Kettering veteran to mark 68th anniversary of VJ Day at National Arboretum

Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke
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A man who survived the relentless barrage of Japanese heavy artillery to see the end of World War II will reunite with his comrades on an emotional trip on the 68th anniversary of VJ Day.

Kettering man Jim Clark will be travelling on a Heroes Return 2 grant to the National Arboretum where along with old comrades he will visit the Chindit memorial as part of a special 68th anniversary commemoration.

Jim who also hopes to return to Burma next year said: “The lottery funding has made such a difference.

“Looking back I was very lucky. I made a lot of friends but a lot of them didn’t make it.”

He recalls being pinned down in shallow ditches as his battalion slogged it out for 14 days under the fury of a formidable and desperate enemy. Those that could, slipped back into the Burma jungle, but many were not so lucky.

Jim was just 20-years old and a long way from home in the Kings Liverpool Regiment, Chindits, part of the British 14th Army, ‘The Forgotten Army’.

As the historic anniversary of VJ day approaches (Thursday, August 15) 68 years after the Japanese surrender that finally brought an end to the Second World War, 89-year-old Jim is one of many World War II veterans who are applying for funding for a second commemorative trip under the Big Lottery Fund’s extended Heroes Return 2 programme.

Heroes Return has awarded over £26.6 million to more than 54,000 Second World War veterans, widows, spouses and carers across the country for journeys in the UK, France, Germany, the Middle East, Far East and beyond.

Peter Ainsworth, chairman of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “As we commemorate the 68th anniversary of VJ day we are proud to remember and honour the immense debt of gratitude owed to those brave veterans who endured the horrors of the Far East conflict, and whose courage and sacrifice finally brought an end to a war that cost over 60 million lives across the world.”

Jim was working as an apprentice grocer in his home town of Euston, Suffolk, when he received his call up papers in December 1942. Aged 18, he joined the Royal Suffolk Home Guards, and underwent a six-week motor training course on driving and maintenance before joining the Royal Norfolk Regiment at rank of Private.

He said: “We went up to Lincolnshire and from there were sent for battle training up on the Yorkshire Moors. We were subject to live ammunition. It was a hairy experience. We had artillery guns firing 25 pound shells over our heads. I don’t think we really realised what we were doing, it was all in a day’s work.”

After a short spell of embarkation leave, Jim’s regiment was sent to Liverpool where they boarded a Dutch cargo boat destined for Bombay via the Mediterranean and Suez.

He said: “We had no idea where we were going. We knew it was somewhere warm because we had tropical kit.”

Landing in Bombay the regiment then endured the 150 mile week-long train journey to Deolali transit camp, nicknamed ‘Doolally’: notorious for its unpleasant environment and its psychological effect, known as the ‘Doolally tap’, suffered by the soldiers who passed through it.

Moved on to a training camp in Jhansi, Jim was transferred to the Kings Regiment, (Liverpool) to become part of the Chindits, a special force of British, Gurkha and Burma regiments assembled by renowned British Army Officer Orde Wingate to develop and carry out guerilla warfare and long range penetration deep behind Japanese lines.

He remembers: “One day an officer came round asking who could drive. I put my hand up and then he said, ‘Right, look after this mule’. We were starting jungle training and the only forms of transport were mules or ponies. We called her Peggy and my job was to look after her and feed her. She followed me around everywhere.”

Planning operations for a campaign in Burma the Chindits received a flying visit from the legendary Wingate while training in Assam. Jim recalls, “Wingate came up to me and said ‘you look very well, the food here must be good!’”

However, soon after, 41-year-old Wingate was killed when his American-flown bomber crashed into the jungle.

On March 6, 1944, as part of the Chindits second campaign Operation Thursday, Jim was duly landed 150 miles deep inside enemy lines. The aim of the campaign was to land 10,000 men, 1,000 mules, equipment and supplies into clearings in the heart of Burma: a type of operation that had never been attempted before. The designated landing sites were dubbed Piccadilly, Broadway and Chowringhee, named after famous roads in London, New York and Calcutta.

Jim recalls: “We landed at ‘Broadway’. We should have landed at ‘Piccadilly’ but there were trees laid across the runway strip so we thought that the Japanese had rumbled something was going on. We landed ok. We were in Dakotas. The gliders had gone in to ‘Broadway’ the day before to prepare the way and quite a few had crashed and been killed.

“We didn’t go looking for the Japanese. Our job was to blow up bridges and railways, and stop supplies getting through to the Japanese Army. At night we would usually camp near a stream which we would use in three sections, one for our drinking water, one for the animals, and another for washing. We just dug a trench for latrines.

“We would set up bivouacs and camp in a huge circle. I was lucky. I was in the centre protected by others as part of my job was to be on hand to the commanding officer which included looking after his mule. All the mules had their voice boxes removed so that they couldn’t give away our positions to the enemy. Some of them could still manage a squeak but not much more than that. We had local Burmese as guides and when we moved on each morning they would cover the trail with leaves.

“There was a good feeling of camaraderie between us. We lived on American K-rations three times a day, dry food mainly, not very good. We slept on ground sheets and had ointment we rubbed into our skin to keep the mosquitoes away. A lot of troops got sick from malaria but I didn’t catch it.”

After a couple of months, Jim found himself caught up in the violent struggle to support the Indian Army 111 Brigade in their defence of ‘Blackpool’ a new allied stronghold precariously close to the Japanese northern front. Set up to block the main Burma railway and road between Mandalay and Myitkyina, cutting off a vital enemy supply line, their position had been attacked by Japanese troops with heavy artillery support.

The brigade fought off the first attack but after 17 days of continual combat the Japanese launched a second assault capturing key positions inside the allied stronghold. Those who were injured beyond recovery and could not be moved, were shot by the battalion medical orderlies and hidden in heavy stands of bamboo.

Jim said: “It was dreadful. We lay in holes day and night for nearly two weeks as the Japanese bombarded us with shells. We started to retreat. We were surrounded and were told to make our way back towards India. A lot of our mates were killed. We had to leave them behind in the jungle. Later we came across six Gurkhas who had been killed and we put them into a central grave.

Crippled by a knee injury and with suspected diphtheria, Jim was sent to a hospital in Shillong, Assam and after a period of leave rejoined his battalion. Making ready to travel back to Burma Jim was in Dehradun, northern India when he heard the news of the atom bomb on August 15, 1945.

He said: “The day after we had a victory parade. We got dressed up in our best uniforms and marched through the streets. ”

After spending a year serving in India during the unrest and lead up to partition, Jim finally sailed home to England on the P&O troop ship Orontes in autumn 1946.

The Big Lottery Fund has extended its Heroes Return 2 programme to enable veterans to apply for funding to make second trips. The programme deadline for closure will now be end of 2015. This will ensure Second World War veterans from the UK, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland who have already been funded since the programme opened in 2009, will have a second opportunity to apply for a grant towards travel and accommodation expenses to enable them to make trips back to places across the world where they served, or make a commemorative visit in the UK. For details call the Heroes Return helpline on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn