August 19, 2016

Recollection of the tragic days in Rangoon under the Japanese occupation

(Continued from yesterday)
Once an unusual high-handed manner Japanese soldier, acting high and mighty in the middle of the wooden jetty bridge in Bogalay Township, while doing occasional body search on the passersby crossing the bridge. Suddenly I saw the Japanese soldier giving a big slap to one middle age monk’s face for not putting away a not lighted cheroot on his lips, this had making the monk  staggering  for a few steps forward and fell down in the middle of the bridge, a few minutes later, recovering from his dismay from the impact of the beating  and then walked away with blood dripping from the corner of his mouth slowly and abruptly with no body to intervene this inhuman act on a holy man.
There was another incident of mine happening in Rangoon Town , When I was about the age of 10 ,wishing eagerly to become a competent cyclist just like the other kids in the street with their bicycles riding around every day. So I had borrowed my uncle’s old rickety bicycle for the practice of riding about two weeks. I was feeling freely to be able to ride a distance of 100 yards without falling at all. One night with no prior warning and as in Japanese occupation time, with no street light, from a distance of 50 yards away, a Japanese military officer on a bicycle, dashing left and right, most probably after drinking from the Chinese restaurant Kun Lock , was drunk and on his way back to his  barrack on Anawrathar Road. On the spur of the moment, his bicycle was coming head on with full speed toward me, unable to shunt him in time to another direction, dashing head on collision on each other, both of us fell down on the ground. A moment later the Japanese officer stoop up  and had drawn out his Samurai long sword making a chopping sign meaning to chopping off my head, I just picked up my bicycle. Astride on it, quickly started cracking on the pedals with full speed, even without the nerve to look back at the officer, but heard him shouting loudly with foul Japanese words. This encounter had given me a frightful experience.
Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku perhaps Japanese greatest strategist and the officer who would contrive the surprise air attack on U S naval force of Pearl Harbor. He had worked as a Naval Attache for the Japanese Embassy in Washington D C from 1926 to 1927, had been promoted from Vice-Minister of the Japanese Navy to Commander –in –Chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet in August 1941 But once the Government  of Prime Minister Tojo Hideki decided on war with the United States, Yamamoto reluctantly agreed  that only a surprise attack aimed at crippling the U S Naval Force  in Pearl Harbor had any hope of victory. He also predicted that if war with America lasted more than one year Japan will lose at last. This high ranking officer had a far-sighted view of war related affair and a superb military strategic techniques could  hardly  curb the war oriented prime minister Tojo Hideki.
In August 1943,  a new combined commander responsible for South –East Asia  under Admiral Lord  Louis Mountbatten was chosen for the recapture of Rangoon. The training, equipment, health and the morale of the allied troops was very much improving and the extensive use of aircraft to transport and supply troops. Lieutenant General Willian Slim was to command the Fourteenth Army. The major effort was intended to be by American trained Chinese troops of Northern Combat Area Command [NCAC] under General Joseph Stilwell. General Orde Wingate with expanded Chindit Forces was to assist Stilwell by disrupting lines of  supply to the Northern front, a long range penetration unit infiltrated  through the  Japanese front lines with the  main aim to cut out North-South railways, damaging communication of the Japanese  in Northern Burma. In 5th Februnary1944, three brigades were flown into landing zone behind Japanese line by the Royal Air Force and USAAF established defensive stronghold around Indaw. On 17th May, control of the Chindit passed from Slim to Stilwell. A force of two Chinese regiments and the Kachin Guerrilla under Merrill’s Marauders captured the Airfield Myitkyina..
Though the allied forces had advanced successfully into central Burma,it was vital to capture the Port of Rangoon before the monsoon, the climate of the region is depended on  seasonal monsoon rain which allowed effective campaigning for 6 months only. A national uprising within Burma and the defection of the entire Burma National Army to the allied side, together with the allied forces advancing toward Rangoon , the Japanese forces now faced  open rebellion behind their lines. The original conception of a plan to retake Burma envisaged to making an amphibious assault on Rangoon will before the Fourteenth Army reached the Capital in order to ease supply problem was postponed. General Slim feared that the Japanese would defend Rangoon to the last man through the monsoon which would put the Fourteenth Army in a disastrous supply situation. In such standoff tactics by the Japanese would surely mounted to heavy fighting from both sides. Big casualty will be resulted at the end with loss of lives and properties and other vital infrastructure of Rangoon Town
On May 1944, a Gurkha parachute battalion was dropped near the mouth of Rangoon River and cleared the Japanese rearguard. The  26th Indian Infantry Division landed  by ship the next day. When they arrived they discovered that General Kimura had ordered Rangoon to be evacuated on 22nd April. After the Japanese withdrawal, Rangoon had experienced an orgy of looting and lawlessness. That day was not easy for me to forget .Because I was sent by my Father to give 500 kyat [Japanese occupation period notes] to my uncle at 22nd street. After given the money to my uncle, I  was on my way back, when on reaching Sule Pagoda Road at the Central Bank of Burma, I saw some looters with their both hands full of notes came out from the Bank, then another looter came out, his hands were also  full of notes, but was being chased by an Indian soldier with a rifle shouting for the looter to stop; as the looter had ran past me, and with the soldier near me, suddenly he kneeled down  beside me and aimed his rifle at the looter and had fired one shot at him, a tremendous deafening sound that making my ears heard a ring noise for a long time. The looter was hit and could even  ran a distance  of about  10 feet ,then fell down trembling  and shaking his whole body  with blood oozing out from a wide opened wound in front of his chest, the bullet piercing in from his back and came out from  a wide opened wound. The Indian soldier might not have received the order to evacuate [some Indian army Division  had sided  with the Japanese Imperial Army].
Another sorrowful sight that I had witnessed was after the liberation of Rangoon, on the day that the Rangoon Jail was to be opened and let out about 600 prisoners of war, they were British; Australians; Americans  and Chinese. When the big wooden prison doors were opened for the prisoners to meet the welcoming party of the allied forces, I was among the city folks standing, awaiting  for the prisoners of war to come out .About 9 in the morning ,then we heard  the singing of army songs by the prisoners, from the wide open doors of Rangoon Jail, all were marching out as if they were in an  army  marching  parade, but they were not in steady steps, because all of them were weak physically, their steps were staggering, all of them without shirts, showing their thin bodies of bones only, their  lower parts were hardly covered up by their torn and old short pants, some of them not being able to fully cover up their buttocks, because their short pants were torn ,this had been the way of  life in prison all the time. Some older soldiers were stoop marching with head bending down but they kept up their soldiery spirit marching on and on. This pitiful sight of fellow human beings going through this terrible suffering in prison had made my heart aching for their misfortune.

Let’s hope there will be no more wars in future
Conflicts either big or small shall be resolved on a
Round table by the countries concerned
With sincerity, honesty and compassion–


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