Major William John Hopper Shephard

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by bamboo43, Jan 14, 2020.

  1. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    One of my latest enquiries via the Chindit Society. Does anyone have any extra information about how this soldier died on the 17th January 1944?

    An online school obituary has the following, but I'm not convinced about the Chindit connection, date of death is too early. The 9/12 FF served later in the year as part of the 80th Brigade, 20th Indian Infantry Division:

    Major William John Hopper Shephard, 9th Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment, who died on January 17th 1944, remembered at the Taukkyan War Cemetery ; Grave 17.B.24.

    Major William John Hopper Shephard was killed in action fighting the Japanese in Burma. Aged just 21, he was the second son of the well known local Dr. Hopper Shephard and brother of the retired GP, Dr. Graham Shephard. His brother Michael had been a member of the BEF in France and had won the Military Cross in 1941. Born in Sheerness, Kent, he was educated at Hayleybury College where he was renowned as a “brilliant young cricketer”; indeed he scored a memorable century for Tewkesbury CC, aged only fourteen. Ironically, he was the only one of the family who intended to go in to medicine. He could have continued as a medical student but felt that he could not spend five or six years in a reserved occupation during the war, especially with a brother in the army. When he went out to India, he was for some time in a Regiment commanded by his uncle, Col Bryceson who was a regular Indian Army officer. In fact, that that was partly why he volunteered to take a Commission in the Indian Army. He joined the 8th Battalion of the Glosters in 1940 after which he joined the Indian Army. This photograph was taken shortly before his death. The circumstances of his death are best left to the words of his commanding officer. He seemed to be operating in enemy territory and may have been a Chindit. (A British and Indian unit commanded by Orde Wingate from 1941-1944 which fought behind enemy lines, using guerrilla tactics. Taukkyan was a Chindit War Cemetery.) His CO pointed out that, even though he had lost the advantage of surprise, he realised the importance of his orders to capture a live enemy soldier. “He charged down a steep slope towards the enemy in the face of heavy fire … Though hit in the head he continued to charge until hit in the stomach, when he fell unconscious into the enemy position with a grenade still clutched in his hand. This officer showed the most outstanding bravery.” Following his example his escort then were able to “kill and wound all the enemy in the village”. Why did he not win a medal for this gallantry? It would seem that, from reading the biography of Stan Hollis, the only VC on D-Day, winning such honours was something of a lottery.

    Any help gratefully received.

  2. High Wood

    High Wood Well-Known Member

    The 9/12th Frontier Force Regiment were part of 80th Indian Infantry Brigade, 20th Division and were attached to IVth Corps in July 1943. This would have placed them in the greater Imphal area but his death occurred two months before the Imphal Campaign began.

    The C.W,G.C. doesn't mention an attachment to any other unit.
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  3. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Thanks HW. I was hoping the CWGC would have a concentration document for Shephard (they do not), this would have given me something better to go on. Might have to wait to look in the war diary. Funny enough, I have some papers regarding 80 IIB in my files. This was to do with the 1st Devon's who also made up part of the Brigade. But, as you say, he was killed well before their major engagements around the Imphal area in April.
  4. High Wood

    High Wood Well-Known Member

    I have just found this reference in Louis Allen's Burma, The Longest War:

    "At the close of 1943, Scoone's policy had been to push 20 Division on towards the villages on the banks of the Chindwin and prepare for a thrust into Central Burma by making roads and piling up stores. A large dump was set up at Moreh where the road from Palel debouched from the hills into the Kabaw Valley, and from the end of the 1943 monsoon Gracey's brigades (32, 80, 100) began intense patrol activity up and down the Kabaw Valley and on to the Chindwin.

    The patrols did well and Gracey felt they gave a good account of themselves whenever they encountered the probings of Yanagida's 33 Division moving north towards the Kabaw Valley from Yasagyo, where the Japanese started to accumulate stocks for their offensive. He was therefore not much taken with the strategy of turning tail and withdrawing on Imphal in anticipation of a Japanese assault and told Scoones so in no measured terms. Why build roads and stockpile supplies only to leave them for enemy use?

    In the end, of course, gracey had to conform to Scoone's plan but he left behind a screen of patrols of 9/12 Frontier Force Regiment between Tamu and the Chindwin. It was an officer of this regiment, Lt. Walton, who warned Gracey that the Japanese were crossing the Chindwin in force on 15 March".
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  5. Rothy

    Rothy Well-Known Member

    With thanks to David Ryan, from the history of the 12th Frontier Force Regiment:

    Captain (presumably, temporary Major) W.J.H. Shephard was at the time O.C. “B” Company (Dogras) , 9th Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment.

    The [9th] Battalion opened the New Year (1944) with some vigorous patrolling on the Chindwin. It was of two kinds – normal watch and ward patrols on the west bank of the river, and aggressive patrols or raids across the river with some specific object. The latter were generally on receipt of information of the presence of parties of Japs in one or other of the villages and were with the object of capturing or killing them.

    One such raid aimed at surrounding the village of Sapha, which held some Japs. It was carried out by two platoons of “B” Company under Major Shephard and Lieutenant Walton. They crossed the river in the early hours of the morning of 17th January and found the village occupied by fifteen Japs, who spotted the reconnaissance party. The platoons accordingly lay up during the day and surrounded the village in the evening. In the ensuing fight Major Shephard and a sepoy were killed and Havldar Janab Gul was wounded. Seven Japs were killed and two wounded. The force withdrew across the Chindwin under the command of Lieutenant Walton, who was awarded an immediate M.C.

    An extract from the recommendation (WO 373/31/68) for Lieutenant Thomas Walton (EC8104) reads:

    At Sapha, Burma, at 1715 hrs on 17 Jan 44, Lieut. Walton was taking part in a charge downhill and over a bare pebble strewn expanse of ground in the face of heavy enemy fire when the patrol commander was mortally wounded together with two other men. Lieut. Walton continued to advance right up to the enemy post in the village and threw grenades, killing all the occupants.

    While withdrawing under fire from another enemy post, he found one of the men mortally wounded in the charge lying out in the open. He picked him up and carried him back to cover under fire, during which the man he was carrying was again hit. Lieut. Walton then seized a Bren gun, went forward and occupied a position on the forward slope of the hill overlooking the enemy, and engaged them with fire, eventually silencing them.

    He then went forward to search for the patrol commander’s body and on finding it, called forward men to recover it and superintended both this and the recovery of the body of the third casualty.

    It was now dark and he reformed his men, withdrew them, and then led them back through thick jungle during the night to the River Chindwin, which they crossed the next morning.

  6. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Thanks to both of you for the brilliant info. Coincidentally, it was at Sapha (written as Sahpe) that Berneard Fergusson re-crossed the Chindwin in late April 1943.
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  7. High Wood

    High Wood Well-Known Member

    I have been struggling to find Sapha on the map. I have found a Sahpa on the east bank of the Chindwin below Homalin. It may or may not be the same place.

    (It is written as Sahpa on the 83L/NE half inch map and as Sahpe on the 83 L quarter inch map).

    83L N/E is, by a country mile, the tattiest map in my collection. I suspect that it got that way having crossed the Chindwin but I will never know for sure.

    cat 009.JPG cat 011.JPG
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2020
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  8. High Wood

    High Wood Well-Known Member

    83L is clearer but of a smaller scale.
    cat 013.JPG cat 014.JPG
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  9. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Thanks HW. Fergusson's route was through Sahpe via Myene, so perhaps it is not the same village after all.

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  10. High Wood

    High Wood Well-Known Member

    There are eight different towns or villages called Myene listed in the Gazetteer of Burma.
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  11. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Now you're just trying to upset me!!
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  12. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Here is Fergusson's route. The same one as your last map above:

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  13. Richard Lewis

    Richard Lewis Member

    Print another one! From the National Library of Australia:

    Assam, Burma 1:126,720 ,Sheet 83L/NE

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  14. Simon CUTTER

    Simon CUTTER New Member

    High Wood...... did you ever find those FF 12reg buttons? 07974 097705

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