The Retreat from Burma
Apart from two experienced light tank regiments and an infantry battalion brought in from the Middle East, whose presence in the long retreat up-country undoubtedly saved Burma Corps from total destruction, no other reinforcements reached Burma Command. The British 18th Division, destined for Burma, was redirected to Singapore on Churchill's orders, reaching it just in time to march into Japanese prison camps.
The Burma Campaign 1941 - 1945
Operating a scorched-earth policy as it went, Burcorps, now under command of Lieutenant General William Slim, fell back up the Irrawaddy river, accompanied by tens of thousands of wretched Indian refugees, harassed and murdered by the Burmese population as they struggled to gain Indian soil.
In May the retreat finally ended, and the shattered remnants of Burcorps began to prepare for return to Burma. There followed many months of stalemate, as both sides tried to probe each other's strengths and weaknesses. Wavell, anxious to re-assert British military influence and raise depressed morale, ordered an advance into the Arakan, the coastal region of Burma, at the end of It stalled and was bloodily repulsed - and morale sank even further.
Things were only lightened by the propaganda value of Brigadier Orde Wingate's first Chindit expedition. In this the Allies enjoyed some success in using guerrilla tactics against the Japanese, despite incurring heavy losses, thus proving that British troops could take on the Japanese in the jungle.
His influence obtained much needed air support for what now became the 14th Army, particularly in the field of transport aircraft, and re-supply by air became the norm for the forward troops. Slim, now in command of 14th Army, imbued his command with a new spirit. Units were encouraged to sit tight, relying on air-dropped supplies, and hold their ground when attacked, instead of dispersing as formerly.
The Japanese, aware that the defenders had gained strength, resolved to end the campaign at a blow with an assault into Assam, aimed at capturing the key towns of Imphal, capital of the hill state of Manipur, and Kohima. Another Japanese attack was made simultaneously in the Arakan. For the first time the defenders stood firm, confident in their air support. Between March and July fierce battles raged on both fronts. Although now outnumbered, the Japanese fought with ferocious courage; all ranks of 14th Army knew that their ticket home depended on total destruction of their enemy and this is exactly how it transpired.
Fighting every inch, the Japanese recoiled from the hills and back across the River Chindwin, harassed by Wingate's second Chindit expedition. Wingate unfortunately did not live to see this outcome. He perished in a plane crash as the expedition began, and as American troops were advancing from the north with somewhat unreliable Chinese Nationalist forces.
Bereft of his dynamic leadership the expedition became semi-static, although there were some remarkable feats of arms as the numerous Chindit columns fought deep in the Japanese rear areas, in their endeavours to realise Wingate's concept of 'a hand in the enemy's bowels'. Mandalay fell in March, and Slim conducted a brilliant crossing of the mighty Irrawaddy before heading south. In the Arakan, the Japanese had to be winkled out of strong positions before Rangoon was taken on 3 May.
Mountbatten gratified his ambition by staging an elaborate victory parade, at which he took the salute in Rangoon on 15 June. This took place despite the fact that thousands of Japanese were still fighting hard, many of them still in strength, behind British lines - as they tried desperately to escape across the Sittang river into Thailand, losing heavily as they went. Slim, the architect of this great victory, was not present at Mountbatten's parade. My uncle with his wife and two children were a part of this exodus.
I have heard many tales from my grandmother and father about them reaching Calcutta and then Bombay Mumbai. Their daughter was lost at one of the river crossing and the rest of them passed away in Bombay hospital due to severe dysentery — probably cholera. I am fascinated by Dr. Gurumurthy personal account of the trek and more details.
The retreat from Burma, | Imperial War Museums
Dear Mr Ghosh, My grandfather migrated to Burma in the early s. My father was born in Rangoon in and so were all his siblings, 5 of them.
Though my grandpa returned to India in due ill health, tons of relatives stayed back. I have heard many stories in my childhood about uncles , aunties and cousins trekking overland through the jungles of Nothern Burma and N. E India.
- Wheels of a Dream!
- The Courage Handbook;
- 19th May The final stages of the Burma retreat.
- THE RETREAT FROM BURMA, 1942.
- Mon chat ma dit, mon chien ma dit (French Edition).
Sadly many of them perished due to malaria and other complications. I will forward your blog to my dad and perhaps he still remembers some survivors of that traumatic period. Thank you. I told you my parents story of their trek out of Burma and you asked me to tell the people who were present at your book launch. Many years later and much water under the bridge and I am now writing my parents story of their life in burma, trek out and their story here in australia. Ive just read account by Manny Curtis and his return in to Pagan after they had treked miles from Kohima and Imphal to Pakkoku 60 years earlier.
He spoke of the ft cliff on the Irrawaddy River that he climbed on 14th february — how ironic that it was infront of these cliffs that we moored the boat and scattered my parents ashes. Amitav, I have tried to buy A forgotten Long March: The Indian Exodus from Burma, by Hugh Timker and have no luck — if any of your readers could help me out and loan or sell me their copy, I would be most grateful.
The Hugh Tinker book is unfortunately out of print and very hard to find. But I am sure you could ask your library to get it through inter-library loans. I was most interested to read your account of the long march. My father who was the engineer in charge at Mingaladon aerodrome, was killed in the first air-raid on the 23rd Dec. My mother and I were lucky, we managed to get away by sea and arrived in Madras just a few days before Rangoon fell to the Japanese. However, we too, had our moments of anxiety.
A journey through a minefield a couple of attacks by submarines and an air-raid while at Madras station waiting for a train to Bangalore. If you ever get around to writing an account of your memories I would be very glad to post it here. Trevelyan was in a member of Ormond-Iles Lodge in Rangoon Burma would you be willing to contact me so I can correct some errors in our written history.
My dad was born in Albert Ryan. He is one of 10 siblings. My grandfather was Arulnathan, station master of Rangoon station back then. When the family started their trek it was December , arriving in Kumbakonam in May We are visiting Yangon with my father to reminisce the places he remembers like the church and school close by. Do you have any recommendations for someone trying to find birth records, school records, places that may still exist from WW2 to help with the journey?
I read your book cover to cover and it helped me understand a little of what the family went through at that time. It was an amazing read and I will send a copy to my dad before we visit Yangon. Thanks for heart touching narrations by Dr Gurumurthi Thank you all Burmese evacuees. Just now I am at USA with my son working here I shall be more than happy if some of evacuees contact me in my email as given above Can you please help me getting my Birth certificate and my father death certificate.
Warm Regards shankar Mazumdar. Among the hundreds of thousands of people who trekked out of Burma for India ahead of the Japanese vanguard were several Burmese jazz musicians. They had rice mills and were importing merchandise for British Army in Burma.
On the onset of Japanese march towards Rangoon, he was able to obtain air passage sea plane for my mother and eldest sister who was about 6 months old at the time to Calcutta. The plane did not leave as scheduled due to Japanese air raids. British authority had asked father to stay behind because he was, at least in British eyes, Indian community leader. British had their own interest in mind.
They wanted rice for the Indian soldiers in British Army. Most busineses in Burma were owned and run by Indians. As Japanese marched into Rangoon, my father and some one hundred of his employees left by foot. Month long walk took them to a port city and waited for ship. Father did not want to board the ship because an employee sick with cholera was denied permission to board. He believed it was end for him as the ship left. But other employees on board bribed? One side story: along the way on the ship,he found a marwadi business aquantance in distress and crying.
He wanted to end his life. He had recovered from cholera during the long walk. He did not want to go back home because his wife and family had left him behind when he was stricken with cholera. He was not sure how he would face his family. Father made him realize how much agony his wife must have gone thru to leave him behind to save other family members. Father, Mr. Jadavji Somchand Mehta, passed away 3 years ago at age What I wrote above is what I remember from his stories. His brother and brother-in-law returned back to Burma after the war and had very successful business.
Mother is still alive in India, and has more stories to tell.
The Indian Army in Far East and South-East Asia, 1941–45
Thank you very much for this story. I am glad to know that your father wrote down some of the details of his experience. I strongly encourage you to publish everything he may have written on the subject. There is very little material on the march out of Burma in , especially from an Indian point of view — every detail is valuable. I would be glad to post it on this site, if you like. With my best wishes Amitav. Hello everyone, I was a small boy about 10 when I with my Mother, 2 brothers, a sister few days old,an uncle with a servant 2 bodyguards left Toungoo via the Tamu route.
Near Tamu 2 British soldiers tried to stop us proceeding route reserved for europeans saying Japs were around so telling us to proceed via the much longer and dangerous route but my Mother had a pass signed by District Magistrate that we were not to be stopped, so allowed to proceed. WE did not see any Japanese it was a lie those 2 probably were deserters. I could see from all this that British rule in India was over. Those europeans were not very humane people. Name one that died unless ill before, thousands of Indians died. Your comprehensive description of the exodus has been written very beautifully and feels as if a live documentary is being played in front of me.
My grandmother was a part of the exodus, her father serving as a chief engineer in Burma in those days. I read out the post to her and she sent out her sincere blessings to you. My Grandparents and their relatives too took the same route to reach Calcutta, during the same period. Now I can feel how difficult it is to survive during those hard times, and I am proud to be called as their decedent. I wish I would visit Burma and Iravathi river, where my great grandfather was running a ferry service.
Hi Amitav and Dr. Gurumurthy thanks for the memories and I really appreciate the time you have taken to get this on record. My grandmother Late Mrs. Rajeshwari Devar was one of the evacuees who evacuated during this period at the age of , and we are in search of her lost family. When she reached Boklaw, she was shocked to see her house ransacked and her family missing.
From their we heard that she reached Vishakapatnam by ship and then to Madras by Train. We have been searching for her family for over 70 years and will very happy if we could find our roots. His brother, our granduncle was living in Burma during the Japanese raid. My granduncle lost all his children in the bombing as he and his wife were at work. After the bombing they could not find any of their children 5 or 6 aged from 5 to They made the overland route back to India.
We too would love to hear from anyone as to how we can find our relative if they did survive Hope you succeed with your search. Her father was Mr. Shasthri of General News Agency. My M-in law attended St. They lived in Phayre Street opposite Sofer Bldgs. I would appreciate any details you have since I am writing a note on the above. The […]. Tinker calls it, has been chronicled in Bengali fiction? Also, how were the refugees accommodated in Bengal? Can anyone help? Hi, does anyone know of a Sidney Coote of Rangoon who went on the trek with his 2 young daughters?
He worked at Rangoon station and was one of the last to leave his post apparently being awarded the OBE. I am the great-grand-daughter of Daisy. She had many daughters and I think 2? My grandmother was her daughter Celia Beryl deceased. Celia had a a sister called Phyllis Tsatos deceased married to a Greek-Burmese man called Basil deceased. Celia had 2 daughters: Wendy and Sabrina and a son now deceased called Gavin. My mother Sabrina alive came to Australia aged 8. They still live in the Burmese community in Perth.
Hello, In the last line are you referring to basil Manuel and Phyllis from Calcutta. Basil served as the presbyter of St James church in Calcutta and phyllis served as the principal of its girls school…Pratt memorial school … Hi amitav, i just discovered this site and my maternal grandparents were tamilians who migrated to Calcutta from Burma in the 60s. We know very little but it seems to have been an extremely painful uprooting from a good life there. My grandfather was lucky to have received an internal transfer within standard chartered bank — he had the option to goto London alone or Calcutta with family and he chose the latter.
Are you also covering accounts of people who moved during the subsequent migration well after ww2? Thanks Charles amos. Thanks very much for this. Best Amitav. I at age 9 came by the Tammu route in from Toungoo. The British were caring for their own people only the rest were abandoned. No white suffered they traveled in relative comfort dancing drinking whisky most were on horses crossing from Tammu to Palel in Assam. White soldiers tried to stop us going acrooss from Tammu intio India saying there was danger of the japs in the area.
Luckily my Mother had a permit from the District Magistrate to let us through. In short Indians were stopped by British from entering India were compelled to go by longer dangerous route where many died. No wonder the then British were bad people. Birmingham UK. My great-grandfather was an Armenian called Arakiel Minus married to a Burmese woman called Woscoombe. Although they were both dead by , nearly all their children and grandchildren trekked out to Calcutta, with many losses.
He had two sons, Arthur and Norman my dad who had joined up after leaving Lawrence Memorial Military school in His two younger daughters were living in Calcutta with their mother, so all four children missed the trek out. However, after the war, my uncle Arthur trekked back from Calcutta to Rangoon and was reunited with Mack, staying until Mack died in I am trying to prise the story out of him — he is reluctant to talk about it, is nearly 92 years old but very sharp!
Dear Sharman Minus, wishing you safe journey and happy trip. The cemetry was situated at the corner of Sulay pagoda road and anaw ra da road before it was Dalhosie road. Now sure. Just for your information. I am a photographer, and I have been on a photo story, Armenians of Calcutta for the last 4 years. I was wondering if your grandfather would have any photographs from the time that he may be willing to share? Any letters, or documents perhaps that will tell us something of the time? My grandmother, mother and uncle trekked from Maymyo to India late in February , reaching Calcutta three weeks later.
It was not easy for them. My grandfather evacuated Maymyo in May , the last to leave the Soldiers Home, He was forced to take the more northerly horrendous route to comparative safety. He never spoke of his journey, but it left scars on his body and soul. We have photos of the people from then but none of the building, just wondered if you have any? Just wish had the chance to talk to her about it. I had the pleasure of meeting you at the ANU in Canberra some years ago. I was looking for some details on Creek Street, Rangoon, where my dear mother, the tenth of a healthy pack of thirteen, lived and played when the japs attacked.
She was eleven at the time.
Japanese conquest of Burma
Now no more, she would often recollect their exodus during that fateful period. They were the very last to be allowed to leave by steamer. The menfolk of the family walked the hazardous route. They all survived, had productive lives, and have all departed. I am trying to reconstruct my mothers story, her pain and trauma, and trying to get a more vivid picture.
Does any one have photos of the old Rangoon? Thank you for this blog. You can find pictures of the old Rangoon in the collection scanned and put online by the British National Library. I am currently writing a book of my parents life in Burma and beyond here in Australia. I recently took my parents ashes back to Burma and scattered them in the Irrawaddy river. South Australia. Please fwd to Dr. He made the trek and was in charge of 5 groups totaling close to 25, refugees.
Unfortunately, with the recent passing of the author I am left with little information regrading his true identity. We are hoping to make this part of history into a major motion picture and his contributions will not go unacknowledged or unrewarded. Sincerely, Richard Payton. I am from Manipur, India: my grnd parents use to tell me tales about this great migration. How black people we called kol were travelling in groups. Dead bodies were lying everywhere, babies were crying over their mothers corpse. They were carry some kind of disease with them thats why village elderd didnt allow anyone to touch them.
A whole village was wipe out with the disease by helping them. Rumours are there though, that some babies were helped by villagers and is within our community, Kuki tribe. Still living but without knowledge of their roots. The disease was probably cholera. If at all you can, you should collect the memories of elders who remember the march. Some day people will thank you for it. Dear Dr. Gurumurthy, After reading your brief description of your journey from Burma to India reminded me of the same what my aunt , granduncle and grandmother and greatgrand parents used to tell me about their trek from Burma to India.
One of my aunt from that group passed away a few months back. My mother was also one in that group and she was 9 years old at that time. Unfortunately she left us all 48 years back. It was nice reading. Thank you very much uncle. I am currently working on my second novel about Burma which will take place in , starting with the battles of Bilin and Sittang, continuing with the Fall of Rangoon and finishing with the Trek out of Burma. I would be grateful to anyone who could send me memories, documents or pictures and personal accounts of these events to help me in my research.
I am also doing research about Freemasonry in Burma and any information regarding what happened to the Lodges in would be of great help. I thank you all in advance for your help. I think it is vital to keep these memories alive in order to prevent history from repeating itself. Current situation in Burma, where antimuslim riots take place, show that we need to remind people of the suffering which have been inflicted in the past, and the importance of not following blindly hateful propaganda.
If you wish to send me information, you can contact me at the following email address: jak. I left Maymyo in to settle in Rangoon and then migrated to the UK in and then Australia in Went back to Burma on holiday in , , and finally in and visited Maymyo each time and the Lodge building is still there but taken over for the Army use. I am reading two published accounts of the exodus: a contemporary record written around , and published as Memories of Burma by Ranasur Limbu from Kathmandu in and latter reconstruction written around and published as From Burma to India, by Nandalal Rasaili from Darjeeling in I am sure there are several more poublished accounts of the event in Nepali.
One of my friends Ram Tiwari is also working on the oral history of the Burmese Nepalis settled now in Nepal. As many may know, the Gurkhalis were a large population in the s, both as a part of the Gurkhali Brigrade 42 in the British Army and also as a mine-working civilian population. According to these published accounts, the rest were pensioners, cattle-herders, cultivators and petty traders. Nevertheless, these narratives are vivid to get the sense of the scale of human castastraphe that the exodus was. Thanks very much for this Yogesh.
I am sure the books are fascinating. Are they in Nepali? Very excited to have found this site and also to connect with Amitav and the other contributors. Because of the nature of his work, he had gained detailed knowledge of the widely dispersed Indian and Indo-Burmese trading networks that had worked their way down to the smallest and remotest villages the length if not the breadth — because they were not very numerous in the Shan States of Burma and were therefore the most isolated and potentially vulnerable to the anticipated anti-Indian violence on the part of the Burmese.
In the meantime my grandfather Salahuddin Tyabji, a fairly prominent member of the political and business establishment of Rangoon and an authority on the rice industry, had also been co-opted by the government. When Rangoon fell and the long retreat began my grandfather was made responsible for the supply of rice to the refugees and the army units retreating northwards. To enable him to function in this complicated situation he was given the honorary rank of a Lt. Colonel in the British Indian Army — probably unprecedented for a Congressman!
While my grandfather always joked about this I never heard him mention the actual walk out and it is only recently that I have confirmed that he walked out of the northern Hukawng Valley route reaching India on the verge of death through malaria. It is available on Amazon and I would strongly recommend it to those of you trying to fill the space between the silences of the survivors of the northern route. In common with some of the others on this page I am trying to understand the overall situation of this stage of the war — military, civilian and governmental and will share my understanding of this story as I delve into the details that are available.
I am currently writing a book on my parents life in Burma, the trek out and then their life in Australia when we left. Dear Hashim Tyabji I read with interest your entry on this blog and note your father had written a set of notes on his trek out of Burma. It appears that Mt Tyabjyi was planning to go north to Myitkyina. My father went west from there to the Chindwin River via Mansi and Homalin.
He is likely to be the same man my father mentioned. Thank you, Jan. Hi I have an un published novel written by my grandfather he worked as an accountant for a major oil company in burma during s the novel covers his trip from rangoon to the oil fields in yenangyaung his travels up river by steamer to a small town about 50 miles out of mandalay. There journey by road and rail to the extreme north myitikyine and his trek on foot for over miles to ledo in upper assam and lastly the journey from ledo to callcutta where he was lucky enough to be re United with his wife who had gotten on the last evacuation plane out of myitkyine the book entails all sorts of trials and trebulations as my grandfather left rangoon in febuary and did not reach calcutta until late may please contact me if you wish for any further information there are some truly amazing accounts in this book.
It would be great to read it — if you will — and compare it with the two narratives I am studying at the moment. Apologies for my delay in responding. I have been busy and could not find time to visit this site. Must keep in touch through this forum. Thank you for this. Your prefatory piece is the clearest and most succinct I have read for a long time.
I do hope there will be yet more memoirs of the Burma trek before all those who experienced it are no longer with us. One of my former colleagues in Movietone was Alec Tozer who was in Burma from December to the middle of He was a cameraman and he filmed the events of that time. He travelled with the renowned photographer George Roger who was working for Life Magazine. Roger and another photographer got out of Burma by driving their Jeeps into the Naga Mountains until there was no road left. Then they engaged Naga tribesmen to carry their baggage over the mountains down into India.
Alec Tozer also had a Jeep and he escaped by a similar route. In his case, it seems, he was able to drive all the way to India carrying with him all his camera equipment. I am intrigued to know how he could have driven to India when Roger could not. Any ideas? Thanks for your comments and for this interesting sidelight on the march. It must have been a special route. I met you at the book opening ceremony for the River of Smoke in Bombay. I came upon this page about a year ago and realized that my grandmother used to talk a lot about family in Rangoon and that maybe I had a connection to the exodus.
His mother had written a good account of the story in a booklet that I now possess with me! If you would like to use it for your research, please do let me know. Thanks for this. Several people have written to me about the exodus and I am planning to do a series of guest posts on the subject. Grateful for the opportunity to read Dr. I was born in Burma in Shwebo in October I have two elder sisters both born in Burma. My father, an engineer, had served in the PWD in Burma. My mother with we children and many relatives returned to India by ship before the Japanese invasion may be in My father remained to serve in the war efforts of the British but had to trek to India when the British evacuated Burma.
A dramatic even on the route was his spotting his brother-in-law lying unconscious by the roadside, revived him and the two managed to reach Imphal. They might lookme scarecrows, but they looked like soldiers too. Later in the war: Evading enemy aircraft in the desert. All rights reserved. May 19 Wot [photo? Get daily updates about the war Email Subscription. If the missions we had undertaken as fighters in the defence of the Reich until then had been tough and tested our nerves, the missions to follow on the invasion front were going to give us an insight into hell.
I will never forget our first intervention that morning, skimming over the landing beaches at Caen. The surface of the sea was saturated with hundred of boats of all sizes, while the sky was filled with bomber formations going to attack our front, accompanied by countless fighters. Lost in the middle of all that, a handful of Messerschmitts: ours! Overlord for iPad Illustrated history of D-Day and the battle for Normandy, "Fascinating set of photographs, many of which I haven't seen anywhere else before.