We covered an operation for African Troops, another operation (Covered in "Prome") and a return to milestone 67 when my operations came to a sudden end.
On 17th April 1945 I was strapped into my aircraft (my dear old "B") just about to take off on an op when the C.O. arrived in a Jeep and a cloud of dust. There was a fellow officer with his parachute as passenger. In a voice and manner that reminded me of the caution 'anything that you say will be taken down etc:' "Get out Ned".
"There is reason to believe that you are in possession of information that would be detrimental to the war effort if you fell into enemy hands." I climbed uncomprehending into the Jeep and he drove straight back to our basha without a word being spoken.
David and Chrish were already there, looking very downcast. There were two officers that I had not seen before. We were under close arrest and were to remain so for almost six weeks. We could not even go to the loo without escort; (protocol was followed in this in that our escorts were always of equivalent rank to ourselves) not that there was anywhere to escape to from Ramree Island.
As things settled down we tried to put two and two together but they never made four. Chrish's brother in law was none other than Brigadier Thimmaya, a Sandhurst trained officer who had command of part of the Arakan. We had all met him, a very tall and broad, fair skinned man with considerable presence. I was not surprised to hear that he was well liked and respected by all of his officers, many of whom were British. The Indian Army High Command was riddled with racism and hated the idea of British officers serving under an Indian officer. When he came to visit Chrish at our mess our C.O. was as dismissive as he dare be to a senior officer. He virtually snubbed him. I found him to be very impressive, a natural leader and with all of the tiny habits and gestures of a British Army officer. He came from Coorg (as did 'Slim' Sujir), had I not known I should have taken him to be the typical British career officer. Perhaps that was the reason that he was so disliked, (perhaps feared) by the establishment. He eventually commanded the U.N troops in Korea as General Thimmaya.
Chrish had visited 'Thimmy' in his mess the night before. It seemed that Chrish had asked our intelligence officer for some maps that led him to believe that he might have learned more than he should but neither David nor I had any inkling nor did we wish to have.
About a week into our 'incarceration' an army lieutenant arrived and asked me to go with him. I was ushered into a tent with three British staff officers seated at a table with one chair facing them. I sat down and the senior officer smiled kindly on me. He opened a gold cigarette case and held it close to his ear as he spoke. "I think that we can fix these fellows". I was completely horrified. As he spoke the cigarette case performed an arc as it ended up in front of me. I said "I am afraid that I have nothing to tell you but the truth and there is nothing more than that." The cigarette case snapped shut and he said "What do you mean by that?" I replied that I knew nothing and that I repeated that I would tell nothing but the truth. He said "If you continue with this attitude we may have to consider you a hostile witness." I merely shrugged. I was escorted back to the basha where I was welcomed by Chrish and David.
Our sole enjoyment was to frighten our 'jailors' to death by boiling the explosive from Jap shells over "Desert Stoves" and by putting a cigarette to the end of the tubes of the propellant cordite. This caused it to take off like a tailless rocket, ending with a satisfying flash.
Our escorting officers had been told that their sole duty was to see that we were confined to our quarters and denied visitors. So we spent our weeks of isolation with the occasional interrogation by Army Intelligence. David and I were full of humour but Chrish was becoming tense and unhappy. His change of mood showed up in strange ways. One day when we were alone but for our 'guard' (David was, yet again, being questioned) a young officer turned up with a note pad. F/O Sparkes? I asked what he wanted and he said "Y Force has communicated that after you took out the Jap H.Q. there was a funeral for a high ranking Japanese officer." We already knew this but Chrish went berserk and told him to get out. I was flabbergasted; the officer 'guarding us' stepped forward as though to protect the newcomer, who folded his pad, looked at me and left. I said to Chrish "What the hell did you do that for?" He was furious. "I know that you got him; you know that you got him.' 'What the hell do you want: a gong?" He was beside himself and at breaking point. I have never quite understood what went on in his mind but it was obvious that he was the centre of investigation and for him there was also the aspect of family to be considered. He never treated me other than with affection but the continual strain was seriously affecting him.
The squadron had left for India to be equipped with Spitfires and we had to watch the great earth movers create an air terminal that would prepare for the final push on the Japs. Ramree was ideally situated. The Japs were having to fall back so they had no chance of attacking the island. We had to watch the huge machines completely obliterating the slit trenches that held our hard won booty where it probably remains to this day.
Finally Chrish and David were taken away. I evetually learned that they ended up in Singapore. I never saw Chrish again but David stayed with me several times in England. Just when I was wondering if I had been forgotten I was told to get ready to move. To my complete amazement a Jeep pulled up driven by the station commander himself. He gestured to the seat beside him. I chucked in my duffle bag, climbed in and he drove to a spot on the perimeter track where he stopped. "All that I can say Sparkes is that I am profoundly sorry for all that has happened to you." "But it was completely illegal Sir." We were well aware that no officer can be placed under close arrest without it appearing on DLRs (Daily Routine Orders) which we knew was not done. He was truly compassionate and said " I can only repeat that I am very sorry; it was out of my hands." He was very decent. It obviously had nothing to do with him. "What do you advise Sir?" "It is not for me to say.' ' You could, of course, take this as far as the King himself but where would it get you?" "You have right on your side but you could well end up as the last man to be demobbed!" "Point taken Sir". We both smiled, it really had nothing to do with us. I was just a pawn. We both shrugged and he drove me to the DC3 that was waiting to take me back to India.
Next: - Shantaram's Bungalow
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Edward Sparkes ©1998-2002