25th Dragoons in India, 1945-7

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by GillT, Aug 16, 2017.

  1. Good morning. Trying to find out some information about my father Trooper Thomas Leonard (Lenny) Smith who was with the 25th from around December 1944 until the end of WW2. Afterwards he went on to Palestine until late 1946/early 1947. He drove a Sherman and an armoured car whilst over there, but I'm particularly interested in which Squadron he served with as he is now coming up to his 94th birthday and can't remember. He initially joined the RAF as a potential rear gunner, but transferred to the RAC when they came 'looking' for drivers!
     
  2. Sjpix

    Sjpix Member

    Hi Paul

    My Father was a Sgt Mechanic with Sqd A of 25ths through to Nov 1944 when he was selected for repatriation after 5 years in India and Burma.
    In Dec 1944 the 25ths were in a place called Cocanda under Commanding Officer LT Col Hearder, according to the War Diaries. There was lots of new men drafted to the 25ths in June 1944 when they began a new type of training.
    Tanks were no longer Lees but amphibious Duplex Drive Sherman'for projected beach landings on the coast of Malaya.
    Training continued into 1945 at Cocanda. This is quoted from Tom Grounds book. Eric Miles may have more details.
    The War Diaries rarely mention individuals other than ranks of Lt upwards.
    Sqd A...was called out of Cocanda in the middle of April 1944 and sent to the middle of Burma and onto Meiktila about 80 miles south of Mandalay. Commanding Officer Major Anderson. They arrived Meiktile on 6th May. Tom Grounds writes in detail about this time for Sqd A. Maybe Grandad has a memory of Sqd A? At least it is a starting point that may fire off more of his memories.
     
  3. Sjpix. Many thanks for the quick response. Was there a HQ Squadron as he also remembers driving duties for senior officers? He recounts stories of rioting and it's aftermath if any of that helps. Sorry for the vagueness of my enquiry, but I thought I'd start here before going down the official route.
     
  4. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    Sgt Bertie McCully, ex 23rd Hussars (A Squadron):

    On arrival at Bombay we were allowed ashore for a short while and had time to see the waterfront with the Gateway to India and view a small portion of the City. It was a puzzle why everywhere we went the pavements were ‘bloodstained’. It transpired that the locals were in the habit of chewing betel nuts and spitting out the red juice, a wholly disagreeable practice. We returned to the ship and later in the day disembarked and boarded a train bound for the Royal Armoured Corps Depot at Poona, some ninety miles up country. On arrival at the Depot we were allocated to a hut and had a quick meal and by that time it was dark. Not knowing the geography of the place it seemed the best idea was to go to bed and sort things out in the morning. Then came the job of erecting one’s mosquito net. We had settled down to sleep but were awakened by someone calling our names. The time was around 22.00 hours and it was the Orderly Room Runner to say that we were required at the office for an interview. We quickly dressed and followed our caller to the office, carefully noting the route to ensure we could find our way back. A Major wanted to talk to us about joining the 25th Dragoons, a tank regiment that had been involved in the battles in Burma. A number of the long serving members of the Regiment had been sent home for demobilisation and reinforcements were required to replace them. Our names were added to his list and we received orders to parade at 08.00 hours the next morning ready to entrain for the east coast where the Regiment was stationed. We arranged for an early call as in addition to getting ourselves ready and getting breakfast we had to visit the Quartermaster’s Store to change our KD uniforms for Jungle Greens, all shirts, trousers, shorts, socks, vests and pants were in a dark green colour so that individuals would merge with the foliage during jungle service.

    The troop train took three days to traverse the country and the third class carriages with their wooden seats were far from comfortable. At night bunks unhinged from the side of the compartment to provide three levels for sleeping. In the toilet compartment there were two ‘footprints’ and a hole in the floor for carrying out this part of one’s ablutions. For one used to western style toilets this was initially quite a strain on the thigh muscles and it became important not to let one’s braces dangle! The timetable was arranged so that the train arrived at a station at a mealtime where food had been ordered. At the Depot we had been issued with a quantity of anti-malaria ‘Mepacrine’ tablets, one to be taken daily and after consuming so many one took on a yellow hue. If one required a drop of boiling water to shave or make tea, at a stop one would approach the engine where the driver would open a tap to dispense a drop via a pipe just below the footplate. On one leg of the journey the driver allowed me to ride on the footplate, a unique experience.

    We duly arrived at Kokanada on the east coast and were transported in lorries to the camp. Another major interviewed me and entered my details on a form. One question was, “What sports do you play?” to which I answered “Football and hockey”. At the mention of hockey he became very interested as it was the national game in India and much played in the Regiment. In truth I had only previously played three games as goalkeeper for A Squadron in a 23rd Hussars’ inter-squadron competition at Aldershot prior to going to Normandy in 1944 and then I had been ‘press-ganged’ by SSM Bill Shipton to take part. The location of the camp was in a very jungle spot and I was to share a basha with another sergeant. The basha is a native type hut with a frame of bamboo poles, woven rush matting side walls and with palm fronds covering the roof.

    The morning after my arrival the Squadron paraded for PT and the Sergeant Major counted off a party of eighteen. He then gave the order for this party to “Right Turn. Double march – Take them away Sergeant Mccully”. I halted the squad in an open area, gave the order “Open order, March” to give space for exercising and “Feet astride, hands on hips, deep breathing, begin” to give me a brief time to consider the next move as I had not previously taken a PT class. I thought back to my Training Regiment days and how Corporal ‘Taffy’ Lewis had conducted a PT session. It soon came back to me and things went with a swing. Then came the end of the session and time to give the order to dismiss. I recalled that the Training Regiment Instructors usually had a distinctive ‘gimmick’ and ‘Taffy’ Lewis’s was to announce in his lilting Welsh voice, “When I give the order to dismiss, you will make a smart turn to the right, one star jump and double away”. To perform a star jump one jumps clear of the ground, spreading arms and legs apart in the form of a star. I decided to adopt this so I gave a demonstration of what was required, followed by the order to finish the session. Each morning the Colonel would run around the camp in his shorts and join a PT class to perform a few exercises and then move on to another to do a few more exercises and so it was not unusual to have the Colonel exercising at the rear of my squad. There was the famous occasion, some months later, when the Colonel fell in at the rear of my squad and invariably I would order “Front support position, down 1,2” for some press-ups. “Arms bend, stretch, bend, stretch”. At this point it was time to finish, so I said “When I give the order to dismiss, you will make a smart turn to the right, one star jump and double away” “Squad
    Dis-miss”. The Colonel made a smart turn to the right, did a star jump and doubled away. Thereafter I was able to claim that I was the only man in the Regiment to have dismissed the Colonel!

    I had only been there about a week when a typhoon came during the night, the huts blew down and we were left to salvage our kit in the deluge of rain that accompanied it. We moved temporarily into huts but within a short while were on our way to Bangalore. Bangalore is in southern India on high ground and has a very equitable climate with pleasant days and cool nights. Accommodation was in tents and the camp and whole area agreeable. At this time a letter arrived from Nancy to say that she had met a lad and that he was ‘the right one’ for her but she hoped that I would continue to write. On the basis that “two’s company but three’s none” I did not reply. On reflection I think that this was probably one of the bigger mistakes I ever made.

    On joining the Regiment I had been allocated to HQ Squadron and became Troop Sergeant of Admin Troop. The number of personnel totalled a hundred and twelve and included lorry drivers, cooks, orderly room clerks, senior officers’ jeep drivers, medical staff and a few others. Most of these were engaged on their regular duties each day so there was a great difficulty in keeping a proper control. Requests came for transport for different purposes and I allocated lorries and drivers for these tasks. Records had to be kept of vehicle mileages and to confirm that maintenance had been carried out according to schedule. There was not the same comradeship as one experienced as sergeant of a tank troop so I requested a transfer and went to B Squadron where I was much happier. I had become involved in hockey, firstly for the Squadron and then in the Regimental Team. We played some exciting games, occasionally against an Indian team playing barefooted. Some, having played the game from very young acquired a technique of balancing the ball on their stick to carry forward and once within the semi-circle in front of goal would strike the ball with such velocity that many times my hand would be left stinging from stopping the shot. I was in good company in the team with the Colonel playing right-back, the Major, Second in Command left-back, RSM right-half, several officers, one other sergeant and Corporal Bill Smith who played inside-right. The Colonel liked to give a big ‘whack’ to clear the ball down field and frequently raised his stick above his shoulder, which is not allowed and a free hit should be awarded to the opponents. A Lance Corporal, acting as umpire, often thought it ‘diplomatic’ to miss a few of these transgressions!

    Christmas 1945 was spent at Bangalore with several parties. The sergeants invited the officers to the Sergeants’ Mess but things got a bit out of hand when a couple of lieutenants overdid the drinks and, mistaking a window for a door, kicked a wall down to get out. The return visit of the sergeants to the Officers’ Mess culminated in a game, purported to be rugby, but being nearer to all-in wrestling. At this time I was invited, with a few other members of the Regiment to dinner at a private house. The British house owner had gone to India many years before to serve in the Indian Civil Service and had been retired for a few years. He lived there with his sister who had been a teacher in Nepal. It was very interesting to hear stories of their working lives and also to experience their hospitality, with the servants out numbering those at the dinner table and everything carried out in a pukka manner. During the course of conversation I had mentioned to the sister that I collected foreign stamps whereupon she left the room and returned with a set of four unused Nepalese stamps and gave them to me. Each time I look at those stamps in my album I am reminded of that pleasant occasion.

    Early in 1946 we moved from Bangalore to Madras. One squadron had been stationed there since before the atom bombs had been dropped on Japan and I gathered that at that time the Regiment was due to lead an assault on Singapore to drive the Japanese out. The Regiment was equipped with Amphibious Sherman Tanks. This type of tank had a metal deck welded to the hull and a canvas screen, which when raised enabled the tank to float. Propellers at the rear engaged to the engine when the driver pulled a lever in his compartment to give power to move the tank through the water. The driver, pulling on either of the guiding tiller bars, caused the propellers to swing to left or right to change direction.

    In a short while riots broke out between Hindus and Moslems. Agreement had been reached on details of partition of the country to take effect in 1947. Areas in the north east and north west, predominantly occupied by Moslems would become East Pakistan and West Pakistan. East Pakistan was later renamed Bangladesh. Hindus in those areas would mainly move out and Moslems outside would move in. It appeared that during this two-way exodus, whenever rival groups met there was likely to be trouble, in many cases resulting in many deaths. So we were to move to Bihar Province covering Calcutta and a vast area to the north west of that city to, as far as possible, endeavour to keep the peace.

    The tanks were loaded on trains and drivers accompanied them. The remaining troops set off on a convoy run north on the east coast road. All the Regiment’s wheeled vehicles in a long ‘snake’ was a sight to behold. The trip took fourteen days and the daily distance covered was in the region of one hundred miles. The vehicles proceeded at a leisurely pace and stopped every two hours for a maintenance halt. A regular check was made of tyre pressures as they would increase with the heat and it was often necessary to reduce the pressure before moving on. In the cool of the evening a further check was made and tyres re-inflated to the standard pressure. I travelled as co-driver in a three ton lorry carrying a full load of ammunition and took a turn at driving at each alternate two hour spell. On one occasion when I was driving there was a sharp left turn in the road and as I negotiated the corner I faced a very steep upward gradient – we had reached the mountainous area of the Eastern Ghats. I tried to change into a lower gear but with the load the engine stalled. Before I could apply the brake the lorry started to run backwards, there was frantic tooting from Squadron Sergeant Major, Charlie Lown, driving a Jeep to our rear. I pulled on the hand brake, engaged first gear and tried to move off but once again stalled on the steep slope. Another move backwards, more tooting from the rear, but at the third attempt I got the vehicle moving forward. By this time the convoy ahead had disappeared from view, so when I came to a straight downhill section of road I speeded up. The lorry was gathering speed as I realised that I was almost at the right hand hairpin bend and there was a stone bridge across the bottom with a sheer drop beyond and I was going much too fast. I stamped on the footbrake and swung the steering wheel fiercely to the right, there was a loud metallic ‘clang’ but we were round the bend and in a short while rejoined the vehicles in front when they stopped for the next maintenance halt. I glanced across at the driver who had turned ghostly white and was in such a position to suggest that he was undecided as to whether he should just hold on tightly or bale out. I looked for the reason for the ‘clang’ and found that it was due to the lock being ‘whipped’ off the toolbox when I cut things so fine in negotiating the stone bridge.

    In due course the convoy arrived at our destination, a camp at Ramgarh, about two hundred miles northwest of Calcutta. Squadrons were allocated to areas and troops to huts. It did not take long to settle in at our new location and soon all activities were proceeding as normal, including hockey matches. The pitches were baked hard with the sun and accounted for the ball travelling at higher speeds than on a grass pitch and made my job as goalkeeper more precarious. Much football was also played, again on rock hard pitches, with no thought of abandoning the match when monsoon rain teemed down as the following bright sunshine would soon dry one’s shirt and shorts on one’s body. The British Army was, wherever possible, introducing peacetime activities and these included various educational classes, designed to assist men on their release back to civilian life. I was in my hut one evening when the orderly room runner came to say that I was wanted straight away by the Major who had been put in charge of education. On arrival at his office I saluted and he said, “Sergeant McCully, I see from your records that you have a certificate for book-keeping and as we have a number of men wanting to learn the subject I am putting you in charge of the class to be held weekly on Wednesdays in Hut 6”. Then he handed me a pile of text books, adding, “Here are the books you will need. Let me have a syllabus first thing in the morning”. I returned to my hut contemplating the task he had set me, realising that when one has three stripes one is expected to find a solution within the allotted time. I opened a book and at the beginning was the Index. There were twenty chapters with the part of the subject covered alongside each number. I got a sheet of paper and wrote the heading, “Book-keeping Course in twenty weekly lessons” and under that I copied the index, substituting the word “Lesson” for “Chapter” so that it appeared as:

    Lesson 1 The Journal
    Lesson 2 The Cash Book

    and so on.

    I presented it to the Major the following morning, who considered that I had done an excellent job! The course commenced the following week and having gone through the lesson, I set ‘homework’ to be completed for the next week. Those men attending became very keen and I was enjoying adding to their knowledge but a few weeks later I was promoted to Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant (SQMS) and handed the class over to Sergeant ‘Chico’ Read.

    SQMS Charlie Johnson’s demob number had come up and he was off home to ‘Blighty’ and the time available for me to check and take over responsibility for the range of equipment in stock was limited. I was reasonably happy with the quantity of stock held in the stores but there was a hut that housed the Squadron’s tents. These were of various sizes and, although the number of bundles tallied with the number of tents that we should have, Charlie’s demeanour and anxiety to close the door quickly suggested that all was not right. The duty truck conveyed him to headquarters on the first stage of his journey to Deolali and his return to the United Kingdom. It was some days later before I was able to make a proper check of the tents and that revealed that I was deficient of two marquees. To produce the right number of ‘bundles’, the roof and walls of two marquees had been rolled into separate bundles to cover the two that were missing! How could I get over this little problem? I went back to the office and typed out a chit “The bearer of this pass is authorised to enter the Ramgarh Depot for the purpose of collecting canvas for tent repairing” When the next young officer came by the stores I got him to add his signature. Then it was off to the Depot where the Anglo-Indian in charge would allow access as long as he got a chit. We threw a couple of tents on to the Duty Truck – problem solved.

    Life continued at a leisurely pace with education classes and hockey and football matches taking up some of the time. From my Training Regiment days I was always curious as to how conjurors and similar acts did their tricks, so I was interested when a notice was posted on the notice board to inform that a conjuror would perform in the canteen and that he would ‘stop his heart beating’. This was too good to miss, so I was there early to get a good seat. He carried out a series of conjuring tricks that were amazing and also displayed great skill with a bow and arrows. At the end of the act he announced that he had reached the point where he was going to stop his heart and that as his face contorted during this process he would cover his head with a bag. He put a wooden form in place and stood with his back towards one end. He asked for the assistance of two members of the audience to stand either side of him to catch him when he collapsed and lower him on to the form. He moaned for a short while and as he collapsed was caught and lowered to the form. The Medical Officer stood by with his stethoscope and reported that there was no sign o a heart beat. The MO got quite worried when the time went by without the heart beating for a normal person to be considered dead. Then with violent spasms he sat up, pulled off the bag and was wringing with sweat. A very exclusive performance.

    Regular drill sessions took place with special preparation at this time for a visit to the Regiment by the GOC India, Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck. SQMS Thomas and I were standard bearers, standing either side of the dais on which the GOC stood to take the salute as the tanks drove past, traversed their turrets and dipped their guns. After the march past we had to remain at attention when he descended from the saluting base to climb into a tank that had been specially prepared for his inspection. The ‘flag poles’ were made from wireless aerials to which flags ‘run up’ by the Regimental Tailor were affixed. The aerials were painted and in the hear became very tacky and it was difficult to release one’s grip when the parade was over. Shortly after this, and in order to cover the vast area allocated to the Regiment more effectively, Squadrons were separated with HQ and A moving to Calcutta, B to Gaya and C to Agra. I was left in charge of the Rear Party, a small group allocated to clean and tidy the camp and return certain equipment to the Ordnance Depot before joining my Squadron at the new location. Owing to the shortage of personnel the Guard Tent was left unattended for a short period and ‘disappeared’. Despite leading a party to search all the native huts in the area, there was no trace and another chit to “Collect canvas for tent repairing” from the local depot enabled me to, once again, make up my stock. The clearing up completed, we moved on to Gaya and the changes required for operating independently of the Regiment. At this stage the tanks were replaced by armoured cars and one troop went out for a week at a time patrolling around the area to “Show the Flag and keep the natives quiet”. Arrangements were made for me to draw food supplies for the Squadron through the local Military Hospital and I would indent for rations on the basis of the number in camp at any one time. I did not say anything when the Captain Quartermaster supplied my requirements to the hospital patient level – rather more generous than for ordinary military personnel!

    The time was fast approaching when my demob number (44) would be reached and I would be returning to ‘Civvy Street’. Knowing this the Sergeant Major thought he would have a joke at my expense, so I was surprised one morning when he said, “You’ll have to take the drill parade this morning, I’ve lost my beret. The Squadron paraded and the Major stood in the Squadron Office doorway until I approached, when he stepped forward. I gave him a salute and announced, “Squadron ready for your inspection, Sir. Sergeant Major’s lost his beret”. He smiled as he walked along the rank, passing the odd comment about a button unfastened and instructed me to carry on. I gave the order to “Quick March” and after they had gone a short distance, ordered “About Turn”. What happened then was rather unusual, as half of them turned about and came marching back, but the others, I found out later, with the connivance of the Sergeant Major, went marching on. I had learned during my service to expect the unexpected, so I called, “Squadron Halt”, marched to the party that had continued forward and ordered, “This party – About Turn – Quick March” to get them in one group again. Great laughter from the Sergeant Major when I returned to our hut!

    The Brigadier had decided that he would pay a visit to the Squadron, so a decision was made that the area must be tidied and that the fire buckets and fire alarms should be freshly painted. Fire ‘buckets’ were made from square petrol cans with the top cut out and a wooden stick, for a carrying handle, nailed across the top. A fire alarm was made of a wooden ‘gallows’ supporting a steel tank driving sprocket ring, about two feet in diameter, on a wire, with a steel track pin about twelve inches long hung from a wire loop to use to bang the alarm. I issued the red paint and the buckets and alarms were duly painted. This seemed to direct the Brigadier’s thoughts to the subject of fires. He walked around the camp, stopping to talk to a few of the crews engaged on maintenance of the vehicles and then entered the stores. In the stores with me were Sid Burton my storeman, Harry Shellard, Clerk, and Sgt. ‘Chico’ Read, who had called in to discuss that week’s book-keeping lesson. I called them to attention and gave a salute. The Brigadier then asked “What have you got in here Quartermaster?” I was not going to go through the whole stock in detail, so replied “G1098 Equipment, Sir” – G1098 being the stock record form on which all items were listed. Then he turned to ‘Chico’ Read and enquired “What would you do, Sergeant, if the stores caught on fire?” A notice stating action to take in case of fire was prominently displayed in all buildings and ‘Chico’ repeated the instructions word for word – “Shout Fire, Fire and endeavour to put out the fire. Sound the alarm. Form a bucket chain”. The Brigadier intervened, “The stores are on fire”. ‘Chico’ started to repeat the instructions. Brigadier, “The stores are on fire – sound the alarm”. At this point, ‘Chico’ rushed outside, picked up the track pin, coating his right hand in red paint, struck the alarm, which fell from the gallows, picked up the sprocket ring by its supporting wire, getting his left hand coated in red paint and started banging and shouting “Fire, Fire”. No-one took any notice. Standing behind the Brigadier I could see his neck getting redder and the short hairs rising so, deciding that further action was required, ran the hundred yards to the vehicle park and shouted “Fall in B Squadron”. It took a while to get them in line. Then “Right Turn – Double March” and ran them to the stores, where I ordered “Form a bucket chain”. The Brigadier was not impressed and ordered that more fire drills should be carried out.

    The following day was to be my last with the Regiment and I had been informed that my replacement would be sent from HQ in Calcutta in the Duty Truck and I was to be ready to return there in the truck as soon as I had handed over. I shared a hut with the Sergeant Major and as this was my last day I announced that I would not bother to go on the morning parade but would have a ‘lie in’. I thought it a bit strange when he lifted his kit from the floor and put it on his bed before going out for the parade. Little did I know that following the Brigadier’s orders he had decided to have a fire drill. Then the alarm sounded and as the men came out he ordered then to form a bucket chain and told them “The fire is in the Quartermaster’s hut”. So there I was in my bed with buckets of water swilling across the floor and he standing in the doorway grinning.

    Mid-morning my replacement arrived and I proceeded to go through the stock fo satisfy him that everything was in order. For some reason I was unable to account for one wooden table and two wooden forms, but we had not reached that section before the fire alarm sounded. He wanted to know what was happening and I informed him that it was just a fire drill. However, on looking out of the window, there was a cloud of smoke and one of the huts was really blazing. It was one occupied by the Squadron fitters, one half being used as a workshop and the other half for their sleeping accommodation. We continued with our checking and finished with, ‘one table and two forms - lost in the fire’! I threw my kit on to the Duty Truck and was on my way to Calcutta. At Headquarters I was issued with my documentation, taken to the railway station and caught the train en route for Deolali. Deolali was where the depot was situated that housed Army personnel awaiting a troopship to take them back to the United Kingdom. When would a ship be available? Stories were told of pre-war soldiers having completed, perhaps, five years’ service for King and Country in India and got as far as Deolali but having to wait an interminable time for homeward transport went ‘a bit funny in the head’ or ‘Deolali’. At last we were allocated to a ship and I had to stencil my rank, name, regimental number and ship’s code number on to my kit bag and the tin trunk that I had acquired. Still, there seemed to be no urgency but we eventually boarded the ship in Bombay and about three weeks later docked in Liverpool. November in England was a lot colder that October in India.
     

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