On 18 April 1944, two Columns under Major ASTELL, which had been
taking part in heavy fighting during the previous three weeks, were
moving towards a British block which had been established astride a
road and railway at HENU, Burma.
At 0630 hours, the leading troop
had reached the broad stream bed of the Mawlu Chaung, when heavy
fire was opened from the far side. Fighting developed on all sides,
the enemy proved to be for the most part in dug-in positions. It
became apparent that the route of the columns had taken them right
between two strongly defended localities, which the enemy was holding
in great strength with heavy and medium machine guns and mortars.
The ensuing action, which was exceedingly hard-fought, continued for
over four hours, when Major ASTELL received orders to disengage and
continue his march by another route. This disengagement was hotly
opposed by the enemy, who were by this time all around the columns;
but with great skill Major ASTELL succeeded in withdrawing the
greater part of his wounded.
Although in this action he lost twenty
percent of his strength, the number of Japanese killed is known to
have been more than twice his own losses, and is believed to be much
higher still. Although twelve out of fourteen mules were killed,
all mortars and machine guns were successfully manhandled out of the
battle, and carried many miles. The whole action was fought with
great determination by all ranks, and reflected as much credit on
them as if it had been crowned with success. The personal conduct of
Major ASTELL throughout was magnificent. He exposed himself
fearlessly where the fire was hottest, his exemplary courage and
demeanour inspired his troops to great deeds, and won their
admiration for ever.