"The outstanding impression one receives is of innumerable people. The crowded village bazaars and the continuous passing to and fro on the roads made me more conscious of people than I've been in any country before. We stumbled into a small bazaar, from one of the houses in which we had heard odd music coming on a previous night. The bazaar was fascinating, the counterpart, I suppose of thousands of others, but smaller than any we had seen and in an unbelievably narrow street, close-pressed with houses which have shops on the ground floor, the fronts of which are entirely removed during business hours. The stores (of all sorts) are in the niches along the house walls and crowded with people,--- all sitting on their haunches and all busy. We walked up and down the street pushing our bikes among children and dogs and cars and goats and the marketing natives. The house from which the music had come stood at one end of the street where we stopped and asked whether we couldn't come back and hear them play some night. They agreed and four of us went the following Monday. The place turned out to be a Hindu chapel where the musicians were practicing sacred music, we sat around the 'altar' with them in a circle on rush mats and in the shadowy light of an atrocious-smelling sweet-oil dip. The music has an hypnotic quality that acted on us as a soporific, but we kept our eyes open by watching the drummer, He kept the beat with his fingers on two drums, which he struck with the flat of his fingers. We have seen this drumming since; each time it has struck us that the drummers could teach our jazz drummers a great deal. The stringed instruments are very long with round 'sounding boxes' ---much bigger than a guitar, but for all their size they are used very little. After the music (we could not keep our eyes open and said we must go) we were offered highly seasoned tea in pewter mugs. We took this and tried to be polite about refusing the cold lump of fried dough that was a cake.
"In India towns are divided into two parts: the cantonment and the city. The latter is the native section. We got permission to go into the city the other night to attend a dance recital in one of the theatres. None of us had believed that the immense city existed beyond the bounds of the cantonment. The street down which we went was crowded --- a few cars but many bicycles, horse-drawn carts called tongas, cattle including sacred cows, and countless people. And a little bazaar we had visited was here repeated on a much larger and more crowded scale. The dance recital itself was not by half so interesting as the trip there and back. On the way back through the bazaar we saw a water buffalo break away from its driver add dash down the street through the (suddenly scattered) crowd. These beasts seem generally very drab and docile, but they can be savage and they have a superior attitude of impassivity that led one of our fellows to say he observed in them an attitude of 'holier than cow'."
AFS Letters, 1943-1944. No. 19. Published at AFS HQ, 60 Beaver Street, New York.
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The battalion was encamped outside Kohima on the spurs of a ridge. Around the camp blue-green hills stretched as far as and farther than our eyes could see, north toward Tibet and China, east toward Burma and the empire of the Japanese, south toward the Arakan and the Bay of Bengal. The crest of our ridge blocked a view westward. Kohima lay at five thousand feet. Some of the nearby peaks and ridges rose to eight thousand and ten thousand feet. The land here revealed nature at her most generous.
Jungle-covered slopes dropped two thousand feet from the tented clearings. A few Naga paths, invisible through much of their length, led to isolated patches of paddy. At the bottom of the valley wound a small stream, and here blue smoke drifted from a remote hamlet.
Scott Gilmore. Chapter 11. A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurka Rifles. A Burma Memoir. Brassey's: London, 1995.
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A BOAT steaming from Calcutta down the Hoogly River and eastwards across the mouths of the Ganges and Brahmaputra would bring you to the coast near Chittagong. Turn south here and follow that coastline past Cox's Bazaar to the little port of Maungdaw, which lies up the broad Naf River. This is more like an estuary or an arm of the sea, and is protected from the Bay of Bengal by the elongated Teknaf Peninsula. You are in Arakan, a coastal area of Burma that is divided from the central plain and Irrawaddy Valley by the mountains of the Arakan Yoma. The main port of Akyab lies another sixty miles down that coast, and farther still is the island of Ramree.
From a narrow coastal strip some four miles in width, intersected by tidal waterways (known as chaungs), planted with paddy, and studded with villages of teak houses and thatched huts and clumps of trees, rises the Mayu Range. These hills, the ridge having a height of between 1,200 and 2,000 feet, are sheer, rocky, and thickly covered with jungle. Beyond this range lies a valley through which flows the Kalapanzin River. The small town of Buthidaung has been built on its banks. Going still farther east over several ranges of mountains, higher than the Mayu, you would reach the valley of the Kaladan.
In the early months of 1943 our forces had been driven back from the Mayu Peninsula to a line that ran across the map from Nhila on the Teknaf Peninsula, over the waters of the Naf River, through Bawli Bazaar, over the Mayu Range to Goppe and Taung Bazaars. The Japanese had advanced no farther than Maungdaw and Buthidaung, and stayed there during the monsoon period that summer. There followed several months of static warfare, active patrols, occasional brushes, constant rain, disease, and a gradual rise in the morale of our troops, who had been much dispirited by our reverses in the first Arakan campaign.
Antony Brett-James. Chapter 20. Ball of Fire. The Fifth Indian Division in the Second World War. Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1951.
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From mid-November to mid-March the Arakan is dry by day, but not too hot, and cool at night. From about mid-March it gets hot and very humid. From June to early October is the monsoon, when up to two hundred inches of rain can fall, when virulent malaria is rife and leeches flourish. Other torments include prickly heat, ringworm, and in the dry season the jungle tick, which bequeaths the sometimes mortal scrub typhus.
During the wet season large-scale campaigning on land was brought to a halt.
Scott Gilmore. Chapter 9. A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurka Rifles. A Burma Memoir. Brassey's: London, 1995.
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The "front line" stretched north-south for six hundred miles, most of it was mountain country, sparsely inhabited, thickly forested, and rather beautiful. Much of it was never held or occupied in the conventional sense. It could be covered only by patrolling. In this, jungle warfare resembled desert warfare: troops occupied smallish boxes and were surrounded by many square miles of space through which either side could move.
At certain times of year some areas were disease ridden: malaria and scrub typhus were rife; such minor irritations as leeches, skin rashes, and dysentery were common. During 1942 and 1943 disease was a more deadly foe than the enemy: "During the monsoon of 1943 for every wounded man of the Eastern Army admitted to hospital there were 120 sick." During 1944 strict health precautions and the introduction of mepacrine cut the numbers of sick dramatically.
Scott Gilmore. Chapter 8. A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurka Rifles. A Burma Memoir. Brassey's: London, 1995.
Day by day Nine Brigade moved a little nearer to Tiddim. And the rain poured down. Yet between hard showers the sun's warmth dried out shirts and trousers as the men marched beside the road or went about their work. Seldom did it rain while our columns were actually on the move. But soon after their arrival in a new bivouac, dark clouds would blow across the green hills, which here rose to no great height, and soon the rain would come teeming down for hours on end. The earth grew slippery, yellow rivulets streamed down the slopes, and even when the rain stopped for a while you could still hear the pattering of raindrops off the trees overhead. Dust on the road turned to thick mud. Bivouac tents and large-heavy tarpaulins were barely enough to keep off the rain, and the troops went about wearing waterproof capes and wide-brimmed felt hats. Sometimes men woke to a sunlit sky, and their spirits rose in the same proportion as they, fell when the sky was weighted with rain and the jungle gloomy and dripping wet.
Antony Brett-James. Chapter 25. Ball of Fire. The Fifth Indian Division in the Second World War. Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1951.
George Rock. History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955.
New York 1956