Joe Flacks, Chairman of Greater Manchester and District Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women was joined by AJEX vice president, Colonel Martin Newman, at the Whitefield War Memorial to mark the 75th Anniversary of VJ Day and remember those who gave their lives or suffered as prisoners of war under the brutal Japanese regime.
Many Jewish troops were taken prisoner, some working on the notorious railway. Others fought as Chindits under the famous General Orde Charles Wingate. One Jewish, British officer, Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Rothband of Didsbury, Manchester served in Burma in the Lancashire Fusiliers following service in East Africa.
He was part of the whole East African division which went to Burma. He recalls: “Nobody knows about Burma, it’s a most fascinating campaign. There were about 12 infantry divisions, ours, an East African division, two West African divisions, there were the Gold Coast Regiment and the Nigeria Regiment, the Sierra Leone Regiment and there were six or seven British Indian Divisions.
He recalls: “The British Indian Division was two Indian or Ghurkha Battalions and one British Battalion, most of the gunners were British. The Indian Divisions had a very, very long and a very tough war.
“We came in after the biggest battle of the Far East where the Japanese attacks on a place called Kohima Imphal (March – July 1944) were repulsed with a great loss of life, a hell of a lot of hand to hand fighting over 3 or 4 months when the British were supplied by parachute drops. Some of which fell into the enemy positions.”
“Our battalion spent four months in the combat area, no such thing as a line pushing through the jungle, just advancing to contact, keeping going up the bloody hills and the streams and G-d knows what until you bumped into the Japanese who were withdrawing slowly down the length of Burma and they weren’t going to give it up easily.
“The Japanese were very brave, very brave indeed. Where we were was like a very thick wood, you could see through parts of it and you can’t keep 150 soldiers in a rifle company silent. The Japanese, having crept up and found our positions, they would shout out before they attacked “Hello Tommy, Tommy where are you?” They’d form a line of sorts and suddenly come charging at us. I’ve had them come up to me there (an arms length) on more than one occasion if you had a rifle you put a bullet in his belly, some fellas used their rifles as clubs you see.”
Col Rothband returned to Britain when the Japanese surrendered and remained in uniform in the Territorial Army where he went on to command the 5th Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers and was awarded The Territorial Decoration. He celebrates his 100th birthday this week.
Photo by Lawrence Purcell