water tanks!!
Bill cannot recall exactly,
but in possibly late May early June, 1943 he was considered 'fit
for return to unit' and rejoined the 10th battalion who by this
time had been withdrawn from the Arakan and were then based at Ranchi
in Bihat State, India.
Shortly after his return
to the 10th Bill was appointed as the 'CO's Driver' to Lieutenant
Colonel Stannus who at that time was still commanding the 10th.
Bill was also promoted to Lance Corporal. Military etiquette deemed
that a CO's driver should hold the rank of L/Cpl.
In July, 1943 the 10th
move to Fyzabad, where it was employed on internal security duties.
Whilst at Fyzabad, Lieutenant Colonel Stannus completed his tenure
of command and handed over to Major (Basil) J. Leech. (Bill recalls
his batman being a Fusilier John (Jock) McGregor).
By a strange quirk of timing,
quite recently Brigader Basil J Leech's medals (as he later became)
were for sale on the internet.
At a time unable to be
recalled exactly by Bill, the 10th was also commanded by Lieutenant
Colonel J.K.Smith who had been a former pilot and wore 'wings' on
his uniform. Again Bill was his driver.
From Fyzabad the 10th were later to move to Lucknow and during the
intervening period Bill was to convey his Commanding Officer(s)
over several thousands of miles.
In December, 1944 the 10th
battalion were joined at Lucknow by the 1st battalion, back from
it's participation in the Second Chindit Expeditions.
In February, 1945 the 10th
returned to Ranchi, and there became a training battalion of the
British Reinforcement Training Group.
During his latter time
in Ranchi, Lucknow and Fyzabad Bill recalls a number of incidents
which, whilst being of no military historical interest, may amuse
On one occasion Bill was
required to make an early morning trip to collect company commanders
who were due to attend a CO's Briefing. The companies were scattered
throughout various locations, and in order to collect everyone and
have them back at HQ in time, Bill left HQ well before breakfast
Having completed the task,
Bill decided that his breakfast was long overdue. As he entered
the Mess Hall however, he was stopped by Sergeant 'Jobsworth'.
"And just where do
you think you are going?"
."Going for my breakfast"
replied Bill. "Oh no you're not, standing orders clearly state
that breakfast is served from 0630 until 0730." The time was
about 0740 hours and Bill could see through the door that food was
still displayed on the hot plates.
Sergeant 'Jobsworth' flatly
refused Bill entry despite Bill's explanation as to why he had not
been during 'normal' breakfast time.
Bill was having none of
this, a quick word with the CO got him his breakfast!!!! and what
happened to jobsworth
.well perhaps that is another
Again whilst stationed
at Lucknow a further story comes to mind. Bill regularly took the
CO and other officers to Brigade HQ and there he would often speak
to a young English couple (civilians) who were employed at Brigade
HQ's on the clerical staff. They would often arrive on bicycles
so Bill presumed that they must have lived locally. Years later
he was to be told that they were in fact the parents of Harry Webb
other than Cliff Richards.
As a driver, and particularly
as the CO's Driver, Bill was expected to 'be prepared' at all times
for any mechanical breakdown. Thus wherever he went, and sometimes
journeys could be hundreds of miles across virtual deserts, he always
carried a large supply of spares. Not only would these comprise
the 'common' items such as a fan belt for example, Bill would also
take items such a spare water pump, spare carburettor (petrol was
invariably dirty and blocked jets), spare distributor, tyre vulcanizing
kit etc. etc. He says as a somewhat strange fact to recall that
he always had around 30 gallons of petrol (in 2 or 4 gallon jerry
cans) strapped to various parts of the vehicles bodywork. A mobile
firefall in the making!!!
In his photo gallery is
a photograph taken in either Ranchi or Lucknow of Bill standing
next to a Chevrolet Station wagon. (actually a British Army vehicle).
Bill found this vehicle in an almost derelict state and subsequently
replaced the worn out engine and steering gear and was to later
drive this very vehicle for thousands of miles all over India. Bill
says that the course at Lookers in Manchester came in useful after
all!! As Bill points out "you can't call out the RAC in the
middle of India if you breakdown!"
At sometime in early 1945
the battalion moved to Lower Darga
from where, in late July early August 1945 the battalion began being
returned to the United Kingdom in different drafts. Bill recalls
that he and Cyril Robinson came home at different times.
Bill has a crystal clear
memory of the day he left Bombay to come home. As he walked up the
gangplank to board the M.V. Cythia it came to mind that it was in
fact his 29th birthday!! Heading home was the best birthday present
he could ever have wished for!
The journey home was a
lot quicker than the journey out and took about three weeks (via
the Suez Canal).
Whilst travelling home,
Japan surrendered (2nd September, 1945).
Bill arrived back with
the rest of his detachment in Liverpool (surprisingly he cannot
remember the date but it must have been late August or very early
September) They were immediately transported by train to Hunstanton
on the East Coast.
There they were billeted
in private houses that had been commandeered during the war. Bill
recalls that at the time their must have been around 9,000 plus
soldiers in and around Hunstanton and along the East Coast awaiting
Apart from a couple of
moves to Bedlington where Bill worked for a short time in the clothing
stores and a later move to York, Bill like many others was during
this time 'kicking his heels' awaiting 'demob' Again, perhaps somewhat
surprisingly, Bill cannot recall the actual date of his 'demob'.
That said he is confident that it was during October, 1945 when
at York he was finally discharged from the army with Demobilsation
Group 26. His souvenirs?
one trilby hat, one demob
and a Japanese bullet!!!
Bill returned to the village
of Croston and resumed his life.
In 1947 Bill married Nellie
Sutton, a local girl and they were to go on to have two children,
John and Audrey. He now has four grandchildren one of whom, John's
son Lee is carrying on the family tradition and currently serving
as Craftsman Lee Dalton 25132656 REME, 38 Engineer LAD (Light Aid
Department). Claro Barracks, Ripon.
Bill has applied through
the Big Lottery 'Heroes Return' Scheme to re-visit Burma in the
near future. If he does not get to go, then it really is a sad old
world is it not????
Photo Gallery XX
To be continued
Omnia Audax XXth
This work is dedicated by the Author to Bill and Nellie Dalton.
Sadly Nellie did not live
to see it
she died in July, 2004 following a short
She was married to a true
Update 30th April 2007
A little bit of history to go
with this photo.
It was taken in Mid August 1942
at Calcutta Baths when Bill Dalton and four other LF's
from the 10th Battalion went on leave to Calcutta West
Bengal (now known as Kolkata) and only three months before
the start of the First Arakan Campaign.
Bill Dalton is stood in the
middle and the man to his right is Seth Woods who lives
in Chadderton, Greater Manchester. Seth is now 92 years
of age and sadly has suffered from very poor health in
recent years. The Officer stood to Bill's left is name
unknown. Bill recalls that he too was on leave and had
' attached ' himself temporarily to the LF group. He was
not an LF Officer and Bill thinks he may have been in
the Medical Corps. Bill says that he was ' a grand chap
who enjoyed our company, and we enjoyed his '
Another of the LF's in the leave
party was William ' Val ' Valentine. Sadly, in tragic
circumstances Val died whilst on leave having contracted
Cholera. Bill recalls that the party stayed at ' Talbot
House ' whilst on leave and that during the night Val
woke Bill complaining of feeling very unwell. Val was
taken to the local hospital where he died a short time
Details of William ' Val ' Valentine
can be found on the LF's at Rest Page or by clicking on
this link and scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Bill describes Talbot House
as a clean, cheap, home from home and a very pleasant
place to stay.
He cannot recall the names of
the other two LF's who were on leave with him
(Note) Talbot House was named
after the brother of a well loved Army Chaplain in WW1
and Toc H became the world wide organisation which followed.
There were Talbot Houses wherever soldiers needed R&R
Further information about Talbot House can be found by
clicking on the link below.