Joined Honourable Artillery Company, Armoury House, City Road, London. 13th Regiment. Royal Horse Artillery “B” Battery.
Posted to Blackdown Armoured Corps O.C.T.U. November – April 1941.
Commissioned Royal Tank Regiment. April, volunteered to go to India July.
Sailed ex Liverpool on SS Duchess of York and reached Bombay late September/early October. At Bombay informed I was seconded to and later transferred to 26th Hussars.
Other offices on draft sent to 26th (6 in all) included Jack Mayers, “Sand” Macarthur and Keith Lawerance. The 26th were stationed at Meerut where Indian mutiny started but we moved to Sialkot in Punjab soon after I joined. No tanks, just a few soft vehicles. We trained on the Punjab maidans for the Wester Desert, 26th Commanded by Lt. Col. John Norton, ex 14th/20th King’s Hussars, 2 i/c Major “Brand” Bryant ex R.T.R.
I was sent to “A” Squadron under Major Lorraine-Smith and Commanded No 1 Troop. Other “A” officers included “Pluto” Wiremonger-Watts, Oscar Palmer and Jack Goldberg.
In late 1942 the regiment was moved from Sialkot to Nira camp in the Central Province (I think) some 50-100 miles from Poona where we were equipped with 1 Squadron General Stuart tanks and two Squadrons of General Lee or Grant tanks.
“A” Squadron had the Stuarts, known as Honeys. There were a light tank about 12 tons or so war loaded and were quite fast and were to be used as reconnaissance vehicles. We did not have them for long before they were replaced by Grants.
The regiment trained hard for desert warfare throughout the remainder of 1942. It was in this period that the old sweats, the regulars who had been posted to the regiment on its foundation, were repatriated to the UK and new drafts came out. These included Freddie Shepherd and Jock Miller, who both came to “A” Squadron. Nira was a pretty awful place in the middle of nowhere, mainly rock and sand.
We were all under canvas and there were no amenities as far as I can remember, no canteen – nothing and it abounded with snakes mainly the dreaded krait and scorpions, which got into ones boots during the night. Several of the personnel, both officers and men, suffered bites. Latrines etc had to be dug out of ground that was like iron, water was supplied by water carts and life was fairly hard I suppose.
I seem to recall charwallahs made regular visits to all squadrons throughout the times we were not on parade. This was virtually the only amenity we had for some time but later Indian contractors opened canteens as far as I can remember.
One consolation was there was regular weekend leave to Poona for everyone. I played a lot of cricket for the Poona Club most weekends when I was not on duty. Incidentally the cricket ground at the club was a beauty and the M.C.C. touring sides in pre-war days and I believe later played there.
I can’t remember the names of the original Squadron Leaders but we were then commanded as follows: “A” Squadron. Major Lorraine-Smith, “B” Squadron Freddie Cooke-Hurle and “C” Squadron. Guy Cunninghame. Other officers included Oscar Palmer, Nick Eliot (later Lord Eliot) Sandy Macarthur, Dai Rees, Jack Meyers, Jack Goldberg (Rhodesian), Pluto Iremonger Watts, Roger Gregory and Keith Lawrence.
My own Troop Sergeant was originally Sgt Guy but he was repatriated and Sgt Sheppard became Troop Sergeant for “Argo” One. I remember Corporal Felthouse was my 3rd Tank Commander and I had Trooper Mais as my 75 gunner but I can’t recall any other names. Freddie Shepherd commanded No 2 Troop and Jock Millar No 3 of “A” Squadron.
1943 – 1945
Sometime in 1943 we were moved to Bolarum near Secunderabad in Hyderabad. This was possibly the best station of all that I recall, a very good club with wonderful officers mess but it was here that the awful blow fell. Wingate was preparing for the second Chindit sortie behind Japanese lines.
He had the ear of both Churchill and Roosevelt and he required man-power. At the time the 26th were brigaded with a regiment of Sherwood Foresters and a battalion of Territorials of the Gordon Highlanders who had come out to India as infantry but who had been mechanised. These were the two units who were to lose their identity and supply bodies for Wingate.
Unfortunately for us, the Colonel-in-Chief of the Gorden Highlanders was King George VI. The C.O. of The Gordons was able to protest directly to the King that his battalion, an old territorial one, should not lose their identity. His protest was upheld and so the 26th was disbanded supplying both men and officers to The 3rd Carabineers and 26th Dragoons but the majority went to the Chindits.
I was given command of and raised at the R.A.C. Depot Poona, No 3 Independent Troop of Valentine bridge laying tanks – six in all with a complement of some 30-40 NCO’s and men. We had all had experience of Valentines in the UK before coming out to India. We trained in Poona for a couple of months and then we were posted to Imphal in Assam to the 254 Indian Tank Brigade.
We had a horrendous journey taking nearly two months to reach railhead and crossing the Ganges (I think) where we were picked up by transporters to complete a journey of 2-3 thousand miles. When we arrived we immediately were put under command of Col Ralph Young, C.O. of The Carabineers, where I met up with other old 26th Hussars.
I even took part in the Battles of Bishanpur – Potsambang (pots and pans to us) and the Ukhral Road as a troop commander of “A” Squadron 3rd Carabiniers. I was told by the Brigade Major of 254 that Col Younger wanted me to transfer permanently but the Brigadier, Geoffrey Scoones, insisted it would leave the bridging troop without an officer and as we were surrounded by the Japanese in the Imphal Plains he could not rely on getting a replacement for me.
I stayed with the troop and I believe we did excellent work in all the battles and particularly the advance out of Assam on the Tamu Road with “B” Squadron 3rd Carbs and the 9th Indian Brigade. I went on leave as I’d had none for nearly two years but had ensured that all the other troop personnel had. A new brigadier Gerald Critchley had taken command of 254.
We were approaching Mandalay when he came to see us and asked me if there was anything the troop wanted. I said no but what about some leave for me – he expressed horror that I was the only officer not to have had leave in the whole brigade. He told me to pack what little kit I had, put in his jeep and away I went ultimately to Bombay.
When I returned I was informed I was staying on at Brigade Headquarters as assistant to the Brigade Major – John Walker – who had been ill. I therefore saw no further action before being repatriated to England in May 1945.
It was an undoubted tragedy in one respect that the 26th was disbanded. We thought, and I believe we were, the best trained of the armoured units at that time. We were also a happy regiment with a good and caring C.O. who I don’t think recovered from the blow of losing what in effect was his baby. He’d raised, trained and looked after us all through difficult times. I never saw him again and I believe he died some years ago.
And so ended a saga although I have stayed in touch with many of my colleagues over the years. Freddie Shepherd, my son’s godfather, died some years ago but I am still in contact with Dick Hilder who went to the Chindits and Scott-Dickens, 3rd Carabineers.
A remarkable story I’m sure you agree. We are indebted to Stanley’s daughter Penny for submitting the typescript for this.
This was written for Mr. Bob Harrison in November 2002 who has kindly permitted me to use it on this website, thank you.
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