Memories of Stoke-on-Trent people - Ken Green


Ken Green


A Life in the Ceramic Tile Industry 
section 5

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The Military Situation in the Far East  

The opinion of most people was that the Japanese would fight on to the very end.  In reality, the Allies complete command of sea and air had isolated Japanese occupied territories.  The Japanese were being driven out, but at a tremendous cost.  Operation OLYMPIC was scheduled for 1st November 1945 and entailed landings in Kyushu (the south island of the Japanese homeland).  A very much larger attack on Honshu (the largest island of the Japanese homeland), Operation CORONET, was scheduled for March 1946.  These operations would have entailed five million men, most of them American.  Britain, Australia and Canada would have contributed token forces of one division each, plus the Royal Navy and some specialist air units.  The logistics of having to service unique foreign equipments was the main reason for the Commonwealth’s small contribution to Olympic and Coronet.  The use of atom bombs against Japan in August ’45 brought about her surrender.  What would have been the largest ever assembly of military might was no longer necessary.


The British situation was different.  Operation Zipper, to be launched from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and various parts of India, was planned for September 1945.  It was too far advanced to be cancelled and went ahead as an exercise but without naval or aerial bombardments.  It entailed landings on the West Coast of the Malay Peninsula north of Port Dickson and south of Port Swettenham (now Kelang).  General Robert’s XXX1V Indian Corps (5th, 23rd, 25th and 26th Indian Divisions, 3rd Commando Brigade and one Parachute Brigade of the British 6th Airborne Division, comprised a force of more than 100,000 men.  This force contained many North Staffordshire people 


It was met by local resistance fighters who were members of, or had been trained by, Force 136.  Some of these people had been taken by submarine from Japanese occupied Malaya and parachuted back after training and planning.  Various equipments had also been parachuted to them.  They were to sabotage communications and installations and attack Japanese positions at the time of our landings.  It is a tribute to Force 136 that no detail of these plans reached the enemy.  Malaya had been considered to be a place where the Japanese were most likely to resist, despite the surrender.  They did not.  Our units were soon inland to Seremban (to feature in my ceramic tile career 44 years later) and across the peninsula to the East Coast at Kuantan.  A few days, later Singapore was re-occupied. 


There was, however, a very big problem of reoccupation.  The force, which landed in Malaya, was originally intended to recapture and reoccupy Malaya and Singapore.  It was now required to also re-occupy vast areas of the Dutch East Indies as well as Hong Kong and other territories.  Our forces, in what was to become Indonesia, were at first welcomed.  The welcome did not last for long.  When it was realised that we intended to hand the territories back to the Dutch; our forces, which were mainly Indian, came under heavy attack.  Japanese units were returned to fighting status under British command and the situation was saved.

However, one thousand, three hundred and seventy seven casualties, mostly Indian, were suffered by our troops in Java during the immediate post-war months.  In contrast, those of us who soldiered in Malaya from 1945 to1948 found ourselves in a very pleasant country amidst friendly people.  We had little factual knowledge, only rumour, of the perils of our comrades in Java.

 Some of the people with North Staffordshire connections who took part in Operation Zipper (usually referred to as Operation NBU – nothing buttoned up) were:


Lt. Colonel Alfred Doulton CBE.  (Obituary in The Times dtd.21st August 1996) 

Alfred Doulton was a member of the Doulton potters family but his career was in teaching.  He wrote “The Fighting Cocks” in 1951, a history of the 23rd Indian Division which includes an excellent account of events following Zipper.


Lt. Colonel Paddy Doyle MC  (Obituary in The Times dtd.13th October 2000).  

Paddy Doyle settled in North Staffordshire after a lifetime with the Indian and later the British Army.  He edited the Mahrata Light Infantry Newsletter for many years.  I was pleased to be able to pass to him, for publication, photographs taken by me, in 1991, of Morib beach where the 1945 landings took place and of memorial stones erected by local people to commemorate the event.  Paddy Doyle had a very full war.  He was awarded his M.C. for conspicuous gallantry in 1940 at the battle of Karen, Abyssinia against Italian forces where he faced the last recorded horse mounted cavalry charge.  His brother was killed in that battle.  PD later served throughout the North African campaign and then in Burma.  Contrary to popular perception, he reckoned that his most formidable opponents were the Italian cavalry and the Javanese irregulars.


Captain Gerry Jones of the 26th Indian Division.  

Gerry Jones was a member of the family that ran J & G Meakin, tableware manufacturers of Bucknall.  Gerry was active in the Territorial Army following the war and, for a time, was a colleague at Richards Tiles.


Captain Douglas Schofield.  

Douglas was the son of a Stoke on Trent teacher and was one of the first pupils in 1929 of the newly formed Wolstanton Grammar School.  He became Secretary to W.H.Grindley, tableware manufacturers of Tunstall and, as such, was my industrial next door neighbour.  Douglas was well known in local cricketing circles and for his work with the Royal British Legion.  He also served as a governor of Wolstanton Grammar School until his death in 1998.


Hugh Vavasour.  

Hugh served as the officer interpreter aboard the French battleship, Richelieu, which “observed” the Zipper landings but had no other role.  (Zipper was an entirely British Commonwealth affair because, so it was said, it would help avenge the humiliation of the 1942 Japanese victory in Malaya and Singapore.)  Hugh’s family had resided in Caverswall for many generations and was French speaking.  Hugh became Sales Director of Blythe Colours of Blythe Bridge.  He later married a French lady (nee Beck) and I had dealings with her brother’s company located near to Dieppe.


There were, of course, many non-commissioned North Staffordshire men in the British units that took part in Zipper.  Army records have not yielded their names but I remember two.  One was Driver Posslethwaite REME of Sun Street, Shelton.  I had served in the Home Guard with his older brother, Claude.  The other was a member of the Pepper family of Lord Street, Etruria.  We recognised each other when he was delivering water from his tanker to our tented camp in Bukit Timah, Singapore.


I was posted as a “British officer attached” to a mobile workshop company of the Indian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (I.E.M.E.).  Most Indian units had territorial connections, as had been so in British units, but the I.E.M.E. units contained Indian craftsmen from all over the Indian sub-continent.  The common language was Urdu.  I was far from fluent but I could get by.  I was intrigued to discover words that I had thought were Potteries slang were from Urdu.  Char, dhobi, walla and pani were some of the more obvious but there were others I had heard before, only inside a pottery factory.  Examples are: “head sardar”(chief) / “trasha”(a simple footware operatives used at work / “pipa”(tub) / “rassi”(rope) and “chalni”(sieve).  I was much impressed by what I saw of the Indian Army during those two years before Independence in November 1947.  I found it professional, well disciplined and very hard working. As a captain, I was much better paid than I would have been back home, and basic pay was enhanced by eastern wartime allowances, which had not been discontinued.  Furthermore, what I was doing qualified as experience to achieve Chartered Engineer status.


We lived in very comfortable wooden-floored-tents more than tall enough to stand in.  We generated our own electricity and equipped ourselves with fans, refrigerators and other domestic items.  We employed a cook and waiters and each of us had an Indian bearer (batman) and driver.  We were honorary members of the local clubs, notably The Tanglin and The Cricket Club in Singapore, and of the other British clubs in the Malay peninsula.  The Raffles Hotel was another popular venue, especially for meeting with local people.  It was all a far cry from the streets of Etruria but I got used to it very easily.  To a large extent this was because it was no more than many of my peers were used to and expected.  In retrospect I became arrogant and allowed my love of travel to get me into trouble.  I went to places where I had no right to be and suffered a “Severe Reprimand” for my misdemeanours.  The SR was administered by Major General Cox with caustic and withering comments including: “ running the detachment as your own private fiefdom” and “What are your plans for Christmas this year?”  He spoke of the privations back home and probably had in mind the hardships of our comrades elsewhere.  I was ashamed.  I had let down my immediate superior, Major J.Harrison, who had allowed me the freedom.


Shortly after arriving in Singapore I met my friend, Denis Tams.  Together with his crew, he was billeted in an annexe to the Raffles Hotel.  They were flying VIPs between Singapore, Hong Kong and various Chinese cities.  We had several enjoyable months together before he left for England and Loughborough College.  Another school friend, Fred Coley, arrived in 1946 with an RAF Pathfinder squadron.  He took others and me on our first ever flight and over other I.E.M.E. units in Malaya.  Peacetime restrictions were coming back, but ever so slowly!  Fred became Manager of Goldendale Foundry, Goldendale, Tunstall and so was another industrial neighbour.


I spent the last months of 1947 with a British Armoured Brigade workshop.  By this time I had to make up my mind about what I was going to do.  There were three options.  One was to take demobilisation in one of several designated foreign cities and be given £10.00 in lieu of a demob.suit.  Four of us talked of San Francisco where we would buy an old car and spend a year working our way across the USA.  My second option was to stay in the Army and apply for a regular commission.  The third option was to return to Stoke-on Trent.  It seems strange to me now that I chose the third option but there were reasons at the time.  One was that Geoff.Corn, Chairman of Richards Tiles, had kept in regular touch with many of us in the forces.  He was a good writer and he made the rebuilding and the expansion of the tile industry sound exciting.  My three friends went to San Francisco and eventually returned to Britain.  I envied them.  One is more likely to regret the things that one does not do than to regret mistakes made!

I returned to the UK, collected my demob suit and set out on a tour of Scotland and England with a fellow officer in his new Morris 8 Series E.  He had been evacuated with his school to Pitlochry early in the war and was looking for ex-girlfriends in Scotland.  He didn’t find any.  We ended up in London where he did.  Not long afterwards I restarted at Richards Tiles.  It was January 1948.



previous: Stoke-on-Trent and the Military Collage of Science
next: Richards Tiles in January 1948


Ken Green
March  2001

updated: 07 Jan 2003