Duncan Campbell Menzies was
born in Adelaide Australia, son of Duncan and Joan Menzies of Adelaide, South
Australia. Joan Menzies was a native of Torrisdale in Skerray (Skerray is a
small village in the North West Highlands of Scotland), who emigrated to live
in Australia before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Duncan Campbell Menzies was at college in
Australia in 1939 when war with Nazi Germany broke out in Europe, he finished
his college years becoming the Rhodes Scholar for South Australia. The (Cecil)
Rhodes Scholarship was awarded to the top college student for the year in
Australia; other winners of this top award have become Australian Prime
Ministers and top government officials.
In early 1940 Duncan Menzies sailed from
Australia to join the British Army and fight in the war, he came to Skerray on
holiday when he first arrived in Britain to visit his mother’s family in
Torrisdale. He left Skerray to enlist as a commissioned officer in the Black
Watch and was sent for officer training, to Sandhurst Military College.
He joined the 2 Battalion
Black Watch as it was on route for Tobruk in North Africa in the summer of
1941. He was one of five officers in the battalion at that time and became
second in command of ‘D’ Company under Captain Boyle, the battalion was soon in
the thick of the fighting
Tobruk was cut off in 1941, re-supply was
carried out from the sea as the German Afrika Corps and the Italian Army had
laid siege to the town for months. The British and Australian garrison came
under constant air and ground attack, the record was 21 air raids in one day.
The Black Watch were placed on the left flank at Tobruk in a position called
the‘ Tiger’, holding the line in face of heavy German tank and infantry
In February 1942 the Black Watch was
relieved at Tobruk and moved by sea to a rest camp in Syria before being sent
to India. The battalion arrived in Bombay on the SS ‘Mauritania’, the Black
Watch then moved to Deccan for jungle warfare training.
The Japanese Army was now at the gateway to
India and the British Army was waiting for the invasion, they knew would come.
Superior Japanese forces had pushed the British back from Malaya and Burma, the
enemy now stood poised on the border ready to attack at the end of long supply
routes. The British Generals now had some breathing space to try and train
British troops in jungle warfare ready for the fight back.
The 2 Black Watch was taken off
jungle warfare training and sent to the town of Ranchi in the state of Bihar to
help maintain public order. The British troops now became involved in civil
unrest, as some of Indian people began to campaign against British rule seeing
the Japanese Forces as liberators coming to free them from Colonial Rule.
On the 16 of October 1942 a
heavy monsoon storm blew up causing heavy damage to British units in its path,
‘C’ Company of the 2 Black Watch was at a ferry crossing near
Rasalpur. The Company Commander soon saw the tide hit the high mark and tried
to swim to warn his men to get on high ground. His attempt to swim across
failed, as did an attempt to move all his men to safety on the sea wall.
Lieutenant Duncan Menzies who had been
trapped by high water on a hillock until 1pm then joined the Company Commander.
Lieutenant Menzies tried on a number of occasion to reach the sea wall but was
driven back and the trapped soldiers were left exhausted, hungry and soaked
through, clinging to a strip of road until the storm died down.
For his exploits and bravery in trying to
move his men to safety during the monsoon storms on the 16 of
October 1942, Lieutenant Duncan Cameron Menzies was recommended for the Military Cross.
In July 1942, Brigadier Orde Wingate raised
the 77 Indian (Long Range Penetration) Brigade, a force to be
trained in jungle fighting and to raid across the border into Burma. The force
was called the Chindits from the Burmese word for lion (Chinthe) and was a
totally new concept of warfare. The Chindits were to move around behind the
Japanese lines destroying their supply lines, railway systems and ammunition
depots before returning to India.
Duncan Menzies volunteered for service with
the Chindits in early 1943 and was attached to the 13 Battalion
Kings Regiment (Liverpool), this battalion was made up from Liverpool dock
workers, nearly all were married men with an average age of thirty-three. The
13 Kings suffered heavy losses during Chindit training; the losses
were made up by attaching volunteers from other battalions to meet the
The 13 Battalion Kings
Regiment formed number two column of the Southern group in the Chindit
expedition, under the command of Lt-Colonel L. A. Alexander. The 2
Burma Rifles in command of Lt-Colonel L.G. Wheeler was the reconnaissance
element, each column containing 400 men in the lines of an Infantry Company.
All the columns heavy equipment was carried by mules with the Vickers
machine-guns, mortars, ammunition, food and radios carried in baskets on the
animals back. Each column was to be re-supplied weekly from the air by Dakota
transport planes, any men wounded who could not be carried by the columns were
to be left behind.
The Chindits trained near Saugor in an area
of jungle similar to that found in Burma, the 13 Kings practiced
long route marches in the pouring rain. Casualties were heavy as a number of
men caught malaria; parties of the Kings men were drowned as they slept, when
the river they were camped beside flooded.
On the 10 of February 1943 two
Chindit columns consisting of 3,200 men and 1,100 mules crossed the Chindwin
River at two points and entered Japanese held Burma. The first contact with the
enemy came at Maingnyaung on the 18, when Japanese patrols
ambushed the Chindit column as it left a bivouac area
The Chindits attacked a railway and a road
west of the town of Pinbon on 1 of March, they then moved on and
destroyed the bridge at Bonyaung. Both columns marched on towards the Irrawaddy
River, crossing the Irrawaddy with 2,000 men and 1,000 mules on March 15.
There were now thousands of Japanese soldiers trying to find the Chindits and a
number of valuable bridges had been destroyed; Brigadier Wingate’s men were
carrying out the job they had been trained for.
Once the columns had crossed the Irrawaddy
they found themselves operating in increasingly difficult and hostile terrain
as they constantly fought of more and more Japanese patrols. The enemy was able
to use tanks on the jungle tracks and the Chindits having no anti tank weapons,
found they were unable to deal with this new threat.
On the 26 of March Brigadier
Wingate gave the order for the remaining 2,200 men in his command to withdraw,
the soldiers were exhausted and short of fresh water supplies. Air supply had
become difficult and nothing more could be achieved, for five weeks the
Chindits had moved around behind enemy lines proving they could fight as well
as the Japanese. The columns had moved about 300 miles into enemy territory and
taken on vastly superior numbers of Japanese troops, causing chaos and
destroying enemy supply lines. The mission was hailed a success even though the
losses were high with only 2,000 men from the original 3,200 men eventually
returning to India, around 600 of those men were so ill they never fought
The 120men of Number two column of the
Southern Group under the command of Major Bernard Ferguson headed back towards
India by marching north into Burma and then doubling back towards the Indian
border. This column tried to cross the Shweli River with the aid of Burmese
boatmen, but the boatmen only took them to a sandbar in the middle of the
river, with a remaining 80yards of water to the far bank.
Some of the men tried to wade across but
were swept away, crying for help in the darkness, others lost their nerve at
this and decided to stay on the embankment, the remained crossed the river with
one hour remaining until daylight. The
column was now forced to split up into smaller groups of men and try to reach
safety; the smaller groups were told to ask friendly Kachin villagers on route
for help and assistance.
On the 3 of April 1943 a group
of Chindits from this column, consisting of seventy men entered a small Kachin
village called Zibyugin, to try and buy food. As the patrol was negotiating
with the villagers a large Japanese patrol was seen approaching and the
Chindits in no condition to fight, were forced to leave the village to hide
At dawn the next day Lieutenant Duncan
Menzies volunteered to take a four-man patrol back into the village to see if
the Japanese patrol had left. As they entered the village they were ambushed
and Menzies and one British private (Private Gilmartin) were captured (the
other three soldiers were killed). The Japanese sentries then took the two
captive British soldiers to a small clearing and tied them to some wooden
A short while later the remaining Chindits
met the 2 Burma Rifles approaching the village and quickly
launched a frontal attack, clearing away the enemy patrol. Lt Duncan Menzies
and Private Gilmartin were found tied to the posts with strong rope, their
heads and beards had been shaved and they were dressed in Japanese uniforms.
Private Gilmartin was already dead; Duncan Menzies was dying he had been used
for bayonet practice by the Japanese and then shot in the stomach
In spite of the great pain from his wounds
Lieutenant Menzies gave information on the size strength and direction of the
Japanese patrol. He then, knowing that he was dying gave the Burma Rifles
Commanding Officer Lt-Colonel Wheeler his watch to be passed on to his parents.
As Lieutenant Menzies injury was so severe he could not be taken by the
Chindits he begged Colonel Wheeler to give him an overdose of morphia and leave
As Lt-Colonel Wheeler gave Duncan Menzies
the overdose of morphia to end his suffering he turned away to join his men and
at that instant, was shot in the head by a Japanese sniper. Lieutenant Duncan
Menzies and his close friend Lieutenant Colonel Wheeler were both buried close
to the Kachin village where they were killed, their bodies were not found after
the fighting in Burma was over.
He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions with the Chindits, after his death, the citation from the London Gazette read
'Lieut. MENZIES was Adjutant of No. 5 Column. At the cutting of the railway at and south of BONCHAUNG on 6th March 1943, he was in charge of the main demolition at BONCHAUNG railway station for the first hour of the work, while his Column Commander was involved in a skirmish elsewhere. Owing to enemy activity, he had had to lead the Column by a difficult route across mountains, a journey accomplished in a very short space of time.
At HINTHA on 28th March 43, he remained for half an hour in an exposed position by himself, keeping the enemy off with grenades and calling back with accurate information about their movements with a fine disregard of danger.
Throughout the campaign he set a high example of efficiency, cheerfulness and devotion to duty. Of great physical powers of endurance his energy never flagged; and at the end of the most trying march he was tireless and possessed of extraordinary reserves of strength. He was easily the most skilful jungle navigator in the Column, which he would lead for hours without relief cutting a track as he went. Utterly fearless in action and an unbending disciplinarian who exacted his own high standards from everybody, he commanded the confidence and affection of every man in the column. He has since been killed in action on 04.04.1943.'
The medal was eventually presented to Duncan's mother Joan, on 23rd April 1946 by the Governor of South Australia.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
Menzies Duncan C. Military
Cross.182309. Lieutenant. (b) Australia. Killed in action Burma on the 4-4-43.
2 Battalion Black Watch.
COMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
Menzies Lieutenant Duncan
Campbell 182309. Military Cross. The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment
attached to the 13 Battalion Kings Regiment (Liverpool). 4
April 1943. Age 24. Son of Duncan and Joan Menzies from Adelaide South
Australia. The Rhodes Scholar for South Australia in 1939. Face 4.
Lieutenant Duncan Campbell Menzies 182309. Military Cross 2 Battalion Black Watch attached to
the 77 Indian Brigade (Chindits) has no known grave and is
remembered on the RANGOON MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING, MYANMAR (BURMA).
Further information on Lt Duncan C Menzies can be found here