My interest in Burma began when visiting my uncle, Arthur Clifford Wilson. Uncle Cliff and my aunt had separated, and their children were all grown up by the time I started visiting every Tuesday after school. Cliff was a Sapper, and remained so having refused promotion throughout the war. The story of Eastbourne’s territorial unit is told in the book Sussex Sappers.
Briefly, in 1939, Cliff was in camp at Folkstone. Later, Cliff went to France, where he was evacuated with the walking wounded at Dunkirk. He had kept his helmet on while resting in a barn; a piece of German shrapnel that would have killed him remained lodged in his head until he died. Many of his mates were not so lucky that day. Later, as part of 208 Field Regiment RE, 2 Division, Cliff went to the relief of Kohima in April 1944, and then fought through the second Burma campaign.
One day he just ‘opened up’, and started telling me about his experiences. He frequently punctuated his disclosures with “I don’t know why I am telling you this. I never told anyone before.” It is clear that the war had left terrible scars, and I found out about his recurring nightmares, like being in a trench when a ‘dead’ Japanese soldier tried to kill him; about friends drowning during the many river crossings necessary in Burma; or the time he drew the short straw and was in front of the Lee/Grant with a bayonet probing for mines as they advanced, completely exposed to the enemy that could have been lurking in the thick jungle.
Cliff served alongside my maternal grandfather, Staff Sergeant Victor Lloyd Cruttenden. I never knew him. He died in 1953 when out for a walk. A great uncle also served in Burma; uncle Len was a Chindit.
In 2008, I started a doctorate entitled ‘The Special Operations Executive in Burma, 1941 – 1945.’ None of my relatives served with SOE/Force 136, but I was curious about this seemingly remarkable but almost unremarked upon part of the Burma war. My studies and this website are largely the result of those teenage Tuesdays after school visiting Cliff, and in some way a tribute to him and my grandfather.
I completed my PhD in 2015 having studied part time. I work full time as a History teacher since 2004. My interests besides SOE in Burma are the Second World War more generally, the British Empire (particularly the Scramble for Africa) and the Cold War.