Help! Translation of: L/SGT 17 Indian HY AA BTY Indian Command 5

Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by JohnF999, Aug 15, 2020.

  1. JohnF999

    JohnF999 Member

    It might seem like a dumb question, but I'm new to military research. I'm trying to collate information on my father's war service.

    I have not much to go on. The best hope is a hand-written note, stamped by a censor, sent to my mother in 1943 which begins with "1534020 L/SGT J FREEMAN 17 INDIAN HY AA BTY INDIAN COMMAND 5".

    I can confirm that "1534020" is his army number (it appears on my birth certificate, along with "Royal Indian Artillery"). I guess his rank was Sergeant, which is consistent with a photograph I have of him in uniform with three chevrons on the sleeve, but what does the "L" signify?

    What does the remainder tell us?

    A "Soldier's Release Book" dated 1946 shows "Present Rank" as "W/BDR". Is this "Bombardier"?
    Is this a lower rank than Sergeant?

    Unfortunately the entry for "Unit, Regt, or Corps" is too faint to be legible.

    I understand that I can get more detail from MOD, but I'd like some info to work on in the meantime.
    Thanks in anticipation of some enlightenment.
  2. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    Bombardier is the Royal Artillery equivalent of a Corporal.

    RA ranks from bottom to top.

    Lance Bombardier
    Lance Sergeant
    Staff Sergeant
    Warrant officer.

    W denotes it was a temporary wartime promotion (ie to replace another corporal casualty).

    Why don't you post what you have and see if we can decipher it for you.

    Last edited: Aug 15, 2020
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  3. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    Wouldn't delay if I were you, his official records are only available from one source and will give you the correct timeline of his service, this will enable you to research the correct unit at the correct time.

    Get a copy of military service records
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  4. JohnF999

    JohnF999 Member

    I am in the process of getting the official records - I have completed two forms and need to get to a bank to get a cheque in Sterling (I am in Australia and subject to COVID lockdown).

    In the meantime I'm working with what I have, the most relevant of which is attached. 1943JMVF_Anniversary.jpg
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  5. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Looks like it could be '17th Indian Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, India Command'. The underlined '5' before the date might be some sort of private number - sometimes men wrote a number on each letter they sent so that the recipient would know if any had failed to get through.

    His Lance-Sergeant rank was possibly an 'acting' or 'temporary' rank which applied only within his unit, rather than being an official substantive promotion. This was a very common way of being promoted during the war, and as I understand it acting ranks were easy to grant and remove at the Commanding Officer's whim, whereas substantive ranks could only be taken away through a court-martial. An acting rank could be removed for any minor disciplinary infraction, and would also be lost if a man left his unit for any reason for more than a few weeks (including being evacuated due to wounds or illness) - though the CO might immediately re-grant it on the man's return to the unit.

    This would explain why he dropped in rank by the time he was released from the services. Once a man left his unit to be repatriated and demobbed, he automatically reverted back to his 'official' rank. So it might be that your father was a War-Substantive Bombardier, but within his unit was promoted into a job which carried a Lance-Sergeant rank - when he left the unit, that higher 'acting' rank was automatically lost.

    17 HAA Battery's war diaries at Kew:

    WO 172/2438 Burma 1943: Indian Artillery: Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries: 17 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery (HAA Bty)
    1943 Mar.- Dec.
    Burma 1943: Indian Artillery: Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries: 17 Heavy Anti-Aircraft... | The National Archives

    WO 172/4798 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries: 17 Bty.
    1944 Jan.- Oct.
    Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries: 17 Bty. | The National Archives
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2020
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  6. JohnF999

    JohnF999 Member

    Thanks, PackRat, that explains a lot.
    I'll follow up the references you mention.
  7. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    You're welcome, good luck with your research. As mentioned above you really need his full service records, but it's likely to be a very long wait due to the current situation. In the meantime, if you fancy posting any other of his documents that you have it might be possible to tease out a few other clues to give you something more to work with.
  8. JohnF999

    JohnF999 Member

    Since you offer, I'll seize the opportunity.

    Firstly, the curious lottery for leave; see the attached newspaper clipping. Was it really as extraordinary as it seems to me?

    I'm guessing that the second photo was taken in England during training. Dad is centre of group. Is it possible to identify the gun and the place? His service book contains the line "Passed A/G. T.O.E.T 14-4-42".

    1945JMVFonLeave.jpg 1940JMVF_training.jpg
  9. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Must be great to have that clipping and photo! I've read a few accounts of similar lotteries for home leave from the Far East towards the end of the war. There wasn't the available transport capacity to bring men back with any regularity so your Dad was very lucky in that regard. Unless there were exceptional compassionate grounds, most people sent out east stayed there for the duration. My grandfather sailed to India in Jan 1942, did three separate campaigns into Burma and didn't see the UK again until the end of August 1945 when he qualified for repatriation under the 'Python' scheme. He had periods of leave, in which he got the chance to travel to various places in India, but had no chance of getting home to see his family.

    The gun looks like it might be a QF 3.7-inch AA gun, which would fit in with a Heavy AA battery I think?

    'TOET' I believe stands for 'Test of Elementary Training'. 'A/G' possibly 'Anti-Gas'?
  10. JohnF999

    JohnF999 Member

    Yes, but sadly not a lot more. Dad almost never mentioned the war. I only recall two instances.
    One story was that he was in charge of a group of local people who were building a road in India. One of the women disappeared for a while, then returned to work with a new-born baby on her hip.

    The other instance was when I said something disparaging about Yanks. Dad angrily told me that the yanks had saved his group when they were surrounded by Japanese in Burma.

    There doesn't seem to be much written on U.S. involvement in Burma.

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