Donate Poppy Shop

Treating wounded under fire

In March 1944, Japanese launched Operation U-Go aiming to cut road links between British bases at Imphal and Dimapur. Lying squarely in the way was the town of Kohima. The small garrison of around 3,500 regular and auxiliary forces held on for 15 days against nearly 15,000 Japanese troops.

At one point the defensive perimeter around Kohima measured just 350m2 with no-man’s-land separated literally by the distance of the Deputy Commissioner’s tennis court. 

Private Bert Wheeler was a stretcher bearer with C Company, 4th Battalion Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment defending Kohima. He remembered the difficulty and dangers involved in treating and bringing in the wounded under fire. 

“You had to run the gauntlet between shells arriving. It wasn’t healthy but you had to do it.”

There was a lot of rock in the soil on the hill. You dug as deep as you could, unfortunately not deep enough, so you were half exposed when standing. I shared a slit trench with another stretcher bearer.

There was nowhere to evacuate the casualties to. You just had to dress and treat them as best you could. If it was a superficial wound, you dressed it and the chap carried on. If it was serious you took him to the Dressing Station at Company Headquarters. The Medical Officer decided if he should go back to his company or stay laying around the Dressing Station.

You had to run the gauntlet between shells arriving. It wasn’t healthy but you had to do it. If a salvo came over you knew you had a couple of minutes before the next one, but it wasn’t always easy to judge. As we were in such a confined space you could only go about 150 yards at most to collect a casualty. Someone would shout ‘stretcher bearer’ and if you didn’t hear it at once, you would be shouted along the line.

You crawled out and sometimes you had to crawl back with the stretcher, dragging it with you. Sometimes you went out with a patrol. If a man was seriously wounded, you had to bring him back using a fireman’s lift; If the wound was too serious you had to use your revolver.

A. Wheeler, D.C. cited in J. Thompson, Forgotten Voices of Burma: The Second World War’s Forgotten Conflict (2009, Random House)

The Stories of Kohima and Imphal

Back to top