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Auction: 3016 - Orders, Medals, Decorations & Militaria
Lot: 584

A 'Retreat from Burma' Group of Ten to Major D.N. Simonds, 33rd Duke of Wellington's Regiment.
1939-45 Star; Burma Star; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; Defence and War Medals; Korea 1950-53 (Major. D.N. Simonds. D.W.R.); United Nations Korea medal, with clasp; General Service, E.II.R., one clasp, Malaya (Major. D.N. Simonds. D.W.R); Coronation 1953, good very fine or better (10)

Major Denis Napier Simonds born 1919; joined the Duke of Wellington's Regiment July 1939; Temporary Captain from May 1941; Company Commander 2nd Battalion, D.W.R in retreat from Burma.

Following out-post duty on the night of 22-23.2.1942, Simonds brought 'B' Company of the 2nd Dukes into the Battalion area at 07 15 hours, as ordered, only to find the rendezvous abandoned. Without a single map and in severe danger of being overtaken by the Japanese advance, he spent two hours trying unsuccessfully to establish contact with Battalion H.Q. before deciding to retire in the direction of the Sittang Bridge, keeping to the railway line on the edge of the jungle for direction. Firing was going on all around but 'B' Company managed to march on unmolested for five hours. Nearing a village, Simonds called a halt to consume emergency rations, and on emerging from the village, across an open paddy field, saw a large body of troops advancing along the railway line in single file. Assuming that these were friendly troops trying to cross the river, the Company continued its march for about one and a half hours on a parallel route, until Simonds, approaching to within 300 yards to cross a stream, became suspicious. He sent out a small patrol to identify the troops on the railway, and quickly discovered that they were Japanese, about 1,000 strong. Realising that withdrawal by the bridge was now out of the question, Simonds decided to march due East, to get out of the battle area, and then due North in the hope of striking the river north of the Sittang Bridge.
It was now late afternoon and the Company marched away from the river on a compass bearing for three hours before turning north. The heat was terrific, the country thick jungle, and by midnight the men had marched almost continuously for 15 hours. By this time they were in a state of exhaustion and a halt was called for five hours. In the early hours of the next morning, the 24th, the Company's rest was interrupted by a massive explosion, which, unbeknown to them, was the controversial blowing of the Sittang Bridge.
By 05.45 hours Simonds had the Company on the march again, still hoping to strike the river and then follow it south to see whether a bridgehead was still being held by British troops. At noon he reached high ground overlooking the river and was dismayed to see the bridge destroyed. A halt was called for an hour whilst he pondered what to do next, painfully aware that the men were 'very tired and had now been without food for 24 hours.' Fortunately at this point a Burmese guide appeared and informed Simonds of a ferry ten miles upstream. The Company set off again, though making just one and a half miles per hour, and frequently coming under air attack from Japanese dive-bombers. At the ferry Simonds found a further 250 men mostly Gurkhas, waiting to get across, and these were sent over in parties, whilst Simonds and 'B' Company formed a local bridgehead. At 01 00 hours on the 25th the last party of the Dukes reached the west bank, whereupon Simonds decided to start marching toward the town of Waw, fearing intense aerial activity in the vicinity of the ferry at dawn. In the early hours of the morning Simonds fortunately found a working telephone and called Pegu for transport which to the men's great relief met them when they were still some 12 miles from their destination.
Withdrawn to India, Simonds remained with the 2nd Dukes, and in late 1943 underwent Chindit training with the Battalion as part of the 23rd Brigade. However, with the grave threat posed by the Japanese all out attack on India in early 1944, plans to fly 23 Brigade in to central Burma had to be abandoned and 2/D.W.R. was rushed instead to the strategic flank at Mariani with the task of severing Japanese lines of communication. In accordance with Chindit practice the Battalion was organised into two columns, numbered the 33rd and 76th (after D.W.R.'s old numbers in the British line), of about 400 men each, and divided into Column Headquarters, one Rifle Company, and three Independent Platoons. Simonds commanded the 76th Rifle Company, and set out with the Column on 10th April. In early May during operations in the vicinity of the Snakepit, he was present with three Platoons on a most hazardous expedition led by the Battalion C.O. to Pfesachaduma, where a temporary base was established, but as soon as this party made their presence felt, the Japanese took swift action. A party of about 60, guided by a disloyal Burman, moved from Kekrima to Pfesachaduma and attacked the Colonel's base at dawn the next day. 'The most bitter fighting ensued, the Japanese attacking with the bayonet, screaming and yelling their heads off. All these attacks were driven back with losses. At times they succeeded in overrunning a post, but an immediate counter-attack restored the situation. Fighting continued all day and our losses continued to mount.'
Operations of the 33rd and 76th Columns continued until mid-July 1944 when enemy resistance in the Imphal area came to an end. A week or so later Simonds returned to India with 2/D.W.R. depleted by battle casualties and a sickness rate of nearly 50 per cent.
He became Major in July 1952.

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