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Lt Col Jack (John) Longbottom MC and the Lushai Scouts

People in story : Lt Col Jack (John) Longbottom MC
Contributed by : Jane Robinson nee Longbottom
Location of story : Lushai and Chin Hills, border India/Burma
Background to story : Army

At the outbreak of WW2 Jack was recalled to the Army with the Coldstream Guards in a training role with the rank of sergeant. After Dunkirk he decided that he would rather be in a fighting unit, so was commissioned from Sandhurst in 1940 and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment.

Lushai Scout 1890
Jack was involved in the First Burma Campaign in 1942 where he was Adjutant to Brig. P C Marindin, later to be Commander Lushai Brigade. The citation in 1944 for Jack’s Military Cross reads — ‘ During the retreat from Burma this Officer was my Adjt., he deserved the MC on several occasions and his work throughout was invaluable and of the very highest order.’

The following details of the exploits of the Lushai Scouts are taken in part from an article written by the then Major Jack Longbottom which appeared in ‘Ça Ira’, the Regimental magazine of the West Yorkshire Regiment, published in December 1947, repeated here by kind permission of Major (Ret’d) Nick Allbeury MBE, Regimental HQ, Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire, York.

During March 1944 Jack was given the task of raising and training a new guerrilla unit which came to be known as the Lushai Scouts. As there were so few Officers he had to undertake this task single-handed, travelling into the Lushai Hills to raise 400 troops. By this stage in the War the Japanese had pushed beyond Tiddim in the Chin Hills, with heavy fighting in the Kohima and Imphal areas. The Lushai Hills lay to the rear of the Japanese and to the west of the Chin Hills. This remote area required specialist troops and Brig. Marindin, Commander ‘V’ force, had been very firm in his orders. He said that although the Lushai Scouts would be used as guerrillas in the rear of the enemy they had to be raised and trained as regular troops. Their speciality was to be jungle warfare with special emphasis on mobility and minimum transport.

Jack travelled for ten days by train, sampan and foot to reach Aijal, capital of the Lushai Hills. Mules carrying army clothing, weapons and attestation papers accompanied him. On arrival in Aijal he was to find a platoon already being given primary training by the instructors from the Assam Rifles. Jack went on to Biate on the Chin Hill frontier where the new recruits were to follow a month later.

There was reluctance from GHQ Delhi to sanction the raising of the unit and although recruiting began in March 1944, it was not until some months later that the formation of the unit was finally agreed. Brig. Marindin suggested the Lushai Scouts were called “Slim’s Own” as it looked likely that Gen. Slim would have to pay them!

The Lushais were 18 to 20 years old and very keen to be trained to fight. Having been born and bred in the jungle they were completely at ease moving around in it. The young men were immensely proud of their unit and Jack helped to instil a feeling of confidence in their leaders and in each other, but also most importantly, themselves.

In May 1944 the Lushai Scouts began doing some patrol exercises in the Chin Hills and were fortunate to be able to train in the location where they were intended to fight. In August 1944 one Company had to go up to Kaptel in the Chin Hills - a march of 80 miles under monsoon conditions. They came to an abrupt stop at the Tui River which was in full spate and unfordable as the suspension bridge had been washed away. Having cut timber and bamboo and rebuilt the bridge, the Scouts managed to reach Kaptel on schedule.

Early September found the Scouts over the other side of the Manipur River. They were now about 120 strong with a column of 50 Chins as transport — no mules and no motor transport! They did several small successful raids on the main Tiddim Road behind the Japanese main force. The next main attack came on the night of 7-8 September 1944 when a column of Scouts marched 15 miles trough the jungle to come up between two Japanese Companies with artillery and a platoon outpost on a hill feature covering Tiddim itself. At dawn the outpost was attacked and the surprise was so great that the Scouts received no casualties. The Scouts then blended back into the jungle from whence they came.

The Japanese were understandably rather peeved by all these guerrilla tactics and put a strong platoon in position at Saizang. Two Lushai troops who could speak Chin dressed in Chin clothing and went down into Saizang selling vegetables. They came back with immensely accurate information on the position of the platoon and its sentries. After the position was taken, the Scouts again only had 4 wounded and were in high spirits.

The large hill Kum Vum dominated the country from Tiddim to Kennedy Peak. The hill had previously been occupied by the Ghurkas who had made it a really strong strategic point. Commander Lushai Brigade ordered Jack and the Scouts to take the hill, as it would be an important one if Tiddim fell. It was impossible to approach unseen and, although the Scouts knew the hill as they had patrolled there previously, the idea of taking the hill without the element of surprise was a difficult one. Time was of the utmost importance, as the Japanese would be strengthening their position all the time. It was decided to try the hit and run type of raids, which were small but constant, together with an Air Strike. Until the Medical Officer arrived it was necessary to evaluate the cost of an attack on Kum Vum in the terms of the wounded. If there were too many for Jack to treat, the necessary evacuation and escort would seriously deplete the Force.

The Free Chin Resistance Movement was approached to help to make a big show of force to the Japanese. The Chins were told to approach Kum Vum from the West and were expecting to be joined by the main force of the Scouts approaching from the North 15 minutes later for the final assault. As the Scouts reached the top of the hill all they could see was hundreds of rounds of tracer and grenade explosions in the air. It looked like a firework display! The Scouts managed to fire the odd 2-inch mortar into the nearest position but could not engage small arms fire on an unseen enemy! The firing from the Chins became more sporadic and finally one platoon made a dash for the Japanese position, successfully over running it. The rest of the Japanese had had enough by now and decided to make a run for it. Before the Scouts could open fire the Chins were up and chasing the enemy. The last that was seen of the Japanese was them disappearing into the jungle closely pursued by the Chins who had no ammunition left but did a good line in blood curdling cries!!

After the arrival of the 5th Indian Division the Scouts were dispatched to Falam where they were to join up with the Lushai Brigade. They were within half a day’s march of Falam when Jack decided to give the Scouts a days rest. Battledress was cleaned, equipment was polished and every man had a haircut. Jack’s Coldstream Guards training shone out like a beacon as he marched the Lushai Scouts proudly into Falam! Here they were joined by 100 reinforcements so the Scouts now numbered 300. It became apparent that the Japanese were beginning to know where the Scouts were operating, probably because of their airdrops. It was decided therefore to take enough ammunition and supplies for 14 days on the next sortie. This was a particular successful ploy and resulted in many surprise attacks.

One amusing anecdote occurred early in 1945. A platoon was ordered to escort a party of American troops to Mount Victoria 150 miles away through thick jungle full of Japanese soldiers. The platoon was under the command of a Subedar who could speak little English. Apparently they managed to find about eleven different enemy parties in the area, cut off from the main force and in hiding. The Subedar said they had had a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable trip! Two months later a letter was received from the Commander of the American forces in South-East Asia telling them how “the Scouts had resisted all Japanese attempts to prevent the ‘valuable beam’ set reaching Mount Victoria”!!

Towards the end of the War the Scouts were given 600 Chin Levies together with 27 elephants and 100 hill ponies. Jack felt more and more like Hannibal! When the War ended the Lushai Scouts were flown back to India and disbanded at Shillong as a Unit. They had fought 51 separate actions behind the enemy lines and due to their special skills in jungle warfare, their casualties amounted to one British Officer and two other ranks killed and 23 wounded.

At the disbandment parade in Shillong a message was read out from Gen. Slim — a copy of that message together with photographs of Gen. Slim and Brig. Marindin cut from ‘S.E.A.C.’, the 14th Army’s newspaper, were in place of honour on the walls of almost every house in the Lushai Hills. Most of the Scouts returned home to tend their fields and live the quiet life, reflecting on the “fun” they had in Burma!

The following words come from a certificate presented to Major J Longbottom MC on 23rd September 1945 and signed by Lalkhama Chief of Darzo for the Lushai Chiefs and the Lushai People: “ As a mark of appreciation of the services you have rendered to our Country by successfully Superintending the Lushai Scouts Organised by the Government to ward off the Japanese invasion which results in our country having won a good reputation on behalf of the Lushai Chiefs and the Lushai people as a whole. I am presenting you our national garment (Puanchei) and bag (Iptechei) which I hope you will please accept.”

Written by Jane Robinson — Jack Longbottom’s daughter. On 13th November 2005 Jack celebrated his 95th birthday in Bassingham Nursing Home, Bassingham, Lincoln.

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