Alan Kay pictured on the left taken in Great Britain.Alan Kay
Alan Kay pictured in Burma, 1945.Alan Kay
Alan Kay in Roorkee, India where he was hospitalized for his broken back. Apparently underneath his uniform is a cast, and that's why, as he explains it, he is standing in a slightly odd position.Alan Kay
Alan Kay in uniform, 1943.Alan Kay
Alan Kay in Vancouver, British Columbia, 2009.Alan Kay
"He said, “Good Gad, that’s not the way to fight a war, that’s not cricket at all, not at all”. You know. And he said 100,000 people had been killed in one fell swoop."
Well, the name’s Alan Kay. I served during the, World War II with the Indian Army in Burma, in the Burma campaign. I was commissioned in England, in the Royal Engineers, British Army Royal Engineers. And then I was posted, sent out to the join the Royal Indian Army Engineers, which was at that time commanded by the British Army. I arrived in Bombay [Mumbai] about the end of 1943, beginning of 1944 and landed in Bombay. And then we were transported to the regimental headquarters in northern India, a place called Roorkee, where during the early part of my stay there, I had an accident on a horse because the officers had to ride horses to parade. I was late for parade, pushed the horse and the horse tripped and I came off and broke my spine.
I was in hospital for three or four months and I finally landed in Poona [Pune], a place called Poona near Bombay in the main army hospital. After I got out of the plaster cast, we, as usual, we contracted all sorts of other diseases and one of them was hepatitis. And I was in hospital with hepatitis and at that particular time, I remember one of my most embarrassing moments. We were in the ward and we were told that Lady Mountbatten was going to visit with us. She was at that time the commissioner in charge of the Red Cross. Just before she was due to come into the ward, I needed to, I needed a bottle, if you know what that means. I called the attendant for a bottle and he said, no, he said, the matron will kill me if I bring you this. I said, I will kill you if you don’t bring it. So he brought the bottle and just as I was settling down nicely to relieve myself, Lady Mountbatten appeared at the foot of my bed and asked me in very nice terms, how am I and where have I been. Just for a few minutes. And while we were talking, of course, things were going on that never, we shouldn’t talk about. And she moved on and after my face had cleared from being very very red. That was a bit interesting experience.
When I first got to Burma, we had a ship from Calcutta to Rangoon and we were one of the first ships into Rangoon after Rangoon had been taken by the British Army. Then we went up north to a town not too far from Mandalay, just south of Mandalay and it was just after the Meiktila campaign when - that was a last main campaign, so I was lucky that I didn’t see the real worse part, but it was an interesting part.
And then we were in a place called Waw, W-A-W, that’s just about 50 miles south of Mandalay on the main road between Mandalay and Rangoon. And also we had there a railhead, for the railway that was, it ends at that particular town but we, then we moved out to the front which was about 10 miles east of this little village. And we had to build a pontoon railway bridge. It was the first ever, as far as I know, it was the only railway bridge that we, it was a meter gauge railway. And we, the, we, instead of using the locomotives because we couldn’t find any that worked, they converted Jeeps into locomotives. In other words, very simply, they took the wheels off the Jeeps and put rail wheels on. And those Jeeps would pull the whole train of supplies to the front. So we were able to supply the front on, by rail.
Our job as engineers, we had to build flash-spotting towers. These were towers that, so the artillery survey people could go up and spot the flashes of the gunfire from the Japanese. And I remember one incident where we had to build a, a flash-spotting platform on the top of a pagoda. Pagodas in Burma were masonry pagodas. This was about 30, 40, 50 feet off the ground. And there we were, with nothing but paddy field in front of us. And the Japanese shells coming across and fortunately for me, because we were stuck up on this pagoda, we were stuck up like a, you know, you could see it from miles around. Fortunately for me, the Japanese were very very inaccurate gunners and they were putting shells all around us but never on their own target, fortunately. And then about, oh, a few weeks after we were doing this work, the war finished.
One incident, I was in Rangoon trying to pick up timber and material for these towers and I was in one of the officers’ mess and there was an old colonel there and we just heard the news about the atom bomb falling on Nagasaki [August 9,1945]. And this old guy always reminded me of, always, when I think back to colonel, the famous Colonel Blimp [a British cartoon character], he said, “Good Gad, he said, that’s not the way to fight a war, that’s not cricket at all, not at all”. You know. And he said 100,000 people had been killed in one fell swoop. So that was a little memory that I have of some people, even our own side didn’t really like the idea of that kind of warfare.
We stopped work because we’d heard that the, the war was over but it was at least a week or more, ten days after the official surrender that the Japanese [Twenty-Eighth] Army was on the other side of the Salween River, about two miles from our position [at Paung]. We were looking out at the paddy fields and one of the, the officers of this, from the artillery came around to me and he said, come on and have a look, there’s a little group with a white flag. So the little group of officers and men - about six or seven of them, I think there was just a major or a captain in charge of them -came up to surrender. He had salt all ready to go and it was an interesting point because that was the first surrender in Burma.
And the officer in charge at that time had to phone back to the brigadier. And he rushed the brigadier up and he [the brigadier] looked at these guys - this brigadier was really a, oh, God, his name now, Smeeton, Brigadier [Miles] Smeeton - and he looked at these people and he said, are you a general, you’re only a major or captain I can’t remember the exact words that were said, I am not talking to you, go back and bring your general. And the following day, [October 29, 1945] the [Japanese] general came out and we were there and a little bit of a ceremony went on but this Brigadier Smeeton was a huge guy. He was six-foot-four and you could imagine him towering over this five-foot-nothing [Japanese] captain and scaring the daylights out of him I guess, when he went back with a tail between their legs back to their lines and eventually had to bring out their general.
Interview courtesy of Catherine Clement, 2009.