The Burma Campaign

F.F.8, Burma Frontier Force

F.F.8 may have been formed as early as February or March 1942 for it is listed as being attached to the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade on 19th March 1942 by the British Official History.[1]  At this time the brigade was undertaking a withdrawal to Toungoo as part of the 1st Burma Division’s preparations for the transfer to the Irrawaddy front.  It seems F.F.8 was probably reformed or reorganised at Yenangyaung in late March and early April 1942.[2]  Yenangyaung had recently become the Advanced Headquarters of the Inspector General of the Burma Frontier Force, having been relocated there from Pyawbwe in February, the Rear Headquarters moving to Myitkyina.  At Yenangyaung the Inspector General, Brigadier Roughton, combined these duties with that of the Commander, Central Area, responsible for maintaining and protecting the lines of communication.  Yenangyaung was also home to a number of B.F.F. reinforcements.  F.F.8 was formed from men of the Southern Shan States Battalion and the first commanding officer was Captain (acting or temporary Major) G.J.K. Stapleton.[3] [4]

On 6th April, the 1st Burma Corps (Burcorps) allocated F.F.8 to the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade upon the unit's arrival from Central Area (Yenangyaung).  This was confirmed on 9th April Burcorps issued orders to the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade for the defence of the West bank of the Irrawaddy, the brigade now being under direct command of the Corps headquarters.  Placing F.F.8 under the command of the brigade, Burcorps reported that F.F.8 had columns (plural) at Minbu and one column at Magwe, all with orders to join 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade at Minhla.[5]  The 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade assigned F.F.8 to operate with the 8th Battalion, The Burma Rifles.  F.F.8 was expected to arrive in the area of the battalion on 11th April.  On arrival it was to come under the command of the 8th Burma Rifles and whilst it was understood to consist of two columns only one column arrived this day.[6]

On 12th April, the 8th Battalion, The Burma Rifles was at Lehla, around 30 miles from Minbu.  The battalion's "B" Company, under Captain Rannard, and a detachment of two platoons of F.F.8 were sent to Yenanma.  The two F.F.8 platoons did not join up with Captain Rannard's company at Yenanma until after Rannard's arrival there later on 12th April.  The next day the platoons conducted separate patrols out from Yenanma, returning two days later with no sighting of the enemy.  F.F.8 patrols were sent out again the next day and whilst they were out "B" Company received a message by heliograph to rejoin the battalion at Minbu.  The company and its transport set off and were rejoined by the F.F.8 patrols at Kunbya by the evening of 16th April.  After a tiring and very hot march "B" Company and the F.F.8 platoons rejoined the 8th Burma Rifles at Shauktaw, near Pyinbyu on 18th April.  The two platoons of F.F.8 were detached from "B" Company and sent to act as escort for the transport of the 2nd Burma Brigade.[7]

On the evening of 15th April, the 2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles noted receipt of a report from F.F.8 that the enemy had been contacted on the West flank of the brigade.[8]

As for the Minbu Column of F.F.8, back in early April, 2nd Lieutenant C.E. Seppings[9] was approached by Stapleton at Yenangyaung and invited to join F.F.8 as second in command.  Seppings crossed the Irrawaddy to join Stapleton at F.F.8 headquarters at Minbu.  Seppings commanded a Gurkha column, consisting of three platoons and around 120 men.  These men were well trained and well disciplined.  The column was supported by a mule section with twelve Kumaoni mule drivers.  Seppings notes there was also a Mounted Infantry platoon present however these soon disappeared (the M.I. were later reported to be under the direct command of the 2nd Burma Brigade).[10]

When the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade was to the South at Minhla (between 8th and 13th April), Stapleton decided to disperse the Minbu column in a number of outposts.  He took half of the column to Salin, about 18 miles to the North of Minbu.  From here he organised patrols to the West to the foothills of the Arakan Yomas.  No wireless was available so Seppings kept in communication by using the public telephone network from local police stations.[11]

News then came to Seppings that Stapleton had been wounded, shot in the leg, "in peculiar circumstances".  As Stapleton was being evacuated, Seppings was recalled, promoted to Lieutenant and given command of F.F.8.  On 16th April, hearing that the 2nd Infantry Brigade was now in the Minbu area, Seppings offered the services of his F.F.8 column to the Brigade Commander, Brigadier A.J.H. Burke.  Seppings' column then joined the brigade in the role of rear guard.  In this role the column followed on between twelve and twenty-four hours behind the 2nd Burma Brigade.[12]

On 17th April, elements of F.F.8 were covering the right flank of the brigade and conforming to the brigade's withdrawal.  Other elements, referred to as the "Minbu" detachment, were withdrawing along the route South-East of the brigade, as were detachments of the 8th Burma Rifles.  Orders were issued for F.F.8 to continue to confirm to the brigade's withdrawal, withdrawing its own detachments as necessary, whilst watching the right flank.[13]

The next day, F.F.8 (presumably a detachment ahead of the 2nd Burma Brigade) reported that it had been charged by a force of 200 elephants with guns mounted and that it had been fired on from a road block out in front of the brigade.  The brigade war diary records that the report was "not confirmed and probably a "send up".  On the evening of 22nd April, Seppings' F.F.8 column was ordered to remain at Seikpyu, to keep the route under observation and to send out patrols as there had been rumours that the Japanese were close behind.[14]

The withdrawal continued through Myitche and Pakokku.  At Kanhla, near Pakokku, on the evening of 28th April, Seppings' column observed men on horseback and elephants in the hills and jungle.  These turned out to be an advance element of a Japanese and Burma Defence Army detachment.  That night Seppings opened fire on a column of lorries and carts, causing one laden with petrol to explode and damaging others (the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade war diary lists the damage as "3 buses" destroyed and the setting fire of a bullock cart carrying petrol).[15]

Late on the evening of 29th April, the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade reached Pyin Chaung.  Seppings' F.F.8 column was eight miles to the South.  The next night, Seppings' and two of his men went on horseback ahead to conduct a reconnaissance.  On reaching a small village they were fired upon and one of Seppings' men fell immediately.  Seppings galloped out back the way he had come however his horse soon fell to the ground, having been wounded in a leg.  Seppings escaped on foot into the jungle.  Shortly afterwards the column arrived at the same village where it too was ambushed and the commanding Subedar was killed.  The men scattered.[16]  On 1st May a wounded Jemadar arrived at the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade Headquarters and reported the ambush.  Further stragglers came in to the 2nd Infantry Brigade later in the day and reported no further contact with the enemy.[17]

This action seems to have marked the end of F.F.8 maintaining any formally organised element and it is not mentioned again in the war diaries, other than a reference to the Mounted Infantry platoon mounting daily patrols to Tamu, beginning on 19th May (this is presumably the Mounted Infantry platoon mentioned by Seppings as having "disappeared".[18]

Seppings himself had evaded his pursuers and had gathered up around 25 of his men.  Now separated from the 2nd Burma Brigade, he made his own way across country via Pauk, Tilin and Gangaw to Kalewa on the West bank of the Chindwin.  Here Lt. Colonel Stevenson told Seppings that he was now under the direct command of Burcorps (the 1st Burma Corps).  Seppings now set out for India on the track through the Kabaw Valley, gathering stragglers en route.  At one point the 7th Hussars were encountered and Seppings' men helped them manhandle their sole surviving Stuart tank which the 7th Hussars were determined to get back to India.  On 7th May the monsoon broke and Seppings and his men reached Tamu before heading through Palel and  Lokchao.  Kohima was reached around 15th/16th May where the party rested for five days before setting off for the Dimapur Road railhead and on to Gauhati.  Here, on 25th May 1942, Seppings was sought out by Captain Christopher Lyall of the Kokine Battalion, Burma Frontier Force and told to join the 109th Indian Infantry Brigade.[19]

[Other officers serving with F.F.8 were Lieutenant J.R. Balharry[20] and 2nd Lieutenant G.H.C. Peters.[21]]

 22 November 2017

[1] Appendix 13, “Order of Battle of Burcorps on Formation, 19th March 1942”, “The War Against Japan, Vol. II”, Woodburn Kirby, S. HMSO (1958).

[2] Burma Frontier Force by Lt. Col G.G. Pryce”, WO 203/5697

[3] Seppings, Carlyle Edmund (Imperial War Museum interview, 1996), IWM Collections; WO 203/56997.

[4] Gregory Joseph Kenneth Stapleton, the son of Commander Gregory Stapleton, R.N., born Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1st September 1908.  Enrolled in the Royal Navy with the rank of Sub-Lieutenant, 15th January 1927.  As Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy, placed on the Retired List, 28th July 1933.  Commissioned from the Royal Navy to the Unattached List as 2nd Lt. (459 AI), 7th February 1936.  Appointed to the Indian Army as Lieutenant, attached the 1st Kumaon Rifles, 1st March 1936, with seniority from 18th June 1933.  Seconded to the Burma Frontier Force, 2nd July 1938.  Assistant Commandant, the Bhamo Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, 2nd July 1938 to 1940.  Promoted to Captain, 18th March 1939.  Acting Major from 18th March 1939.  On Special Duty in the Northern Shan States; Assistant Commandant the Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, 1940.  Served as Staff Captain, 1941.  (The Indian Army List describes Stapleton as Officer Commanding, No. 2 Animal Transport Company, Burma Army Service Corps, early 1942).  Commanding Officer of F.F.8 or at least a column of F.F.8, Burma Frontier Force in Minbu, where he was wounded, mid-April 1942.  Evacuated wounded, arrived at Myitkyina and helped hospitalised refugees following the Japanese bombing, 6th to 7th May 1942.  Took part in the retreat from Myitkyina, via the Hukawng Valley, May 1942.  Attached to the 1st Battalion, The Burma Regiment, October 1942? to June 1943?.  Awarded the King's Police Medal for Gallantry, gazetted, 1st January 1943.  Acting Major from 1st January 1943.  Temporary Major, 1st April 1943.  Attached to the General Staff, G.S.I. (k), 1st July 1943 to 26th December 1943.  Proposed for employment with Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), 15th July 1943.  Served with Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), July 1943? to 1946?.  Appointed as Assistant Commandant, the Crown Representative's Police, Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, India (the main depot and training centre for the C.R.P.), 23rd December 1943.  Married Margarita Chamberlayne, London, 10th November 1945.  Promoted to Major, 1st July 1946.  Served with the Crown Representative's Police (now Central Reserve Police Force), India, 1946? to 1948?.  As Major, British Army, Special List (ex-Indian Army), retired, 14th May 1948.  After retiring from the Indian Army lived in Kenya, 1948 to 1960ish.  Died in the United Kingdom, 1982 (ADM 196/150/460;; British Army List; Burma Army List October 1940; Burma Army List July 1941; HS 9/1406/1; Central Reserve Police Force - DEAD LINK; Indian Army List; Kenya Gazette; London Gazette; Personal Account).

[5] War Diary of the 1st Burma Corps, WO 172/403.

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

[7] War Diary of the 8th Burma Rifles, WO 172/980.

[8] War Diary of the 2nd Burma Rifles, WO 172/975.

[9] Carlyle Edmund Seppings born at Pegu, Burma, 30th June 1921.  Undertook "militia training", Maymyo, October 1941.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt., ABRO (ABRO 374), 9th February 1942.  Sent to the 9th (Reserve) Battalion, The Burma Rifles, 16th February 1942.  Attached to the 2nd/5th Gurkha Rifles, February 1942.  Liaison Officer to Chinese Military Mission, Lashio, March 1942.  Joined F.F.8, Burma Frontier Force as column commander at Minbu, April 1942.  Served with F.F.8, Burma Frontier Force, April 1942 to May 1942.  A detachment of F.F.8, including Lt. Seppings, was directly attached to the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade from 16th April 1942.  Promoted to war substantive Lieutenant, 1st October 1942.  Posted to the 3rd Battalion, The Burma Regiment, October 1942.  Served with Special Operations Executive, "with the Inter-Services Liaison Department as an undercover agent in Burma", 1942 to 1944.  Served with the Burma Police - involved in the CID investigation of the assassination of Aung San (Rangoon, July 1947) and surveillance of the nationalist politician U Saw, 1945 to 1951.  He later obtained a commission with the Royal Air Force Provost Branch, as Flying Officer (502022), short service (five years on the active list and four years on the reserve, 14th August 1951, with seniority from 22nd July 1950.  Appointed to a permanent commission as Flying Officer, RAF, 18th March 1953.  Died, 17th September 2005 (Bournemouth Daily Echo; Burma Army List; Burma Army List 1943; IWM Collections; Private Papers [Mss Eur K490 - IOR Pos 12033 – Mss Eur R135]; London Gazette; War Diary 2nd Burma Brigade, WO 172/548; War Diary of the 9th Burma Rifles, WO 172/981)

[10] Seppings Interview.

[11] Seppings Interview.

[12] Seppings Interview.

[13] WO 172/548.

[14] WO 172/548.

[15] Seppings Interview.

[16] Seppings Interview.

[17] WO 172/548.

[18] WO 172/548.

[19] Seppings Interview.

[20] John Ross Balharry born, 16th March 1907.  Attended Eastern Public School, Grove Academy and Dundee Technical College.  Worked as Office Manager, Consolidated Tin Mines, Tavoy, 1936-41.  Attended the Militia Company, Burma, 15th May 1941 to August 1941.  Emergency Commission to the General List from Cadet at O.C.T.U. as 2nd Lt. (217675), 26th October 1941.  Joined F.F.3, Burma Frontier Force, replacing Lt. McCann as Column Commander, No. 1 Column (Gurkhas) (at end or after October 1941 when commissioned and not in June 1941 as implied in WO 203/5702), October 1941.  As Lieutenant, transferred from F.F.3 to the Reserve Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, early April 1942.  Transferred to F.F.8, Burma Frontier Force, April 1942.  Promoted to war substantive Lieutenant, 25th June 1942.  Served with the 2nd Battalion, The Burma Regiment, 1942? to 1944?.  Promoted to temporary Captain, 1st August 1943.  Married Anne Lyall, 14th November 1943.  Served as Staff Captain, Burma Section, in India from 11th February 1944.  Wife, Anne (nee Lyall) gave birth to a child at Reardon's Nursing Home, Calcutta, 15th August 1944.  Served with Special Operations Executive, attached Force 136, as Staff Captain, Siam Country Section, from 1st February 1945 to 9th July 1945.  Moved to the X4(b) List, awaiting repatriation to the United Kingdom, 9th July 1945.  After the war returned to work for Consolidated Tin Mines of Burma as an accountant.  Travelled to Burma on board S.S. "Highland Princess", 30th August 1946 ("Burma Frontier Force" by Lt. Colonel G.G. Pryce, WO 203/5697 (Burma Frontier Force, WO 203/5697); “Short History of F.F.3” by Major J.H. Turner, WO 203/5702 (Short History of F.F.3, WO 203/5702); British Army List; Dundee Courier; FindMyPast; HS 9/80/6; London Gazette).

[21] Gerald Henry Croft Peters born, 23rd September 1917.  Appointed Burma Civil Service, Class 1, 26th August 1940, gazetted, 24th September 1940.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt., ABRO (ABRO 234), 26th October 1941.  Served with F.F.8, Burma Frontier Force, April-May 1942.  Temporary Captain from 19th June 1942.  Served as Special Officer under the Burma Defence Department, 1st September 1942.  Released from active service with effect from 1st September 1942 (Burma Army List 1943; Burma Civil List 1942; London Gazette; WO ("Burma Frontier Force" by Lt. Colonel G.G. Pryce, WO 203/5697 (F.F.8, Burma Frontier Force)).