11th Commando Black Hackle – Part 6
In the final part of his history on the 11th Commando, Jim Henderson takes a closer look at a couple of the soldiers whose lives were closely linked to Arran, and the missions they took part in during the 2nd World War.
Marshall, Walters and Burma
Walter Marshall 1918- 2005
Featured image shows Walter after the war in Arran
Walter was born in Paisley on the 5th October 1918 just before the end of the First World War. He joined the British Army at the beginning of the 2nd World War and based at the Royal Scots Greys at Redford barracks in Edinburgh, when he volunteered to join Geoffrey Keyes and the new Commando units at Douglas Hotel in Galashiels. After the initial training, he was part of the group that marched to Ayr and joined the train journey to Fairlie and steamer to Lamlash along with 500 others. After a few weeks of further training Walter volunteered to join the SBS [Special Boat Division] who had their HQ at Sannox in Ingledene Hotel, where the intensive training continued.
When the 11th Commando arrived at Alexandria, Egypt, Walter’s Commando section became part of the 204 Military Mission to Burma and China, where they were deployed to dismantle bridges and important road connections by the use of explosives. This small Commando group spent 2 years behind Japanese lines, living off the land, waging a guerrilla style war with no back up or assistance from the allies.
The group left Alexandria on the 17th June on board the ‘Aquitania’; they were the pick of the Middle East Commando. Bursting with fitness and excited after their success in Crete, the journey was via Madras, Calcutta and Rangoon where they learned and experienced the pleasures of the East with their spices, flowers and other things related to a bit of romance.
From Rangoon the company travelled overland to Maymyo [Pyin Oo Lwin] in North Burma, about 42 miles East of Mandalay, located on a hill top, where the Commando established a jungle welfare school. This was a happy and enjoyable period, almost like living in a tropical paradise, where 60 Australians and volunteers from British Regiments, based in Burma joined the 204 group, making the compliment of men in the region of 300.
The men stationed at Maymyo spent the remaining months of the year training in Jungle and Guerrilla warfare, as well as studying the Burmese and Chinese language and their customs. The company leader Major General Dennys warned of tough times ahead. December put an end to the good life, the words of the Major proving to be an understatement of what lay ahead.
The Japanese advanced through Thailand and Burma like a flood, all the way South to Rangoon. At first the Commando’s main concern was the safety of British civilians, making sure the women and children reached safety, transporting them to Lashio, located 120 miles North east of Mandalay, the northern terminus of the Burma road, to board civilian planes, which did a shuttle service over the Himalayas. The Commando then played for time, which became a precious commodity, delaying the advance of the Japanese by destroying bridges, culverts and communications. Often finding the detachment deep in the jungle many miles from assistance. They also had to deal with the Monsoon period, endless days of rain with little or no protection from the elements, which was cold wet rain in the evenings and hot steamy rain during daylight hours. The conditions making simple paths in the jungle, a muddy treacherous experience, with most of the men becoming bearded, filthy and ill tempered. The men also experienced hunger and disease from the fever-ridden humidity of the jungle, especially blackwater fever, dysentery and typhoid.
A few of the younger lads perished because of the conditions. Some became too weak to walk and were taken captive by the Japanese who toyed with them in a cruel manner before ending their life. [Such was the predicament of War].
After retreating northwards, through the jungle, encountering the local natives and Buddhist priests, who favoured the Japanese forces, the Commando was ordered to head for China. Walter ended his wartime service in India.
The Commando spirit can be summed up by the following quotation written by a young lad to his parents a few days before he was killed.
Forgive me not being a better son to you,
By the steps I have cut others will climb,
By the bridge I have thrown others will cross,
I believe no man lives into himself and no man dies into himself.
Walter returned to Lamlash on the Island of Arran to rekindle his friendship with Janet McMillan Hamilton and they were married in Blysthwood Registry Office in Glasgow on the 25th October 1949. His early years of marriage were difficult; there was little choice of employment on the Island outside farming or the Arran Estate. One of his first jobs was the erection of poles for the new hydro electric supply, distributing power from the diesel electric generating station near Brodick pier.
The author recalls around 1951/52, Walter felling a large sycamore tree at the bottom of the hospital road, single handed with no power tools.
Later he became the school janitor, worked for Crawford and Barbour and ended his working days for Caledonain MacBrayne at Brodick pier. The couple’s home was in Murray Place Lamlash, where they raised a daughter Janice who trained and became the head teacher of Lamlash Primary School. She married Robert McGunnigle and raised two sons and one daughter, grandchildren of whom Walter was extremely proud; The eldest, Blair, won the Commando cup at the Lamlash golf club in 1997, and Robbie the golf club championship in 2006.
Corporal Reginald Walters 1911 – 1994
Reg was also involved in Burma with the 204 Military Mission.
He joined the army in 1933 with the Lincolnshire 1st battalion, completing his training in Hong Kong. In March 1940 he joined the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium. In June he was part of the Dunkirk evacuation, when 330,000 troops were brought back to Britain in any ship or light cruiser that could float. On landing at Ramsgate his mates were given a dressing down by the Sergeant Major, because Reg was the only soldier who returned with his rifle, the others had ditched them in the sea.
By the end of June, Reg responded to a notice seeking volunteers for a hazardous mission and he was sent to join the Royal Scots at Cumnock in Scotland. In August he was sent to join the 11 Commando at Galashields.
After the 500 Commando left Arran at the end of January, they were involved in the Litani river mission in Syria. Reg sustained an injury to his knee when negotiating the landing. Taken to Haifa military hospital, following recuperation, he volunteered for more hazardous duty. He joined the Burma mission with the 204 Military Mission and ended up in China taking Arms and equipment. On returning to Burma he joined up with the troops calling themselves ‘Chindits’ formed by General Wingate fighting behind Japanese lines. Supplies became scarce and they had to live off the land, walking back to North East India, a distance of nearly 1,000 miles, over mountain ranges and having to negotiate three major river routes. Reg ended up back in hospital at Ledo in Northern India, before being transferred back to his unit in Lincoln, where he ended his service as a training sergeant in 1945.
Since 1945 the green beret made famous by the Army Commandos has been proudly worn by the Royal Marine Commando, who formed some of the original units.
In their N.A.T.O. role today the Commando defend and protect the Northern and Southern flanks of the alliance. The commitment required Commandos to be capable of landing and fighting in extreme terrain and weather found between the Mediterranean and the Arctic Circle.
LEST WE FORGET.
It is the VETERN, not the preacher
Who has given us freedom of religion?
It is the VETERN, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press?
It is the VETERN, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech?
It is the VETERN, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote?
It is the VETERN, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial?
It is the VETERN, who salutes the flag
and it is the VETERN, who serves under the flag
These writings are dedicated to the memory of the 11th (Scottish) Commando their relatives and all that they achieved during the Second World War.