About A Story of War

My father, Colin Diarmid Campbell Dunford Wood, kept war diaries continuously from early 1939, even before the Second World War broke out, to the time of the Indian Partition. After graduating from Sandhurst in 1938, he joined the Leicestershire Regiment in India, seeing service in Waziristan, (fighting pretty much the same people we are fighting today – will we never learn?) before being posted to the 13th Frontier Force Rifles in Madras. Stuck in an Indian Army backwater (as he saw it) as World War Two raged around him, he volunteered to join the RAF. But there was a problem: his eyesight, which was less than perfect. However, as I discovered, he managed to cheat on the eye test and got accepted for the 4th Intermediate Flight Training School at RAF Habbaniya, Iraq. He went on to fight in the air across Iraq (where he trained on Hawker Audax aircraft) , India and Burma (where he flew the last Hurricane out, before the advancing Japanese) and later in Northern Europe as the Allies crossed the Rhine.

He continued to keep diaries up to the time of his death in 1971. At that time I was 11, and did not have a chance to get to know him well. These diaries, therefore, have become a way for me to get to know the man – so this is both the story of discovery of a father by his son, and also a vivid portrait of war across several continents and campaigns. Rather than follow the ordered chronology of the tidy historian, who has points to make and theories to prove, the narrative follows the haphazard progress of war on the ground – encompassing fear, boredom, incompetence, luck, romance, and horror – all interlaced with a humour that kept the man sane.

Whether these diaries are of any interest to anyone other than myself and my immediate family, only time will tell. But they certainly have a historical value, as diaries of this sort are relatively rare, not least because they were technically illegal – it was forbidden for soldiers and airmen on the front line to keep diaries.

They are also full of military expressions, slang and abbreviations, strange place names (invariably transcribed inaccurately by me and often spelled wrong in the first place by my father), and on occasion snippets of Urdu and Pashto. To help decipher these, I am building a glossary. Where I have made errors I would be delighted to be corrected, and if anyone knows the meanings or origin of any unfamiliar terms, please feel free to let me know!

The project is to publish these diaries 70 years to the day after they were written, and the modern blog seems to me the perfect way to do this. All comments welcome – especially if you find names you recognise cropping up in the story! I’m also interested in people who have similar diaries that touch on historic events, who would be willing to publish them in blog format.

Last, I would like to dedicate these diaries, on behalf of my father, to his grandchildren, who I hope will get to know him a little through reading them – to Gemma Sharp, Jasper Sharp, Jesse Dunford Wood, Rollo Dunford Wood, Pasco Dunford Wood, Aquila Dunford Wood (Aquila Rose), Ellie Dunford Wood, Rosie Dunford  Wood, Tilly Dunford Wood and Joe Dunford Wood – and now his great grandchildren – Maisy, Finn, Viola, Monty, Ada and Philippa.

James Dunford Wood

201 Goldhawk Road, London W12 8EP
email: jamiedw (at) gmail.com

38 Responses to About A Story of War

  1. Motherbird says:

    My father flew with yours in Holland in 1945!

  2. This is very interesting and I will enjoy reading more of it ! Intend to ask Angela more questions when I am next in Lyme Regis !

  3. Mark Swan says:

    Dear James

    I came across this fascinating diary of your father when following some leads on Wardle, my grandfather and uncle who both served in the Leicesters. Unless i am mistaken the Mickey Wardle your father mentions a few times was my uncle who after a year a so after this campaign volunteered for the Parachute Regiment and was killed in action in North Africa in 1943.
    Thank you for taking the trouble to post this diary, it has provided some detail and colour to a life i heard much about but only ever via family. Mickey’s sister, my mother is still alive at 89, and i am sure will be thrilled to hear that he is remembered by your father .

    With my best regards

    Mark Swan

  4. charles davenport says:

    I recently subscribed to your blog. Thank you for sharing this perspective and historical reference.

  5. Jagan says:

    Did your father fly with No.28 Squadron RAF? I was putting together a short article of the unit in Burma when I came across this blog. Did he also serve as CO of No.2 Squadron Indian Air Force? There cant be too many Dunford-Wood’s out there!

    • James Dunford Wood says:

      Hi Jagan

      Yes, the same and only one. I have extensive diaries from that period in Burma if you are interested – due on this blog in a few years, as I am publishing chronologically. According to my father, he rather ‘made a hash of’ his time as acting squadron leader of 2 Squadron, though I have not investigated that yet.

      • Jagan says:

        Amazing (Cant believe my luck) – Who would have thought !!!..

        I never ever had an idea that he was originally Army, Frontier Service, RAF.. (and ofcourse Burma veteran and all). What a life he lived!

        I look forward to reading those future entries. Already subscribed to the RSS.

        Thanks in advance.

  6. mark cremin says:

    Hello James. I was fascinated with the diary, particularly with references to my father Dan Cremin, an Australian. He was killed in 1942 so I never knew him and I have and continue to do so, try to find out about him as a person, and your father’s comments really help with that. The sock on the jaw he mentioned: my father won a Boxing competition as a trainee pilot in Oz! So I guess your father didn’t know that! I have the Historical Record of C Sqadron formed from one of the 4FTS flights at the time of the seige, with your father quoted on the front cover with a p/o Haig as the authors, and listing themas part of ‘Reconnaissance’.

    • James Dunford Wood says:

      Hi Mark – great to hear from you! It’s connections like this that really make the exercise worthwhile! There’s lots more to come I think in the next couple of months as the battle develops – including your father returning from a sortie with alot of holes in his fuselage. I would love to see the historical record – I will email you! regards james

  7. mark cremin says:

    I’ll get a copy to you, but I am away for two weeks so after that. Thanks I can’t wait! Mark

  8. Julian Horn says:

    HI James, I have some good information on P.O. Hugh Dunford-Wood who was killed flying from Watton with 21 Squadron in 1940. If you are interested in opening out the family story a liitle email me I will explain.

  9. Andy Wright says:

    Hi James

    Jagan put me onto your blog and I must say I am quite excited with what the future holds. I am very passionate about the air war over Burma and the SEAC in general so am very much looking forward to reading more about your father and his involvement. Not enough attention paid to the men who fought this theatre of the war.

    Very much appreciate the time you are taking to share the diary entries.

    Kind regards

    Andy Wright

    • James Dunford Wood says:

      Hi Andy
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I’m looking forward to that too! I have not actually read the entire way through these diaries so it will be interesting what we find…
      james

  10. Sandy Burnett says:

    Fascinated to see reference to your father receiving a letter from “Mowbray” Burnett with the Gordons in Singapore in July 1940. That was obviously my father Kenneth Moubray Burnett, known as Moubray. From Aberdeenshire he was a tea planter before the war in India but when war broke out at his own expense he sailed to Singapore to join up with the Gordon Highlanders. He survived Japanese POW camps and only died last year in Argentina at my sister’s house aged 94. If you google him you will see his obituary. Well done you putting the diary online and I am sure you must have learnt such a lot about your father.
    Best wishes,
    Sandy Burnett

    • James Dunford Wood says:

      Hi Sandy
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, one of the great joys of this diary is finding readers like you who find fathers or relations mentioned in these diaries. I also try and look up many of the names who pass through these pages – google is a wonderful thing! Basil Henson, for example (rather unflatteringly sketched at one point) turns out to have become a famous British screen actor; a large proportion end up being killed later on in the war. So glad to have found you, and please keep in touch! james

    • Julian Barrat says:

      Hello Sandy, this is Julian Barrat, son of your Mother’s favourite cousin Molly Reynolds. I’ve coincidentally just come across your note when doing some idle research on the 1941 Iraq campaign. I remember your Mother fondly, and our visit to your farm in about 1965. Of course Nigel is just down the road from me in Melbourne, but I’ve lost touch since seeing him once with my parents in about 1995. I’d welcome keeping in touch with you and Nigel in a low key way if possible (our Mothers would have liked it) and to perhaps catching up for a sherbet when I’m next in Edinburgh or you in Melbourne). I knew of your Father’s exploits in Burma and was interested to read his obituary. Cheers Julian

  11. Michael Bowen says:

    My father, Nick Bowen, also flew with yours in Holland in early 1945 with 2 squadron.

    To quote from his log book
    ‘ March 24th Spitfire Z – OPS- Anti Flak Area north of Wessel -1.05 hours (duration) – No.2 to F/lt Dunford Wood. Heavy 88 Flak – No.3 D.DRY. British cross the Rhine! Witnessed initial waves of paratroops droping (sic) & photogragraphed them’
    The same day the both flew again for another 50 mins and my father writes “Attacked & damaged 2 MET” (whatever they are.)

    I also have a story which appeared in Bae News, their staff newspaper, about the nose-art painted on your father’s spitfire by my godfather, F/lt Jefferies ( also a pilot in 2 squadron). It shows a sultan-like figure with the caption ,’Maharajah of Rumblebellypore’ presumably to celebrate your dad’s Indian connections. I have the picture and the pic of the plane in flight if you’d like a scanned copy. Send me an email.

    • James DunfordWood says:

      Hi Michael
      Great to hear from you, it’s nice to hear from people whose fathers knew mine, and that’s one of the unanticipated rewards of putting these diaries online. Anyway, come 2015 we will get around to the entries that mention your father (I have alot to transcribe!) – but in the meantime here is the extract from 24th March 1945 that mentions your dad:

      “Today the Allies attack cross the Rhine. Nick Bowen and I do an anti-flak patrol between Wessel and Bocholt to try and spot the gun flashes and get the “cab rank” typhoons onto them. There are masses of 88 and 40mm about but narry a flash do I see, and we reckon they are using flashless ammunition. We are expecting to see paratroops and at 10.00hrs I see them just as Nick calls up “Aldershot Tattoo”, our agreed call. We go and watch and take some photographs, but due to the haze they are not up to much. The first drop seems unopposed but the second comes through a hail of 40mm flak. The leading Dakota catches fire but continues his run, turns, and then the crew bail out. I see about six Dakotas burning, some crash, one puts out its fire in an engine, and one I see crash our side of the Rhine, with one of the crew about to come down in the river.

      I see a Typhoon smoking from a hit, and get caught up in the flak myself whilst trying to get photographs. On the way home we pass a stream of tugs and gliders going out – the Dakotas of the previous drop passing underneath them on their way home. Later we do a TAC/R together and I make a pass at a truck, unsuccessfully. My shooting is bad these days and I have missed an M/C, jeep and today’s truck.”

      The next entry (April 1st) starts: “I go up and try to loot Wessel, but all I get is a bedside lamp.” !!

      Anyway, would love to see that photo, also a copy of the article – yes, I have one similar here showing the ‘Maharaja of Rumblebellypore.’ Your Godfather was obviously a good artist. Interesting your father says ‘attacked and damaged 2 MET’ – my father suggests he missed!

      Is your father still alive? I will send an email.
      best wishes
      james

      • S Harrison says:

        My father went out with another member of 2 Squadron and returned home with something slightly better than a bedside lamp in the shape of an SS Staff car!

    • John Engelsted says:

      Hi Michael. Hope you read this. I would love to learn more about your father and his logbook. Please e-mail me – I can’t find your email address on this site.
      John

    • S Harrison says:

      My father also flew with both Nick Bowden and Colin Dunford Wood in 2 Squadron . I have just finished writing a book about his war time flying. I wonder if Nick Bowden made any mention of David greville-Heygate in his log book.

    • Pierre Lagacé says:

      MET is Mechanical Enemy Transport.
      I have the same abreviation in the logbook of a Spitfire pilot.
      At first I thought it was Me-109s!

    • S A Heygate says:

      Hi Michael. I am trying to track Flt/Lt Jefferies or his relatives as I have one of his cartoons and I would like to ask them if I could include it in a book I am writing. I wonder if you could help me contact them.

  12. Mark Sellar says:

    Hello James,

    I wish to thank you for creating and sharing this wonderful website that is dedicated to the memory of your late father.

    Critically, your father was evidently an assidious recorder of people and places he visited throughout his service career, and your posting of his diaries and logs on the internet provide an extremely useful source of biographical information on the persons mentioned. Suffice to say that the iformation that you have posted provides insights into personalities of the era that are simply not extant elsewhere. Indeed in many instances I suspect that many of the ancedotes recorded on this website, might be the only surviving anecdotes of the service personne – and civilians – here recorded.

    In case of your interest, I either currently hold, or in the past have owned, some of the medals awarded to persons named in your website. If you would like digital images, and or details of these Indian Army officers, I will be happy to send them to you for inclusion on your website.

    Let me know accordingly, and I will do the needful as required.

    Yours aye,
    Mark

    • James Dunford Wood says:

      Hi Mark

      Thank you for your detailed comments, and kind words. I will respond by email – but in any case I would be very interested in details about some of the people mentioned, as I would like to build up some biographical background.
      best wishes
      james

  13. theron says:

    Hello:

    Just wanted you to know that I am learning a GREAT deal from “A Story of War” : about the CBI and about the British role. I am a WWII era historian, but have focused upon both the ETO and the role of the merchant marine…and mostly the U.S. involvement at that. These posts are really illuminating.

    The only direct contact my own resaerch has is with the various ports in India and the expereinces of merchant mariners in those ports.

    I wrote my Ph.D thesis focusing upon a group of men in the US military, tracing how their collective identity and social structures changed as they experienced the war first hand. I am currently writing the history of a WWII era freighter by way of first hand accounts and the records. So, Your posts really resonate with me. Keep them coming. Thank you!

  14. David Owen says:

    Hi James,
    My name is David Owen and I have the privilage to be Curator of the Royal Corps of Transport medal collection, in which your father’s excellent medal group is displayed. I am delighted to have come across this website which contains so much interesting detail of your father’s service, told through his diaries. I am keen to improve the information I have on the medal room public information computer and to improve the archive records. I would therefore welcome anything you could let me have on his service, particularly time spent with the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), including pictures of him in RASC uniform. You will be aware that he spent a considerable time with that Corps after the war.
    If you or anyone else would like to visit the medal display please let me know.
    With regards,
    David Owen

    • James Dunford Wood says:

      Hi David

      Thanks for your comment, and I can certainly send images from his RCT days when I come across them – though currently all images are in store until April, so make take a little while! Meanwhile I will email separately about the medals. best wishes james

  15. Cynny Sharp says:

    I am ceaselessly fascinated with the blogs you have compiled for us all, Jamie. On this day, April 5th, your birthday, I am sure Daddy would compliment you as I do, on all your hard work. He was so proud of having another son, calling you The Captain, and I am sure he is watching with amusement as we unfold his war stories!

  16. a gray says:

    Your blog inspired me to begin posting entries in a journal/diary that were made by my uncle while serving as a B-25 tail gunner/armorer with the USAAF’s 42nd Bombardment Group, 13th Air Force in the South Pacific. The blog’s title is Wayne’s Journal, http://www.waynes-journal.com. Wayne’s entries are posted on the day he wrote them — 70 years later. The entry for March 7, 1944 was written while he was on Guadalcanal. Part of the entry concerns comments made by crew members returning from a night time training flight: “The boys said this island looked like any normal U.S. city at night. Lights everywhere. The ships in the harbor lighted as if they were Christmas trees.”

    • James Dunford Wood says:

      Hi there – great to hear from you, and your uncle’s diary looks great. I will link to you from here, feel free to link back to Story of War. I will follow it with interest – you will find it very rewarding, and you will be amazed who you meet through it! best wishes James

      • a gray says:

        A few moments ago, I finished reading all of the entries through June 26, 1944. This has been a great journey through time and history. I look forward to future entries.

    • Pierre Lagacé says:

      Thanks Allan for this link.

  17. aziz says:

    It is much interesting to learn from all of you.I belongs from Razmak North Waziristan Agency. My great grand-father(Malik Mirdod, Baba) was an influential malik of the Wazir(Khushali Tori Khel tribe).Any one know about him? Please share with me, if anyone…

    Thanks
    Aziz Wazir

  18. Pierre Lagacé says:

    You are right James about this blogging format for this diary.
    This you wrote is also right on the button…

    Rather than follow the ordered chronology of the tidy historian, who has points to make and theories to prove,

    This is why these journals or diaries are so important.

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