The Burma Campaign

Tenasserim Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force

The Battalion was originally raised on 2nd July 1877 as the Moulmein Volunteer Rifle Corps.  In 1901, it amalgamated the Moulmein Volunteer Reserve Company, formed on 24th January 1889, and in 1917 the Moulmein Volunteer Artillery Corps, raised on 4th December 1885.  The Battalion motto was ‘Primus in Burma’.[1]  As part of the Indian Defence Force Act of 1917, all the units of the Indian Volunteers became units of the Indian Defence Force and the Battalion was re-titled the 14th Tenasserim Battalion.  With the formation of the Indian Auxiliary Force in 1920, the Battalion was again re-titled, this time as the Tenasserim Battalion.  It retained this title when transferred to the Burma Auxiliary Force in April 1937, following the transfer of units to the Burma Army with the separation of administration from India.[2]  

The Battalion was a volunteer infantry force and came under the Tenasserim Infantry Brigade Area.  On 1st January 1940, it was reported to be composed of a headquarters, one rifle company, a machine gun section and one light motor patrol.[3]  A detachment of the rifle company was at Tavoy.   This establishment was reported again on 8th February 1941, together with a total strength of seven Officers and 230 Other Ranks.

A company of the Battalion was stationed at Tavoy and known as The Tavoy Company.  Tavoy was attacked by the Japanese in January 1942 and the Tavoy Company gave a good account of itself.  During the Japanese advance to Tavoy, between 16th and 18th January, much information on their movements was passed to garrison commander in Tavoy by men of the Battalion, managers of the local mines and others.  On the morning of 19th January, the Japanese appeared near the Tavoy aerodrome and began to attack it.  After several hours of fighting, the Tavoy garrison was forced away from the aerodrome and the evacuation of the town followed.  The men of the Tavoy Company provided demolition parties that successfully blew up a number of bridges and roads.  Many of the men remained behind for long periods following the evacuation of Tavoy.  They later reached safety by boat or on foot through the jungle, bringing with them much useful information.[4]

The balance of the Battalion remained in Moulmein which came under Japanese attack on 30th January 1942.  The town was evacuated the following day.  On 9th February, the Battalion was reported by the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade as arriving at Kyaikto before moving on to Rangoon.[5]

During the retreat to India, the Tenasserim Battalion was listed as forming part of the Lines of Communication Troops.  At Mandalay on 23rd March 1942, the Tenasserim, Upper Burma and Rangoon Battalions were reformed and became known as the Rangoon, Tenasserim and Upper Burma Companies of the Burma Battalion.  This new battalion performed garrison duties in Mandalay and also supplied officers and men for movement control.  All of the unit’s transport and drivers were attached to the Brigade Transport Officer.

At the end of March 1942, the Burma Battalion provided officers and men to man Irrawaddy Flotilla Company launches whose crews had absconded.  On 24th April 1942, the Burma Battalion left Mandalay, after the bombing, on the ‘Japan’ for Katha, which was reached on 1st May 1942.  On the morning of 2nd May 1942, orders were given to march to India. 

Some officers of the Battalion were encountered on 6th May 1942 at a camp near Inbin, above Banmauk village, by Lt. Colonel A.W.S. Learmond of the Mandalay Battalion, Burma Military Police.  Learmond was trekking to India with a mixed party of officers and men.[6]

19 January 2018

[1] Burma Army List January 1940.

[2] "Sons of John Company", Gaylor J, Parapress, Tunbridge Wells (1992 & 1996)

[3] Burma Army List January 1940.

[4] “Operation in Burma from 15th December 1941 to 20th May 1942”, Despatch submitted by General Sir Archibald Wavell, London Gazette, 5th March 1948

[5] War Diary of the 2nd Burma Brigade, WO 172/548.

[6] “Father’s Journey Out”, a personal account of the Trek to India by Major A.W.S. Learmond.