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 attacks.
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 shortfalls.
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 again.
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 near by.
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 posts.
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 him behind.
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 EDINBURGH CASTLE 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 COMMISSION 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