Maurice WILKINSON 1923 – 1944

4469856 Private Maurice Wilkinson, 1st Battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment died between 16th and 17th February 1944, aged 20 and is buried at Taukkyan War Cemetery, Burma[1] and commemorated on Evenwood War Memorial.

Family Details

Maurice was born 1923[2] to Mathew and Edith Wilkinson and was the brother of Myra.  In 1939, the family lived at 8 Farncombe Terrace, Evenwood where Mathew worked as a colliery surface worker.  Myra was still at school and Maurice was not recorded.[3]  Maurice worked at the Evenwood Cooperative Stores.[4]

Service Details

26 January 1942: Maurice Wilkinson joined the DLI, trained at Brancepeth Camp, Durham and was transferred into the 1/Lincolnshire Regiment.  His service records have not been researched.

Maurice Wilkinson is far left

The 1/Lincolnshire Regiment formed part of the 71st Indian Brigade and came under the orders of the 26th Indian Infantry Division, part of the Indian Army.  It fought in the Burma Campaign.  As of 1 April 1944, it comprised:[5]

4th Indian Infantry Brigade

36th Indian Infantry Brigade

71st Indian Infantry Brigade

And Divisional Troops

The Burma Campaign [6]

The Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II was fought primarily between British Commonwealth, Chinese and United States forces against the forces of the Empire of Japan, Thailand, and the Indian National Army. British Commonwealth land forces were drawn primarily from British India. The Burmese Independence Army initially fought for the Japanese though they later switched sides.

The campaign had a number of notable features. The geographical characteristics of the region meant that factors like weather, disease and terrain had a major effect on operations. The lack of transport infrastructure placed an emphasis on military engineering and air transport to move and supply troops, and evacuate wounded. The campaign was also politically complex, with the British, Americans and Chinese all having different strategic priorities.

The climate of the region is dominated by the seasonal monsoon rains, which allowed effective campaigning for only just over half of each year. This, together with other factors such as famine and disorder in British India and the priority given by the Allies to the defeat of Nazi Germany, prolonged the campaign and divided it into four phases: the Japanese invasion which led to the expulsion of British, Indian and Chinese forces in 1942; failed attempts by the Allies to mount offensives into Burma, from late 1942 to early 1944; the Japanese invasion of India which ultimately failed following the battles of Imphal and Kohima; and, finally, the successful Allied offensive which reoccupied Burma from late-1944 to mid-1945.

Southern front 1943/44 [7]

In Arakan, Indian XV Corps under Lieutenant General Philip Christison renewed the advance on the Mayu peninsula. Ranges of steep hills channeled the advance into three attacks each by an Indian or West African division. The 5th Indian Infantry Division captured the small port of Maungdaw on 9 January 1944. The Corps then prepared to capture two railway tunnels linking Maungdaw with the Kalapanzin valley but the Japanese struck first. A strong force from the Japanese 55th Division infiltrated Allied lines to attack the 7th Indian Infantry Division from the rear, overrunning the divisional HQ.

Unlike previous occasions on which this had happened, the Allied forces stood firm against the attack and supplies were dropped to them by parachute. In the Battle of the Admin Box from 5 February to 23 February, the Japanese concentrated on XV Corps’ Administrative Area, defended mainly by line of communication troops but they were unable to deal with tanks supporting the defenders, while troops from 5th Indian Division broke through the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve the defenders of the box. Although battle casualties were approximately equal, the result was a heavy Japanese defeat. Their infiltration and encirclement tactics had failed to panic Allied troops and as the Japanese were unable to capture enemy supplies, they starved.

Over the next few weeks, XV Corps’ offensive ended as the Allies concentrated on the Central Front. After capturing the railway tunnels, XV Corps halted during the monsoon.

The Battle of Admin Box, Burma [8]

The Battle of the Admin Box (sometimes referred to as the Battle of Ngakyedauk or the Battle of Sinzweya) took place on the Southern Front of the Burma Campaign from 5 February to 23 February 1944, in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II. The Japanese attempted a local counter-attack against an Allied offensive with the aim of drawing Allied reserves from the Central Front in Assam, where the Japanese were preparing their own major offensive.

The Battle of the Admin Box was the first major victory over the Japanese for British and Indian troops during the Second World War.  The ‘Admin Box’ was the administrative and base area of 7th Indian Division, which was besieged by the Japanese 55th Division from the 5th to the 23rd of February 1944. The siege was lifted when the Japanese were taken from the rear by the 5th Indian Division advancing over the Ngakyedauk Pass.

Situation in early 1944

During 1941 and early 1942, the Japanese army had driven Allied troops (British, Indian and Chinese) from Burma. During 1943, the Allies had tried a limited offensive into Arakan, the coastal province of Burma. The aim had been to secure Akyab Island at the end of the Mayu Peninsula. The island possessed an important airfield, from which the Japanese Army Air Force had launched raids on Calcutta and other Indian cities and which also featured prominently in Allied plans to recapture Burma.

This offensive had failed disastrously, for several reasons. Because the British Indian Army was being massively expanded, most of the Indian (and British) units committed to the attack lacked training and experience. Exhausted units were left in the front line, and their morale declined. Allied tactics and equipment were not suited to the jungle-covered hills and Japanese units repeatedly achieved surprise by crossing rivers and hills which the Allies had dismissed as impassable. Finally, the Allied command structure was inefficient, with a single overworked division headquarters trying to control a large number of sub-units and also a large line-of-communications area.

During the following months, the Allies reorganised, engaged in extensive jungle training and prepared for a renewed effort in 1944. Under British Fourteenth Army, the offensive was to be launched by Indian XV Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Philip Christison.

Second Allied offensive

The Mayu peninsula consisted of a coastal plain, indented by several chaungs (tidal creeks), and separated from the fertile valley of the Kalapanzin River by the jungle-covered Mayu Range of hills. The 5th Indian Infantry Division, which had already experienced heavy fighting in East Africa and the Western Desert and was commanded by Major-General Harold Rawdon Briggs, attacked down the coastal plain. The comparatively inexperienced but well-trained 7th Indian Infantry Division under Major-General Frank Messervy attacked down the Kalapanzin Valley. The British 81st (West Africa) Division was advancing further east down the Kaladan River valley, but would not directly affect the battle. Two other divisions, the British 36th Infantry Division and 26th Indian Infantry Division, were in reserve.

The advance began cautiously at first, but steadily gained momentum. On 9 January 1944, 5th Indian Division captured the small port of Maungdaw. While they reduced Japanese positions south of the port (the village of Razabil and a hill known from its shape as the Tortoise), the Corps prepared to take the next major objective. This was part of the Mayu Range where two disused railway tunnels provided a route through the hills linking Maungdaw to the towns of Buthidaung and Letwedet in the Kalapanzin Valley. To reposition troops and resources for this attack, XV Corps improved a narrow track, known as the Ngakyedauk Pass, across the hills, while 7th Indian Division established its main administration area at Sinzweya, near the eastern end of the pass.

Japanese moves

The Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army under Lieutenant General Shōzō Sakurai commanded the troops in Arakan and in southern Burma. Its 55th Division under Lieutenant General Tadashi Hanaya occupied Arakan. Most of the division’s troops (five battalions) were grouped as Sakurai Force in the Mayu area, under its Infantry Group headquarters commanded by Major-General Tohutaro Sakurai, no relation to the Army commander. A Japanese division had a separate headquarters to administer its infantry units which, as in this case, could take tactical control of any substantial detachment from the division.

The Japanese were confident that they could repeat their success of the previous year in a local counter-attack, and perhaps even advance on Chittagong, the port on which Indian XV Corps relied for supplies. Also, it was intended that by launching their attack, given the name HA-GO or Operation Z, in the first week of February, they would force the Allies to send reinforcements from the Central Front, thus clearing the way for the main Japanese offensive there, planned to begin in the first week of March.

Beginning on 5 February, Sakurai Force infiltrated the front lines of the 7th Indian Division, which was widely dispersed and moved north undetected on the small town of Taung Bazaar. Here they crossed the Kalapanzin River and swung west and south, and on 6 February they attacked the HQ of 7th Division. There was heavy fighting, but 7th Division’s signallers and clerks eventually had to destroy their documents and equipment, and retreat. Other radio operators listening on the division’s frequency heard a voice say, “Put a pick through that radio” then silence.

Sakurai’s force then followed up towards Sinzweya and the rear of 7th Division. A Japanese battalion, I/213 Regiment, known as Kubo Force from its commander, crossed the Mayu Range at a seemingly impossible place, to set ambushes on the coastal road by which the 5th Indian Division was supplied. The Japanese still holding the railway tunnels area (Doi Force) launched a subsidiary attack to link up with Sakurai and raids and diversions, while unexpectedly large numbers of Japanese fighter aircraft flew from Akyab to contest the skies over the battlefield

Battle of the Admin Box [9]

It was evident to all of XV Corps that the situation was serious. However, Fourteenth Army had spent much time considering counters to the standard Japanese tactics of infiltration and encirclement. The forward divisions of XV Corps were ordered to dig in and hold their positions rather than retreat, while the reserve divisions advanced to their relief.

The next obvious objective for the Japanese was 7th Indian Division’s administrative area at Sinzweya, defended by headquarters and line of communication troops, with 25 Light AA / Anti Tank Regiment, RA. As Messervy was in the jungle and out of contact, Christison, the Corps commander, ordered Brigadier Geoffrey Evans, who had recently been appointed commander of 9th Indian Infantry Brigade, part of the 5th Indian Division, to make his way to the Admin box, assume command and hold the Box against all attacks. Evans reinforced the defenders of the box with 2nd Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment) from his brigade and 24 Mountain Artillery Regiment, IA. The most vital reinforcements of all were two squadrons of M3 Lee tanks of the 25th Dragoons. The defenders were later joined by part of the 4/8th Gurkha Rifles, from the 89th Indian Infantry Brigade, part of 7th Indian Division and also the artillery of 8 Heavy Regiment RA and 6 Medium Regiment RA.

Under Evans, the Box was converted into a defended area. The clearing measured a bare 1,200 yards (1.1 km) in diameter. Ammunition dumps were piled up at the foot of the western face of a central hillock, 150 feet (46 m) high, named “Ammunition Hill”. When Major-General Messervy reached the Admin Box, followed by several of his HQ personnel who had made their way in small parties through Japanese forces, he left the defence of the Box to Evans while he himself concentrated on re-establishing control over and directing the rest of the division.

Meanwhile, Allied Dakota transport aircraft dropped rations and ammunition to the cut-off troops, including the defenders of the Admin Box. They flew a total of 714 sorties, dropping 2,300 tons of supplies. The Japanese had not foreseen this development. While they ran short of supplies, the Indian formations could fight on. The Japanese tried to supply Sakurai Force with a convoy of pack mules and Arakanese porters, following the route of Sakurai’s original infiltration but this was ambushed and the supplies were captured.

The first air-drop missions met opposition from Japanese fighters and some transport aircraft were forced to turn back but three squadrons of Spitfires, operating from new airfields around Chittagong, gained air superiority over the battlefield. Sixty-five Japanese aircraft were claimed shot down or damaged for the loss of three Spitfires. Whatever the true figures, the Japanese fighters were quickly driven from the area.

On the ground, the fighting for the Admin Box was severe and for the most part hand to hand. On the night of 7 February, some Japanese troops captured the divisional Main Dressing Station. In what was undoubtedly a war crime thirty-five medical staff and patients were murdered. This may have increased the resolve of the defenders who were now aware what fate would befall them if they surrendered. Japanese fire caused heavy casualties in the crowded defences and twice set ammunition dumps on fire. All attempts to overrun the defenders were thwarted by the tanks, to which the Japanese had no counter once their few Mountain guns were out of ammunition. The Japanese tried an all-out attack on the night of 14 February and succeeded in capturing one hill on the perimeter. The 2nd West Yorkshire with support from the tanks recaptured it the next day, although they suffered heavy casualties.

By 22 February, the Japanese had been starving for several days. Colonel Tanahashi, commanding the main body of Sakurai’s force, Japanese 112 Infantry Regiment, stated that his regiment was reduced to 400 men out of a nominal 2150 and refused to make further attacks. On 24 February, he retreated without authorisation. On 26 February, Sakurai was forced to break off the operation. XV Corps’s reserve divisions had relieved 5th Division, which sent a brigade to break through the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve 7th Division. Kubo force was cut off and suffered heavy casualties trying to regain the Japanese lines.

Awards for valour

The British attack was pressed home relentlessly by a pincer move­ment from both sides of the Range. Between them, they left very little of the “March on Delhi.” or on Chitta­gong either. The Admin Box battle ended when Major Ferguson Hoey led the assault of the Lincolns on Point 315 overlooking it. He fell as it was captured.  Major Charles Ferguson Hoey of the 1st Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, for conspicuous valour during the fighting at the Ngakyedauk: [10]

 “In Burma, on the 16th February 1944, Major Hoey’s company formed a part of a force which was ordered to capture a position at all costs.  After a night march through enemy held territory the force was met at the foot of the position by heavy machine-gun fire.

Major Hoey personally led his company under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire right up to the objective. Although wounded at least twice in the leg and head, he seized a Bren gun from one of his men and firing from the hip, led his company on to the objective. In spite of his wounds the company had difficulty keeping up with him, and Major Hoey reached the enemy strong post first, where he killed all the occupants before being mortally wounded.  Major Hoey’s outstanding gallantry and leadership, his total disregard of personal safety and his grim determination to reach the objective resulted in the capture of this vital position.”

The circumstances of Private Maurice Wilkinson’s death remain unknown but if would seem that it is beyond doubt that he was involved in action at Ngakyedauk.

Burial: Taukkyan War Cemetery [11]

4469856 Private Maurice Wilkinson is buried at grave reference 10. K. 7, Taukkyan War Cemetery.  The village of Taukkyan is about 35 km north of Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Burma.  The War Cemetery is the largest of the 3 war cemeteries in Burma and was begun in 1951 for the reception of graves from 4 battlefields – Akyab, Mandalay, Meiktila and Sahmaw which were difficult to access and maintain.  The cemetery contains 6,374 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War.  The verse on Maurice’s headstone reads:

“Memories of him will always be treasured

As long as the years roll on”

Lincoln Cathedral

 In 1951, the Wilkinson family attended the service of dedication for the Lincolnshire Regiment’s Second World War Roll of Honour.



Thanks to Myra Marshall (Maurice’s sister) and William & Susan Oliver for obtaining the photographs of Maurice’s headstone in 2012.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.506 1923 Q2 Auckland

[3] 1939 England & Wales Register.  Unless his name was behind the “This record is officially closed” text.

[4] Northern Echo 15 December 2012

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_26th_Infantry_Division

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Campaign

[7] http://www.burmastar.org.uk/arakan_victory.htm

[8]  http://www.probertencyclopaedia.com/cgi-bin/res.pl?keyword=Battle+of+the+Admin+Box&offset=0

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Admin_Box

[10] http://www.wwii.ca/content-3/world-war-ii/victoria-cross-recipients-part-i/

[11] http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2088468