Captain W J G McDonald, 2nd Indian Anti-Tank Regiment, Indian Artillery

With a draft to India … a choice of posting. British Field Regiment (but who would want a British regiment in India?) or Indian anti-tank. I was a field gunner; had scored well at Field OCTU – 4th in the course after 36 weeks … unmarried men were posted anti-tank because of heavy losses in self-propelled anti-tank regiments in North Africa.

I settled for 2 Indian Anti-Tank Regiment, I. Arty (later RIA), part of 23 Ind. Div. , which had recently been withdrawn from Burma (Imphal and Tiddim Road) to train and prepare for the invasion of Malaya. One or two other subalterns whom I had known from Catterick days came from the same regiment; I had the best credentials and so to my disappointment was kept at RHQ while the others went to Batteries. I was to be I.O. and A/Adjutant. But admin was not at all what I wanted.

Voyage to Malaya. For most of the jawans, their first time at sea (other than landing assault practice). They didn’t like it, and their quarters became less than healthy … Atom bombs must have dropped while we were at sea, but, oddly, I don’t remember hearing about this. Only concern was that the landing might or might not now be opposed, but would go ahead anyway. Remember going down the nets into the LC[1], the tropical shore ahead; confusion about timing and landing areas; and we landed without our guns (but in Malaya we gave up our 57mm guns and were equipped with 3” mortars instead).

So the war was over. And yet 2 Ind A/Tk would … suffer more casualties in Java then it had in Burma, and gain more decoraqtions: a DSO, 6 or 7 MCs, an IOM, and a number of other Indian decorations. The end was not yet.

The infantry regiment with us was a battalion of Hyderabads; they took casualties as we did … we had a Troop of 178 Field Regt RA … Because we were running short of men and having some difficulty in maintaining the line [against rogue Japanese], we re-armed some of our Jap prisoners to man the perimeter … I don’t think they actually fired their weapons. But I took a detachment with me when I had to observe fall of shot and direct 25 pr fire one day. When I came down a ladder from observing on the roof ridge of a house, I found the armed Jap detachment drawn up to attention and their officer in full fig standing holding a bowl of warm water for me, with a towel over his arm, like a second-rate waiter. I could hardly imagine a British officer doing likewise under such conditions, and I have found it hard to take Japs seriously since. I never knew at first hand their arrogance and brutality when in power; I did observe their cringing deference when deprived of it.

[After travelling south to Magelang fort]

Beyond the fort was a meadow leading to a lake beyond which was a lateral road; beyond that were jungle-clad hills on which the mist lay heavy at night. As it cleared in the morning, it was awesome to see that beyond, where the morning sky should have been, there emerged another great range of jungle-clad mountains. From beyond the lake, two Jap field guns used to fire shells into the courtyard and caused some casualties which the Dutch [occupants] … accepted with apparent equanimity. Each morning for a couple of weeks I used to cycle with my signaller to the fort, climb up the inner staircase to the clock tower as an OP, direct fire from a troop of 178 Field Regt onto the Jap guns as their muzzle smoke showed their position. It was cat-and-mouse, for they moved their position soon after firing a few rounds … At other times I would aim off at Jap cars that sped across my front on the other side of the lake and try and estimate the amount of time it would take for the guns to lay and fire. I had near-misses but never, I think, hit one.

The women – mainly Dutch, but some British – in the camps had suffered greatly. Up to 42, they said, in the kind of wooden chalet that 7 or 8 might holiday in. Some (whom the others called ‘rabbits’) went with the Japs to get better food and conditions for themselves or their children. Most stuck it out. The day we opened one camp, an Englishwoman, amid the relief, was sad that having kept a small Union Jack in her clothes for more than three years she had destroyed it only a few weeks before: for beatings for such offences were more and more brutal, and she feared for her children’s well-being if she were so hurt that she could not care for them. Another (Dutch) woman I drove to see the house in which she had lived before the war, now badly damaged and painful for her to look at silently.

Going native

I saw little of other units, certainly of British ones. I virtually went native for much of the time, eating entirely the Indian food that was supplied and not the compo rations. I wasn’t involved in the raid that our Mess made two days before Christmas to take over the turkey that we heard the Seaforth Mess was fattening up for its celebrations. We did manage to buy fruit and the occasional goat from the locals which was a special treat.

During Ramzan[2] I observed the fast from dawn to dusk that Islam required, and carried no chagal or water-bottle with me. Towards the end of the month however a dispensation came from the Imam in Delhi for units in active service conditions, but I don’t think our regiment claimed the concessions. It was important that the jawans recognised that the Moslems they were fighting, sometimes with misgiving, were not as scrupulous as we were. The worship offered in our little prayer tent by our unofficial priest was well observed. The Koran I found in a wrecked building and presented to my servant was rapturously received, even though he could not read.

Children used to wander into the camp area and acquire whatever ration of chocolate we had. In some cases their thighs were thinner than my wrists.

[1] Landing Craft.

[2] Ramadan.

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