The love affair the British have with India, as Rudyard Kipling, M M Kaye, John Masters, et al, have shown.
Before reading the text you may wish to view some illustrations concerning the British in India, and in the UK, too. The first is a map of India in the late 18th century; the second is a map of India prior to partition; the third is Abdul Karim with Queen Victoria, Empress of India. Karim was her teacher. The fourth illustration shows family life, with Indian bearer. Most children were sent to the UK for their education, as was Kipling, the writer of Kim, a wonderful book, amongst many others by this humane jingoist. Now, the next illustration is of an evil jingoist, one who massacred many innocents. Next are two illustrations of tea plantations, whose workers were, just like the factory workers back home, poorly treated by the tea barons here in India (and Ceylon). Finally, three people of interest, Gandhi in the north of England, then Ranji, aka K. S. Ranjitsinhji, the Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, who was a minor Indian prince and a major cricketer. He played for Cambridge University, captained Surrey, played for England, and went to Australia with the team. He was a staff officer on the Western Front, and sat in the Chamber of Princes in New Delhi, prior to his death in 1933. The other fellow is Sir S. S. Bhownagree, a Parsi from Bombay, who represented the Bethnal Green constituency in the House of Commons from 1895 to 1906. The cartoons are by Spy, Sir Leslie Ward, and were published in Vanity Fair. The elephant shot is of M M Kaye, who wrote The Far Pavilions.
This short paper has been put together to provide some information about Viscount Slim, and the Sikh forces that fought in the 14th Army during the infamous Burma Campaign. It has proven difficult to find the exact breakdown of the Sikh forces under Slimís command in the timescale provided. The authoritative work on the subject (The Sikh Regiment In The Second World War, Colonel F.T.Birdwood (OBE)) is not freely available.
is clear that the 1st Sikh battalion (aka 14th Sikh, Ferozpure Sikhs and King
Georges Own) were there under Slimís command. It appears as if the famous 2nd
we that live on can never forget those comrades who in giving their lives gave
so much that is good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can
transcend that of their supreme sacrifice, may they rest in peace. In the last
two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were
wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of
General Sir Frank Messervy KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO
The Sikhs during World War 2
the allied nations stepped ever closer to a second global conflict, this time
with the Imperial Japanese and the Germans, Sikh soldiers once again stepped
forward as the mainstay of British Indian Army. Despite the rising voice of
dissent by Indians for
entered the war when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, without
consulting Indian leaders, declared war against Germany on behalf of India. A
sharply divided debate ensued and Indians split along the role that they should
play in the war in the west. Traditionally Indian soldiers had played a lead
was widespread violence in many cities as the British quelled demonstrations in
oppressive scenes that would finally lead to an end to British rule in
Indians that secretly supported the Germans, on the maxim that my enemy's enemy
is my friend were to wake up on the morning of 7 December 1941 shocked to hear
the news that the Imperial Japanese Air Force had launched an attack on the
American Navy at Pearl Harbor. As
the eve of the Second World War, Sikhs had fought on the mountains of
The leading platoon was headed by Naik Gian Singh, recognizing the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of defeat, Gian Singh pushed forward with his men behind him. As the inevitable volley of shots from the Japanese foxholes burst from the bush, Gian Singh ordered his men to cover him, while single handedly he cleared foxhole after foxhole. Despite being severely wounded in the arm, he continued to push through the intense fire, completely routing the enemy, and clearing a strategically vital road. The Japanese were forced to retreat. An immediate call for a Victoria Cross, the highest order of gallantry in the British Army, was made which Gian Singh received later.
Singh's conduct was unquestionably in the finest traditions of the l5th Punjab
Regiment. His hero (from the same battalion) was Ishar Singh VC, who in 1921,
in fighting at the North West Frontier, whilst severely wounded himself, attacked
the marauding afghans single-handedly with his Lewis gun and kept down enemy
fire whilst a medical officer was attending the wounded. Sixteen days after
Gian Singh's remarkable act of bravery, Lieutenant Karamjeet Singh Judge, again
of the 4th Battalion, eliminated 10 enemy bunkers and was mortally wounded
while attacking a nest of three more. He was to become the third member of the
4th Battalion to be awarded the Victoria Cross. By the end of the war two more
VCs were to be awarded to Sikh soldiers. Parkash Singh in three separate
actions, each worthy of the title of supreme gallantry rescued stranded
vehicles under intense fire. Again in
the Allies gradually received reinforcements, the RAF and the 10th AF were able
to win air superiority over the Japanese in
the same month, Allied troop carrier units and an AAF air commando group
carried out a daring operation far behind enemy lines in central
the north, American-trained Chinese troops and American guerrillas under
Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill, sustained mainly by airdrops, seized the
airfield at Myitkyina in northern
The Kohima Epitaph
March 1944, the Japanese 31st Division moved northwestward in
Today in the Kohima cemetery, among the 1,378 grave markers, is the famous Kohima Memorial with its historic inscription:†
"When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For your tomorrow
We gave our today"
the Kohima Epitaph: The Royal British Legion Handbook for Ceremonial and
Services, page 59, states that the Kohima Epitaph can be included in
Remembrance services following the Last Post, Silence and Reveille. The Kohima
Epitaph is included in the Festival of Remembrance religious service at the
Royal Albert Hall. The National Chairman recommends that whenever possible the
Kohima Epitaph should be included in Remembrance Services organized by local
authorities or by the Royal British Legion. This is a decision made with the
agreement of all parties involved. It would be appropriate to invite a veteran
"The only possible approach onto the hill followed a narrow track leading up to the enemy position. Along this track Naik Nand Singh lead his section. Reaching the crest the section came under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, and every man was knocked over, either killed or wounded. Nonetheless, Naik Nand Singh dashed forward alone under intense fire at point blank range. He was wounded by grenade as he neared the first Japanese trench. Without hesitating he went on, captured the trench, and killed the two occupants with the bayonet.
"Not far away was another trench. Under continuous heavy fire, Naik Nand Singh jumped up and charged it. He was again wounded by a grenade and knocked down, but he got up and hurled himself into the trench, again killing both occupants with the bayonet. He moved on again, and captured a third trench, still single-handed.
"With the capture of this third trench, enemy fire died away. Naik Nand Singhís encounter had taken little time, and the remainder of the platoon, checked for the moment by the sudden heavy fire opened on it as it reached the crest, now moved up and captured the remainder of the position, killing with bayonet and grenade thirty seven out of the forty Japanese who were holding it.
"Naik Nand Singhís part in this brilliant little action, his splendid resolution and utter disregard for his own life were fittingly recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross."
The Sikh Regiment In The Second World War, Colonel F.T.Birdwood (OBE)
About Viscount Slim
Marshall Viscount Slim was referred to by Admiral of the Fleet Earl
Mountbatten, who was Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia, as "the
finest general World War II produced". After the war he was head of the
Imperial General Staff, Britainís top military post, from 1948 to 1952, and was
governor general of Australia from 1952 to 1960. This article is reprinted from
a 1945 issue of
The General stood on an ammunition box. Facing him in a green amphitheatre of the low hills that ring Palel Plain, sat or squatted the British officers and sergeants of the 11th East African Division. They were then new to the Burma Front and were moving into the line the next day. The General removed his battered slouch hat, which the Gurkhas wear and which has become the headgear of the 14th Army. "Take a good look at my mug," he advised. "Not that I consider it to be an oil painting. But I am the Army Commander and you had better be able to recognize me - if only to say "Look out, the old b . . . . is coming round".
Lieutenant-General Sir William Slim, KCB, CB, DSO, MC ("Bill") is 53, burly, grey and going a bit bald. His mug is large and weatherbeaten, with a broad nose, jutting jaw, and twinkling hazel eyes. He looks like a well-to-do West Country farmer, and could be one: For he has energy and patience and, above all, the man has common sense. However, so far Slim has not farmed. He started life as a junior clerk, once he was a school teacher, and then he became the foreman of a testing gang in a Midland engineering works. For the next 30 years Slim was a soldier.
began at the bottom of the ladder as a Territorial private.
was a sweltering, dusty day and the regiment plodded on its twenty-mile route
march down an endless
The Lance-Corporal took one pace to the side and grasped the jug. As he did, the column was halted with a roar. The Colonel, who rode a horse at its head, had glanced back. Slim was hailed before him and "busted" on the spot. The Colonel bellowed "Had we been in France you would have been shot." Slim confides, "I thought he was a damned old fool - and he was. I lost my stripe, but he lost his army." In truth he did, in France in March 1918. Bill soon got his stripe back.
in this corner of Palel Plain, one of
Slim commanded the rearguard of the army that retreated from Burma in 1942. He is proud of that. His men marched and fought for a hundred days and nights and across a thousand miles. But this retreat was no Dunkirk. Says Slim, "We brought our weapons out with us, and we carried our wounded, too. Dog-tired soldiers, hardly able to put one foot in front of another, would stagger along for hours carrying or holding up a wounded comrade. When at last they reached India over those terrible jungle mountains they did not go back to an island fortress and to their own people where they could rest and refit. The Army of Burma sank down on the frontier of India, dead beat and in rags. But, they fought here all through the downpour of the monsoon, and they saved India until a great new Army - which is this one - could be built up to take the offensive once again. In those days, if anyone had gone to me with a single piece of good news I would have burst out crying. Nobody ever did."
He tells another story. One day he entered a jungle glade in a tank. In front of him stood a group of soldiers, in their midst the eternal Tommy. Assuming an optimism which he did not feel, Slim jumped out of the tank and approached them. "Gentlemen!" he said (which is the nice way that British generals sometimes address their troops), "Things might be worse!"
"`Ow could they be worse?" inquired the Tommy.
"Well, it could rain" said Slim, lightly. He adds "And within quarter of an hour it did."
The General who had been fighting the Japanese for more than three years tells this young division what the enemy soldier is like, and how to beat him. He dissects the anatomy of the Japanese Army, its strategy, tactics, and supply. He explains its strength and puts a sure finger on its weakness. He analyses, also, the British soldier. "Of course, at root he is no better than any other soldier. Almost all soldiers are fundamentally the same. Germans, Russians, Frenchmen, perhaps even Italians. But the British Tommy generally manages to go on five minutes longer than his opposite number. You have to get that minutes overtime out of your men. And, the only way to get it is by giving them the whole of your own time and thought and care. If you do this, they will never let you down."
Officers are there to lead
Then Slim relates at one critical point in the retreat in a jungle clearing he came across a unit which was in a bad way. "I took one look at them and thought ĎMy God, theyíre worse than I supposed.í Then I saw why. I walked round the corner of that clearing and I saw officers making themselves a bivouac. They were just as exhausted as their men, but that isnít my point. Officers are there to lead. I tell you, therefore, as officers, that you will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor smoke, nor even sit down until you have personally seen that your men have done those things. If you will do this for them, they will follow you to the end of the world. And, if you do not, I will break you."
General stepped down from the ammunition box and replaced his hat. The division
rose as one man, and cheered him. A few weeks later, these troops were to cross
the frontier river at the point Slim had led his indomitable, ragged rearguard
three years before. They dug up the tank guns which the old army had buried
there when they abandoned their tanks, and they used those guns to blast open
the road to
spirit which Slim breathed into that division, on that blue, sunny morning in
Palel inspires the whole of the 14th Army. His victorious host has now marched
back a thousand miles, planted its battle flags on the citadel of
Slim talks little and swears less, but one day at Army Headquarters the roof lifted when he received a demand that mules should be installed in concrete floor stables in a training camp, well in the rear. "My men are sleeping on earth, and often on something worse. Whatís good enough for British soldiers is good enough for mules of any nationality." Slim set his Army hard tasks, but none have been beyond their power. After the great battles of Imphal and Kohima, where five Japanese divisions were destroyed, Slim called on his exhausted soldiers to carry on relentless, final pursuit. "So great were the dividends that could accrue," he confesses, "that I asked for the impossible - and got it!"
Slim affirms "that the fighting capacity of every unit is based upon the faith of soldiers in their leaders; that discipline begins with the officer and spreads downward from him to the soldier; that genuine comradeship in arms is achieved when all ranks do more than is required of them. íThere are no bad soldiers, only bad officers,í is what Napoleon said, and though that great man uttered some foolish phrases, this is not one."
What has a soldier got, asks Slim, and answers it himself. "He has got his country, but that is far away. In battle, the soldier has only his sense of duty, and his sense of shame. These are the things which make men go on fighting even though terror grips their heart. Every soldier, therefore, must be instilled with pride in his unit and in himself, and to do this he must be treated with justice and respect."
Slim says that when he was in civvie street he saw men who were fathers of families cringing before a deputy-assistant-under-manager who had the power to throw them out of their jobs without any other reason than their own ill-temper or personal dislike. "That, at any rate, canít happen in the Army," he declares. "You donít have to cringe in the Army, though itís true some incorrigible cringers do. In the Army you donít have to go out to dinner with a man if you canít stand the sight of him."
This soldier looks at the poor Indian coolie, and he feels and expresses a sincere pity for him. He would like to give that fellow a square meal and after that a square deal, but above all to create in him the manhood to stand up and get it for himself. "You see people pushing these poor Indian coolies around," he says grimly, "Well; they wouldnít push around the fighting soldiers of the Indian Army. Nobody would shove them off the pavement without getting hurt."
A soldier "by mistake"
military career was accidental. He fought as an officer in the Royal Warwicks
at the Dardanelles, where he was severely wounded leading his company. He was
discharged from the Army as being unfit for further service, but by some
undivulged method he reappeared in the battle line in
For 20 years between the wars he was a Gurkha officer, as so many of the 14th Armyís fighting generals were. Indeed, for a time, they were known on the front as the "Mongol Conspiracy." Slim loves the Gurkhas, whose language he speaks. His favourite stories are of Gurkhas. He tells of the paratroopers who were to jump at 300 feet. As they had never jumped before, their havildar asked if they might go a little nearer the ground for their first jump. He was told that this was impossible because the parachutes would not have time to open. "Oh," said the Gurkha, "so we get parachutes, eh?"
This Gurkha was himself a veteran of Slimís old regiment, and promptly on meeting his old comrades he had got himself full of rum. He could hardly stand up when Slim ran him to earth. "Be a good soldier, Johnny" Slim urged him. "Donít get dead drunk before the big show tomorrow." The Gurkha promised, but to make the matter secure the general had him locked up for the night. Somebody thought it would be a good idea if he ate a few mints, and put a large bottle of these in his cell. Morning came, and the Gurkha had recovered. Also he had swallowed every mint in a faithful effort to do the right thing. Slim says "Iím not sure the rum didnít smell sweeter. However, the old Gurkha proudly paraded and was awarded his boyís Victoria Cross by the Viceroy. Half an hour after the show was over he was chock full of rum again."
of Slimís tales of these wonderful little fighters from the
"I want to keep a few friends"
Slim has an animosity towards the Japanese based on an intense dislike of all their society stands for. "The Jap is not an animal," he says, "there is nothing splendid in him. He is part of an insect horde with all its power and horror." Slim also dislikes airplanes, and cats, which he believes give him asthma. (But he is perhaps the most air-minded, and certainly one of the most air-using generals in the British Army. His light aircraft takes him everywhere through fire and storm and darkness over his vast jungle front.) He is a modest man. He does not consider himself to be a Napoleon. "A generalís job is simply to make fewer mistakes than the other fellow. I try hard not to make too many mistakes." Asked why he would not project his own personality upon the 14th Army in the flamboyant way that some modern generals have practiced, Slim replied briefly, "I want to keep a few friends in the Army after the war. I donít think itís necessary for me to shout the odds about the Fourteenth. Its own deeds will surely get its glory."
The fact is that Slim is a commander of superb perception and foresight. He backed Wingate at the time when that romantic and now almost legendary figure was very far from being accepted in official quarters. With Mountbatten, Slim saw that in Wingateís theory: having no line of communication winding along the jungle path and of bringing in supplies instead through the roof of the sky, lay the real key to mobility in the Jungle War.
Of Wingate himself he wrote in a penetrating tribute when he had been killed. "He was truly dynamic. When Wingate was around, something had to shift." On Wingateís experimental raids which set down columns of troops far in the Japanese rear, Slim built up a technique of air-land supply which has revolutionized the campaign in Burma, enabling whole armies to march through trackless terrain entirely provisioned and munitioned by aircraft. On this pattern, Slim has won his victories. It will be the model of future wars wherever vast spaces pose the problem of logistics, which is the science of moving and supplying armies.
Slim talks in a frank, direct manner and with insight into menís motives. Though his personal attractiveness and transparent honesty of purpose induces goodwill, it is probable that he never unburdened his heart to any man on earth. That belongs only to his beautiful wife. Probably the central pillars in this rock-like character are his own determined honesty and a loathing of humbug in any shape. In the decisive battles of Imphal and Kohima (1944), Slim deliberately chose to let the Japanese cross the frontier and invade Imphal plain. Thus, the enemy would be fighting at the end of a long and tenuous line of communication lying across mountain jungle and with a flooded river at his back; nor did he possess an air supply such as ours. In the plain itself Slim had massed artillery, armour, and infantry to receive the invaders. He had stocked it up with food and ammunition, flown out 30,000 non-combatants and flown in 30,000 combat troops, a decisive item which the Mountbatten-Slim firm insisted on in face of every difficulty. Slim ordered his outpost divisions also to concentrate there for the coming battle.
He won a smashing victory. But in a factual memoir of the campaign he pointed out himself that he had made two mistakes. (1) He recalled his forward troops rather late; so that they had to fight their way in. (2) He miscalculated both the speed and strength of the Japanese attack on Kohima. Neither error was fatal to his main strategical plan, and in both cases was covered by the hard-fighting quality of his troops. One of his officers asked, therefore, "Why bring these things up?" Slim replied, "Because that is the truth, and the men who fought there know it."
He demands of his officers absolute loyalty to the Army and duty. Placed himself in difficult or painful circumstances, he has faithfully asked not what is smart or expedient, but what is right? And, then, he has it done without flinching, and without regret. He applies only one test to those who serve the 14th Army and that is: does this man do his job? If so, he is OK with the general, whether he likes him or not. If the man does not do his job, he goes!
Slim has a daughter and a son, who is a cadet at Dehra Dun, Indiaís West Point. When he came home on leave last year, the general had him up to the 14th Army Headquarters to act as his clerk. Young Slim is learning life as the Old Man did - the hard and splendid way!
the total defeat of Japanese Imperial forces in Southeast Asia General Slim is
said to have told his troops: "When you go home donít worry about what to
tell your loved ones and friends about service in
"I have never met a despondent Sikh in the front line. In a hospital in the rear he will moan dreadfully over a small wound, but in a fight he will go on to his last breath, and die laughing at the thought of Paradise, with the battle-cry of Khalsa ji ki jai as he falls.
"This very cry, a friend told me, came over a field telephone in the Arakan when a Sikh signal-havildar had been cut off beyond hope of rescue. The line remained alive. The havildar described to my friend how the Japanese were creeping up. A pause, then he came back to say that he had killed a skirmisher, but that now his ammunition was exhausted. "Thereís not much time, Sahib. Iíll break the telephone before they get me. Victory to the Holy Brotherhood!" They found him dead beside an enemy he had brained with the butt of his Sten. "A remarkable people, the Sikhs, with their Ten Prophets, five distinguishing marks, and their baptismal rite of water stirred with steel; a people who have made history, and will make it again."
"Every man in this magnificent battalion of the Indian State Forces [1st Patiala Regiment] stands 5 foot 11 inches, or over: they are the finest lot of Sikhs I have ever seen, and that is saying much. At the last All-Indian Olympic Meeting they won nine athletic contests out of twelve. Their commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Balwant Singh, is a veteran who has won a great reputation in this campaign; and although he is nearer sixty than fifty he can still march forty miles in twenty-four hours with his men, and enjoy it. Every officer in his battalion is a Sikh. In discipline, turn-out, and fighting efficiency the 1st Patialas have earned the unstinted admiration of all their comrades in the division."
Martial India, F. Yeats-Brown, 1945.
Extract from a speech made by Admiral of the Fleet, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma at a celebration of the 500th Birthday Anniversary of Guru Nanak at Grosvenor House in Park Lane in December, 1969: "I would like to talk about the 15th Century in India when Guru Nanak was born. This was a dark period when the Indians were divided among themselves and demoralised. They worshipped many Gods and were shackled by superstitions. Then Guru Nanak came and proclaimed: "There is but one God, whose name is true - the Creator, devoid of fear and enmity, immortal, unborn, self-existent, great and bountiful" - What a wonderful creed to preach. The Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, founded in 1699 the Khalsa. 147 years later new Regiments were raised from the remnants of the Khalsa who were given the title of the 14th Ferozepore Sikhs and the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs..."
The Siege: A Story From Kohima, 1956
History of the Indian Armed Forces in WWII, 1939-45: Reconquest of
An Infantry Company In Arakan and Kohima, 1960
Viscount William Slim
Defeat Into Victory, 1961
Slim as a Military Commander, 1969
Unforgettable Army: Slimís XIVth Army in