Royal People

A dedication to those wonderful people who served Royal Primary School & Royal College, in Sri Lanka, since 1835, and, who will be remembered for their committment, sincerety and unselfishness.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Forgotten Campaigns, forgotten Veterans

Brian Randall Kriekenbeek

Extracted from an article by Sergei de Silva - Sunday Times Nov 5 2006

Now an elderly gentlemen of 83, yet vibrant and alert, Brian Kriekenbeek recalled for the first time, during his telephone conversations with me, his memories of over 64 years. When war began, Brian felt assured of his motivation to fight: “I accepted the fact the British were occupiers, and felt the Empire was guarding Ceylon from the Japanese.” On completing his schooling at Royal College and turning 18, he volunteered to join the Ceylon Defence Force (CDF) and was accepted for officer cadet training at Diyatalawa. In December, 1942, after finishing a six month basic training course, he obtained a commission as a Second Lieutenant in B Company, 2nd Battalion, CLI.

In November, 1943, he volunteered to serve at the Burma front. Within days of selection, he entrained from Colombo to Talaimannar and embarked on a ferry to Dhanushkodi, the closest proximity from Talaimannar to Southern India on the Rameswaram coast. On January 1st, 1944, he was attached as reinforcement to the 114th Indian Infantry Brigade in the Arakan and posted to D Company, 4/5th Gurkha Rifles, as a Second Lieutenant. Brian’s tour with the 4/5th Gurkha Rifles was an outstanding experience. In his short three-week stint he was accepted by the other ranks and officers of the battalion. Ethnically, the unit’s composition was typical of the British-Indian Army of that time, mostly British officers and Indian other ranks.

His first experience of patrolling through the jungle was uneventful. However, his experiences soon changed. As he sardonically recalled, his first combat experience was: “Quite frightening because no one had shot at me before”. However, on his second dusk patrol they stumbled on to a Japanese platoon near a paddy field. Immediately both patrols began firing at each other from a distance of about 200 yards. The loud clatter and confusion of rifle and sub-machine guns firing went on for several minutes before both patrols hastily withdrew into the jungle – as he remembers, there were no likely casualties in the skirmish. Out of the six patrols with the 4/5th Gurkha Rifles, four made contact with the Japanese.

At that time, due to the static nature of their portion of the front, they had simple orders to collate field intelligence on Japanese positions, movement and numbers. As Brian said: “I conducted all my patrols at night, scouting for Japanese positions, which was pretty grim work. Night patrols were normally conducted after dinner, around 7 pm, and usually lasted several hours. We tended to stay away from the jungle tracks as they were prone to ambushes. The ‘No Man’s Land’ area we operated in was normally between three quarters to a mile in distance. At night we could not see, so we navigated with a hand-held compass which was difficult. When we encountered Japanese patrols it was always nerve wracking and confusing and we were not quite sure where they were, so we fired wildly in their direction. Once contact was made we would either drop flat on the ground or take cover and frantically scan for enemy silhouettes or muzzle flashes. If we spotted them we fired our weapons and threw grenades. The duration of these skirmish actions lasted sometimes for up to 15 minutes. Quite often contact was made out of the blue with the Japanese patrols.”

Through his encounters and experiences, he had developed an ungrudging respect for the Gurkhas he served with. “It was a brotherhood. They treated me in an excellent manner. The Gurkhas were so special, it was like working with military machines.”

Once his brief tour with the Gurkhas was over, he was posted to another unit on the Burma front for an even shorter tour as a 2nd Lieutenant in the all British composed, 1st Somerset Light Infantry, better known as the ‘SomLI’.

His posting was with C Company, 1st Somerset Light Infantry, which was attached to the 7th Division’s 33rd Indian Infantry Brigade. His duties were identical to his experience with the Gurkhas, taking part in three uneventful night patrols with no sign of the Japanese. As destiny would have it, Brian’s short two-week tour of duty with the SomLI was to be a starkly different experience. He remarks rather indignantly: “When they found out where I originated from, there was a definite change in their attitude towards me. They had very ill-informed and negative views of Ceylon and its people to the point of being condescending and just bloody rude. They didn’t like that I was an officer, didn’t respect my commission and displayed irritation when saluting me!”

Once his five-week tour of Burma ended, he was ordered back to Ceylon in February 1944 and rejoined the 2nd battalion, CLI at China Bay, Trincomalee where he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

Soon after, he attended an advanced infantry training course for NCOs and junior officers at the ‘Battle School’, near Weliveriya. Subsequently, he was sent to India to attend the Jungle Warfare School, at Shimoga, in January, 1945, for one month, before rejoining the CLI in February, 1945. In mid 1945, he led a group of 10 soldiers from his battalion on a special mission, escorting 26 interned Japanese POWs to India. As he recalled, “They were just poor harmless bastards who were captured probably from the merchant navy.” The escort party travelled by train from Colombo to Talaimannar, and the group was ferried to Dhanushkodi. Once in India, they travelled by train all the way to the Red Fort, Delhi, where the POWs were transferred. Brian affirms that by the end of the war the CLI furnished guards as POW escorts for at least 6-8 missions, between Ceylon and India.

Demobbed in mid 1946 he was awarded the Burma Star and the War Medal. Subsequently in 1947, he signed up as a 2nd Lieutenant in the British Army, General List Infantry (Ceylon Section) and agreed to serve with the 1st battalion, Ceylon Corps of Military Police (CCMP) that was deployed in Malaya from August, 1947, to June, 1949, where he was promoted to the rank of Captain. After Malaya, Brian returned to Ceylon and in 1949 migrated to Australia.


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