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Around 40 D-Day Stories by veterans of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines who served in or alongside Combined Operations

~ 574 FIELD SECURITY SECTION ~

3 SPECIAL SERVICE BRIGADE

These are the recollections of Sgt Jack Lawrence of the 574 Field Security Section, Special Service Brigade, as compiled by Chris Frost. They are supplemented by his own father's memories of wartime service, his father's papers, unit war diaries and information gathered from published accounts of the Burma campaign. For that part of his career, relevant to 3 Special Service Brigade, Chris's father, Captain Austin Thomas Dillon Frost (Tom), served in 574 Field Security Section (574 FSS), as an intelligence officer.

Background

It's likely that 574 FSS did not operate directly under the Combined Operations Command. However, where 574's activities involved amphibious raids and major landings, Commando support was often provided... as in the case of the main 'snatching' operation described on this page. My father's pay records indicate that he was 'attached' to other units, but always noted as being in the Intelligence Corps (IC). His reporting line was through the IC route rather than the command route of the unit he was attached to. His war diaries have many references to trips by LCP (Landing Craft Personnel), especially in the region of the Naf river.

Field Security was set up following an assessment of the shortcomings of Army Intelligence before and during World War I. During the years 1914-18, the Intelligence Police were formed to protect troops from enemy agents working among the civilian population in the theatre of war. It was very much an emergency arrangement with inadequacies in recruitment, selection, training and supervision. Their interventions often caused more problems than they solved.

With lessons learnt, between 1937 and 1940 the Field Security Police were formed as a wing of the Corps of Military Police (CMP) based at Mytchett near Farnborough, UK. Small numbers of NCOs of outstanding ability were trained in field security techniques and sent back to their units. At the outbreak of WW2, sections of these trained men operated in support of the ill-fated British Expeditionary Force (BEF) while others were formed at ports from local residents. Both did excellent work. However, the BEF Sections were hampered by a lack of language skills and the port operatives were hampered by negative public perceptions of the word 'police' which discouraged locals from coming forward with information.

My father was born in Poona, India and he spoke Urdu fluently. He enlisted in 1939 at the Artists' Rifles Drill Hall in Euston Road, London and, after initial officer training, was posted to India in 1941. After acclimatisation, in April 1942, he was attached to the Royal Gharwhal Rifles based at Landi Kotal on the Kyber Pass. In March 1943, he was transferred into the Intelligence Corps and underwent a further 3 months training programme.

[Photo; Capt Frost in Dutch Celebes - October 1945.]

On 15 June 1943, he was promoted Acting Captain and tasked to form 574 FSS in Karachi, attached to the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. 574 FSS was a composite section, comprising both British and Indian troops, including Sergeants Jack Lawrence, Eddie Redding and George Grasby. 

A typical composite section, when at full complement, comprised; 1 FSO (Lieutenant or Captain), 1 Warrant Officer, 2 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, 1 VCO (Jemadar), 3 Havildar, 3 Naiks,  2 L/Naiks and 1 batman-driver (BOR/IOR). When fully equipped, the section was provided with two 15 cwt trucks; 8 motor cycles, 5 five bicycles and Sten guns.

The section was initially attached to 3 Special Service Brigade, a Commando unit with special duties. The Brigade was a combined unit consisting of 5 Commando and 44 Royal Marine Commando attached to XXXIII India Corps under the command of Lieutenant General (later Sir) Montague Stopford. In theory, only volunteers were required for special duties, as illustrated in the following recruitment scenario.

The section was assembled in a circle around a colonel, who explained that the work would be difficult and dangerous. He added that no one who was apprehensive about the prospect would be required to go. 'I want only volunteers.', he said and looked at each of them in turn. 'Any of you who are scared should step into the centre now.' He paused for effect and added, 'Let's see who the yellow bellies are.' No-one moved, so he declared them all to be volunteers! Apocryphal or not, the point was made - the work was not for the timid or faint hearted.

Field Security I(B) was responsible for military and civil security. They carried out both espionage and counterespionage activities, which could require them to set up networks of local agents who reported to FS. Typically, the role of FS in peace time was to set up counterespionage operations in towns and villages. In Burma, this included tracking down 'enemy' agents in villages and towns retaken from the Japanese and identifying and arresting double agents in Japanese held territory.

Training

In Bombay, the Section began training in earnest for their first operation, a seaborne invasion of the Arakan. In November, the Section regrouped and took part in a beach operation in the Mahd Island area near Bombay. The operation was scheduled for 14 November 1943. For operational purposes, the Section was divided into three groups; the Advance Party, the Train Party and the Rear Party. Sergeant Lawrence led the Advance Party with a 15 cwt truck carrying the bulk of the Section stores. The Train Party, under CQMS Chappell, loaded two motor cycles and five bicycles on to a train and travelled in relative comfort to the assembly point on the coast. The Rear Party, led by Captain Frost, followed with a second 15 cwt truck and the section jeep.

The reunited Section boarded a naval vessel and sailed to a predetermined point off the coast. They clambered into a landing craft and set off towards the distant shoreline. As they approached the beach, Sergeant Eddie Redding wondered whom the enemy was when, having called for absolute silence, the major in charge of the landing craft grabbed a soldier by the throat for daring to speak and shook a clenched fist in the man's face. 'If you utter another word, I'll smash your f*****g face in.', he whispered. He was speaking to the CO of the unit (part of 3 Special Service Brigade) to which the section was to be attached. The CO understood that any breach of discipline while in action against the enemy, could be the difference between life and death. The point was well made!

For the most part, the men enjoyed the training which was a welcome relief from the routine of barrack life. However, as news of the good progress of the fighting in Europe and in the Far East arrived, Lt Frost became increasingly frustrated by the diminishing prospect of seeing action... he could be heard grumbling to anyone who would listen about 'not being up with the fun.'

The exercises were not always on a grand scale. On one occasion, 574 FSS took an Arab dhow to check out places where illegal landings might be made. At night they slept on deck together under the spare canvas sails. The dhow was about the size of a fishing smack and was riddled with cockroaches and voracious bedbugs. The men messed on tinned bacon heated over a charcoal fire on a slab of rock as cockroaches chased each other over their feet. The latrine consisted of a rope to hang on to and two planks stuck out over the sea - one for each foot.

Combined Operations

On the 29th of  December 1943, the Section moved from Bombay to Ahmednagar, near Poona and then on to Kurla for medical examinations. The 'examinations' were brief. 'You all look OK to me', the Medical Officer said, 'so I'll not bother examining you unless you think there is something I should know about.' They were all passed fit for active service!

They moved on again, this time to a place called Kedgodan. Sergeants Redding and Lawrence travelled by motor cycle but, on the way, a bullock charged across the road and smashed into Sergeant Lawrence. He left his bike at 40 mph and landed in a ditch on the other side of the road. The bike was a write-off and Sergeant Lawrence was left with a bad cut below his left knee that almost ended his time in 574 FS section.

On 7 February 1944, 574 FSS moved from Kedgodan back to Ahmednagar, where it was once again attached to 3 Special Service Brigade. Two weeks later, on 22 February at midday, the Section set off on a secret mission from Bombay on HMS Keren, an auxiliary cruiser. While at sea, cholera inoculations were ordered for all personnel. They sailed past Colombo to Madras arriving there at 10:30 am on 27 February to take on stores.

Later that day, they sailed, as part of a convoy, from Madras on and continued towards their, as yet, secret destination, stopping briefly in Ceylon before crossing the Bay of Bengal on the last stage of their journey. Not until they left Madras did they know anything about their mission, although, the earlier issue of Mepacrine (anti-malaria) tablets left them in very little doubt.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

Captain Frost called a 'prayer meeting', at which he opened a sealed envelope which contained several files, one for each member of the section. The files contained detailed descriptions, photographs and addresses of Japanese collaborators living in the so called Millionaires' Square in Akyab. The information was based on intelligence provided by Lieutenant Colonel Tony Mains, Chief Security Officer, XIV Army GSO II, in late 1943. The collaborators were to be arrested immediately prior to the recapture of Akyab.

The plan, for 3 Special Service Brigade Commandos, was to make a surprise landing on the island and for 574 FSS to go in after them. The latter were to locate the premises concerned, arrest the individuals found there and bring them out. It was to be a swift snatch.

In the event the landing never took place, most likely because the strength of the Japanese garrison on Akyab was greater than expected following recent aerial reconnaissance. Instead, both 3 Special Service Brigade and 574 FSS section, landed at Cox's Bazaar on the Bengal coast on 4 March 1944. After a short stay, they travelled down the River Naf to a small village called Nihila on the Teknaf Peninsular overlooking occupied Burma. Their new base was less than 40 miles from where Captain Frost's brother, Harry, was killed. From this base, 3 Special Service Brigade Commandos made several raids, sustaining casualties, but there was no role for 574 FSS Section. By the end of March, casualties in 5 Commando alone were 23 killed in action, 2 who subsequently died from their wounds and 42 other wounded.

Other Operations

In the Arakan, the fighting continued and the Section was deployed on numerous occasions. Sergeants Lawrence and Redding made many journeys up narrow river creeks by kishti, a native boat rowed by a man standing in the rear. The Section's normal modus operandi was to visit small villages to ascertain if any strangers had been seen in the area. The headman usually set up a large table under the village mango tree and produced a selection of homemade alcoholic brews of uncertain origin. The two soldiers joined in the drinking and continued the discourse as best they could despite the effects of the powerful jungle juices!

It was not uncommon for Section members to be detached for intelligence gathering operations in far flung places and to send back reports. Sergeant Eddie Redding, for example, was dispatched to Maungdaw, from where he made frequent visits to Bathidong, St Martins Island and IV Corps HQ, all the while reporting back to Captain Frost at Nihila by radio.

From time to time, more unusual situations arose, which required the expertise of the FSS. On one occasion, it was suspected that a member of 'V' Force was a double agent. Captain Frost, together with Sergeant Lawrence, crossed the river into the Arakan to bring the agent in. In the course of this operation, they visited Maungdaw to obtain a briefing from the Intelligence Corps Sergeant. Sergeant Lawrence felt they had met before and so did the Corp Sergeant, but where? Inexplicably at the time, Sergeant Lawrence exclaimed, "Graece Audaciar!"... a phrase immediately recognised by the other! They had been students in the same Latin class at grammar school back in England. In the account of Caesar's wars, the phrase "Graece audaciar," occurs frequently meaning "the brave Greeks" but when spoken, sounded like "Crikey 'ow dark ee are." In the winter months, Sgt Lawrence's classmate, Harrison, often cried out "Graece audaciar" during class and the Latin master, without any hint of a smile, once replied "Very well Harrison, put the lights on!" They never saw Sergeant Johnny Harrison again after leaving him in his jungle hideout. He came under heavy shellfire and may not have survived.

Captain Frost and Sergeant Lawrence continued through the British lines and were briefed on the whereabouts of the V Force operative, Mohammed Khan. They tracked him down and convinced him to return to base for a special briefing. He was eventually taken to XV Corps Head Quarters in Bawli Bazaar but, not long after, he escaped.

[Photo; Cpt Frost, centre, with members of the Section in Dutch Celebes - Oct 1945.]

At the end of another operation, Sergeants Lawrence and Ewebank came upon a forward lookout post as they made there way back to base. A Sikh soldier challenged them "Pass friend." When they attempted to pass, he shot his rifle bolt and shouted again "Pass friend!" Realising that the Sikh soldier was asking for the password, they stopped dead in their tracks. To continue would risk being fired upon without further ceremony. Sergeant Lawrence did not know the password and Sergeant Ewebank had forgotten it. Fortunately for them both, Sergeant Ewebank's loss of memory was only temporary and he shouted back the day's date... "Eighteenth of March!" They were allowed to proceed!

Frequently, when returning from operations, the tide had receded leaving considerable stretches of mud flats to negotiate to reach their craft. The flats were deep, thick, stinking and slimy. Was there an alternative? On the night 3 Special Service brigade departed, members of the Section conducted a night patrol by Landing Craft Personnel (LCP) on the Naf River. Captain Frost thought it might be possible to swim across the river rather than crawl across the tidal mud flats. The Section members were not convinced that it was safe, so Captain Frost dived, fully clothed, into the maelstrom to lead the way. Within seconds he had vanished. As nothing could be done, the Section members brewed a cup of tea. An hour later, Captain Frost turned up covered in mud and looking very bedraggled. He looked at his men and said with a grin, "You sh**s!" He had underestimated the hazardous nature of the rip tide as the river, flowing into the sea, battled against the rising tide opposing it!

Captain Frost's Diary Entries

These are relevant entries of 574FSS's time in the Arakan taken from Captain Frost's war diaries. Diary entries appear in block letters with supplementary information, provided by his son, in brackets.

01 APR 44  NIL
02 APR 44 SGT RETURNS FROM WHAIKHYANG TOUR.
06 APR 44 CAP BUTT GIII I(B) 15 (IND) CORPS VISITED SECTION HQ
08 APR 44 LCP NIGHT PATROL ON NAF RIVER
10 APR 44 DET TO TUMBRU TO LIAISE WITH 588 FS AT UKHIA
15 APR 44  FSO VISITED MAUNGDAW AND SAW CAPT BURGESS FSO 606 FS SECTION. (Attached to 25 Indian Division at Maungdaw).
19 APR 44 SUSPECTS TAKEN TO FIC 15(IND) CORPS AT BAWLI BAZAAR BY LCP. (574 FS took suspects to IV Corps HQ).
26 APR 44 IOR DET TO TEKNAF TO WORK WITH MAJOR ROBERTSON OC V FORCE, TEKNAF (An IOR detachment was sent to Teknaf to work with Major Robertson, oic of 'V' Force).
28 APR 44  CSM LEAVES NIHILA FOR INDIA TO BRING UP REMAINING SECTIONS STORES (Jamadar Nor Mohammed and Warrant Officer Ewebank were sent from Chittagong to P/A to bring up the remaining stores.
29 APR 44 FSO LEAVES FOR TOUR OF TUMBRU AREA. (Captain Frost left for a tour of the Tumbra area).
30 APR 44  NO ENTRY
01 MAY 44  NO ENTRY
09 MAY 44 VISIT OF FSO TO TEKNAF IN LCP TO SEE MAJOR ROBERTSON OC V FORCE. (Left Section HQ in Nihila to Bawli Bazaar).
16 MAY 44 ORDERS TO MOVE SECTION TO HAFALONG SENT VERBALLZ THROUGH CAPT GHANDY OC NO FS SECTION FROM HQ 15 (IND) CORPS. (The Section received verbal orders from Captain Gandy, OC ??? FS from HQ 15 (Indian) Corps to prepare move on to Hafalong. Next day, all detachments were brought back to Section HQ at Tumbra by LWT. By 24 May, the Section was at Dohazari Railway Head. They were billeted in Rest Camp 69. It was not until 9 June, that they finally left Dohazari. After three days hard travel, they arrived at Badapur. There, they were given verbal orders of a change in plans. They were to drive to Silchar in Assam, using their own transport). 

Postscript

Although not part of this story, Captain Frost was later posted to Indochina (Operation Masterdom) in September 1945 and with 200 others, flew to Saigon to take the surrender of 70,000 Japanese troops, while the rest of the Division went by sea. At this time, he was then commanding 604 FS, who were attached to HQ 20 (Indian Division). As the Viet Cong, under Ho Chi Min (who had been trained and armed by the Americans), started to cause problems, the Allies re-armed some Japanese soldiers to provide close protection, while the main force was still at sea. For some time, my father drove around Saigon in his jeep with armed Japanese troops providing cover - a surreal experience considering his recent tour of duty in Burma. A later mission saw Captain Frost helping resolve a mutiny of Dutch troops in the Dutch Celebes.

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

Field Security - Very Ordinary Intelligence by Lt. Col. Mains, published by Piction Publishing (Chippenham) Ltd... an account about his time in the Intelligence Corps where he attained the position of Chief Intelligence Officer of Central Command in India in 1946.

Chris would like to hear from anyone with information about the 574 Field Security Section; Special Service Brigade and its operations.

Acknowledgments

This account of the 574 Field Security Section; Special Service Brigade was compiled by Chris Frost from the recollections of Sgt Jack Lawrence. They are supplemented by his own father's memories of wartime service, his father's papers, unit war diaries and information gathered from published accounts of the Burma campaign.

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