August 15 marks Victory over Japan Day – the end of all hostilities in the Second World War. Immediately operations began to repatriate some of the 130,000 Allied prisoners held by Japanese troops in POW camps across the region. The RAF parachuted in 136 teams to negotiate the release of prisoners in Operation Mastiff while Operation Birdcage saw 150 tons of leaflets dropped during 58 sorties. Food and medical supplies were also dropped. At War Horse Memorial we believe we should also remember the role that horses and mules played alongside our brave soldiers. Tens of thousand of equids were used to transport men and munitions along difficult, near impossible terrain. The Burma Star Association website carries compelling, often harrowing stories of the support mules particularly gave, and the BBC has gathered stories from soldiers who were there, and have given their own personal account. One such account comes from Gordon Jones who was a farmer’s son from Hereford. He was called up in 1941 and volunteered for an expedition into Burma. This is his story…
In Burma with the Mules by Gordon Jones.
We went to India and got to Bombay. There they posted us to Assam. General Wingate had an expedition into Burma to find out how he could cut the Japanese lines, and after he came back they wanted volunteers to go on another expedition with General Wingate, and we went to a place called Janze and we got right into the middle of the jungle and that’s were we did our training, and they had the mules, and a few of the big horses. We did very hard training there every day – 30-40 miles cutting our way through the jungle and it paid in the long run, and my job was to look after the mules and the ponies and then they put me in with Capt Fife, the Veterinary Officer, he was a Scotsman and was a very good man. The horses were our life line, you would have American K rations, a bit of tinned meat and biscuits and if you got separated from the rest of them, a bit of chocolate. I suppose to keep you alright for about 3-4days and learning how to make porridge out of biscuits,- get some water in a Dixie and pour over the biscuits, light the packet and it would just be a flame and just enough heat to cook the water.
The horses got mostly bamboo leaves to eat. They had colic now and again and we used to give them an anoretic ball, and you got it between your fingers and got it down the back of their throat. That sorted them out, and you would put your hand in the back end and clean them out, and you only had soap and water, no gloves, then you had to keep them walking for 5-10 mins. We never lost a horse from colic or anything; one was shot on the way out, because it got a bit weak.
After we finished the training we went to Infal, and the Japanese were coming towards Infal then, and the Dakotas (DC3s). We loaded the mules up at night and the Dakotas carried 6 mules and the ammunition, and 6 men, and away we would go. The gliders went in first and they made a strip for us to land, and the Engineers they went to a place called Merleau, where the great big bridge was, on the way to Infal which was only about 20-30 miles from India.
The Japanese were amassing supplies to invade India, and they would have gone out through Pakistan , Afghanistan and Russia and out through that way once they got into India. General Wingate got hold of Churchill and Churchill said it was suicidal; he didn’t want him to go behind the lines.
There were four of us and four mules and four great big trunks of silver rupees; they were for bribes to buy our way out. The Engineers had blown up the bridge at Morlieu and we made our base there to White City. Once the bridge had been blown up they were finished, and they couldn’t get anything else through because there were no roads, only tracks and we just stayed there and kept quiet until they came for us, and we were in there 6 weeks before the Japs did find us. When they couldn’t get through they started then from Infal, and we used to have air drops every so often.
They made White City the base and we even built an aerodrome there, and White City was a great big hill and you were overlooking everything and we made our base there. The Japs found out we were there and we were going to hold that at all costs. We had a drop of fire water, the Ghurkhas were there and they polished everything up and they chanted, and that was the night they were going to attack the Japanese. The Japs came in and they were fighting all night, and everyone had their own position and Mad Mike (our Brigadier) said ‘don’t fight until I fire’, because if we had fired the Japs would have known exactly where we were. What they didn’t like was the flame throwers.
The Japanese planes came in and they bombed where we were and we had mules in the bushes, and a big crater came where we had our own dug out and these mules were tied just outside, and the crater when we saw it the next morning was 20-30ft deep and it had lifted the whole of the soil up, bushes and mules, and carried them 10-15 yds on. There wasn’t any injury except cuts and bruises, but it was a terrible sight on the hill…”