The Burma Campaign

Sergeant Major William Cunningham, R.A., R.A.O.C. and R.E.M.E.

Sergeant Major William Cunningham served with the anti-aircraft arm of both the Royal and the Indian Artillery.  Interestingly, however, much of this service was not as a member of the Royal Artillery.  As a fitter or artificer he maintained the guns of the artillery units he served with – first as part of the Royal Artillery, then with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (R.A.O.C.) and finally with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (R.E.M.E.).

Sergeant Major William Cunningham

Sergeant Major William Cunningham, R.E.M.E. (Cunningham family)

William Cunningham enlisted at Dartford, Kent on 18th May 1939, where he attested with the Royal Artillery.  He was given the Service No. 1467113.  He was immediately posted with the rank of Gunner to the 264th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, 58th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Regiment.  He was embodied for war service a few months later, on 5th August 1939.

Drawing on his peacetime occupation, he was sent for and passed a trade test at Sutton at Hone, Dartford, Kent.  Upon completion of the test he was certified qualified for appointment as a Fitter Class 3 on 27th September 1939.  While at Scalers Hill, Gravesend, he was promoted to the rank of Lance Bombardier Fitter, Royal Artillery, Anti-Aircraft Branch on 2nd January 1940.  A further trade test followed on 23rd October 1940 at Dover, at the end of which he passed the Trade Test of Fitter, Royal Artillery Class II.  Promotion to acting Bombardier followed on 22nd January 1941 and this rank was confirmed as war substantive (i.e. for the duration of hostilities) on 31st March 1941.  On 5th August 1941, William Cunningham ‘left’ the Royal Artillery, when he was posted from the 264th H.A.A. Battery upon being transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

At this period of the war, the R.A.O.C. was responsible for the maintenance and repair of major military equipment, notably heavy weapons.  William Cunningham was by now a fully qualified anti-aircraft artificer and hence his transfer to the R.A.O.C.  Although serving with the R.A.O.C., as a member of a Workshop Section as an artificer he was ‘attached’ to an anti-aircraft unit. 

Through the summer and early autumn of 1941, William Cunningham underwent further specialist technical training.  He was first posted to 13 Technical (or Temporary?) Training Centre, R.A.O.C. at Derby on 5th August 1941.  From Derby, he was posted to 'D' Company Training Battalion, Military College of Science, Bury on 13th August 1941.  Four days later, while still at Bury, he was posted to the Military College of Science (Fire Control Instruments Branch).  His last training posting was to the H.Q. Training Establishment, R.A.O.C. where he attended a course between 18th and 24th November 1941 and from which he passed third in order of merit.

Having successfully completed his technical training, he was posted back to an operational unit on 25th November 1941 - the 10th Anti-Aircraft Division Workshop Company, R.A.O.C. at Leicester.  Further promotion followed quickly when on 26th November he was given the rank of Staff Sergeant.  In December, he was posted from York to the 23rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Workshop Section at Southend.  On 6th February 1942, he was posted to work with the 229th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery.  At the time the Battery formed part of the 23rd L.A.A. Regiment, R.A., but on 1st July 1942 the 229th Battery left the Regiment to become an independent unit prior to embarking for service in India. 

Bofors gun in India

With a Bofors 40mm L.A.A. gun in India. (Cunningham family)

William Cunningham embarked with the Battery on 13th February 1942 on board the New Zealand ship, Awatea and ship sailed on 17th February with convoy WS 16.  From South Africa, the convoy split and with convoy WS 16B, the 229th L.A.A. Battery, R.A. arrived off Bombay on 8th April 1942.  The personnel of the Battery disembarked there five days later.   The 229th L.A.A. Battery, R.A. served in southern India – at Bangalore, Vizagapatam, Trichinopoly and Madras – until disbanded at the end of November-early December 1943.  At Bangalore, on 8th June 1942, William Cunningham was granted the rank of war substantive Staff Sergeant, effective from 14th February 1942.

William Cunningham and a comrade in India.

William Cunningham (left) and a comrade in India. (Cunningham family)

William Cunningham’s career now took a new turn when on 14th November 1942 he was transferred to the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers (R.E.M.E.).  The recently formed R.E.M.E. took over responsibility for maintenance and repairs of heavy weapons which until then had been the responsibility of the R.A.O.C.  The Workshop Section of the 229th L.A.A. Battery remained in being but was now R.E.M.E. rather than R.A.O.C.   Workshop Sections now became known as Light Aid Detachments.

Sergeant Major William Cunningham and comrades in India.

Sergeant Major William Cunningham (seated left) and comrades in India. (Cunningham family)

At around the time that the 229th L.A.A. Battery, R.A. was disbanded, William Cunningham was posted on 22nd December 1942 to the serve with the workshop section of the 10th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Indian Artillery.  This Regiment also served in southern India until January 1944 when it moved to north-east India.  While still serving with the 10th L.A.A. Regiment, Indian Artillery Workshop Section, William Cunningham was awarded the war substantive rank of W.O.I - acting Sergeant Major on 14th February 1945.

He was ‘taken off strength’ of the 10th L.A.A. Regiment, Indian Artillery Workshop Section on 6th August 1945 and posted to Alipore Transit Camp for repatriation to the United Kingdom.  He embarked in India for the United Kingdom and was ‘struck off strength’ of India Command on 14th August 1945.  He returned to the United Kingdom with the status of 'Class A Release'.  He arrived back in the United Kingdom on 3rd September 1945 and was granted Release Leave two days later.  This ran until the end of October 1945 when he was immediately granted Overseas Leave which ran until 11th December 1945.  The next day, 12th December 1945, he was finally released from the Army and posted to the Army Reserve.

Unditching a truck somewhere in India.

Unditching a truck somewhere in India. (Cunningham family)


I am indebted to the Cunningham family for granting permission to publish details of William Cunningham’s Army Service Record and the accompanying personal photographs.

15 January 2021