Derek joined the Territorial Army whilst still at school in 1938 and in 1939 went to TA camp with the Searchlight Regiment. From there, he was deployed to war stations in Lincolnshire. In 1941 he joined the Field Artillery Regiment and learned Gunnery; 1942 joined the 2nd Survey Regiment and in April 1943 he embarked in Liverpool as a Captain in the Royal Artillery with no idea where he was going.
In May/June of that same year he embarked on a troopship in South Africa and still was not told the destination. He later found they were heading for Bombay.
Shortly after arriving in India, the CO told him to take six special command vehicles to Ranchi near Calcutta and the journey took 16 days. He did jungle training in Ranchi and then was told to go with an advance party of about twelve men to Imphal. The party went through Kohima, a hill station vital for supplies, and reached Imphal in January 1944.
Imphal was the Japanese main objective: they had to take it to invade India. On 15th March 1944, 3 Japanese Divisions crossed the Chindwin River, heading for Delhi. The Battle of Kohima was designed to cut off the main supply line to Imphal and from March to the end of June 1944 the British troops were surrounded by three Japanese Divisions.
“All unnecessary mouths” were evacuated from Imphal and Mountbatten relocated many Dakotas to supply Imphal. Slim was the boss on the spot at Comilla. The British were starved of weaponry replacement because the priority was the Middle East. There were a lot of Gurkhas at Imphal and it was in this battle that they earned more VCs than had been won in any other single campaign. They were completely fearless.
There were 4 fronts around Imphal – North East, North West, South East and South West, all following the main tracks and all manned by a Division.
The monsoon came and at the end of June 1944 Mountbatten ordered the British troops to fight on regardless. By this time the battle for Kohima, 50 miles away to the North, had taken place. It was vital that the British won because it was Imphal’s supply line and in Derek’s opinion it was the epic battle of World War II. It was defended by a few thousand Indian troops and a few hundred British. There wasn’t even a full Division there. After Kohima they came down the supply route and opened it up to Imphal.
For the final decisive battle in June 1944, Derek was on a mountain top called Shenam with a Sound Ranging Troop. The mud and heavy rain made life more difficult but, for the first time in this theatre of war, he had clear orders to carry on regardless.
All 4 Fronts around Imphal successfully pushed the three decimated Japanese Divisions back toward Burma. This was their first major defeat in South East Asia from which they never recovered. Three Japanese Armies, the 11th, 15th and 33rd were then rolled back through Burma and into Malaya before peace came in August 1945.
At the end of June 1944 Derek’s Battery was taken out of action and told to make its way to the Arakan by road through Kohima. This hill station looked like the Somme. Already on a temporary banner was the epitaph – “When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today”. On 3rd May 1945, Rangoon fell and Derek was in Ramree when he heard that Germany had surrendered.
His Regiment was withdrawn to Southern India near Madras and started training for the invasion of Malaya. While he was in Coimbatore, the Atom Bombs were dropped on the 6th and 9th of August. The invasion of Malaya was cancelled and the men were then trained to control civil disobedience in India as unrest grew in the run up to Independence. Derek didn’t get home until April 1946.