Lieutenant Gordon Peace
This letter was written by Gordon Peace to Jim Herder after attending the 100th Anniversary Headmaster's Parade in 2005.
It was a pleasure meeting you a couple of weeks ago at the Headmaster’s Parade prior to the 100th anniversary of St. Andrew’s College Cadet Corps and the “50 year” luncheon.
My family came from England to North America in 1927 and was living in Connecticut when I was enrolled in St. Andrews in 1936 at the age of 14. In late 1938 my father was transferred back to England and I followed at the end of term in June 1939. My education continued at Berkhamstead School (built during the reign of Henry III).
Around my 19th birthday I volunteered for the Armoured Corps. Military service commenced at Tidworth, on the edge of the Salisbury Plain, a great place for tank training. While at Berkhamstead, as at St. Andrews, I was a part of the cadet corps and acquired my Certificate B qualification, which gave me and many others like me a fast track to qualifying as officer candidates. I joined the Indian Army and took my cadet training in India, an option which sounded interesting at that time.
The sea voyage was long. From the final port of call in Bombay, India, the journey’s last leg was by train to the Military Academy in Dehra Dun, in sight of the foothills of the Himalayas. There we received our infantry training and studied Urdu, the official military language. This was followed by a stint at the Armoured Vehicle Training Academy where we received our commissions. Shortly thereafter I joined my regiment, the Royal Deccan Horse, at their base in Secunderabad, Hyderabad. Once trained and ready for combat, the brigade comprising around 300 tanks plus support vehicles, moved out enroute to Assam and Burma. One stage involved travelling on river boats on the Brahmaputra River.
This brigade was part of the British/Indian counter-campaign to drive the Japanese out of Burma. Our initial role was to join a rather unique force composed of a company of elephants, a battalion of the King’s own West African Rifles, and field engineers. We moved secretly through the teak forests west of the Irrawaddy River in an outflanking maneuver. The teak forest also was rather unique in that there was virtually no underbrush; each tree being like a telephone pole with big-leafed branches approximately twenty feet above the very flat ground. The trees were so numerous and so close together that you needed a compass to walk twenty yards from camp and back.
Since there were neither roads nor trails in the forest (in fact, we were told that no Westerners had been that way before) it was necessary to construct a dirt road to accommodate our tank transporters and supply trucks. In the absence of road-building equipment, the engineers were to cut the trees down and the elephants used to place the trunks in the stream crossing points to form fords.
The Kings Own was the protection for the rest of us. They moved without vehicles; i.e., they moved their ammunition, supplies and mortars with head-carrying porters. The King’s Own soldiers were as a group the biggest men I’ve ever seen. The manoeuvre was successful and we were eventually able to cut the Japanese line of communication between Rangoon in the south and Mandalay in the north, where the main British/Indian force faced off against the main Japanese force. Later the main British/Indian force which we were now a part of fought its way down the central dry rice paddy plain, arriving in Rangoon just ahead of the monsoon and the dropping of the first atomic bomb.
This is a brief summary of how I spent the war years. Speaking from an entirely different aspect, the experience of working with and being exposed to a new and completely different culture was something I have always looked back on with pleasure. The interdependency of soldiers in war fosters trust, and when you are of a different race and religion as I was, understanding and accepting the differences and the similarities between yourself and the Hindus, Sikhs and Mohammedans with whom I served, changed significantly my way of thinking and how I saw the world. I could not have learned these things any other way.
I shall always value and remember these men and the experiences we shared. With the war over I returned to London and thereafter to work assignments in New York and Texas. In 1962 I was transferred to Toronto and with my family have been in Oakville since. A long circular route I would say.
Meeting with the “Old Boys” of S.A.C. and the subsequent parade were much enjoyed by my wife and me. Watching the band and cadets marching by has never failed to impress and move me deeply – not in the 1930’s and not now."