A chance conversation with Anne McGinley who passed the contact to Piers Storie-Pugh, then led to a remarkable reunion. The enquirer was Flight Lieutenant Robert Caruana, who served in the Royal Air Force both as a Spitfire Pilot and as the RAF Section Representative. Robert marched into the jungles of Burma with 61 Column of 14 Brigade commanded by Brigadier Tom Brodie.
What is so astonishing about all this is that Robert has never met another Chindit since the war; because he has worked abroad as a barrister and now lives in Nice in the South of France. Anne of the NFA office forwarded Robert to Piers who specialises in the Chindit Operations. He immediately picked up the telephone to NFA beneficiary and ex 2nd Ghurkha, Bill Smyly. As some NFA website readers will know, Bill is probably the only Chindit veteran now alive, who in 1943 marched in with General Wingate and was glided back in 1944.
Robert had landed by glider at the Aberdeen Fortress in a Dakota in March 1944 with two mules and 20 men. Mention of mules, of course, provides a suitable link to Bill who was a muleteer in Ferguson’s Brigade and even one morning was visited on the mule lines by Wingate himself.
Robert, who was until 2016, the Wimbledon Veterans Champion for a staggering 15 years, said about the meeting, “It’s been fantastic because I’ve never met another Chindit veteran and I don’t even possess a Burma Star. I’m most grateful to the Not Forgotten Association and to Piers and Bill. I hope that I can keep in touch with the NFA”.
Bill meanwhile, ever dapper and modest said, “The Chindit RAF Section had especially large mules, heavy mares sired by a ‘Maltese Jack,’ a very large mule from the US, to carry heavy radio equipment for direct verbal contact between supply planes and ground. These drills, now a regular feature of military operations, were designed and perfected by these men in Longcloth Column, these men invented it”.
Who better to include in next year’s NFA group to Wimbledon than Robert?
PS: Burma Star will send Robert a badge and a membership form. Never too late for these Chindit veterans!
Author: Piers Storie-Pugh