Page 30 - Chiron Spring/Summer 2023
P. 30

by Mr N Allsopp
The 77th Indian Infantry Brigade during Operation Longcloth, was described
as Wingate’s Circus. This refers mainly to the way the Brigade was cobbled together during the latter months of 1942, but also, a reference to the array of different animals used on the expedition into Burma in 1943. Even the name, Chindit,
has an animalistic connotation. If you wanted to push the animal connection to the fullest limit;
the Chindits marched through
the Burmese jungles in single file; known by the men themselves as the column snake!
It has often been mentioned
in Chindit writings, that the real heroes of both campaigns were
the transport mules. On Operation Longcloth there were about 1000
of these tough and hardworking animals which were roughly shared out between the various columns. Only a handful survived their time in the Burmese jungle in 1943.
There were generally three different breeds used on Operation Longcloth; the smaller Indian
mule, which was employed to carry general supplies, rations, medical equipment and so on. The heavy equipment such as the wireless set and all its paraphernalia tended to be carried by much larger animals, these were sourced from Argentina and the ‘Missouri’ breed from the United States.
The health and wellbeing of the mules was paramount and during training mule stewardship was given a high priority. There were qualified Veterinary Officers available, but usually the Animal Transport Officers and the mule handlers (muleteers) took care of the health of an animal. Wingate set high standards for these officers, often carrying out inspections at short notice and correcting any mistakes or mishandling.
Mules were fed on fodder dropped for them during column air supply drops. When this ran out and supply drops proved unrealistic, they were fed on fresh bamboo shoots from the
surrounding jungle. After a time in Burma the animals began to suffer from leg galls, bloated stomachs (due to the lack of suitable fodder) and eventually anthrax. Most of these animals had to be destroyed. It is also well documented that when rations became scarce for the men, mules were sometimes eaten to supplement their diet,
the ultimate sacrifice for these unfortunate animals.
At various times up to 130 Elephants were employed by 77 Brigade in the movement of heavy supplies up until the Chindwin River, with each tusker able to carry 800 pounds in weight.
The horses and ponies eventually
were used for carrying casualties in Burma. The
Animal Transport Officer (ATO) and his Sergeant were usually mounted, and they were the only individuals who had horses as of right. Horses were also useful for intercommunication between columns. Some extremely gallant actions were performed by mounted men on different occasions. In February 1943, a young officer from the Burma Rifles
by the name of Toye, rode forty miles through hostile country from Tonmakeng to Myene to bring Wingate news of Japanese movements.
28 / Chiron Calling

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