Travelling on the Burma road was slow torture - like the jam on an August Bank holiday in England, but there was no holiday spirit among us, only a grim determination to get away as far as possible from the Japs. Most of the vehicles were lorries packed with people and goods; all along the road were traffic jams, the tension of knowing what was behind was almost unbearable. The road was also blocked with trees at certain points. On our second day's journey we were held up for hours because we came to a bridge where only one vehicle was allowed to cross at a time. Considering the thousands of lorries that had to cross, the delay can be imagined.
When Rangoon was reoccupied by the Allies in 1945 it was in a state of indescribable filth. Open road-side drains were full of sewage. Many of the buildings were badly damaged, roofs missing, and girders projecting out of the walls. Thousands of homeless people had erected flimsy bamboo and leaf shanties along the streets in front of ruined buildings and in open spaces. The Anglican Cathedral had been used by the Japanese as a brewery making saki and sauces. It had been cleaned up under a service chaplain by a volunteer working party which included one Lieutenant-General, three Brigadiers, two Colonels, four Chaplains and many other troops, all working with pick and shovel with their shirts off. West of the Lake, in a large isolated house, had lived the Japanese ambassador with his offices in Judson College. The Rangoon Gymkhana Club was used as a hotel frequented by Japanese officers and pilots while the Pegu Club was both a club and a brothel for officers. The less comfortable environment of the tramway depot was the brothel for other ranks. Rangoon's pre-war night spot, The Silver Grill, became The New Burma Hall as a general place of entertainment for the Japanese.
Kyaw Nyun and I had drafted our report in the Secretariat
and were sitting in his office next door to the Cabinet ante-room when we were startled to hear several long
bursts, probably about 200 rounds, of automatic fire coming from the Cabinet room. We threw ourselves to
the ground behind our desks, in case the gunmen came after us too. But they had done the job they came to
do and quickly left the Secretariat.|
The scene of carnage in the Cabinet room was horrific. Aung San and six of his Ministers including my Minister, Thakin Mya, were obviously dead, one other was mortally wounded, all were riddled by bullets fired at point blank range, their clothing soaked in blood, their sandals lying where they had been kicked off. There was still a strong smell of cordite, and spent cartridge cases were being collected and examined by the police. Though I write from memory of events nearly fifty years ago, this terrible sight remains fresh and vivid in my mind.
As foreigners to Burma we were warned, "Take care: they are the Irish of the East: humorous and easy-going, but prone to outbursts of passion and capable of violence!" - which last seemed not too inaccurate a description of ourselves! But one soldier, and many others who looked for themselves, found so much more to warm to and feel unexpectedly at home with: the absence of the caste system which infected the life of India; the independence of Burmese women and their social equality with men - in some ways, superiority; their attention to cleanliness of body and neatness of dress; their love of children; their response to any approach by us foreigners; the generally beneficent influence of their Buddhist faith, and the generosity they showed while seeking to acquire 'merit'; and as for the violence, many a night I walked alone through the darkness in Rangoon to broadcast on Forces' Radio, and no one gave me cause for uneasiness or disquiet.