On Christmas Day 1944, just after lunch, a jeep carrying more persons than was considered safe, flipped over on the track inside Fagu camp in India. Fagu was the home of the Indian Field Broadcasting Units (IFBU), later known as Field Propaganda Units (FPU). This crash is reasonably well known about because one of the four people to die was Lt.Col. George Lowther Steer. Steer was driving the jeep when the accident happened, apparently unaware of the regulations regarding the number of personnel allowed to travel in the vehicle. In any case, the court of enquiry didn’t find Steer guilty of wrong-doing, even though he should not have been driving (he had a driver) and three more men were dead. Four others suffered serious head injuries, but finally survived. One of those who survived was an Indian called Mr Newton Joseph.
Newton Joseph was the son of an English Baptist Reverend with an address in Yellamanchili, near Visakhapatnam, after the war. When war with Japan began in December 1941, Newton Joseph was in Rangoon. He was 21 years old, and studying at the Kamein W/T Institute. He was among ‘the senior students’ who ‘were called out for duty’ in December 1941, joining the Intelligence Department of the Burma Defence Bureau. From there, he was selected to join SOE’s Oriental Mission, led in Burma by Major Peter Lindsay and Captain W.D. Reeve. He was a welcome recruit on account of his W/T proficiency and his linguistic capabilities: Newton Joseph spoke Burmese, Chin, Telegu, Tamil, Hindustani, and English.
‘I was attached to the main Station ‘R’ in RANGOON’, Newton Joseph wrote in late 1945, before being ‘forced to withdraw to MAYMYO.’ In Maymyo, he and Sergeant R.H. Jones, along with Lieutenant A.T. Hobbs, were responsible for ‘controlling heavy traffic’ on the W/T until they were forced to retreat once more. Newton Joseph reached the Chin Hills retreating via Shwebo, Kalewa and Kalemyo, ending up in Tiddim near the Indo-Burmese border. Here he stayed for the next ‘15 months‘ [underlined in the original] under the command of Major Haswell of the Burma Rifles until he was relieved in June 1943. From the Chin Hills, Newton Joseph went to SOE India’s W/T school at Meerut, known as ME9, where he was employed as an instructor.
In October 1943, Newton Joseph was posted to Lt.Col. Steer’s Indian Field Broadcasting Units (IFBUs), and he was soon back at the front, now as Station ‘S’ on the Chindwin River: The IFBUs were run by SOE under the overall direction of Mountbatten’s Political Warfare Division. Their job was to broadcast propaganda to the Japanese to try and induce them to surrender, or at least destroy morale. From the beginning of February 1944, three IFBUs were posted to the Chindwin area to work with frontline units of the Army. The timing of the IFBU deployment was perhaps unlucky: ‘In February 1944 Japs first started their advance towards IMPHAL. Received orders for evacuation when the Japs were about three miles from us. Army evacuated leaving our party behind.’
Newton Joseph’s account then goes on to describe his experience of the opening rounds of the Battle for Imphal:
Lt.Col. STEER who was then lost joined us and planned to act as rear guards from then onwards. Bye and bye we reached SITA, after fulfilling quite a lot of Intelligence work, and was also involved in SITA siege. Contacted the enemy and JIFS face to face. During the clash I was asked to withdraw with my equipment to TANGNAUPAL. Japs reached TANGNAUPAL same evening and was plunged under fire the whole night and the following night and day. Japs occupied a hill feature 400 yds from us. We were reinforced by Borderers Regiment and later 67 Gurkhas. Were cut off over two weeks, then shifted to SHANAM few miles behind, in area known as IF BUMPS, two hill tops. Japs were then in the opposite hill tops about 500 yds from us (known as NIPPON PEAK and GIBRALTAR). There we were subject to Jap shelling day and night and occasional machine gunning. This continued over a month.
The IFBUs remained at the Battle of Imphal until its successful conclusion, broadcasting to the enemy by loudspeakers, often playing Japanese music, but often with broadcasts about the war situation delivered by Japanese speaking Koreans. Another method used was to fire propaganda leaflets from a mortar, or failing that to stuff the propaganda in an old milk tin and throw it into the Japanese lines. Newton Joseph continued:
Went out to Imphal with Col. STEER. IMPHAL was then surrounded by Japs, we camped in catfish box along with 4th Corps. Later I was sent out again with I.F.B.U. parties into various battle fronts for broadcasting. Firstly, was sent out to BISHENPUR front. Jap and our positions were separated by barbed wire only. First night rain poured and the bunker was knee deep, I tried to make for the mess bunker in darkness and got lost. It was pitch dark when I was searching for my bunker, the battle started. Firing from all directions and bullets were whizzing all over. I managed to be down under a tree and was under fire for the whole night. Being suspected of being a Jap party I was surrounded by Sikhs and when dawn came, was identified as I.F.B.U. personnel. Again I was recalled to IMPHAL during the period of a semi road block. On the way we had to struggle through under fire. On reaching IMPHAL I was again sent out to KANGLATOMBI, where I had similar experiences. One occasion, went out for a broadcast and bumped up against a Jap 10 yds in their own positions, and often seen Japs in their own positions during broadcast. We were mobile for a month, going all round the battle area and at last reached IMPHAL when the siege was still on, living with half rations. Later evacuated to India by air.
At this point, Newton Joseph was recommended for a commission, which was sent to ‘B’ Company of Force 136 Signals, which was the unit to which he officially belonged as an IFBU bod. Granted a field rank in December 1944, this was never officially conferred because of the jeep accident and the death of his sponsor, Lt.Col. Steer. He was in the field until March 1945, advancing into Burma as Station ‘S’ until recalled to Calcutta for training preparatory to Operation Dracula, the landings that secured Rangoon in May 1945. For whatever reason, Newton Joseph never went to Rangoon until June 1945, where he operated ‘ASH’, the station which was used with the Army to receive signals from the Force 136 operations still in the field north of Rangoon. Dealing with traffic from Operation Character, and being ‘bored’ with operating ASH, Newton Joseph asked to be deployed on Operation Character. He joined Hyena group, and was under the command of Major Rupert Turrall from July to September 1945. Major Turrall was impressed with Newton Joseph, and recommended him for a commission.
With recommendations for a commission from three of his commanding officers and an impressive war record from December 1941 to October 1945, Newton Joseph was still awaiting news of his commission in 1946, when he was applying to join the Madras Police Force. In April 1946, he found out that his application had been denied, but he was supplied with a certificate of recommendation. The Madras Police, however, were not interested in taking him unless he had a commission. Feeling tremendously let down, perhaps Newton Joseph felt a bit better when in January 1947 he received a letter informing him that the King had approved the award of the British Empire Medal (Civil Division), gazetted on 17 January 1947. Whether or not it got him the job in the Madras police force is unknown.