A survivor of the Forgotten Army, and a very sobering one.
Captain John Randle was able to break out but it took him two days to get back to the British lines. “All our wounded were butchered by the Japanese,” he said afterwards. “It was an atrocity which governed the battalion’s attitude for the rest of the war.”
Brigadier John Randle, officer who won an MC leading an attack under heavy fire in Burma in 1945 – obituaryFrom an exposed position he directed men in an assault on Japanese machine-gun posts, and he was later ambushed by murderous dacoitswww.telegraph.co.uk
Brigadier John Randle, officer who won an MC leading an attack under heavy fire in Burma in 1945 – obituaryBrigadier John Randle, who has died aged 99, won a Military Cross in 1945 in the last weeks of the Burma Campaign.
On April 30 1945 Randle, then a captain, commanded a company of 7th Battalion, 10th Baluch Regiment (7/10 BR), which had been ordered to attack a strongly defended enemy position at Pegu Hill, north-east of Rangoon.
The Japanese were securely established on three small hill features in bunkered positions containing machine-gun posts which poured out a relentlessly accurate fire. These had to be silenced and Randle put in an attack covered by his mortars.
As soon as the assault began, the Japanese opened up with mortars, a 75mm gun and medium machine guns. Randle’s men had to go through dense undergrowth and in order to direct the operation he moved to a completely exposed position under heavy and continuous fire.
Not until the enemy position was overrun and the 75mm gun destroyed did he take cover. His outstanding leadership, regardless of personal danger, was recognised by the award of an MC.
John Pomeroy Randle was born on October 17 1921; his father was the manager of a firm of pencil manufacturers. He was educated at Berkhamsted School and then passed the entrance exam for the Royal Military College Sandhurst in summer 1939, only to find that it closed within weeks for the training of officers for regular commissions.
He therefore applied to the Indian Army, and after an eight-week voyage spent six months at a cadet college at Bangalore. Commissioned in September 1941 into the 7/10 BR, part of the 17th Indian Division, he found himself in command of a company of 120 Punjabi Muslims.
Posted to Burma shortly before the Japanese attacked across the Kawkareik Pass on January 22 1942, 7/10 BR was overrun three weeks later at the village of Kuzeik on the west bank of the River Salween. After several hours of fighting, 288 officers and men had been killed and 229 were taken prisoner.
Randle was able to break out but it took him two days to get back to the British lines. “All our wounded were butchered by the Japanese,” he said afterwards. “It was an atrocity which governed the battalion’s attitude for the rest of the war.”
A week later, the Sittang Bridge was blown prematurely, with 100 members of 7/10 BR still on the wrong side of the river. In the space of a little over a week, the battalion had lost eight of its 13 officers and 600 other ranks.
In the long retreat of the British Army out of Burma, across challenging terrain, Randle commanded the rearguard company. Because of the danger of men going to sleep and failing to get up, after every stop numbers were checked.
When they finally reached Ranchi, north-east India, in September 1942, they were in poor shape. Randle was appointed adjutant and the battalion had to be rebuilt and re-trained.
During the retreat, a Pathan havildar (sergeant) had encouraged a dozen Indian soldiers to desert. After a court martial, the battalion was ordered to form a hollow square. The disgraced man was led into the middle in chains. Randle, speaking in Urdu, had to pronounce the sentence of death. This was later commuted to penal servitude for life.
In October 1943, 7/10 BR rejoined the 17th Indian Division – the “Black Cats” – in the Chin Hills, some 170 miles south of Imphal, on the Indo-Burmese frontier. The following year, they carried out a fighting withdrawal into the defensive box around the key area of Imphal and fought a series of fierce battles against the crack 33rd Japanese Division, known as the “White Tigers”.
In the battle for the central Burmese city of Meiktila in March 1945, Randle was blown up on a minefield. He was not wounded but suffered permanent deafness. Naik (Corporal) Fazal Din, also serving with 7/10 BR, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
The 17th Indian Division led the advance southwards, and on August 15 1945 – VJ-Day – 7/10 BR was little more than 60 miles from where they had been when the Japanese invaded Burma three and a half years earlier.
After the war, normal civil government and the Burma police took some time to establish themselves, and bands of dacoit robbers raided villages and buses, robbing, raping and murdering.
While leading a patrol, Randle was ambushed by a dacoit gang, about 12 in number. They fired a shotgun at him but missed, and then charged at the soldiers wielding knives. A few short bursts from Brens and Tommy guns and they were all dead.
On another occasion, soldiers in a Gurkha battalion dressed up as Burmese women and boarded a bus, posing as passengers. When they were ambushed by armed dacoits, the panic party of “women” fled into the jungle. The dacoits, expecting easy pickings, ran up to the bus, only to be met by a hail of fire from soldiers hidden on board behind camouflaged sandbags.
Randle transferred to the British Army, accepted a commission in the Devonshire Regiment and joined the 2nd Bn in Lüneberg in October 1946. He served in Singapore and Malaya during the Emergency; in Kenya during the Mau-Mau rebellion; in Cyprus during the Eoka uprising and in British Guiana in 1964 after a declaration of a state of emergency.
During the latter tour he commanded the 1st Battalion, the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment. To quote from the citation for his appointment as OBE: “Randle went at once to the mining town of Mackenzie, some 70 miles inland, where racial murders, bomb throwing, savage beatings, arson and rape had begun. He saw to the taking over of the operational area by the Army, coordinated the duties of the police, the British Guiana Volunteer Force and his troops.
“He soothed racial tempers, calmed the nerves of the white population, alternatively pressed and coerced the mining company to provide launches, vehicles and accommodation and arranged for the evacuation of 1,000 East Indian refugees from the area.”
Randle was Divisional Brigadier, the Prince of Wales’s Division, before being appointed Brigadier Overseas Detachments. During an active retirement, he was regimental secretary for nine years, president of the Baluch Regiment (UK) Officers’ Dinner Club and a stalwart supporter of the Burma Star Association. He wrote Battle Tales from Burma, published in 2004.
John Randle married first, in 1947, Peggy Miskimmin, who died in 2003. In 2010 he married Joy Hunt (née Myburgh), who survives with a son from his first marriage who also served with the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment.
Brigadier John Randle, born October 17 1921, died December 14 2020
the late Brigadier John Randle's book, 'Battle Tales From Burma' is a wonderful read.