178 Field Regiment Royal Artillery

Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by Katie2206, Aug 18, 2020.

  1. Katie2206

    Katie2206 New Member

    I am hoping someone may be able to help me in my research that I'm doing for my dad regarding his uncle who served in The Burma Campaign. His name was Gunner John Thomas Bell 946258. I have found out some info on this forum - being able to find out about the regiment, where it was during the time and have now applied for his military records hoping it may shed some light. I think he may have been in battery 366 or 516 from the info I have read but am not entirely sure of this. All we know as a family is that he served in the campaign and when the troops left from Botavia on 11 Dec 1945 he was in the lead vehicle leaving and was killed by a sniper. He was 27. His grave is in the war cemetery in Jakarta for which I have pictures. He had medals which my dad did have in his possession however sadly another family member took them and sold them many years ago and my dad now can't remember exactly what they were. My dad recalls he was never really spoke of within the family over the years but he would love to know more info about him, medals, articles, anything. We have one picture of him and a few snippets of info, copy of letter of condolence but I'm hoping I can unfold some more info. Sorry for the long post, many thanks.

    Casualty Details | CWGC
  2. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad

    Last edited: Aug 18, 2020
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  3. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member


    This book is worth picking up (available from Amazon): The Forgotten Army: A Burma Soldier's Story in Letters, Photographs and Sketches by James Fenton

    James Fenton was with 366 Battery, 178 Field Regiment. Between 1943 and 1945 they were part of 36th Infantry Division, primarily supporting 72nd Infantry Brigade. The picture on the front of the book is of a 3.7-inch howitzer of 366 Battery in action near Mawlu in North Burma in November 1944. Here's the full image:


    I don't have any info on them after they left Burma in May 1945, but here's their war diary for February 1945, when they were fighting at Myitson during 36 Division's heavily-opposed crossing of the Shweli River. They were referred to as 178 Assault Field Regiment at this point. Figures in the right column show how many shells they fired each day of the battle: 3.7-inch howitzers for 366 Battery, 25-pounder guns for the other two batteries:

    Image00002.jpg Image00003.jpg Image00004.jpg Image00005.jpg

    When his service records eventually arrive, if you post pictures of them on here someone will be able to help you to interpret all the scribbles and abbreviations to work out more of his story. My grandfather was with 36 Division's other artillery regiment (130 Field Regt.) right through their campaigns in Burma, so I've got a fair bit of research I can share with you if it turns out that your relative was with the Division at the same time.
  4. Katie2206

    Katie2206 New Member

  5. Katie2206

    Katie2206 New Member

    Thank you so much for this. Hopefully his records won't take long to come back but I did read there is a waiting list. He does have a sister who is still alive (104 this year!) but info can be confusing as she gets a bit muddled speaking of all her siblings. I've signed up to a couple of sites to find military records/ any info also.
  6. John West

    John West Active Member

    I think 366 Battery of 178 Field Regiment started out as 366 Battery of the 140 (5th London) Regiment RA. I've posted some of that early history here: 140th (5th London) Army Field Regiment, Royal Artillery – Their story between the 10th and 31st May 1940 in 'Regiment re-forms 1940-44'. Might be of interest if Gunner Bell joined earlier in the war...
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  7. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Hi John, I recently turned up a little snippet of information that ties into your research. 'Boots' - mentioned all those times in Grand Party and awarded the MC with 366 Battery at Dunkirk - was wounded in action south of Mawlu, North Burma in November 1944.

    366 had ended up as one of 36 Infantry Division's 'light' batteries with 3.7-inch howitzers. The other was 494 Battery of 130 Field Regiment. They had both been flown into action while the other batteries of 178 & 130 (with heavier 25-pounders) were stuck in Assam awaiting the opening of the Ledo Road. Boots had taken temporary command of 494 Battery when he was injured.

    This is from 130 Assault Field Regiment's war diary for November 1944, with Boots mentioned by name:


    From 494 Battery's diary:

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  8. John West

    John West Active Member

    Oh fantastic find! Once again many thanks... You may have seen Major Crichton-Brown's biography on the website, 2nd Lieutenant Robert Crichton-Brown – 140th (5th London) Army Field Regiment, Royal Artillery but I'd very much like to add this new information about his service in Burma, with your permission once again! Amazing to think that an Australian war hero was paid back for his service 1940-45 by being vilified by the then Prime Minster (in the 1990's) for what was considered to be excessive city boardroom pay!
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  9. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Absolutely, let me know if you want the full diary pages and I'll send them over, though that's the only mention he gets by name.

    I was inspired to find a copy of Grand Party by your work on the website, as my grandfather was originally with the 139th (4th London) and they trained alongside the 140th in Gloucestershire before going to France. Got very lucky and picked a copy up - it's a great read, but the name Crichton-Brown seemed familiar from somewhere in my own research.

    My grandfather got transferred to 494 Battery, 130 Field after Dunkirk, so nearly five years and a long series of coincidences later he ended up in exactly the same spot as 'Boots' once again, this time on the other side of the planet!
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  10. John West

    John West Active Member

    Off topic but just spotted some fabulous images of 139 Rgt gun tractors in BEF Vehicles, JCB is the poster. Cheers John
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  11. TijgerB

    TijgerB Member

    Hello Kathie
    Spend the holiday searching for the little piece to your pussle :D Nothing on the wardiary which I am sure you found out. BUT just checked WO 172/7073 HQ 1 Indian Brigade:D

    11-12-1945 "1 BOR 178 Fd. Regt. killed at level crossing S. of Batavia by shot from train." In plain English "1 British other rank 178 Field Regiment killed at level crossing South of Batavia by shot from train."
    Since the 178 only had one casualty that day it can only be him.

    I have been to the cemetary and though today it is inside noisy Jakarta it is a peacefull place to go.

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  12. Katie2206

    Katie2206 New Member

    Thank you so much for that. We knew he was killed by a sniper but to now know the circumstances around it is good information to have. We still haven't received his war records back, I believe there is a long delay but we find little bits of info out from time to time. Some family members visited Jakarta cemetery a few years ago and we have photos of Jack's grave. It does look a peaceful resting place. I would have loved to taken my father there but at 83 and very little vision it's just not possible. Thank you again.
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