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Museum of the Manchester Regiment


History


1919 - 1945

1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment

Men of the 1st Battalion the Manchester Regiment, taken outside the dining hall, Konigstein, Germany, 1926 (MRP/5B)This was the period of the Irish 'Troubles' and on 5 June 1921 three young musicians, Boys M Carson, C Chapman and L Cooper, were kidnapped after breaking out of barracks and were later murdered at Kilcrea, County Cork. (Their bodies were eventually buried at Bandon but were exhumed at the request of the parents of the boys and handed over to the British military authorities by Irish Free State troops on 5 August. They were received on board the steamship Moorfowl at Penrose Quay by Colonel Heywood, commanding the South Irish coast defences and a party of the Royal Garrison Artillery. They were returned to the Regimental Depot and were then buried in Hurst Cemetery, Ashton-under-Lyne.

A motor lorry of the battalion proceeding from Macroom to Ballyvourney in West Cork was ambushed on 20th July by about 150-armed rebels. Captain James Airey, Sergeant Nicholson, Private McEwen, Driver Ball RASC and Private Barlow were all wounded but Driver Ball was able to drive through the ambush. Captain Airey and Private Barlow both later died of their wounds.

In 1922 a political settlement was reached with the establishment of the Irish Free State and the battalion transferred to the Channel isles of Guernsey and Alderney. Their stay there was short-lived and by 1st June they were back in Ireland on internal security duties in Enniskillen. In September they moved to Dublin and returned to Guernsey and Alderney on 18 December.

The battalion moved to Cologne to become part of the British garrison on the Rhine. In January 1926 the battalion moved to Givenchy Barracks in Konigstein on the Rhine as part of the 2nd Rhine Brigade. They returned to the UK in 1927 as part of the efforts on the British side to satisfy the Treasury and to reduce numbers in order to please the Germans. (The final withdrawal from the British Occupation of the Rhineland, which had lasted almost exactly 11 years, was on 12 December 1929).

At the latter end of 1929 HM King George V was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment and was gazetted as such on 21 December 1929, the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Givenchy. In honour of this appointment a detachment consisting of officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers from every regular and territorial battalion of the Regiment, paraded at Buckingham Palace on 16 May 1930 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel B C Freyberg VC CMG DSO the 1st Battalion commanding officer.

After four years in Shorncliffe, the battalion moved to Gosport on 20 October 1931.

In 1933 the battalion again achieved great success at Bisley, wining the Roupell Cup, Roberts Cup and the Britannia Trophy. Lieutenant Charles Archdale became Army Champion.

The battalion then moved to the West Indies, half being stationed in Kingston, Jamaica and the other half in Bermuda.

The battalion left the West Indies in HMT Dorsetshire for service in Egypt, calling at Southampton for six hours. In spite of the short stay a great welcome was given to the battalion. Special trains from the north of England brought relatives and friends for a great reunion. The journey continued to Moascar. Shortly before Christmas the battalion moved to Mersa Matruh in the Western Desert where a British force was assembled to oppose any attempt by the Italian army to cross into Egypt. On arrival the battalion joined the Armoured Brigade in the role of lorried infantry, their vehicles being provided and driven by the Royal Army Service Corps.

In March 1936 the battalion returned to Moascar and resumed its role of normal infantry. In April 1937 company detachments were found for Cyprus and Port Said. In May orders were received for the battalion to be reorganised as a Medium Machine Gun Battalion. The battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel 'Nim' Clowes, moved to Palestine in January 1938 with headquarters in Tiberias, a large town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and five miles from Haifa.

Britain at that time was care-taking Palestine on behalf of the League of Nations, in accordance with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. This opted for the establishing of an exclusive Jewish national homeland, but without harming the rights of the indigenous Arab population. However the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, domiciled at that time in Syria, was actively fostering discontent amongst the Arab population which was manifesting itself in the terrorisation of the Jewish 'colonists' living in the kibbutzim, and to a lesser degree the Jewish quarters in towns such as Safach and Tiberius. The terrorists were also prepared to attack both the British Army and the Palestine Police whilst enjoying the sanctuary of the adjacent Syrian frontier.

The battalion now had four machine-gun companies, each with three platoons of four guns. One of these companies should have been an anti-tank company, but as there was no requirement for this role in Palestine it was established as a Vickers machine-gun company. Battalion transport consisted of Morris 15 cwt trucks and for cross-country work each company had a quota of pack donkeys. The battalion was split up into many detachments in the north of Palestine providing static posts, mobile columns and escorts in aid of the civil power.

On 16 August 1938 a landmine blew up the leading truck of a ration convoy to Sahnkin and Lieutenant Robin Griffiths was killed. In a follow up operation a column of the Regiment was sent to the village of Sha'ab in the Acre sub-district that had been located by police dogs in the follow-up to the landmine explosion. A large number of huts in the village were destroyed and on returning the party sent a covering party ahead to take up positions northwards on the Acre-Safad road. At about 2 pm the party became under sniper fire near kilometre 249. Regimental Sergeant Major John Currie was killed whilst manning a Vickers machine-gun. The Adjutant, Major 'Bill' Usher was wounded in the face and knee but led an assault against the snipers, dislodging them and killing ten.

Two armoured police vehicles from Rama arrived and came under resumed heavy fire from the Arab terrorists. The British NCO in charge of one of these vehicles immediately gave first aid to Major Usher although under heavy fire. The other vehicle drove to Sha'ab to summon up assistance. By this time the terrorists were being joined by others mounted on horses, donkeys, camels and mules, all intensifying the fire on the group of Manchester's. Shortly afterwards about 80 soldiers and police arrived from Acre and in an action lasting some fifteen minutes managed to take over a ridge, dispersing the terrorists to the north. Royal Air force planes from Semakh had been over the scene form the beginning bombing and machine-gunning the gangs. They are believed to have accounted for at least 27 out of the 40 to 50 who were killed. A detachment of the Essex Regiment arrived from Safad where they had been standing by and the terrorists finally dispersed.

At the end of the Palestine tour a large number of officers and men were mentioned in despatches. For their work in the Special Night Squads formed by Major Orde Wingate, and composed of Jewish settlers, Lieutenant Rex King-Clark was awarded the Military Cross and Corporal Fred Howbrook was specially commended.

On 25 September 1938 the 1st Battalion left Haifa in the troopship Dilwara bound for Singapore. However due to the international crisis over the German occupation of the Sudentenland in Czechoslovakia, the battalion spent some time in Egypt based in Cairo where they remained until the Munich Agreement that was signed on 29 September. On 4 October 1938 the battalion re-embarking on the Dilwara reaching Singapore island on 20 October. The battalion was then based in Tanglin Barracks where, on 28 November 1938, nineteen silver bugles were presented to the Corps of Drums. Each named after a regimental battle honour and all subscribed by serving and retired officers of the Regiment.

A Battalion in Captivity

The arrival of Lieutenant Colonel E B Holmes MC in August 1939 to assume A group of 1st Battalion Far East Prisoners of War including Herbert Hadfield (3533289)command of 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment coincided with the arrival in Malaya of Force Emu, the first reinforcements for the Singapore Garrison to be despatched from India. The Manchester 's had themselves been stationed in Singapore since October 1938, following overseas service since January 1934 in Jamaica, Egypt and Palestine. Before this, life in the battalion had continued in the even way of peacetime soldiering.

Tanglin Barracks, adjacent to the Singapore Botanic Gardens was modern and spacious, with excellent barrack blocks and married quarters. Some few miles to the west lay the well-equipped Alexandra British Military Hospital. However following the outbreak of war in Europe the battalion had mobilised and occupied battle stations on the beaches.

After a few days all troops were stood down and the beach positions and action posts were only partially manned. Almost immediately followed a period of energetic revision and reconstruction of the island defences, in which the battalion was heavily involved in their nine-mile line of responsibility.

In August 1939 the battalion was instructed to find 20 Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and men as instructors to the Militia and these sailed to England shortly after their selection. Among them were many who had served continuously with the 1st Battalion for many years, notably CSM Jones of Bisley fame and CQMS Livesey who had been closely associated with battalion boxing for many years. Another batch of instructors was sent to England shortly afterwards.

Ladysmith Day 1940 was celebrated in traditional regimental style. Trooping of the Colour took place during the day and at night the Sergeant's Ball was held. Celebrations lasted for almost a week and finished with the Officers entertaining the members of the Warrant Officer's and Sergeants mess to dinner. It had been a glorious week providing a bright relief in a long period of hard work and arduous training.

Another popular evening feature was the Beating of Retreat on the battalion sports ground. The Band and Drums, in white uniforms, complete with the silver drums and bugles, presented a wonderful spectacle and the occasions brought many sightseers, both military and civilian. These were discontinued in late 1940 when the silver drums and bugles, together with the Regimental Silver and the Colours, were sent to Australia to be lodged in the safe custody of the Manchester 's affiliated battalion, the 10 th ( Adelaide ) Australian Rifles.

Christmas 1940 was celebrated in traditional style. The men's dinner was a great success and the annual Sergeant's Mess dance on Boxing Day was a grand finale to all official functions to be held in Singapore. The bright and colourful spectacle of the various mess kits of the forces disappeared and the future brought an unbroken panorama of Khaki drill. Civilian clothing, mess kits and white drill were carefully stuffed with mothballs and stored away.

A number of the wives in the Regiment were employed in military offices as clerks and in hospitals as auxiliary nurses. They remained at their duties until evacuated from the island. This evacuation to Australia, South Africa, India and England began at the end of December and continued until about the 8th February, when the last of the families were evacuated.

Meanwhile the battalion was steadily coming closer to a complete war footing. All beaches had been wired, minefields prepared and tank obstacles constructed. Fields of fire were cleared, accompanied by the moans and objections of the civilian residents whose bathing areas, summer huts and gardens had to be removed or demolished. The last major task allotted to the battalion was the construction of a gigantic anti-boat obstacle designed to prevent landing craft from getting close inshore. All work was carried out at low tide which meant work being carried out at all times of the day and night, depending on the state of the tides. The obstacle stretched for some miles along the sector, proved effective under test but the battalion never had the opportunity to judge its efficiency under actual war conditions.

Still serving in the battalion were some two hundred Warrant Officers, Non Commissioned Officers and men who had sailed with the battalion from England almost eight years earlier and who had never returned to England during that period. Many of them were now due for posting home, others for discharge or transfer to the Army Reserve. They accepted their bad luck at not returning home with good grace and made the best of what must have been, to most of them, a big disappointment.

The face of Malaya was changing rapidly. Reinforcements were arriving from the UK, India and Australia and by November 1941 there were two Indian Army Divisions and one Australian Division present, in addition to the reinforced normal Fortress and Garrison troops.

In late November all beaches were manned and final arrangements made to meet any emergency. Posts were fully manned by night and partially manned by day when troops were able to rest. This continued until 7th December 1941 when the Japanese unleashed their undeclared offensive in the Far East.

At about 8am on 8th December Singapore was subjected to a surprise air attack by nine enemy planes. For most people it was their first experience of attack from the air but the bombs fell in and around Singapore town and the battalion was not involved. That day all Japanese nationals were arrested and placed in custody.

From 31st January to 7th February, Singapore was tense and expectant. All Allied troops were now on the island; the causeway to the mainland had been blown up to impede the Japanese advance. 'B' Company in the Naval Base came in for some heavy shelling. On 5th February, 'D' Company, on duty on Pack Tell Beach sustained casualties during an air raid when two NCOs were killed and several NCOs and men wounded. On 8th February the Japanese launched a large-scale landing on the north and northwest coasts of the island and soon gained a footing.

The Manchester 's still remained in occupation of their east coast positions and awaited developments. On 10th February orders were received to move inland to positions on the outskirts of Singapore town. By this time, the Royal Air Force was to all intents non-existent and Japanese aircraft continually attacked the Allied positions, their only opposition being anti-aircraft guns and light anti-aircraft weapons.

On the night of 13th/14th February a specialist party of 26 members of the battalion with 3 Ordnance Corps personnel, together with a similar party from the 2nd East Surrey Regiment embarked at Singapore on HMS Dragonfly for an unknown destination. The Dragonfly, a small river gunboat, was attacked by nine enemy planes when only a few hours out from Singapore. The first stick of bombs scored a direct hit on the mess deck and she quickly sank with very few survivors.

The battalion came into action properly on 13th February in the Geylang area. Casualties were sustained on the following two days and on the 15 th two machine-gun posts of 'B' Company were completely wiped out. Their guns were kept firing until completely over-run by the enemy on all sides. Enemy aircraft raided Singapore Town at about 2pm on 15th February causing very heavy casualties and a great deal of damage. As the day advanced so events moved from bad to worse and on the evening of the 15th came the disastrous news of the capitulation of the forces throughout Malaya.

The battalion marched from Singapore Town to the Prisoner of War concentration area at Changi on 17th February, led by Lieutenant Colonel Holmes carrying a large framed photograph of King George V strapped to his back.

Initially all Allied prisoners were concentrated in and around Changi, regardless of accommodation or feeding arrangements. Within a few days troops were living in a mixture of barrack blocks, married quarters, out-houses, shacks and tents. Anything that offered some sort of roof was appropriated. After a few days, conditions began to improve. Most water pumps and pipes had been destroyed and an emergency water supply was introduced whilst rough repairs were carried out. Water was drawn from central water points in containers for cooking purposes, but water for washing could only be obtained by queuing up with thousands of others whenever water was available.

The Manchester's were in 'A' Block of the Selerang Barracks which in peace time had accommodated about 100 men but now nearly 800 individuals were quartered there. Every available inch of floor space was used for sleeping purposes - verandas, doorways and staircases etc. There was no lighting, sanitary arrangements were practically non-existent.

At this time the general state of health of the battalion was excellent, the majority of men in hospital were battle casualties. A central hospital was formed for the whole camp at Roberts Barracks in Changi. Previously this had been the home of the Royal Artillery and was now to be known as Roberts Hospital. As time went on the hospital grew to massive proportions, some 2,500 - 3,000 beds being available. Later in the year this number proved to be inadequate to meet the needs of the camp.

In the early stages of captivity there were many opportunities for social and recreational activities. Cricket, football and swimming were popular; concert parties, choirs and orchestras were formed and a great many subjects were taught by the Army Education staff for those who were interested.

Work consisted mainly in erecting a perimeter wire fence around the POW camp area, the removal of wire and mines from the beaches, the provision of small daily working parties for work in Singapore Town and local working parties for camp sanitation and woodcutting. As time went on permanent working parties were detached from Changi and sent around the island working on the reconstruction of airfields and removal of Japanese war booty. In most cases they were accommodated in wooden huts but others not so fortunate found themselves in dirty native buildings.

On 22nd June 1942 twenty men of the battalion, under command of Lieutenant M O Stevenson, were sent to Thailand as a part of what the Japanese called the Mainland Party. They were, in effect, the advance party for the big move of POW from Singapore to Thailand for work on the projected Bangkok-Moulmein railway.

July and August were uneventful except that on the departure to Japan of Lieutenant General Percival, Colonel Holmes was selected to take over command of British and Australian POW in Malaya. This required him to leave the battalion area and move into Command Headquarters. Captain Joe Flyn accompanied him. Major G D Cooper and Captain J L L Perez assumed the appointments of commanding officer and adjutant respectively. Captain Joe Reilly continued as Quartermaster.

In late August the troops experienced the first real taste of Japanese 'bloody mindedness'. They issued that all officers and men sign a 'non-escape' form, a flagrant breach of the Hague and Geneva international conventions. This order was strongly opposed by Colonel Holmes. His staff officers got everyone on parade and explained the situation. Unanimously it was agreed that no one would sign and this was general throughout all units in the camp. Working parties of POW in Singapore Town and elsewhere delayed any action until they knew the reaction of their comrades in Changi.

On learning of the refusal to sign the Japanese gave a 24 hour ultimatum to sign, after which all troops in Changi were to be concentrated in Selarang Barracks, the peacetime home of 2nd Battalion the Gordon Highlanders. Of the thousands of men in Changi only four men signed. The ultimatum was put into effect and began the same day. This involved the movement of all troops, both fit and sick, rations, cooking utensils, personal effects and bedding.

Anything on wheels was commandeered to assist in this great trek. Wheelbarrows, prams, bogeys and homemade carts were all used plus help from the RASC Transport with their small pool of de-mechanised vehicles. Thousands of troops filled the roads to Selerang, laden with their own belongings and in many cases with the belongings of sick or weaker comrades. By evening everyone, apart from those in Roberts Hospital, were confined in this new area.

Seven double tier barrack blocks and a barrack square measuring 250 x 150 yards were allocated for the accommodation of approximately 14,000 troops, several hundreds having to sleep on the flat roofs of the barrack blocks. About half the barrack square was occupied by temporary kitchens, stores and sleeping accommodation; the remainder was dug up to provide latrines. Work parties spent day and night trying to cope with the problems of sanitation and it was soon obvious that all the space available for latrines would be exhausted within a few days. It was a most inhumane and in sanitary situation. The Japanese erected machine-gun positions around the small area and threatened to kill anyone stepping onto the perimeter road.

However, in the face of this adversity the majority were reasonably cheerful, having felt that they had achieved, for the time being, a moral victory. Retaliation soon followed and the Japanese threatened to bring in everyone from Roberts Hospital - some 3,000 patients and staff - unless the papers were signed. Conditions were already very bad; disease in the shape of diphtheria and dysentery was already spreading and it would have been disastrous to bring in additional sick and diseased. On the third day, Colonel Holmes issued orders for everyone to sign, under duress. After signing, all troops were able to return to their original billets in the Changi Camp area.

Shortly afterwards came a very welcome surprise in the arrival of food and clothing from the South African Red Cross. The scale of issue was liberal, tinned meat, meat and vegetable, peas, carrots, fruit, jam, biscuits, sugar, milk, cocoa & sweets. There were about 70 cigarettes per man; in addition, a number of hats, boots, shirts and shorts. There was not sufficient clothing to issue to everyone so they were handed into the Ordnance Corps clothing store and issued as required.

These gifts were a great blessing, especially for the hospital patients who were now assured of an adequate supply of milk, which previously could not be obtained. Certain items were issued to individuals but in most cases stores were used economically over a period of some three or four weeks to help the existing diet, to everyone's great benefit.

In August, the Japanese introduced a new pay code for officers. They were credited on paper with a sum roughly equivalent to British Army pay but received only a small portion in actual cash. Small as these amounts were they increased the amount of cash available for circulation in the camp. In addition, officers introduced a scale of contributions to be made monthly from their pay to a fund for the care and welfare of hospital patients. This meant that patients were able to receive a small amount each week with which to buy cigarettes etc.

During October 1942 instructions were issued for the transfer of prisoners in Changi to Thailand to take part in the construction of the railway. Every available fit man was taken. At this time approximately 450 officers and men of the battalion were on working parties in Singapore Town and of the remainder some 220 officers and men were selected to proceed to Thailand, forming part of a composite working battalion of Loyals, Gordon Highlanders, Manchester's and Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. About 80/100 sick officers and men remained behind, the majority being hospital cases.

The move began on 27th October and the first stage was a journey in tightly packed motor vehicles to Singapore railway station where everyone was herded into closed goods wagons, the average number being 32 to 35 men complete with personal kit, bedding, food containers and other stores which had been brought. The long trek had begun.

The journey was to cover some 900 miles from Singapore to Ban Pong and would last five days and four nights. Conditions were such that it was impossible for anyone to lie down and sleep. Feeding arrangements throughout this nightmare journey were appalling, as was sanitation.

On arrival at Ban Pong conditions did not improve. Initial accommodation was in a flooded staging camp where the whole site had stagnant flood water level with the sleeping platforms. Swarms of flies were everywhere, spreading disease and dirt. Much to everyone's relief their journey continued after two days in this haven of 'bed and breakfast' and the third night was spent in Kanburi.

On the following day the prisoners moved on to Chungkai, some 5 kilometres further on, the headquarters of what was to be known as No 2 POW Group. The camp was sited on the banks of the Kwab Noi River, adjacent to several native agricultural plots. Bathing was allowed, as was the purchase of fruit and tobacco from the locals. A great favourite was banana fritters served on a banana leaf. At the time of arrival the camp was only half built but the building programme continued. Accommodation was in long bamboo-framed huts about 100 metres long and 8 metres wide with a sleeping platform of split bamboo running the full length on both sides. 450 men had to sleep in each hut, which meant about 30 inches of space per man.

The monsoon season began a few days after the men arrived; the river overflowed and the camp flooded. In one hut, half of the men had to be evacuated when the water rose to a depth of almost two metres at one end. These unfortunates had to find temporary shelter where they could, in offices, tents and, in many cases, out in the open. These conditions were ideal for mosquito breeding and in a very short time large numbers of men were down with malaria. Eventually a number of mosquito nets of a communal type were issues, and although there were not enough to provide protection for everyone, they did help and the incidence of malaria decreased considerably.

At this stage, the men were reasonably fit and strong. Working hours were spent in constructing the embankment of the new railway but gradually the Japanese applied pressure and demanded greater effort. Working hours increased and the allotted jobs became more strenuous and increasingly unbearable. The Japanese engineers were cruel and vicious in their general attitude to the prisoners. On one occasion, following an incident, the battalion working party under command of Major Philip Buchan, downed tools and marched back to camp, followed by three other working battalions. The sentries stood helpless. This was the second mass refusal to accept the Japanese point of view. A third instance happened shortly afterwards when the officers refused to perform manual tasks. They all stood fast on parade and refused to go to work when the Japanese ordered them to do so. The guards were immediately doubled and with rifles loaded covered the parade whilst the Japanese commander read out the riot act and informed them of the consequences to the whole camp if they continued to refuse. He threatened collective punishment of the whole camp, reduction of rations and withdrawal of privileges etc. Under the circumstances, the officers had to back down.

This collective punishment was to prove a favourite method of Japanese coercion, and one against which it was difficult to compete as in most cases it was the always the sick who would suffer if the threats were carried out. As the result of this an officer's working battalion came into being, their particular tasks being bridging and anti-malarial work. The first death of a Manchester soldier was on 20th December 1942 when Private Walker of 'A' Company died from dysentery.

In January 1943, the POW Group moved up the railway line to Ban Kau where it remained for about six weeks. The work was the same as before but far more demanding. As a result, men were fast losing any reserves of energy. The incidence of malaria began to increase, as did the number of stomach complaints. It was here that Major Buchan had yet another go at the Japanese and again marched his working party back to camp without permission. For this breach, the Japanese officer in charge of the railway engineers subjected him to a most cruel and outrageous beating.

Following a short rest period of three weeks came a move further up the line to assist No 4 Group complete their sector near Tarsoa. When this was completed came another move, this time on a hundred-kilometre march to Tarkanun, which was reached in May. No vehicles were provided and each party had to carry their essential kit and cooking utensils.

The only accommodation here was a few leaky tents designed to hold 12 men each. In these about 30 men were cramped which still left about 120 sleeping in the open under appalling weather conditions. The rainy season had returned with continuous heavy rain making the prisoner's situation even more unbearable. Tents became useless and the men began to erect little shelters of bamboo and grasses to keep themselves dry.

Food was becoming scarce, rations decreased inversely with the lengthening of the supply line as they increased along the railway. Roads had become impassable owing to the rains and the only lifeline was the river alongside which the railway was being built. This river was in flood for long periods at a time and it was often impossible for ration barges to reach the camp. Consequently there was no fresh meat or vegetables and diet consisted of rice, dried meat or fish, dried vegetables and boiled water for drinking.

Working hours were now increased to about twelve hours a day in all weathers and everyone was visibly weakening. Morale was dropping and the incidence of sickness and disease reaching alarming proportions. Medical supplies, particularly quinine, were running very short and there was no indication that any further supplies would be available. Now, in addition to malaria, came an outbreak of cholera and the death rate was high. For a while the epidemic was brought under control but broke out again in July and August 1943.

Little work was being carried out on sanitation as all fit men were being taken to work on the railway. Flies were everywhere and did much to spread cholera and dysentery throughout the camp. By now nearly all the prisoners were suffering from jungle sores and ulcers. Scratches from bamboo and jungle scrub became infected immediately and turned into very painful ulcers for which there was no treatment other than bathing with hot water. No bandages were available. In addition lice, bugs and scabies were rampant and without remedy.

This party of the battalion had started out from Singapore in November 1942 in a group with a strength of 650 officers and men. By July 1943, after the serious sick cases had been evacuated to Chungkai this number was reduced to approximately 180 officers and men. They proceeded further up the railway to Kran Krai and by October that year, when the railway was completed the survivors numbered 37.

This party then returned to a great base camp, which had been established at Chungkai on the middle part of the Kwab Noi valley. Here they found very different conditions from those experienced earlier. Food was now available in reasonable supply and cooking staffs were able to vary the diet with such delicacies as tamarind jam, marmalade made from limes, bread, coffee, eggs and many other items which they had been deprived of for so long. Profits from this canteen were used to supplement hospital messing.

Cigarette factories were also introduced; most of the tobacco being smuggled into the camp during the night by some expert prisoners turned smugglers. Another 'delicacy' brought illegally into the camp was Thai whiskey which, although a fiery brew, was in great demand. In the hospital, this contained some 2,500 patients, excluding about 2,000 patients suffering from malaria who received out treatment. Every effort was made to help the sick, surgical appliances, operating tables, dentist's chairs and innumerable other items were made in the camp workshops. Funds for this purpose came from the Camp Central Fund to which all officers and men contributed. About 4,000 blood transfusions were carried out in this hospital, a remarkable achievement considering the primitive tools available.

Life now took on a completely different style. For the next six months there was time for plenty of sport and entertainment, concerts, plays, band concerts, football, basketball, cricket and race meetings. These race meetings were very popular and extremely well run by men who had experience in horse racing. The horses, of course, were men as were the jockeys. Champion jockey at the three meetings that were held was Private 'Tich' Hill of 'C' Company of the Manchester 's who proved to be a real money-spinner for his comrades. However even in this pleasant state, death continued to stalk the prisoners. Dysentery, beriberi, malaria and starvation continued to take their toll, the result of those terrible months on the railway. The camp cemetery now contained nearly 1,400 graves.

In May 1944, American Red Cross parcels arrived containing spam, cheese, butter, bully beef, coffee, cocoa, jam and real Virginian cigarettes. Parcels were distributed on a scale of one per six men, but were the only Red Cross gifts that were to be received until after liberation.

In May 1944 rumours circulated that large numbers of POWs were to be transferred to Japan and during May and June some 10,000 POWs were medically examined and passed fit to proceed. Amongst these were Captain Nigel Evans and about sixty men of the battalion. Sadly, few of them survived the journey.

The first Allied air raids against the railway began in June 1944. In a raid on the railway sidings at Non Pladok hundreds of the prisoners were killed or injured in the camp adjacent to the sidings. There was a great deal of air reconnaissance during the next few months. In September leaflets prepared by South East Asia command in Ceylon were dropped. Apart from carrying details of the world war situation the leaflets carried the 'V' sign and the cheering message 'Hang on boys, we're coming'. At about this time working parties were being sent back up the railway on maintenance work, the line being in a very bad state of repair due to the heavy rains. Work consisted mainly of ballasting and re-laying the track. On 8 th December 1944 Allied planes attacked the railway throughout its entire length, causing much damage to rolling stock and bridges. After this, raids by Fortresses and Liberator bombers became almost a daily occurrence. Although there were a number of POW casualties, they accepted this as a necessary forerunner to freedom.

During December 1944 and January 1945 a deep dry ditch was dug around the camp with sentry boxes built at strategic points. Dug by the prisoners the ditch was about 12 feet deep and 10 feet wide with a strong bamboo fence running along both sides. Whatever the intention, the whiskey and tobacco smugglers and the black market men ultimately proved that this obstacle could be overcome, regardless of the vigilance of the Japanese sentries.

Officers had been with this party throughout the captivity but in February 1945 they were withdrawn from all camps in Thailand and concentrated in a large new camp at Kanburi. By now, the Japanese were becoming very shaky and searches of prisoner belongings became frequent and sudden. All pens, pencils and writing materials were confiscated, together with razors, knives, screwdrivers, watches, diaries, nails and bits of wire. With the departure of the officers went the update of weekly news. They had operated a carefully hidden radio throughout the time in Thailand, at great risk to their personal safety. Had the operators been caught there is little doubt that they would have been executed.

Nearly all-base camps in Thailand were in possession of these radio receivers, which had been ingeniously constructed inside water bottles. Through these the prisoners had learnt about the great victories in North Africa and Italy, 'D' Day in Europe, the collapse of Germany and the slow strangling of the Japanese in the Far East. After the officers left, occasional news flashes were passed on from work party to work party, but in the main the men were entirely dependent on leaflets dropped by Allied planes. These leaflets were frequently dropped over Thai towns and villages and copies were passes by the Thais to men in the work parties who smuggled them back into the camps. They were printed in Japanese, Chinese, Thai and English and provided up-to-date news on the progress of the war.

In June 1945 it was apparent to the prisoners that the Japanese could see the writing on the wall. All base camps were improved and generally smartened up. Working conditions became easier and food became moderately good. However, the Japanese were becoming jittery and irritable. Gatherings of five or over were forbidden other than at concerts and religious services. Concerts were severely censored and no talking was allowed other than introducing the entertainers. As the sports ground was now outside the camp perimeter, all sport was forbidden.

As the end of July approached came rumours of capitulations and ultimatums. Within a few days the prisoners heard of the Russian entry into the Japanese war and then the news that they had been waiting for, Freedom, exactly three and a half years since capture. British, American, Australian and Dutch flags were hoisted in the camp and the different National Anthems sung. Following a night of celebration, the prisoners carried on with routine camp duties while eagerly waiting for news and developments. The Japanese handed over rations, clothing and stores whilst the prisoners more or less assumed control of the camp.

It is interesting to note that, in this camp at least, there were no incidents or reprisals against the Japanese guards who were severely left alone to be dealt with, in due course, by Allied military tribunals. Administrative officers and other ranks, equipped with radio receivers and transmitters, arrived and preparations began for the evacuation from Thailand. This party moved to Bangkok where the Thai population gave them a wild reception. In early September Bomber Transport commenced ferrying the ex-prisoners to Rangoon, India. On 12 th September 1945, 21 officers and 120 other ranks of the old 1 st Battalion were concentrated at Rangoon awaiting embarkation to the UK. At the same time, stationed some 15 miles outside Rangoon was 'C' Company of 2 nd Manchester's who, following their many battles against the Japanese in the jungles of Assam and Burma, were reorganising in that part of India. Needless to say, a re-union was organised which proved a great success.

Within a few days the first parties sailed for the UK. Similar arrangements were made for the men proceeding home from Singapore and Japan. Parties from Japan travelled via Manila to Vancouver and across Canada before joining their ships. Within 24 hours of landing in England everyone had proceeded home on leave.

Of the 43 officers and 960 NCOs and men who were in Singapore on 8 th December 1941, 6 officers and 432 NCOs and men failed to return. They had either been killed in action on land or sea, or because of disease and sickness in prison camps throughout the Far East.

The New 1st Battalion

A new 1st Battalion was formed in June 1942 by the renumbering of the 6 th Territorial Army Battalion as the 1st.

After two years intensive training as a machine-gun battalion the new 1st Battalion, commanded by Lieut Colonel Charles Harrington of the Cheshire Regiment, took part in the invasion of Europe. Bren gun carriers, equipment and men moved on 18 June 1944 from Faversham station to West India Docks in London where all was loaded onto the SS Samneva. The battalion landed at Arromanches on 26 th June, D-Day plus 20, as the Machine Gun Support Battalion of 53 rd (Welsh) Infantry Division. The battalion took part in the general British and Canadian attack on the German positions in the eastern sector, designed to pin down the enemy armour while the US Army in the western sector was staging its breakout from the beaches.

On 2 August 1944 the battalion was engaged in a large and successful operation at Mont Pincon. The battalion crossed the River Seine on 30th August and reached Antwerp on 8 September. In October it spent some weeks in the Nijmegen bridgehead, assisting in the attack and capture of s'Hertogenbosch. Then forcing the crossing of the Wessex Canal in bitterly cold weather in a desolate waterlogged countryside.

The battalion then went into reserve but was quickly ordered to man a section of the River Dyle, between Louvain and Genappes, when Von Runstedt delivered his counter offensive through the Ardennes. In one counter-attack in the Ardennes the machine guns and heavy mortars of the battalion were the only supporting weapons available and had to be manhandled through deep snow.

The battalion took part in the attack on Grimblemont and then withdrew towards Eindhoven. It was then involved in heavy fighting in the Reichswald Forest and at the end of March 1945 assisted in the capture of Bocholt. On 12 April it was involved in hard fighting at Rethem and Verden, which fell on 17 April. On 4 May the battalion entered Hamburg and whilst there the German Army surrendered. The battalion moved to Schleswig Holstein helping to collect the German Army coming down from Denmark.

The battalion then moved to Essen, relieving an American Parachute Regiment, before joining 5th Division in Seesen on the edge of the Harz Mountains, south east of Hanover. Returned to England in 1947 and amalgamated with the 2 nd Battalion in May 1948.

A War Memorial Chapel to the memory of all who lost their lives while serving with the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division during the Second World War is situated in Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff.

2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment

After the armistice in November 1918 the battalion moved to Belgium and later transferred to Bonn in Germany where it formed part of the British Army of Occupation. During the early part of 1919 demobilisation of the army was rapidly carried out and in April the battalion cadre returned to England. April - November 1919 was chiefly spent in gradually reforming the battalion for overseas service. In November, because of the troubles in Ireland, the battalion moved to Tipperary where it performed duties in aid of the civil power.

In February 1920 the battalion was placed under orders for Mesopotamia ( Iraq ) and sailed from Tilbury on HMT Macedonia. From Basra and a journey up the river Tigris they reached Baghdad in April. Stationed in Tekrit, life was no picnic - no washhouses, dining tents or recreation tents, just a few tents to sleep in. The first serious trouble arose at Rumaithah, a small town on the Hillah branch of the River Euphrates. The small detachments of troops that were sent there became isolated as the railway to the south and north was torn up by the Arabs and the first attempt at a relief failed.

The 55th Infantry Brigade, of which the Manchester 's were a part, was ordered from Tekrit to Baghdad. Units began to leave Tekrit on 9 July but it was not until the 20th that trains could be provided for 2nd Manchester 's. Leaving that day they arrived at Hillah, 60 miles from Baghdad, on the 21st. There was now collected at Hillah 2 Squadrons of the 35th Scinde Horse, 39th Battery RFA (6 guns), 3 companies of 2nd Manchester 's, 1 company of the 32nd Sikh Pioneers and other details.

On the 23rd the battalion, less one company with the machine-guns, together with the rest of the small force at Hillah, was sent out from Hillah with the intention of reassuring the friendly natives and to maintain order in the area. The heat was very great - the shade temperature at Baghdad was 121 degrees Fahrenheit and the soldiers suffered intensely.

The medical officer with the so-called 'Manchester Column' considered that they should not be asked to march further until they had had twenty-four hours rest. The Commandant at Hillah, however, ordered the force to advance at dawn the next morning. At 9.15 am the column moved off towards the Rustumiyah Canal, which they reached three hours later. A troop of cavalry was sent out towards Kifl to reconnoitre whilst the remainder of the column made camp to the east of the road and the canal.

Up until 6pm all seemed peaceful and the Political Officers, accompanying the column, were confident that the local inhabitants were friendly, but then the cavalry patrol came in reporting that a well-armed body of several thousand Arabs was moving against the camp from the direction of Kifl. As soon as they were seen the artillery with the column-opened fire, fighting then became general but all seemed to be going well.

At this stage the Political Officers appear to have panicked and urged Colonel Hardcastle, commanding the column, to commence an immediate retreat on Hillah, declaring that all the Arabs in the area would now rise, and that whilst some of these held the column to its camp, the rest would push on and capture Hillah. Accordingly it was decided that the column should retire on Hillah.

About 8.40 pm the retirement began, the Manchester 's finding the advance and flank guards, and although the Arabs had worked round between the camp and Hillah, they were held in check and the retreat began promisingly enough. However whilst the advance guard was fighting its way through and clearing the flanks, the transport animals panicked and stampeded, bolting in all directions but principally through and over the advance and flank guards. Many men were knocked over by the runaway carts and were split up into small parties and temporarily disorganised. The enemy were quick to take advantage of this and attacked in masses, right in amongst the men and guns. Hand to hand fighting ensued and the Arabs were not beaten off until the column had suffered heavy casualties, caused mainly by the men being separated in twos and threes and surrounded by large numbers of the enemy.

The disaster might have been very much worse but for the steadiness of the soldiers, mostly young men, and for the great devotion and bravery of Captain George Henderson DSO MC. Although severely wounded, he time after time collected what men he could and counter-attacked, finally clearing the flank to allow the column to get free. Without doubt he saved the rest of the column He continued fighting until he dropped from loss of blood, and even then continued to encourage the men until he was killed by a bullet in his chest.

For his great gallantry Captain Henderson was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. 79 British and 81 Indian soldiers were taken prisoner by the Arabs. All were all recovered later in October when the Sheiks in the district surrendered, with the exception of one of the British soldiers who died in captivity. For the good condition of this party credit was due to the Senior Warrant officer who controlled and looked after them - Company Sergeant Major Charlie Mutters MC DCM MM.

Besides Captain Henderson, Captain and Adjutant H G Harrison and Captain G M Glover MC were killed, as were 131 non-commissioned officers and men. Sergeant John Willis was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his conduct that night, as were Sergeants Deering DCM and Hinxman of the Royal Artillery.

The battalion left Mesopotamia for India in December and was stationed at Camptee from January 1921. A detachment was kept in Nagpur and on two occasions the battalion was called out for duties in aid of the civil power. 1923 and 1924 were spent in Jubbulpore and in 1925 the battalion moved to Burma.

In January 1928 it relieved the Cameron Highlanders at Maymyo in Upper Burma with one company stationed in Mandalay. In the autumn of 1929, having completed a very pleasant tour in a pleasant land, the battalion moved via Rangoon and Madras to Secunderabad. Armed disturbances broke out in Burma in December 1930 and continued throughout 1931 and into 1932. Lawlessness became particularly acute and during the first two weeks of June in one area alone 65 villages were raided, Headman's houses were attacked and revenue, which they had collected on behalf of the government, was looted.

There was increased anxiety that the insurrection would extend further north into districts north of Mandalay and the battalion was recalled to Burma to help prevent this occurring. Headquarters were established in Mandalay with companies at Shwebo, Meiktilla, Yenang Yanug, Toungoo, Thayetmyo and in the Prome/Mimbo area. Considerable success was achieved in restoring order and Lieutenant Tom Churchill (later Major General and Colonel of the Regiment) was awarded the MC and Sergeant Middleton the MM.

At the end of the rebellion before returning to Secunderabad in February 1932 the police of Mandalay District presented the battalion with a very handsome "Chinthe" the work of a most eminent Burmese silversmith. During their 12 years in India and Burma the battalion had a platoon of Indian soldiers commanded by an Indian officer. He was Subedar, later Subedar Major, Shar Bahadur Khan. In October 1932 the battalion moved to the Sudan with headquarters at Khartoum and companies in Gebiet, Atbera and Cyprus. In December 1933 the battalion returned to the UK where it was stationed at Strensall near York.

To Aldershot in January 1939 as the machine-gun battalion of 2nd Division. On 1 April 1939 the British Government pledged that Britain would defend Poland against the threats from Germany. However on 1 September the German army invaded Poland and as a result two days later Britain declared war on Germany. Mobilisation had been ordered at about 5pm on 1 September and Lieutenant Colonel 'Barty' Moore, the commanding officer, called a conference of company commanders to discuss putting the mobilisation scheme into operation. Mobilisation was completed on 5 September and the 18th the battalion loaded and secured all its vehicles with their war equipment, ammunition and stores. Several days later the battalion embarked at Southampton on the SS Biaritz, landing at Cherbourg on 23 September.

From UK to France with the British Expeditionary Force on 23 September 1939 as the machine-gun battalion of 2 nd Division, a part of 1st British Corps. Positioned on the French / Belgium border between Orchies and St Amand. When Germany invaded Holland and Belgium on 10 May 1940 they moved up to the line of the River Dyle, east of Brussels. 1st Corps withdrew from the Dyle position after a few days' contact with the enemy due to the failure of their Allies to maintain their position on the Corps' flanks and rear.

To the UK after withdrawal from Dunkirk. The battalion reformed at Lincoln.

In June 1942, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Archdale, to India with 2nd Division. The Division at once commenced intensive training in combined operations on the west coast to the north of Bombay - with a view to offensive landings on the Japanese-held Arakan coast of Burma - though the skills learnt were never to be put to use. Instead, following a short period of jungle training in southern India in 1943, the Division including the Manchester's, its machine gun battalion, less D Company which had been placed under command of 36th British Division since 1943, was in March 1944 rushed 2,200 miles by land, sea and air to counter the Japanese offensive against the Allied bases at Imphal and Kohima in Assam.

For three months Imphal held out against all attacks, but further north the battle for Kohima proved to be the turning point of the whole campaign in Burma - a battle in which, for the next two months, the 2nd Division was to be totally committed.

On 11 April B Company was in action some ten miles from Kohima four days before the battalion's concentration could be completed. Just over a week later the garrison was relieved, but apart from Garrison Hill itself the Japanese held Kohima Ridge and the hills to the north to beyond Naga village; an area of formidable tree-covered mountains rising to over 7,000 feet, with precipitous slopes and dense sub-tropical forests. It was across these "hellish jungle mountains" that outflanking brigade columns set off. Machine-gun platoons of the Manchester's, "a tough magnificent body of men" as one officer records in his diary, marched with each column while the rest of the Battalion, covered the gun line dug in on Lone Tree Hill within a hundred yards of the Japanese positions where snipers were particularly active and in some cases where the jungle was particularly thick.

May brought heavy periodic pre-monsoon rain making movement of any sort through thick, sodden jungle a Herculean task, especially to the Manchester men burdened with Vickers guns and their heavy awkward tripods and equipment. Furthermore, mosquitoes and a myriad of other insects added to the discomfort of man and beast alike. A, B & C Companies were involved in every operation of the fighting around Kohima, from their first contact with the Japanese at Milestone 32 on the Dimapur approach to Kohima and in support and consolidation of all the attacks on the Japanese positions on Terrace Hill, Two Tree Hill, Jail Hill, DIS Ridge, FSD Ridge, Kuki Picquet and the Naga village until the 2nd Division's meeting with the Imphal garrison at Milestone 109 on the Kohima - Imphal road on 22 June 1944.

After the battle a memorial was erected on Garrison Hill, Kohima, to the 1,287 men of the British 2nd Division who had died holding the position. It was considered appropriate that the inscription on the memorial should be adopted from that on the memorial at Thermopylae raised by the army of Sparta in 480 BC. It sends a potent message of remembrance from those who fell, to their country, their families, their families and their comrades - and of encouragement to future generations. It reads:

When you go home, tell them of us and say: For your tomorrow we gave our today.

2nd Division spent July and August 1944 in rest and retraining in the Kohima / Imphal area. They then began their advance across the Chindwin into Burma with Slim's XIV Army. 2nd Division completed the crossing of the Irrawaddy on 28 February 1945. Some weeks later, on 17 March, No 7 Platoon of C Company, supporting 1st Cameron Highlanders, captured Ava Fort - the southern gateway to the city of Mandalay. The crossing of the river Myittinge was secured and they advanced to the southern end of the great railway bridge from Sagaing. It had been an exhausting advance with the Manchester 's carrying their Vickers machine guns and equipment for three days with virtually no breaks.

During these last actions of the Mandalay campaign the battalion took part in two massed shoots. The whole of A Company assisted the 2nd Norfolk's to clear Myotyingyi and C Company carried out the last massed shoot of the campaign against 30 heavily armed Japanese established on an island in the River Myittinge above Paleik. The battle for Mandalay was over on 23 March.

On 3 April No 1 Platoon of A Company took part in what was probably its final action. With two platoons of D Company 1st Royal Scots they set up a night ambush that completely wiped out over 60 of the enemy. 2nd Division then moved to Calcutta and it was there when Rangoon fell and the Japanese army surrendered.

D Company, had been an independent machine gun company since 1943 in 36th Division with whom it had done sterling work in both the Arakan and in northern Burma, supporting every attack made by both 29 and 72 Infantry Brigades against dedicated Japanese opposition. D Company rejoined the battalion in April 1945.

For its activities in Burma the 2nd Battalion was awarded the battle honours of North Arakan, Kohima, Pinwe, Shwebo, Myinmu Bridgehead and Irrawaddy.

With the end of the war in May 1945 the battalion moved to Secunderabad, where the battalion had last been stationed in 1932. Here Lieutenant Colonel Rex King-Clark handed over to Lieutenant Colonel BFG Blood of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Then to Lake Kharakvasla and, in May 1946, to Arkonam to the west of Madras where Lieutenant Colonel John Orgill of the Manchester 's took over command. The battalion then moved to Fort St George in Madras, with A and C Companies six miles away in Saidapet. The battalion later moved to Bear Barracks, Bangalore. In January 1947 the battalion reverted to the role of a normal infantry battalion. India was given her independence on 15 August 1947 and on 9 October the battalion, now greatly reduced in numbers through demobilisation, sailed from Bombay in the troopship Franconia for Liverpool. The battalion was then accommodated in Fort Crosby near Liverpool.

In due course, with the reduction in size of the British Army, the battalion had to disband or amalgamate with the 1st Battalion and the decision was taken to amalgamate; this being considered the best way in which to preserve the traditions of both the 2nd Battalion and their predecessors the old 96th Regiment of Foot. It was also resolved to add to the title of the new 1st Battalion the numerals 63rd/96th to signify the amalgamation.

On 30 January 1948 the "token cadre" of the battalion moved to the Regimental Depot at its temporary home in Dunham Park, Altrincham, Cheshire. In May amalgamation with the cadre of the 1st Battalion was completed and the 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment ceased to exist.