In 2023, we have reached 80 years since the formation of Brigadier Orde Wingate’s Long Penetration Force, better known as the ‘Chindits’. This was the special force in Burma operating between 1943 - 1944 with the objectives of attacking Japanese troops, facilities and lines of communication deep behind enemy lines.

The name ‘Chindit’ came from a mispronunciation of the Burmese word ‘Chinthe’, meaning ‘lion’. For this reason, the badge of the Chindits depicted the stylised lion figure that guards the entrance of Burmese temples.

A4 piece of card with typed menu, line drawing illustration of troops in the jungle and a stylised lion in yellow, inside a blue circle in the upper-left hand corner. All on a grey blue cushion background.

Menu from a Chindit Officers’ Reunion Dinner in 1947, depicting the Chindit badge in the upper-left corner. E:05.0145.26.

Supporting an Unconventional Operation

The Chindits were formed directly in response to the issue of conventional Middle East tactics being ineffective against the Japanese. The first expedition ‘Operation Longcloth’ began to introduce Long Range Penetration tactics into the British Army’s arsenal, however it was the second – ‘Operation Thursday’ – that saw a major change in British jungle warfare. 44 Chindit columns were formed, two by each Battalion, and were to operate individually behind enemy lines. Each was to be supported by REME personnel providing servicing and repairs to weapons, radio and any other equipment required. This included the design and manufacture of special equipment for carrying on the backs on men and mules, given the lack of vehicle support to the columns.

To this end, REME was organised to provide support via: a REME HQ, two infantry brigade REME workshops (each supporting three Chindit brigades), one Light Aid Detachment (LAD) per brigade and one Armourer per each of the 44 columns (a provision that nearly doubled the usual).

From records in our Archives we know that REME’s involvement in the Special Force was extensive (Special Force was the name given to the forces in the second operation, though ‘Chindits’ had already stuck). In Operation Thursday alone, we see over 500 total individual ranks from REME attachments and workshops, of which 58 were armourers, 100 driver mechanics, 25 wireless mechanics and 15 electricians. Between December 1943 – May 1944, it is estimated that REME carried out repairs to approximately 1200 vehicles, conversions of 3715 cwt trucks to ambulances, inspections and repairs of 69 Vickers Machine Guns, and repairs to 430 prismatic compasses and 360 Sten guns. Ironically, Sten guns were reported as largely unpopular among the fighting soldiers, as unreliable and dangerous to the operator, despite no definitive defect being found.

"REME support for the Chindit operations is recounted in some detail as an example of the way in which the Corps may be called on suddenly to turn its mind and hands from conventional support to something entirely new." – Craftsman of the Army, vol. 1.

Black and white photo outside some huts, one with straw roof. Men dressed in white are doing some form of manual labour while 2 soldiers look on.

23 Infantry Brigade Workshop REME after the Chindit operations in 1945, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Japanese POWs are working to establish a new workshop site. A:1960.0252.050.

REME Chindits

While many REME personnel were involved in the Chindit operations, it is difficult for us to establish who served in these particular operations from tracer cards alone. Details rarely document involvement beyond the theatre of war (in this case recorded as India) and attached unit. However, in special cases where clerks were diligent with record taking, and with use of other records, we can draw stories of a select few who were indeed Chindits.

Sergeant Joseph Gould

Sergeant Joseph ‘Joe’ Gould could be said to be the inspiration for this article, as it was after contact with Gould’s grandson that we decided it was time to dedicate some research into the REME Chindits. Though Gould’s tracer card tells us little by the way of exact details regarding his service in Burma, we can draw reasonable conclusions from the information available. Gould was attached to 163 Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) in India on 13 April 1943. 163 RAC was a short-lived unit that served in India during the war, stationed at Rawalpindi under command of 267th Indian Armoured Brigade.

Gould later became attached to 1st Battalion The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment on 22 December 1943, a unit whose role in the second Chindit expedition was to prepare a clearing nicknamed ‘Broadway’ for a powered-aircraft runway.

It is possible that Gould served with the Chindits through 163 RAC in Operation Longcloth, then again with 1 King’s Regiment in Operation Thursday.

Photograph with another photograph inlaid. Main photo shows a man from the shoulders up, in bush hat with chinstrap from a diagonal perspective. Inlaid photo shows the same man from the shoulders up, with an Army dress cap and shirt facing the camera.

Portrait of Sergeant Joe Gould. Reproduced with thanks to Gould’s grandson.

Craftsman Harry Jeffery

Craftsman Harry Jeffery, a REME Armourer, enlisted to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC). From his tracer card we know he embarked for India on 5 December 1941, arriving in Bombay on 30 January 1942. He was a founder member of the Corps, transferring to REME on 1 October 1942, and attached to the 13th Battalion The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment.

During the first Wingate expedition, Operation Longcloth, Jeffery was recorded as missing in action on 10 July 1943. This was a date used to collate all missing men from the expedition whose last known location had not been recorded, so it is possible Jeffery went missing before this point. Jeffery ended up as a Prisoner of War (POW) at Rangoon Jail, where he died in Block 6 on 29 December 1943. He was buried in the first instance at the English Cantonment Cemetery and later transferred to the permanent Rangoon War Cemetery as constructed by the Imperial War Graves Commission (now Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

Rectangular card with handwriting across it. Reads " jeffery " at the top. Stamped " reme " in right corner in red and writing in blue at bottom reads " armourer " .  class=

Craftsman Harry Jeffery’s tracer card as found in our Archives.

Craftsman J Walsh

In comparison, we know less about Craftsman J Walsh’s service in Burma, however we can be certain that he served with the Chindits, thanks to the note ‘REME Special Force India’ on his tracer card.

Portrait photograph of a man in army shirt and bush hat with chinstrap, looking straight at the camera with stern expression.

Portrait of Craftsman Walsh, c1944. E:06.0404.35.

Craftsman J Walsh joined REME and trained as an armourer in March 1943. By 13 January 1944, he had embarked for India and by mid-April was attached to 23 Infantry Brigade Workshop REME in the Special Force. 23 Infantry Brigade Workshop was a small mobile workshop, which serviced eight separate Chindit columns from 1st Essex Regiment, 2nd Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, 4th Border Regiment and 60th (North Midland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Information in this article was taken from E:08.0107.06, E:06.0404.35, E:06.0404.36 and Craftsman of the Army, Vol. 1.

Lucy Brown, Museum Assistant