A veteran of the Second World War’s brutal Burma campaign has recalled how he survived tropical diseases, injury and jungle warfare 75 years on from the end of the conflict.
John Hutchin, 96, joined the Chindits, a special fighting force tasked with disrupting Japanese communications and supply lines during the war in the Far East, aged 20.
The Chindits units drew their name from a mythical Burmese lion that appeared on their badge.
Dropped 200 miles behind enemy lines in 1944, he and his comrades faced “impossible” conditions, including monsoon rains and limited food supplies.
“There was a saying going around that every Chindit will go to heaven because he’d been to hell. It’s impossible to describe,” Mr Hutchin said ahead of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Japan (VJ) Day.
Originally from Wales, and now living in Kent with his wife Ann, Mr Hutchin is among the few surviving veterans left able to observe commemorations on Saturday.
Remembering the fighting in Burma, now Myanmar, Mr Hutchin told the PA news agency: “It never, ever stopped raining like stair rods.
“At night, you slept where you fell. No ground sheets, no bedding.
“We all had malaria, not at the beginning, but at the end I had heavy dysentery.”
While under mortar fire, Mr Hutchin was hit by shrapnel as he sat on the edge of a trench.
“The guy sitting next to me from Newport, he took a bellyful of shrapnel,” he said.
“And as we were sitting on the edge of the trench, with our feet over the trench, his stomach fell out, and I got it in my neck on the left hand side.”
Mr Hutchin’s wound was bound up, and his colleagues even took maggots from under mules’ saddles to prevent the injury becoming infected.
But the extent of his injury meant he was left on a roadside in Burma with nothing but a few days’ rations, a gun and a few bullets.
Malnourished – he had lost nearly three stone during the campaign – he eventually marched for four days and nights alone through the jungle to safety.
“Before we went in, you had to have some understanding of what you were doing. We knew the hardships. We knew the loads we had to carry, which were enormous,” he said.
“You can’t jeopardise the focus of the column to the objective by dealing with one man.
“So you knew that was the position. It’s not horrendous the day you’re left. The fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth day, when you’re on your own, that’s when you start getting a bit hazy.”
Mr Hutchin, originally a private in the South Staffordshire Regiment, thinks he was in Indonesia when VJ Day arrived on August 15 1945, and remembered being left “horrified” by the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan a few days before.
“I would have fought another four years in the conditions I was in if they hadn’t landed that bomb, which has altered the whole of our lives for the rest of generations ahead of us,” he said.
He recalled the Japanese had “collapsed” at news of the explosions.
“Did they want to see any more Nagasakis or Hiroshimas? That ended the war and it was unnecessary because we were winning,” he said.
After Burma, he served in Indonesia supporting the Foreign Office and in Germany, helping to ferry prisoners of war for trial at Nuremberg.
This year’s memorial events have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, but Mr Hutchin said he is still driven by a “duty” to remember his fallen comrades.
“I have a wife, I have two marvellous sons, I’ve grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and of course that means more to me than anything, but nothing will mar my life more than that period in Burma,” he said.
“I was told, I was instructed, by those lying out there now – we left more out there than we brought home – and they said to us, when you go home, please tell them of us.”
Mr Hutchin’s memories are among those being collated by the armed forces charity Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI).
The RBLI is running its “Tommy in the window” campaign, encouraging the public to purchase a specially designed image of a Second World War soldier in their windows to help mark VJ Day.
The campaign has raised more than £1 million since it was launched for VE Day earlier this year, with figures available via: www.rbli.co.uk/vjday.