Escape across the Sittang River
23rd February 1942: Confusion reigns as two Brigades of the 17th Division try to find a way to escape the Japanese by crossing the mile wide Sittang River
In the early hours of the 23rd the decision was made to blow up the bridge over the Sittang, in the belief that it was about to be seized by the Japanese. Most of the 17th Division were still on the wrong side of the bridge and found themselves stranded.
Bill Norman1 was one of them, serving with the 2nd Battalion the Duke of Wellington's Regiment ('The Dukes'), one of the units that had been seeking to keep the route to the bridge open. He had heard rumours that the bridge had been blown but was so fully engaged with the enemy that he did not know what to believe.
He vividly describes the situation as his platoon began to fall back. Norman had recovered a Bren gun from an earlier battle, although he had no experience or training in using it.
But because he had the Bren he was ordered to remain in a position, with one other man, covering the retreat of the rest of his platoon. They remained there for most of the day waiting for orders to fall back themselves. Eventually they realised they had been abandoned and decided to make their way to the river.
‘He told me that the platoon had made rafts but they fell apart and he was able to scramble back to the shore. He feared that many had drowned. He was a poor swimmer and did not know what to do to cross as the river looked the better part of a mile at this spot.’
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