The Burma Campaign

Reserve Battalion, Burma Frontier Force

The Reserve Battalion, Burma Frontier Force came into being following the separation of Burma from India in 1937.  Prior to this there had been a battalion of the same title with the Burma Military Police from 1892.  The Battalion Headquarters were at Pyawbwe.[1] 

In 1939 the Battalion was organised with a Headquarters Company, a Training Company, eight Rifle Companies and four Mounted Infantry Troops.  Companies consisted of three platoons and a Company Headquarters Platoon but automatic weapons were restricted to one Lewis gun per company and there were no mortars in the Force.[2]  It was commanded by Lt. Colonel H.F.E. Childers up until his death on 27th September 1941.[3]

As its name implies, the Reserve Battalion was intended to act as a reserve to the Burma Frontier Force.  In July 1940 the battalion provided men to form two companies of Gurkhas of the mobile detachment, F.F.1, Burma Frontier Force which was being raised at Kutkai.[4]  Upon separation the Reserve Battalion took over the former Burma Military Police posts of Shwegyin, Toungoo, Pyapon, Meiktila, Myingyan and Kyaukse.  However it was subsequently decided that the Reserve Battalion should not have responsibility for any outpost and on 16th January 1940 sanction was given to hand these posts back to the Burma Military Police.[5]

The Battalion also embraced the B.F.F. Signals, the B.F.F. Equitation School and Remount Depot, the Government Stud Farm and later the B.F.F. Motor Transport Unit.[6]

Burma Frontier Force Signals Unit

At the outbreak of war the B.F.F. Signals was designed to provide wireless communication between certain battalion headquarters and their outposts, and between Headquarters, Burma Frontier Force and certain battalion headquarters.  In addition, there was a pool of wireless detachments for the use of civil touring officers and their escorts.  The Commanding Officer of the Burma Frontier Force Wireless Group was Major M.C. Bennett.[7]

From the outbreak of war in 1939 up to the time of the retreat, the Burma Signals Unit was confronted with an ever increasing demand for sets and personnel, a demand which they were seldom able to fulfil completely.  Communication in all F.F.s was by wireless, each F.F. requiring an average of four to five sets.  As Frontier Force sets were required to operate over long distances, standard Army sets were unsuitable and all Frontier Force sets had to be either purchased in the open market or constructed by the Burma Frontier Force Signals from components purchased in the open market.  As the war progressed, this source of supply became more and more unsatisfactory and was at the point of breaking down just prior to the evacuation.  Early in April 1942 it was agreed to hand over the Signals Unit complete to the Army, as by that time it was no longer functioning as a Frontier Force unit, but was employed to a very large extent under the orders of Army Headquarters.  This arrangement again, owing to the course of events, did not materialise.[8]  At the beginning of May, the Signals Unit withdrew to Myitkyina and left for India a few days later when the town was evacuated.[9]

Burma Frontier Force Motor Transport Unit.

In September 1939 it was decided to reduce the Mounted Infantry of the Reserve Battalion by three troops, and to introduce sufficient motor transport to mechanise three platoons for use on internal security duties in Central and Lower Burma.  This was the beginning of the Motor Transport Unit of the Force.  It started with a total of 13 vehicles and a strength of approximately 50 all ranks, and by the end of the Burma campaign had an establishment of approximately 350 vehicles and 700 all ranks.  However only a small proportion of these vehicles were supplied, and war units never received their authorised number.[10] [11]

At the time of the outbreak of war with Japan, B.F.F. outposts had been reduced to a minimum and Battalions were little more than Training Centres containing recruits, and long service men unfit for active duty.[12]  At the end of 1941 the Reserve Battalion had few reserves and was mainly engaged in training lorry drivers for the Army.[13]  The shortage of reserves is illustrated by an example from late December when, following extensive patrolling activity, the mobile detachment F.F.3 called for replacements from the Reserve Battalion at Pyawbwe.  The detachment was informed that none were available nor were any likely to become so in the near future.[14]  When the mobile detachment F.F.7 was formed in January 1942 its officers were able to obtain some equipment for the new detachment from the Reserve Battalion at Pyawbwe.[15]  In late January, the largely demoralised personnel of F.F.2 were in Rangoon, having been evacuated from Tenasserim following the Japanese capture of Tavoy and Moulmein and the death of the detachment commander, Major Love.  The detachment was reconstituted with most of the men being replaced by fresher men from the Reserve Battalion at Pyawbwe.[16]

In March 1942 orders were received for the Reserve Battalion and all Burma Frontier Force units stationed at Pyawbwe to evacuate the town at very short notice, as it was required immediately for the use of the Chinese Army.  Within a few days Headquarters, Burma Frontier Force, which had moved to Pyawbwe on 1st February, split into two.  The Advanced Headquarters under the Inspector-General, who was also acting as the Commander Central Sub Area, went to Yenangyaung.  The Rear Headquarters under the Staff Officer, Burma Frontier Force, went to Myitkyina.  The Reserve Battalion and Remount Depot were moved to Shwebo and the Government Stud Farm dispersed among certain Battalions in Upper Burma.[17]  At Shwebo, the Battalion found guards and escorts for a variety of line of communication duties.[18]

As the withdrawal in Burma continued, Frontier Force units gradually evacuated their stations.  War Units, operating with the Army, withdrawing under the orders of their respective Formations, and Battalions mainly by the northern evacuation routes.  The Reserve Battalion, under its Commanding Officer, left for India in April 1942 via the Tamu route.[19]  Many of the guard and security detachments could not be contacted when the Battalion marched out to India in April.  However most of them made their way by a variety of routes under the command of their own NCOs.[20]

On reaching India, the men were sent on in drafts from the immediate border area to Hoshiarpur in the Punjab which had been nominated as the centre for the collection and reorganisation of the Burma Army.  On arrival at Hoshiarpur, along with others of the Burma Frontier Force and Burma Military Police, the men were registered, given advances of pay, replacement clothing and sent to their homes on war leave.  On return from leave, the men were sorted out and medically graded.  Those found suitable for further service were eventually drafted to Battalions of the Burma Regiment which was formed from Burma Frontier Force and Burma Military Police personnel on 1st October 1942.  Initially six infantry battalions were raised, with a mounted infantry and a training battalion also planned, all organised into two administrative brigades.[21]  The 4th Battalion, The Burma Regiment was formed largely from men of the Reserve Battalion.[22]

14 November 2017


[1] "The Lineages and Composition of Gurkha Regiments in British Service", J.L. Chapple, 1984

[2]Burma Frontier Force … 1939-1942”, by Lt. Col H.M. Day, WO 203/5694

[3] Hugh Francis Eardley Childers, born in London, 17th July 1886.  Educated at Haileybury School, February 1900 to March 1903.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt. to the Unattached List, 5th August 1905.  Appointed to the Indian Army, attached to the 32nd Lancers, 6th December 1906.  Appointed Personal Assistant to the Resident in Kashmir, 1909.  Seconded to the Burma Military Police, 1910.  Married Gladys Mary Porter, 1911.  Assistant Commandant, the Southern Shan States Battalion, Burma Military Police, Loimwe in 1912.  Promoted to Captain, 5th August 1914.  Rejoined the 32nd Lancers in Mesopotamia, 25th May 1917.  Served Iraq, 25th May 1917 to 16th September 1917.  Seconded to the Burma Military Police, 16th November 1919.  Promoted to Major, 5th August 1920.  As Major, attached to the 32nd Lancers, serving with the Burma Military Police, 1921.  Transferred to the Supernumeray List, 16th November 1929.  Awarded the Indian General service Medal with Clasp for having served Burma (Saya San Rebellion), 1930-32.  Commandant, Burma Military Police, Pyawbwe, 1933.  Awarded the C.I.E. (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire), gazetted, 3rd June 1933.  Promoted to Lt. Colonel, 20th January 1935.  Commandant, the Reserve Battalion, Burma Military Police, Pyawbwe, April 1937 to 27th September 1941.  Awarded the King's Police Medal for Distinguished Service, gazetted, 6th January 1939.  Retired, 17th July 1941.  Died, "murdered by an unknown assailant", 27th September 1941 (“War Services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian Army 1941”, Savannah (2004); British Army List; Lives of the First World War; India Office List 1933; Indian Army List; Indian Army List 1912;Indian Army List 1921; London Gazette).

[4] F.F.1’s Part in the Burma Campaign by Lt. Col. W.R.V. Russell M.C.”, WO 203/5699.

[5] “Burma Frontier Force”, WO 106/3673

[6] WO 203/5694

[7] Maurice Chesterton Bennett, born, 5th January 1896.  Served France & Belgium (wounded), 9th March 1915 to 22nd September 1916.  Served in ranks, Mobilised Territorial Force, 2 years, 270 days, to 29th May 1917.  Mobilised Territorial Force, The London Regiment, 274 days, to 27th February 1918.  Transferred to the Indian Army as 2nd Lt., 28th February 1918.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 28th February 1919.  Mentioned in Despatches, gazetted, 5th June 1919.  Attached to the 66th Punjabis, 1921.  Promoted to Captain, 13th February 1923.  Served as Captain in the Hereford Regiment, Territorial Army, from the Active List, 9th May 1923.  Served with the Royal Signals, 23rd October 1926 to 25th January 1929.  Transferred to the Royal Signals, 26th January 1929, with seniority from 13th February 1923.  On the Special Employed List, seconded to the Burma Defence Force, served as Inspector of Wireless, Burma Military Police, from 12th February 1936.  Assistant Commandant and Inspector of Wireless, Reserve Battalion, Burma Frontier Force at Pyawbwe, 1938 to 1942.  Promoted to Major, 1st August 1938.  Awarded C.B.E., gazetted, 1st January 1941.  As Major (40482) placed on the half pay list on account of disability, granted honorary rank of Lt. Colonel, 9th February 1945 (British Army List; Indian Army List; Indian Army List 1921; London Gazette)

[8] WO 203/5694

[9]Report on the B.F.F. 1939-1942” By Brig J.F. Bowerman, WO 203/5692

[10] WO 203/5694

[11] Serving with the Reserve battalion M.T. Unit was George Forbes Kinnear born, 21st April 1914.  Joined Steel Brothers in 1932 and sent to Burma, 1935.  Served as a member of the Armoured Car Section, Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force, 1938? to 6th September 1939.  Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant and served with the Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force, 6th September 1939 to 1st September 1941.  Called up for military training, attended a course with the Indian Army Service Corps, July 1941.  Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, ABRO (ABRO 206), 1st September 1941.  Served as Mechanical Transport Officer, Commanding Officer of the Mechanical Transport Unit, Reserve Battalion, Burma Frontier Force at Pyawbwe, late 1941 to June 1942.  War substantive Lieutenant, temporary Captain from early 1942?  War substantive Captain, temporary Major from 4th April 1942.  Served with the 4th Battalion, The Burma Regiment, 1st October 1942.  As war substantive Captain, temporary Major, flew into Burma with the 4th Battalion, The Burma Regiment, landing at Putao (Fort Herz), November 1943.  Evacuated sick (typhus and malaria) to Assam, then Calcutta, May 1944?  Returned to the United Kingdom, 1945.  Returned to Burma, worked in the Civil Affairs Service (Burma), before discharge from the Army, 1946.  Lived and worked in Burma, 1946? to 1961?  Worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, appointed Consul for the Kingdom of Nepal, residing at Kathmandu, 2nd November 1964.  Awarded O.B.E., 13th June 1970.  Died, 22nd July 2005 (Burma Army List 1940, 1943; Burma Defence Services List 1941; British Nepal Society Journal; London Gazette; War diary 4th Burma Regiment, WO 172/2656).

[12] WO 203/5694

[13] WO 203/5692

[14] "Burma Frontier Force, Short History of F.F.3" by Major J.H. Turner, WO 203/5702

[15] "Distinctly I Remember", H. Braund, Wren (1972)

[16] "Notes on the Burma Frontier Force" by Major D. Mostert, WO 203/5700

[17] WO 203/5694

[18] WO 203/5692

[19] WO 203/5694

[20] WO 203/5692

[21] IOR L/WS/1/1313

[22] Private Papers of Lt. Col. I.C.G. Scott (IWM)