WITHIN minutes of a bullet tearing through him, Corporal Lester Hudson was crawling through the Burmese jungle, dodging shellfire from all sides.

“If the bullet had been a fraction inwards, that would've been it,” says Lester, now 98, reflecting on his remarkable service with the Chindits. Today he is the only Chindit in Yorkshire.

The Chindits, (Long Range Penetration Groups), were special operations units of the British and Indian armies, in action in 1943–1944, during the Burma Campaign of the Second World War. Formed for raiding operations against the Japanese Army; attacking troops and lines of communication, deep behind Japanese lines, the Chindits marched through jungle terrain in intense heat, often hit by diseases such as malaria and dysentery.

Lester was a young baker, working off Manchester Road, Bradford, when he went to war. He was initially sent to barracks in Preston “to learn how to be a soldier”, he says. “We had one rifle between 15 of us.”

Serving with the South Staffordshire Regiment, he was later sent to India, for some of the toughest training undertaken by British troops. The men were preparing for two enemies - the Japanese and the jungle.

Lester served with the second Chindt operation in 1944, Operation Thursday. In an operation never attempted before, 10,000 men, 1,000 mules, equipment and supplies were airlifted into clearings in the heart of Burma, behind enemy lines.

Three landing grounds, (code names Piccadilly, Broadway and Chowringhee) were selected, in inaccessible areas to avoid Japanese ground troops. On March 5, 1944 Operation Thursday commenced; flying at night, gliders landed troops, along with American engineers to construct an airstrip so C47 Dakotas could bring in remaining troops and equipment.

Serving under Brigadier Orde Charles Wingate, the units were tasked with infiltrating Japanese territory; attacking roads, bridges and supply depots. The men went through jungle on foot, each carrying over 70lbs of equipment, including a rifle, ammunition, grenades, a machete, rations, groundsheet and change of uniform. Support weapons, radios and reserve ammunition were carried on mules. “Our job was to fortify the hills, we had to do everything we could to stop the Japanese invading, and help our lads on the border,” says Lester.

While the Chindits relied on surprise tactics to attack the enemy, they too were targets for Japanese snipers. “There were all over - in trees and underground. They shelled us across open land, for weeks. I went deaf with all the grenades going off,” recalls Lester. “We couldn’t sleep, we had to be alert. It got dark quickly, one night I saw two shapes in front of me, but couldn’t tell if they were Japanese or ours. I stood still and they vanished.”

The men hacked through the jungle with machetes, in heat and humidity. “We’d acclimatised in India. When you’re a soldier you get on with it,” says Lester. “I was with some of the best men I ever met. We lost quite a few going across the wide rivers.”

The men were ordered to leave the wounded. “We gave them a water bottle and a rifle. If any were taken prisoner, heaven help them,” says Lester. “We had to keep moving.”

Sometimes the men defied orders and helped the wounded. During the Battle of Pagoda Hill, a brutal conflict that killed many, Lester was shot in his side. “The bullet went right through me and out the other side,” he says. “A fraction inwards, I’d be dead. I had 12 men with me, they put up a smokescreen to keep off the Japanese. I crawled, one of the lads helped me along.”

“We’d been ordered to leave the hills and march out of Burma. We’d had food supplies dropped by ‘planes, that was a welcome sight, but they stopped sending ‘planes. We had to cross rivers in the monsoon. Only one man knew the way! When we saw ‘planes, we didn’t know which ones were Japanese - they put stars and stripes on the side. I once saw a Japanese pilot wave at me.”

Eventually, Lester reached an American aerodrome and was airlifted to hospital in India. “I broke my leg playing football there. That didn't go down well,” he smiles.

“We were to be resumed to go again, then the news came about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We had to get to Bombay as quickly as we could, and were told to avoid the warring (pre-Partition) factions. They wanted me to stay and work in an office, but I’d had enough. I came out on the same boat I went over on. Half our battalion had been killed.”

Stationed in Marseille, France, Lester was given leave to marry his first wife, Dorothy. “The boats were cancelled due to poor weather. I went over on a freight ship with two police officers,” he recalls.

Lester returned to the UK a year after the war ended, and worked at Bradford Glass Company.

Years later, he developed skin cancer, caused by sunburn in the jungle from the upturned brim of his Chindit hat. "They took skin off my thigh and put it on my face," he says.

Now a great grandfather, Lester lives in Wibsey with wife Elsie. Last month he attended the Remembrance Day Parade in London, accompanied by a carer from Shipley-based care service Helping Hands, joining veterans at the Cenotaph.

"It was the best day I've had in a long time," says Lester. "I met Wingate's granddaughter. I told her I was one of the last people to speak to him. He said to me, 'Get some men and clear this debris.' A few hours later he was dead."

Brian Percival, project co-ordinator for Age UK's Military Memories, which records the experiences of ex-servicemen and women, met Lester through the Chindit Society. "They contacted me after reading a T&A article on Military Memories," says Brian.

"It's wonderful to meet people like Lester, who have such an incredible history, and preserve their memories for future generations."