Having hoodwinked and defeated the British at Hong Kong and Singapore, there was a three weeks skirmish East of the Sittang River, throughout which the British, under indifferent Command, were overrun. With himself on the safer West Bank of the river, and his forces on the Eastern side, General Smyth VC, ordered demolition of the one river bridge, thus deserting his troops on the hostile East Bank.
Few men could swim the wide, fast flowing Sittang. Unarmed, rifles were abandoned in the river by those few capable of crossing, while the remaining majority were taken prisoner by the Japanese.
Completely unaware of the appalling situation within Burma, on 5th March 1942, in a draft of fifteen subalterns, I arrived at Rangoon, and was immediately whisked off to meet with the most inspirational Major ‘Pip’ Moran, of the Duke of Wellington Regiment. He was the sole officer situated by a huge bomb crater, along with 60 or 70 river crossers from 2/KOYLI. Not one pre-war KOYLI officer was present. All had moved en-masse, back 400 miles, to the Garrison base at Maymyo, lingering with their families until 17th March, only 2/Lieut Alan Chapman, re-joined at Tharrawaddy after one week.
Conveyed five days up the Irrawaddy River, we arrived at the Yenangyaung oilfield on 17th March, with the task of assisting management in destroying oil wells. They were being harassed by the native workforce. After several days, Brigadier Bruce Scott arrived to advise “KOYLI you have had enough, the Commander is flying you out of Burma”. Within four hours, Bruce Scott returned, saying “Sorry, I have to send you down the road once more”.
From that point, and on receiving a third Battalion Commander, we became incommunicado for twelve days, whilst enduring several conflicts with the Japanese. Throughout these conflicts we realised that in replacing two previous incompetent Commanders, newly installed Bn CO, Geoffrey Chadwick dithered.
With Rangoon closed, on 5th March, the day of my arrival; - all provisioning ceased. Symth VC, and three other Generals, including Wavell, departed.
Churchill’s dastardly discard signal to USA Roosevelt of 1st April 1942; - (Contained in, - ‘Communications between Churchill/Roosevelt’), -- “I feel the wisest plan for Japan is to Press on through Burma”, was secreted away for thirty years. This was the end for Churchill. Long deprived of provisions, and now discarded, the British were completely defunct. Such was the chaotic and appalling state of affairs as The Inniskillings entered Burma.
Margaret Thatcher used Scotland Yard Serious Crime Squad, (Hardy/Tovey) in 1984, attempting to suppress further questioning on the Churchill signal when eventually released from security after thirty years.
THE ABOVE WAS THE STATE OF AFFAIRS PREVAILING ON 19 APRIL
My meeting with the Inniskillings was on 19th April: - Situated on hill 512, to the North of the Yenangyuang oilfield and overlooking the Pin Chaung, I had the dilemma, - Do I remain here to be captured and possibly killed, or do I attack the Japanese road-block enclosing the Division, in order to escape?
With nine men, and fully aware of the possible consequences, I usurped Chadwick, only to hear magic words, “I’m with you, Fitz”, come from the mouth of colleague, Victor Stevens. With his ten men, we made a party of twenty-one, and with ‘Geordy’ Bareham as marksman sniper, leapfrogged towards the road-block, to find it deserted, except for five dead Japanese. In passing along the rim of Pin Chaung, we saw below the rim, a Section of Inniskillings. They were laid out in a perfect inverted defensive ‘V’, and there was no response to our calls. All were dead!
When occupying the road-block, the most astounding operation happened. Dismounting from Studebaker trucks across the vast sandy Pin Chaung, came running Chinese troops. They rapidly deployed pageantry like formations, and moved south towards Yenangyuang town: - (I was later to learn that servicing under General Liu Fang-Wu, it was 111 Chinese Regiment). It seemed only seconds before shots were heard, and wounded Chinese troops returned up the road.
Ripping up sheets of bedding, Steve dressed wounds, and we were able to dole out handfuls of warm rice from a large cooker found in the building. Within minutes there was familiar chatter as released Inniskilling’s, Prisoners of War, appeared.
In view of general confusion, the ‘Skinns’ would not recognise Chinese. They saw only my few British and, not unreasonably, assumed we were the rescuers. Chinese authorities checked out what I call pageantry, and find it accurate in every detail.
The British Government decline acknowledgement of this rare operation and my KOYLI Regiment History defies belief. It was compiled by previously favoured Maurice Green, (Mont Popa), and monitored under the ditherer, Chadwick.
My wife and I are invited to Taiwan for the third time later this year, and I would be delighted to hear that your esteemed Committee had made a suitable gesture of thanks and acknowledgement to my friend, -- ‘President Ma Ying-jeou’ – C/O Taipei Representative Office in the UK, 50 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W OEB, --- for the incredible Chinese Army action at ‘The Battle of Yenangyuang’.
Thank you, and good wishes, - Yours sincerely
Gerald Fitzpatrick – former Captain KOYLI
PS. – Full detail is contained in my book – ‘CHINESE SAVE BRITS in BURMA’