THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The outbreak of the Second World War had no immediate effect on life of the Battalion which was located in the Malakand on garrison duty. It had no modern equipment apart from some Vickers machine guns and Vickers-Berthier light automatics. There were no mortars, radios or mechanical vehicles except the British Officers’ Mess car which was driven by a re-enlisted Naik who had been a taxi driver.
In April 1940 the Battalion returned to Abbottabad on a routine peace-time move. Major recruiting efforts started in September when orders were given to re-raise the 3rd Battalion. Subsequently a 4th Battalion was also formed. During this year the Gurkha Brigade had 20 Gurkha Officers and 1,800 men away on recruiting duties which resulted in the introduction of a centralised recruiting system, thus ending for ever the old method of recruiting by regimental recruiting parties. During the years 1939-45, 110,941 recruits were enlisted, of which the Regiment received 10,397. The central recruiting organisation was run by Col G C Strahan (late 6 GR). Maj H R K Gibbs 6 GR was the deputy Recruiting Officer from 1940-47.
In 1940 Subedar Major Maniraj Gurung retired after 33 years service. He was the last man serving who had been with the Battalion at Gallipoli. The Commanding Officer, Lt Col G R Grove was the only British Officer in the Battalion with more than 3 years service. In September 1940 the Battalion moved to Waziristan to carry out duties on the Frontier which consisted mainly of protecting convoys. The period April to June 1941 was spent training near Abbottabad before the Battalion was once more deployed to the Frontier until September 1941.
Japan entered the War in December 1941 and in February 1942 the Battalion left Abbottabad, never to return, thereby ending a 42 year association with the town which had been the Regiment’s home. As part of 19 Indian Division (the Dagger Division) it carried out intensive training, its war role being the defence of India. Gradually new equipment was issued and by the end of 1942 the Battalion consisted of 1,000 all ranks.
It is of interest to note that in 1942, while the Battalion was still training hard in India, fate had brought together in Burma three of its most distinguished officers – Lt Gen Sir William Slim commanding 1 Burma Corps, Maj Gen D Tennant Cowan commanding 17 Indian Division and Maj Gen J B Scott commanding 1 Burma Division.
By 1943 the Battalion was organised into Headquarters, Administrative and four Rifle Companies. By now the accent had changed from the defence of India to jungle operations in Burma. The training undertaken was varied accordingly.
In August 1944, after three and half years training, the Battalion moved to Manipur State to start operations against the Japanese. In November, with 167 mules for transport, it crossed the Chindwin River and began the long march to Rangoon. Ten to twenty miles a day were covered on foot carrying three days rations. Resupply was by airdrop. In January 1945 it crossed the Irrawaddy River to take part in the attack on the major Burmese town of Mandalay. Before the attack started a bitter fight developed to secure 19 Division’s bridgehead as of which the Battalion won 2 MCs and 9 MMs.
After bitter fighting, Mandalay was finally captured in March 1945. Soon afterwards Gen Slim, now Commander of 14th Army, paid a visit to his old Battalion. The road to Rangoon now lay open and in the subsequent months part of the 14th Army pushed south towards the city. This advance cut the Japanese forces in two and they tried desperately to reunite and withdraw into Thailand. The Battalion was heavily engaged in operations to cut off and clear those Japanese forces remaining in Burma. The Japanese rarely surrendered and each encounter had to be followed through to the final elimination of every enemy soldier in position attacked.
In August 1945 Japan surrendered unconditionally after atom bombs had been dropped on two of her cities. The War was over but the Battalion now had the task of helping to deal with the surrendered enemy.