One Man and His Medals.
Sergeant Frank Swindell Queens Regiment & Royal Nohumberland Fusiliers & OTC
The Man Frank Swindell was born on 14th March 1920 at Aldershot. On 1st October 1935 aged 15 he joined the 9th Battalion Middlesex Regiment of the Territorial Army, known locally as the Die Hards. His service number at this time was 6202. On 19th February 1938 a month before his 18th birthday he joined the Queen’s Royal Regiment of the Regular Army enlisting under the Hoare Belisha scheme whereby you could leave the Army or transfer to another unit within six months if desired. His service number became 6202498 and on 31st December 1938 after initial training he was sent to Palestine and posted to Tul Kan in Haifa, relieving the Royal Scots Regiment patrolling the coastline protecting the Israelis and preventing them from entering Palestine. He remained here until September 1940, a total of 20 months during which World War Two had been declared. For his service he was awarded the General Service Medal with clasp Palestine. On 7th September he was shipped to The Western Desert joining General Archibald Wavell’s force in pushing the Italians out of Egypt as far as Benghazi. In 1941 he was posted again, this time to Crete and Greece, who were being invaded by Germany. The Germans began sending paratroopers into Crete and Swindell was evacuated returning to Alexandria in Egypt where his unit reformed and were sent to Syria to fight the Vichy French until they surrendered. Swindell was then posted to Tobruk where he joined the Eight Army and fought in the first offensive in Libya. Following this conflict he moved back to base in Cairo and was shipped to the Far East where on 5th March 1942 he went with half of his division to Ceylon because of the threat of a Japanese invasion, the remainder were sent to India and he followed them 10 months later on 19th January 1943. The same year when General Orde Wyngate required a unit of seasoned troops for a mission to enter Burma behind Japanese lines, Swindell was ‘volunteered’ for the task and became A Chindit.
His Battalion was split into two columns, the 21st and 22nd which had to enter Burma, behind the lines and march 670 miles along the Ledo Road and over the Nargra Hills repairing airstrips as they went. Following this dangerous mission What was left of both columns were eventually flown back to India where Frank was hospitalised for two weeks as a result of his arduous ordeal. Lord Louis Mountbatten had promised that whoever survived this mission would be on the first ship home to England and keeping his word Frank was shipped home for two months in September 1944 – just short of six years after being posted to Palestine and aged 24! On 5th November 1944 he went to France, joining the invading Allied forces pushing through Europe into Germany and eventually the end of the war. He was awarded the 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Burma Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, and the 1939-45 War Medal for his services.
Following the war Swindell remained in the Army and was posted to Germany on 28th March 1948 as part of the British Army on the Rhine and was involved in the Berlin Airlift, during which he lost his General Service Medal. He was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on 14th January 1949 and Corporal on 13th July 1949. On 3rd September 1950 he was discharged ‘as services no longer required on re-enlistment on a normal regular engagement’ and on 4th September re-enlisted into the Yorkshire & Northumberland Brigade Regular Army, then the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and given a new service number -22267894. On 12th June 1951 he was sent to Korea and promoted to Acting Sergeant on13th November the same year.
He returned home on 16th February 1953 and subsequently awarded the Queen’s Korea Medal, and United Nations Korea Medal. Frank remained in theArmy until 3rd September 1962, aged 42, when his engagement ended and pension matured. On the 4th September 1962 he immediately enlisted into the 6th Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers Territorial Army at the rank of Sergeant. He transferred on 19th February 1963 to the Officer Training Corps and was posted to the Durham University Contingent. He was awarded the Efficiency Medal with ‘T&AVR’ suspender on 3rd September 1974 following 12 year service and qualified for a clasp on 3rd September 1980. On 15th February 1978 he received a certificate of Loyal & Meritorious Service from Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Tyne & Wear for his commitment to the Northumbrian Universities OTC. Sergeant Frank Swindell was eventually discharged from the British Army on 3rd September 1981 aged 61 after 45 years, 11 months and 2 days serving his Crown and Country. He retired and lived on the Kenton Bar Estate, Newcastle upon Tyne and studied form on the horses and died during June 2000. Frank was married and had a son and daughter. His son like Frank becoming a career soldier.
The Story This story was the author’s first experience of the pleasures and benefits of thorough research. Unusually not only did it culminate in a good detailed account of ‘My Man’s’ life but also an actual meeting with him as he was very much alive and willing to assist with the research and as will be seen, without tenacity, the group of medals may have remained just as they were when guardianship was confirmed. ‘Some’ of the medals awarded to Sergeant Frank Swindell were purchased from a dealer in Erdington, Birmingham on 28th August 1993. They were sold as ‘A modern campaign group of three’. The three being the British Korea Medal, United Nations Korea Medal and the Efficiency Medal with T&AVR suspender. Upon initial observation this appeared to be what the dealer had stated, a modern campaign group and the intention was merely to add them into a collection without any thought of research. However upon closer inspection it was noted that there was a discrepancy in the naming around the rim of the two named medals, the British Korean Medal was impressed with 22267894 Fus J Swindell RNF, whilst the Efficiency Medal was named 22267894 Sgt F Swindell OTC. It was obvious that this was the same man as the service number and surname were identical, but the initial J and F caused some concern and it is interesting to note that had this small but important discrepancy been noted whilst in the dealer’s shop the group would not have been purchased by the author!
Rather than now just adding the set to a collection and in an effort to establish whether the correct initial was F or J a letter was written to the Combined Manning and Research Office T&AVR in Exeter later the same day. A reply was received a few days later dated rd September 1939 stating they had forwarded the letter onto Mr Swindell's last known address in the hope he may reply personally! (This sadly is something that does not happen any more as unsolicited letters will not be passed to last known addresses or individuals). A few days later a letter arrived dated 7th September 1993 from Mr F Swindell himself! He gave brief details of his service career, enclosed a photograph of him in The Chindits during World War Two and explained that he had also received the ‘Palestine Medal’ (assumed to be the General Service Medal with Palestine Clasp) but this had been lost when he had been airlifted from Germany and his initial was confirmed as F not J. It was now immediately obvious that far from being a modern campaign group of three, these medals formed part of a much larger set spanning from 1938 right up to the 1970s or 80s. Mr Swindell was written to again and eventually contacted by telephone on Thursday 30th September 1993. He was happy to provide as much information as was required and agreed to send more photographs of himself, a copy of a certificate he had received and would cooperate with the claiming of a replacement General Service Medal. He also advised his first name was Frank. A rare opportunity now arose to get a full picture of the life of ‘My Man’ straight from his mouth. After further exchange of letters and telephone calls a picture started to build of Frank Swindell and in October 1993 with his full cooperation a replacement General Service Medal with clasp Palestine was acquired from the Army Medal Office engraved 6202498 Pte F Swindell Queens (R) . From Frank’s recollections, the photographs of him and information obtained from the Army Medal and Records Office it was now possible to re-assemble his full medal entitlement for the first time in many years.
The group now consisted of the General Service Medal with 'Palestine' Clasp, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Burma Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, 1939-45 War Medal, British Korea Medal, United Nations Korea Medal, Efficiency Medal T&AVR suspender. A total of ten medals covering five military campaigns and 45 years of service. It was also possible to establish from the copies of paperwork received from the Army records office how the incorrect initial of J had been impressed onto the Korea medal – a feature that was so important a few months before and had started the research was now unimportant and actually added an interesting aspect to the group. Eventually on Saturday 28th May 1994 a visit was arranged to meet Frank Swindell and his family. A very interesting day was spent with him at his home with his wife and grandchildren, his daughter provided a meal and during the day Frank handed his original attestation papers, transfer, discharge and service certificates over to be kept with the medals for posterity and safe keeping. In the evening a visit was made to Jesmond Royal British Legion Club and after talking to Frank some more following the visit it became clear he was entitled to a clasp for further service to his Efficiency Medal that had not been claimed as he had retired from the TA before doing so. This clasp was claimed on his behalf and received in January 1995. Sadly contact was lost with Frank after this time and following a visit to London in April 2008 it was established that he had died in June 2000.
His medals however form an interesting and important collection and are perhaps the most sentimental as they were the first group to be researched thoroughly, were re-united after so long apart and the actual recipient met face to face. As this was the first venture into the world of research and with the benefit of hindsight, there was so much more that could have been asked of Frank. Although his service life is very detailed, little information was noted on his personal side, school days, marriage etc.
Officially in 1942 the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade and in 1943 Indian the 3rd Infantry Division) were a British Indian Army "Special Force" that served in Burma and India from 1942 until 1945 during the Burma Campaign in World War II. They were formed into long range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines. They were the brainchild of British Brigadier Orde Charles Wingate when he was serving under Archibald Wavell, the Supreme Commander of the Far Eastern Theatre in India. The name was suggested by Captain Aung Thin (DSO) of the Burma Army. Chindit is a corrupted form of the suggested name of the Burmese mythical beast Chinthé or Chinthay statues of which guarded Buddhist temples. In the Abyssinian campaign of 1940 Wingate had begun to explore the ideas that he later used with the Chindits, when he created and commanded a group of Abyssinian partisans. Known as Gideon Force, they disrupted Italian supply lines and provided intelligence to British forces. As Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East in 1940 , Wavell had given permission for the Gideon Force for political reasons, because he had thought Wingate's idea to be militarily too unorthodox. After the disbandment of Gideon Force, Wavell requested Wingate for service in Burma in 1942 where it was intended that he raise irregular forces to operate behind the Japanese lines similar to the manner in which Gideon Force had operated in Ethiopia. Rather than organize irregular forces in Burma, Wingate spent his time touring the country and developing his theory of long range penetration on paper. During the final stages of the British retreat from Burma, Wingate had himself specially flown back to India while the rest of the army walked out. Once in Delhi, he presented his proposals to Wavell.The 77th Indian Infantry Brigade, otherwise known as the Chindits, was gradually formed in the area around Jhansi during the summer months of 1942. Wingate took charge of the training of the troops in jungles of central India during the rainy season. Half of the Chindits were British infantry soldiers from the 13th Battalion King's Liverpool Regiment (nominally a second-line battalion which contained a large number of older men), and men from the Bush Warfare School in Burma who were formed into 142 Commando Company. The other portion of the force was made up of the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles (a battalion which had only just been raised) and 2nd Burma Rifles. Wingate trained them as Long-Range Penetration units that were to be supplied by stores parachuted or dropped from transport aircraft. Usual armament was rifles, Thompson submachine guns, pistols, mortars, grenades and knives. A mule transport company carried their supplies. The Chindits were organized into columns under the command of group headquarters which were ultimately under the command of a brigade headquarters. RAF sections were attached to each column for the purpose of air coordination. Operation Longcloth In February 8, 1943 in Operation Longcloth, 3000 Chindits, Wingate with them, begun their march into Burma. The original intent had been to use the Chindits as a part of a larger offensive but it was cancelled. Wingate convinced General Wavell to send the Chindits into Burma in spite of the cancellation of the larger offensive. The Chindits crossed the Chindwin River on February 13 and faced the first Japanese troops two days later. They were divided into seven columns. Two columns marched to the south and received their air supply drops in broad daylight to create an impression that they were the main attack. They even had a man impersonating a British general along with them. RAF mounted air attacks on Japanese targets to support the deception. These columns were to swing east at the beginning of march and attack the main north-south in areas south of the main force. One column successfully carried out demolitions along the railway but the other column was ambushed. Only half of the ambushed column returned to India. Five other columns proceeded eastward. Two, those of Michael Calvert and Bernard Fergusson, proceeded towards the main north-south railway in Burma. On March 4 Calvert'scolumn reached the valley and demolished the railway in 70 places. Fergusson arrived two days later to do the same. The railway was put out of action only for a very short period. On many occasions, the Chindits could not take their wounded with them; some were left behind in villages. Wingate had in fact issued specific orders to leave behind all wounded, but these orders were not strictly followed. Since there were often no established paths in the jungle along their routes, many times they had to clear their own with machetes and kukris. A single RAF squadron of 6 planes supplied them by air. Once in Burma, Wingate repeatedly changed his plans, sometimes without informing all the column commanders. The majority of two of the columns marched back to India after being ambushed by the Japanese in separate actions. After the railway attacks, he decided to cross his force over the Irrawaddy River. However, the area on the other side of the river turned out to be inhospitable to operations. Water was difficult to obtain and the combination of rivers with a good system of roads in the area allowed the Japanese to force the Chindits into a progressively smaller "box". In late March, Wingate made the decision to withdraw the majority of the force, but sent orders to one of the columns to continue eastward. The operations had reached the range limit of air supply and prospects for new successful operations were low given Japanese pressure. The columns were generally left to make their own way back to India. On the journey back, the most difficult actions involved crossing back over the Irrawaddy River. The Japanese had observers and patrols all along the river bank and could quickly concentrate once an attempt at a crossing was detected. Gradually, all the columns broke up into small groups. Wingate's headquarters returned to India on its own ahead of most of the columns. Through the spring and even into the autumn of 1943 individual groups of men from the Chindits made their way back to India. The army did what they could for the men. In one case, an airplane was landed in an open area and wounded men were evacuated by air. Part of one column made it to China. Another portion of the men escaped into the far north of Burma. Others were captured or died. By the end of April, after the mission of three months, the majority of the surviving Chindits had crossed the Chindwin river. They had lost a total of 818 or more men. Of the other men, Wingate almost hand picked those few he would retain. Both battalions, with the hand-picked exceptions, were put back under the normal army command structure
- General Service Medal: 6202498 PTE.F.SWINDELL. QUEENS (R)
- 1939-45 Star: Unnamed as awarded.
- Africa Star: Unnamed as awarded.
- Burma Star: Unnamed as awarded.
- France & Germany Star: Unnamed as awarded.
- Defence Medal: Unnamed as awarded.
- War Medal 1939-45: Unnamed as awarded.
- Queen's Korea Medal: 22267894 FUS.J.SWINDELL. R.N.F. (sic)
- United Nations 'Korea' Meal: Unnamed as awarded.
- Efficiency Medal: 22267894 SGT.F.SWINDELL. OTC
This page last updated 13 Mar 17