‘His War’ as told to Susan Moores in an interview August 2005

Patrick was born in Tipperary on 17th March 1915 of Danish parents, but was educated in England. It was in 1937 that he was offered and accepted a post as a jeweller in Rangoon with Coombes & Company. For four years he thoroughly enjoyed his life in Burma.

In 1941, although of Danish origin, he agreed to be conscripted into the British Army and went into Officer Training at Maymyo, a Hill Station in Burma. He was in the Royal Artillery in an Ack Ack unit with Burmese soldiers. With the fall of Singapore in February 1942, and with the Japanese advancing so rapidly, the authorities in Burma were unable to cope and within a few days the entire administration had collapsed resulting in total chaos with severe shortage of food and water.
On the 22nd February 1942, the evacuation of civilians and military personnel began from Rangoon.  Patrick along with 17 other Officers was detailed to man the paddle-steamers on the Irrawaddy evacuating everyone, from Mandalay up and down the river as far as Katha. With the continual Japanese bombardment of the steamers, Patrick found himself stoking the paddle-steamer ‑ SS Japan – as it ploughed up and down the river. It was from Katha that Patrick saw the Japanese bombing of Rangoon and Mandalay and it was here that with the rapid advance of the Japanese the orders went out - sink any surviving boats - and everyone to walk out of Burma and into India. It was then that the start of the long trek began - 360 miles through the jungle to India taking, for those who survived the trail, just over a month.

Many civilians including women with babies, marched with Patrick and seven of his fellow Officers, living on whatever rice they had been able to collect. They had no maps and followed the only footpath which was just wide enough for one man through the dense jungle from water point to water point, normally found between seven and fifteen miles apart.  It was lucky that the bamboo was 30-40 metres high and so shielded them from Japanese attacks except, that is, for the occasional sniper fire which gave a timely warning to the rest to melt further into the jungle.

Fortunately it was the dry season and it was only in the last three days that they had to cope with the monsoons.  The jungle floor was their bed and although the insects were ever present – the march of the army boots set up enough vibration to see off most animals and reptiles.  They walked from dawn until nightfall taking each day as it came – thankful for the jungle cover, which shielded them from the full heat of the sun.  Patrick was 27 years old and luckily very fit, which meant that he was better able to cope than some others!

When Patrick and his companions finally arrived at Imphal, they were directed to bamboo shelters where they waited before being transferred to hospital. At the time he was, as was everyone, suffering from malaria and dysentery. To combat the threat of the spread of disease, they were then ordered to strip naked - ALL clothes and any personal belongings that had been carried were burnt.

The Burma Army retreated into India. Patrick, now a Lieutenant was with the Burma Brigade re‑designated in June 1942 as ‘39 Indian Division’. The Burma Army, severely depleted not only by enemy action but also by disease was sent to Bihar Province, west of Calcutta. From here, the soldiers were moved to Hoshapur in the north in training for the coming jungle warfare against the Japanese. Various military groups were collected there and he remembers the 4th, 5th & 7th Battalions being together.

Eventually, in 1943, the 7th Battalion Burma Regiment to which Patrick was attached as a Major was sent through Assam to Imphal, and then flown into Northern Burma marching south to Fort Hertz, and then to Sumprabum in the Dry Zone.  From there the Battalion then marched down to meet the Japanese who were in full retreat after the Battle of Imphal. The British Army went down the Burma Road re‑taking Rangoon in May 1945.  Patrick then worked in the military headquarters in Rangoon until he was demobbed at the end of 1946 when he returned to England.

Patrick remembers that it was said ‘You cannot defend Burma’ - which proved to be right. The difficulty was that Burma was mostly jungle with very few roads, and the Japanese soldiers proved to be better suited to jungle warfare having been trained to carry their own supplies and to be able to live off the land.

Compiled by Susan Moores - August 2005

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