Exodus from Burma, 1941: A Personal Account, Parts 1, 2 & 3

Amitav Ghosh | June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (79)

 

Book tours are punctuated by all kinds of unforeseen encounters: most are pleasant, some are disconcerting, and a few are rewarding beyond all expectation. Thus it happened for example that the Asia House event for ‘River of Smoke’, on June 8, in London, led to a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi’s brother- and sister-in-law (cf. my June 9 post).

At the same event I also met, very briefly, Dr. Krishnan Gurumurthy, who told me that he had read ‘The Glass Palace’ and that he was himself a survivor of the exodus from Burma that figures in the book. I have often urged people to record the memories of those who lived through that epic trek over the mountains of the India-Burma border. The last survivors are now in their seventies and eighties and their memories constitute an invaluable living archive. Very few published accounts of the march exist and most were written by Europeans; Asian accounts are exceedingly rare (this is one of the reasons why the historian Hugh Tinker described it as ‘The Forgotten Long March’[1]).

First a few elements of the background: In 1941, when the 2nd World War spread to Asia, Rangoon was predominantly an ‘Indian’ city in that the majority of its population consisted of people of subcontinental origin or descent. According to the 1931 census, there were slightly more than a million Indians in Burma at the time; of these some sixty per cent (617,521) were born in India. The consequences of Indian migration into Burma were too complex to go into here. Suffice it to say that the through the 1920s and 30s, there were some powerful currents of hostility to the Indian presence in Burma. In 1930 bloody anti-Indian riots broke out in Rangoon and many thousands were killed. As a result of these developments, there was an increasing nervousness within the Indian population in Burma.

Japan entered the 2nd World War with simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbour and northern Malaya. On December 23 came the first Japanese air attacks on Rangoon.

This attack created absolute panic in the city. It is important to remember perhaps that generally speaking, very few civilians had expected the war to spread to Asia. The survivors I spoke to were almost unanimous on this. The attitude is hard to account for because in military circles, Indian as well as British, it was well-known that the Japanese were preparing for war. Similarly, the British municipal authorities had made preparations for air-raids: trenches had been dug, an Air Raid Precautions authority was set up in Rangoon and other cities, on the model of similar bodies in London. Yet, psychologically, the civilian population of the British territories in Asia appear to have been completely unprepared for the coming war (Dr. Gurumurthy’s father was by no means unusual in this).

The first Japanese air raid on Rangoon, was on December 23, 1941. The air raid of Dec 23 was followed by another on Dec 25. The air raids created chaos in the city. There was a general breakdown of law and order and the Indians, already wary after the riots of the past decade, began to panic.The perception was that the British were about to withdraw from Burma, and that in their absence, Burmese mobs would have free reign to terrorise the Indian population. Suddenly, the Indians began to move northwards. But without the Indians the city simply could not function: they made up almost the entire working class of Rangoon. The dockworkers were the first to abandon their jobs. This meant that essential supplies could not be unloaded from the ships in the Rangoon docks. Many of these vessels became sitting targets for Japanese bombers.

In January it became clear that the Japanese were advancing rapidly and that the British forces would not be able to hold them. Leslie Glass, a British civil servant, was present in the city; this is how he describes the atmosphere: “Every Japanese air raid increased the steady stream northwards of the city population, and more and more institutions ground to a standstill. One afternoon, I joined in a bizarre and melancholy foray to shoot all dangerous animals in the zoo, as all their keepers had decamped. Tigers, panthers and poisonous snakes were killed and the deer released in the park, except for one which we shot for fresh meat. When we had gutted the poor beast, we threw its entrails into the lake and great fish thrashed and swirled in the course of their unusual meal.’

At this point the British began preparations for evacuating their government: the civilians were left largely to fend for themselves. The Indians began to stream out of Rangoon and central Burma, and soon vast crowds clogged the principal roads. As to why so many Indians took the decision to leave Burma, at such great personal cost – this remains something of a mystery to this day. Some of them certainly saw themselves not as a group separate from the British but also as colonists, extensions of their master’s house. Some evidently believed that they would be a hostage population in the hands of the Japanese; others thought that the Burmese would turn upon them once the protective hand of the British had been removed. But these apprehensions were unfounded: in fact well over half the Indian population chose to remain in Burma. They were not singled out after the British withdrawal and were spared the suffering of the exodus.

Whatever the reasons, a great number of Indians decided that the difficulties of the road were preferable to the uncertainties of remaining where they were and the march quickly developed an unstoppable momentum. In the initial stages, the exodus moved in two directions. One took the easterly route, over the Arakan Hills into Chittagong. This was a relatively short route, though also very dangerous. It is estimated that one to two hundred thousand Indians crossed to India over this route.[2]

The other route was the northerly route, essentially following the course of the Irrawaddy and then the Chindwin river. This route was several hundred miles long (depending on the starting point). The final crossover into India lay through uncharted terrain – over the mountains that separate Manipur from Burma.

All the while, a certain number of planes and boats stayed in operation, but they were used mainly for the evacuation of ‘European’ personnel. There are innumerable stories of how these fleeing officials sometimes used their transportation privileges to carry away pianos and dinner sets, while their subordinates had to make their way on foot, abandoning everything.

In the early phases of the air evacuation, according to Hugh Tinker, ‘Europeans and Eurasians were in the overwhelming majority’. Then, ‘after protest by Indian leaders, the proportions were reviewed.’ But on May 9 the air route was shut down all together and now only the mountain route remained. This was the route taken by Dr. Gurumurthy’s family.

On meeting Dr. Gurumurthy I immediately urged him to record his memories on paper. A few days ago he sent me a short memoir of the march; I am posting it here with his permission (in three parts: the accompanying pictures are mine and were taken in 1996).

Here is Dr. Gurumurthy’s account of the march.

 

 

My wife and I met you at the Asia House and you mentioned that you might be interested to hear from me about my experience trekking as a war evacuee from  Burma during   Feb/April 1942.

Before that  a brief preamble.

My grandfather migrated to Burma to make a living and my father was born in Rangoon in 1902.

My father grew up in Burma and in due course married my mother who was from a small village near Madras ( Chennai ).In time they had 7 children, 6 boys and a girl.

I am third in the pecking order and was born in 1933. I was 9 in 1942.

My father was an employee in the Burma Railways and we lived in a place  called Toungoo, which , if I recall right was a railway town. It seemed to be always sunlit and with my brothers always playtime. So at least I imagine.

My father, I felt was a practical and responsible person.  I therefore cannot fathom his apparent failure to apprehend the imminent menace of  a Japanese conquest of Burma, and leave for the safety of india, especially with a large brood.

Toungoo is a medium-sized town about 200 miles north of Rangoon. It is the District Headquarters of Toungoo Dist. I do not know when my father moved to Toungoo but life was largely easy and  delightful.

All this was to vanish.

The Japanese were advancing  towards Burma after their conquest of malaysia. The full impact could be felt only in the year 1942.  There was panic all round in Toungoo. Many of them were making attempts to flee. My father at last decided in January 1942 to send us to India and he wanted to stay behind.

Our next step would be to catch a steamer at Rangoon for our journey to Madras.

 

Steamers, Rangoon

 

We left for Rangoon sometime in the  end of January 1942. With great difficulty, my father managed to get steamer tickets to Madras. On the appointed date, we went to the Rangoon port to board the steamer and at the last moment fate again played its tricks. Just as everything was seemingly going well, we were denied entry into the steamer. By that time, the Japanese had advanced to the outskirts of Rangoon City, and the then British government thought that only the lives of the British, and Anglo-Indians were worth saving and allowed only them to board the steamer. The rest of us were thrown out to fend for themselves.[1]

Immediately thereafter the Government declared an emergency and handed over the city to the army. They directed all the inhabitants to leave the city within 48 hours. [2]All hell broke loose. All exit points were closed.

My father decided to go back to Toungoo. But there were no trains or buses or any other transport available.  Since my father was in the Burma railways, he sought the help of the local railway station master of a suburban station and managed to board us into a coal compartment of a goods train. The whole night we travelled without water or sleep, perched precariously atop the coal heaps to reach Toungoo.

We did reach Toungoo in the morning tired and hungry. But our erstwhile house was a sight to see. Instead of the house we left behind we could see only a big crater and the house destroyed. The locality must have been bombed in our absence. But, had we stayed behind in Toungoo the entire family might  have perished.

The only alternative was to go to India through the land route.

The land  bridges were bombed, travel by train to North Burma was out of question. My father’s  contacts came to our rescue. One of them  lent his car and driver and asked us to go to a place called Maymyo in the north  and from there proceed on our onward journey.

On reaching Maymyo  we were lodged in a Dharamsala on  the banks of the river Chin Win. We stayed there for a few days. Like us, there were others who were trying to go to India. Maymyo was the starting point for our journey. To reach the 2nd stage of our journey, viz., the Naga Mountains, we had to travel another 100 miles partly by boat/ferry and partly on foot and bullock cart.

We  managed to hire a large boat called “Anda boat” (egg shaped). The boatman  agreed to ferry us to a specified spot delineated in a map given to us, from where we could continue our trek, at a fare of Rs 20 per person. To facilitate our journey, pamphlets and maps were distributed showing the places of halt, evacuee camps, availability of free rations etc. No monetary aid was given. The maps were however useful. This particular travel by boat was enjoyable in parts. The boat wended its way smoothly through the river. The weather, I remember,  was clear and fine. The boat used to ply during day time and in the evening anchor at some place near a village. Near the river bank, several fruit and vegetable gardens were laid out. Our co-passengers and ourselves simply helped ourselves to this produce and with wood gathered from the neighbourhood, we would cook our meals. We had a small stock of dhal, rice and salt available with us. These events at the time  affected me very little. God knows what kind of mental agony my parents must have been undergoing, their main concern being our safety. Thus, we travelled for 7 days and 7 nights and reached another stop  (I do not remember the name) from where we were to travel by foot to reach  a small town called Tamu, at the foothills of the Naga Mountains.

This stage of the journey was nothing but real agony. This stage covered about 50 miles by foot through dense forests. My father engaged a bullock cart for my grandmother, mother,  my  three younger brothers and my sister.

I and my older brothers and father  had to walk. We were told that this particular route was hazardous both from the danger of wild animals. There were warning signboards in some places that one had to walk non-stop to escape death by inhaling poisonous air. One may wonder as to how we could go through these forests safely. This was possible because about 5000 evacuees were moving at a time together for mutual safety. In our group there were many Sikhs carrying weapons. Those who had no weapons made noise through drums to scare the animals. Once, we encountered a large python. Thanks to the cover provided by these able bodied youth, we were able to cover the route without fear and danger, from dacoits and wild animals. After an arduous travel for seven days, sometimes without food or sleep, we reached  Tamu.

 

 

 

Tamu, now,  is a very important transit point at the foothills of the Naga mountains. Lot of commercial activity, both legal and illegal (Peddling of drugs and contraband goods) takes place in Tamu.  But in 1942  it was a small place perhaps not exposed to present day nefarious activities. But it was an important place from where one has to cross the Naga Mountains to reach India. At that time, in 1942, it was over-crowded with thousands of desperate Indians, classified as Burma evacuees, all eager to reach India. One has to obtain a permit from the Camp In-charge to start our trek over the mountains. My father obtained this permit and we began the trek over the mountains.[1]

When one is struck between a rock and a hard place and is faced with no alternative one gets enormous strength to fight to survive. The very thought of climbing the mountains bare-foot is mind boggling. My father engaged three Manipuri coolies to carry the three young siblings. We discarded the remaining small items at this place and started trekking literally with just our clothes on. The first day was the most arduous  with unbearable strain as the mountain was steep with no down hills throughout. My mother and grand-mother were the worst sufferers. Many unfortunate evacuees perished on the way side. There was no one who cared to remove the corpses of the dead. One’s mental attitude at that point of time was such that even if your own child or near or dear ones perished you would just walk on to save yourself. Quite a few did just that. No one even bothered to remove the small gold ornaments still on the body. I can vividly remember holding my father’s hand and asking how far still  to go . He used to point at some flickering light and say that was it. I, of course believed him. My feet were heavy out of tiredness and I could hardly lift them; often I hit the  stones in the path and bled from the nail beds.

We travelled throughout the day and rested at night at some convenient place in the mountains. Over 5000 evacuees were moving together. Thanks to our able bodied Sikh and North Indian friends, we were able to sleep peacefully at night. They kept guard over us throughout our journey through the mountains. It was an ordeal. Perhaps, the very noise and the human crowd appeared to have scared the animals. We sustained ourselves from the small quantities of rations, consisting of rice, dhal and salt provided by the transit camp authorities. After seven days of trekking, half-dead physically, one fine morning we descended and set  foot on Imphal. I  still can recall that moment. My mother and grand-mother were in a state of acute mental and physical collapse due to exhaustion.

My parents were overjoyed to set foot on Indian soil. Only those who underwent the trauma of fleeing from their homes could fathom the ordeal we went through to arrive in India alive.  Many perished and hardly any family escaped without a loss. The transit evacuee camps at Imphal were big bamboo thatched sheds and were being used to house thousands of evacuees. This was the first transit camp provided to us  since we fled Toungoo. Free food and medical facilities were provided. Notwithstanding the medical attention, many evacuees were dying of cholera due to contaminated water, inadequate food and exhaustion. The magnitude of the problem was such that nothing better could be done. During a week’s stay at Imphal, we could somewhat recoup from our trauma, but the condition of our grand-mother began to deteriorate due to old age, fatigue and weakness.

Our reception in India was in sharp contrast to our journey through Burma. Spontaneous relief and assistance was forthcoming from various non-Government organisations like the  Indian National Congress, Marwari Relief Society etc. to make our life as comfortable as possible. There was an air of sympathy and fellow-feeling all-round. They arranged free food, accommodation, travel and medical care. In short, our Indian people regardless of caste, community or language welcomed us with open arms. From Imphal, we were taken to Dimapur (then in North-East Frontier Agency) by bus. The travel took the whole day through the Naga Mountains and was very tiring. My mother was vomiting throughout the journey.

After being fed and housed for two days, we were put on the train bound for Sealdah (Calcutta). On reaching Sealdah, we were taken to a guest house managed by volunteers.  We really had a tough time at this guest house as it was over-crowded with a large number of evacuees. Within two days, we managed to get out of the guest house and could catch a train bound for Madras at Howrah station. However, in the midst of adverse conditions, we found some time and energy to go round Calcutta and visited Victoria Memorial and New Market.

The train to Madras was unusually a long one with a large number of compartments. It took about ten days for us to reach Madras. The train wended its way slowly, partly because of the over-load and partly because it stopped frequently in all major stations. At every major station, people from the villages flocked to the train and showered us with delicacies, fruits and beverages. The affection shown to us by Bengalees, Oriyas and Andhras en-route was touching. At that time in the year 1942, the fervour of patriotism and freedom from British Rule was such, everyone was vying with each other to do their bit for their fellowmen. Slowly, the evacuees were trying to recover from the trauma of fear and anxiety. Sometime during the first week of April, 1942, we reached Madras Central Station. A big feast was arranged by the local philanthropic organisations on the platform of the Station itself for about 2000 people. All the evacuees thanked the Almighty for getting us safely against very heavy odds. But, in the midst of our happiness, tragedy struck the family. The condition of our grandmother worsened and she died at the General Hospital opposite the Central Station. Perhaps, it was the price we had to pay for an otherwise safe but hazardous journey.

We started sometime in February 1942 on our trek to India and reached Madras in the 1st week of April, 1942 – a period of two months.

All this mostly from memory. I could not swear to its exact details. Obviously,during the years there was much reminiscing in the family which kept the memory alive and  partly coloured the memory.

I have stuck to the old names for the places. To me Madras is still Madras; for Yangon I would need a map!

I hope this is of some interest.

 

Krishnan Gurumurthy


[1] These permits, and the routes they provided access to, were also racially coded. The ‘White’ routes were generally shorter and easier and were largely reserved for retreating soldiers and European and Eurasian civilians; the ‘Black’ routes were longer and much more arduous – Asians were generally allowed to use only these routes. Another account in my possession, written by an Indian, provides a harrowing account of the writer’s attempts to acquire ‘White route’ permits for his wife and young children.


[1] The racial hierarchies of the British Empire seem to have become all the more stringent in this moment of crisis. Instances of exclusion and discrimination, such as this, are often foregrounded in Indian accounts of the march. For many Asians the closing of the escape routes would mean death.

 

[2] Here I think Dr. Gurumurthy may be misremembering, which would hardly be surprising since he was only 9 at the time. Contemporary accounts suggest that the British administration did everything it could to discourage the Indian migration. They sealed off some of the exit roads from the city and they sent prominent Indians out to cajole the migrants to return, promising them safety in govt. organized camps. It was at this point that administrative action turned race and class into tickets for survival. For example, orders were issued that no adult Indian would be allowed to leave Rangoon by ship as a deck passenger. This meant that the working class was trapped in Rangoon, for only the wealthiest Indians could afford to travel other than on deck. But soon, these routes were cut off too because the major steampship company, British India Steam Navigation Co. confined its allocations mainly to ‘Europeans’.

 


[1] Hugh Tinker, A Forgotten Long March: The Indian Exodus from Burma,1941, Journal of South East Asian Studies, 7/1, March 1975.

[2] Tinker, ibid. p.6

 

 

 

 


79 Responses to “Exodus from Burma, 1941: A Personal Account, Parts 1, 2 & 3”

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  1. Comment by Krishnan Gurumurthy — June 21, 2011 at 5:51 pm   Reply

    Dear Mr Ghosh

    Thanks for giving this an airing.
    I particularly enjoyed reading your very interesting and informative
    preface. Your observation about the Indians who chose to remain did not after all do badly is true.. This was lost to me even though I have friends in London who did just that and did quite well.

    Many thanks for your interest.

    Kind regards

    Krishnan Gurumurthy

    • Comment by Amitav Ghosh — June 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm   Reply

      I am so glad you took the time and trouble to write this brief memoir, Dr Gurumurthy. If you know any other survivors of the march I hope you will encourage them to write accounts of their experiences.
      Wishing you the very best
      Amitav Ghosh

      • Comment by Anita Iyer — February 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm   Reply

        My paternal grandparents crossed the Burmese border during these times with their 4 little children – my father and his siblings. His brother died of illness and exhaustion when they arrived in India. My father and his parents have passed away but I am glad someone told the story.

    • Comment by Yvonne Vaz Ezdani — February 26, 2014 at 8:49 pm   Reply

      Dear Dr Gurumurthy
      I read your story with great interest.Although I have heard many such stories of survival the strength and resilience of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me.
      I have edited a collection of stories, first hand accounts, by survivors of WW2 in Burma. The title of the book is “Songs of the Survivors” published in Dec. 2007 and the contributors were mainly Goans whom I knew.I now live in Goa but grew up in Burma where my parents used to tell us of their incredible war-time experiences during the Japanese occupation of Burma. I wanted to record these stories because i know that so much oral history is lost or distorted with the passing away
      of each generation..Another reason why I wanted to share the stories is because I was aware that not many people knew about the war time experiences of Indians in Burma.
      I am glad that my book was well received, is now sold out and we are going into the 2nd edition. If you or others would like to share your stories I would be happy to include them in the new edition.
      If you are interested in reading “Songs of the Survivors”, the link to download it is http;//www.divshare.com/download/2841562-202.
      Warm regards
      Yvonne
      ..

  2. Comment by Vikram Venkatasubramanian — July 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm   Reply

    Thank you very much for sharing this experience. My grand parents were in Burma and I have heard about my grand father walking to India to make his way back to Chennai. This is the first time I am reading any detail on the depth of the ordeal.

    • Comment by Ian Jackson — December 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm   Reply

      My mother was part of the Armenian community in Rangoon and also trekked out of Rangoon in 1942 and went to Calcutta and then on to Karachi.Her name was Pearl Nahapiet

  3. Comment by rajeshworAugust 1, 2011 at 4:02 am   Reply

    it was really nice reading the great exodus. I am researching on the WW2 part of Burma campaign. If you can send me some picture relevant with the exodus, i will think myself really lucky. currently i am researching on this particular exodus. i shall share some of the accounts of the survivors of the exodus. Thz.

  4. Comment by Aleshia SayeghSeptember 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm   Reply

    great post, I’m a music teacher myself

  5. Comment by Cyril Nair — January 3, 2012 at 8:39 pm   Reply

    Dear Mr. Ghosh,

    Dr. Gurumurthy’s wonderful article brings back vivid memories of stories told by our parents, who made the trek to India in 1942 with seven children. We all survived the long journey and made it back to Madras. My father C. K. Nair was at the time working for E. M. Desouza & Co. a Pharmaceutical Manufacturer & one of his colleagues & later a partner in the firm was a Mr. Ghosh …. Could you be related .??

    Thanks !

    Cyril Nair
    Canada

    • Comment by Chrestomather — January 4, 2012 at 4:57 am   Reply

      Dear Mr Nair

      Thanks very much for this letter. It would be wonderful if you too could put down some of your memories, or the stories told to you by your parents.

      The Mr Ghosh you mention was not an immediate relative but it’s quite possible that there was some kind of distant relationship.

      With my best wishes

      Amitav Ghosh

  6. Comment by Mahesh Mehta — January 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm   Reply

    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.
    An excellent account of this exodus is available as an autobiography “White Butterflies” by Colin McPhedran of British Burmese decent.
    I am fascinated by Dr. Gurumurthy personal account of the trek and more details. I am hoping one day to trek this route and write an account of “the most forgotten and the largest exodus”.

  7. Comment by Ananth — January 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm   Reply

    Dear Mr Ghosh,
    My grandfather migrated to Burma in the early 1900s. My father was born in Rangoon in 1922 and so were all his siblings, 5 of them. Though my grandpa returned to India in 1939 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. 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

  8. Comment by patsyevans — February 7, 2012 at 11:10 pm   Reply

    hello amitav, i met you on your visit to brisbane for your Glass Palace launch. 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.
    Thank you for printing story by Krishnan Gurumurthy – like so many i have printed out for my research these account all so heart breaking, but in their darkest moments they have found the strength to continue and many many years later we are still learning about the biggest mismanagement of wartime retreat from Burma and as one review said “It is one of the greater injustices the British were able to consgn to anonymity.”
    I have just returned with my family from Burma (having flown out on 31st December 1947 just prior to independence) and we scattered my parents ashes on the Irrawaddy River – on our charter boat we had a Buddhist Monk from Taung Be Monestery who “helped my parents voyage to the next life”.
    Ive just read account by Manny Curtis and his return in 2005 to Pagan after they had treked 500 miles from Kohima and Imphal to Pakkoku 60 years earlier. He spoke of the 100ft cliff on the Irrawaddy River that he climbed on 14th february 1945 – 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, 1941 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.
    best wishes
    patsy evans

    • Comment by Chrestomather — February 8, 2012 at 1:10 am   Reply

      I’m glad you went back at last. If you’d like to write about this at greater length I’d be happy to post it. 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.
      best
      Amitav

  9. Comment by Francis Trevelyan — February 11, 2012 at 11:27 am   Reply

    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. 1941. (just a month after my 8th birthday. 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.
    F. Trevelyan

    • Comment by Chrestomather — February 12, 2012 at 2:51 am   Reply

      I’ve described that air raid at great length in my book ‘The Glass Palace’. If you ever get around to writing an account of your memories I would be very glad to post it here.
      all best
      Amitav

    • Comment by Peter Kipps — October 27, 2013 at 5:02 pm   Reply

      was your father by any chance a ‘Joseph William’ I have the surname Trevelyan but seems a co incidence as this man worked at Mingaladon aerodrome and was killed in an air raid.

    • Comment by Peter Kipps — October 27, 2013 at 5:59 pm   Reply

      Francis

      forgot to leave you my contact details its pkipps@elmbridge.gov.uk, hope you get this

    • Comment by Peter Kipps — November 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm   Reply

      J.W.Trevelyan was in 1941 a member of Ormond-Iles Lodge 4270 in Rangoon Burma would you be willing to contact me so I can correct some errors in our written history. The Lodge still operates and is working in London now as Rangoon & Ormond -Iles Lodge No.1268.
      many thanks
      Peter

  10. Comment by Geetha Ryan — March 20, 2012 at 5:03 am   Reply

    My dad was born in 1933 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 1942, arriving in Kumbakonam in May 1943. 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.

  11. Comment by Burmese Nights » Taj Mahal FoxtrotApril 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm   Reply

    [...] In 1941, as World War Two raged, the Japanese advance on India’s borders had an unforeseen effect on the country’s jazz scene. Among the hundreds of thousands of people who trekked out of Burma for India ahead of the Japanese vanguard were several Burmese jazz musicians. The refugees who arrived in Calcutta in March 1942 included members of one of Rangoon’s hottest bands, the Jive Boys, which featured Reuben Solomon on clarinet, Paul Feraz on bass, and three guitarists: Ike Issacs, Reuben’s brother Solly and Cedric West. (See Amitav Ghosh’s note on the great trek here.) [...]

  12. Comment by Uday Mehta — June 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm   Reply

    My father, after completing high school in small town in Gujarat, joined his brother and brother-in-law’s large business enterprise in Rangoon & Prome. They had rice mills and were importing merchandise for British Army in Burma. After a few years went to his small village in Gujarat to get married & returned to Burma with mother.
    Later, my father became member of “War Commission” and flew with Lord Montbatten to survey Rangoon before Japanese air raid.
    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. When my mother and sister eventually reached from an Indian port city (don’t know which port) Calcutta by train, relatives were unable to go to train station due to cerfew, black-out, air raid sirens etc.
    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. Father’s business processed most rice in those 2 cities.
    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 (?) the captain and a tender was sent for them.
    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 94. He has written in little more details about those days including names of towns along the way & port city. 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.

    • Comment by Chrestomather — June 20, 2012 at 8:41 am   Reply

      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 1941-42, 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

    • Comment by Daljit Singh Dodd — June 14, 2014 at 1:05 pm   Reply

      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. stopping at various places on the way, The British did nothing to help except their own.
      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

  13. Comment by Ishan Bhasker — August 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm   Reply

    Your comprehensive description of the 1941 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.

  14. Comment by Devanand — August 31, 2012 at 3:51 am   Reply

    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.

    I heard we do not have consulate office in Burma so far and that is the reason why we don’t have direct flights, Is that true ??

  15. Comment by Joel Davis — September 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm   Reply

    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 (1942) at the age of 10-12, and we are in search of her lost family.

    The sudden evacuation happened when she returned from her School in Yangoon to Boklaw Bazaar Halli. 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.

    Following are the details that we heard from her:

    They owned a watch Company in Boklaw Bazaar.

    Her family details at the time of Exodus:

    Father: Kamalappa Devar (Native of Tanjore, Tamil Nadu, India), Age – 35-40 yrs
    Mother: Lakshmi Devar
    Siblings – 2 (1 Sister and 1 Brother)
    Sister – Vaduvambal, Age 13-15 yrs
    Brother – Krishnan, Age 8-10 yrs
    My Grandmother – Rajeshwari, Age 10-12 yrs

    We have been searching for her family for over 70 years and will very happy if we could find our roots.

    • Comment by Muthu Suppiah — September 27, 2012 at 11:01 pm   Reply

      Hi Joel
      It was interesting to read your comments as your search mirrors my family’s search for relatives in Burma.
      My grandfather died in the 1920′s. 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 15. They made the overland route back to India. We don’t know if any of their children (our second cousins) survived the bombing.
      Our granduncle’s name Veliappa Thevar.
      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.

  16. Comment by Travels in Chettinad « Coastal FrontiersSeptember 28, 2012 at 9:31 am   Reply

    [...] Ghosh writes movingly about their journey in The Glass Palace, and on his blog he has recently published an interview with Dr Krishnan Gurumurthy a survivor of the march.  The [...]

  17. Comment by Suchandra Chakravarty — November 7, 2012 at 6:48 am   Reply

    I am interested to know how far the ‘forgotten long march’, as H.Tinker calls it, has been chronicled in Bengali fiction? Also, how were the refugees accommodated in Bengal? Can anyone help?

  18. Comment by john — November 27, 2012 at 4:35 pm   Reply

    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.

    • Comment by Yael — November 23, 2013 at 4:06 am   Reply

      Could you mean the brother of Daisy De Souza (or D’souza) of Mandalay, Myanmar??? She and her brother Sydney became coverts of Jehovah’s Witness missionaries around 1914. I am the great-grand-daughter of Daisy. She had many daughters and I think 2? Sons. My grandmother was her daughter Celia Beryl(deceased). They left as refugees due to being outcast as Anglo’s and settled in Perth, Western Australia in the early sixties. 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. Phyliis & Basil had one daughter, called Penny.

  19. Comment by Daljit Dodd — December 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm   Reply

    I at age 9 came by the Tammu route in 1942 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

  20. Comment by Sharman Minus — December 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm   Reply

    My great-grandfather was an Armenian called Arakiel Minus married to a Burmese woman called Woscoombe. Although they were both dead by 1942, nearly all their children and grandchildren trekked out to Calcutta, with many losses. The only one who didn’t leave was my grandfather, Mackertich Arakiel Minus, who survived the war and died in 1948 in Rangoon. He had two sons, Arthur and Norman (my dad) who had joined up after leaving Lawrence Memorial Military school in 1941. 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 1948. 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!
    There is a plaque in the Armenian Church in Rangoon which honours Arakiel Minus’s children & grandchildren who died on the trek. I am going to Rangoon in January and would like to hear from those Minus’s who survived.
    The names on the plaque are listed below by family:
    ABRAHAM: Constance, Albert. Lionel, Margaret and Edward
    LAWSON: Gladys, James and Patricia
    MINUS: Ester
    FAIRLEY: Phyllis and Donald
    SEYMOUR: : Terence and Cyril

    I would be grateful for any information before I go to Burma in January 2013.

    • Comment by Chrestomather — December 3, 2012 at 12:06 am   Reply

      Good luck with the trip and thanks for writing!
      amitav

    • Comment by shwe myintJanuary 29, 2013 at 9:46 pm   Reply

      Dear Sharman Minus,
      wishing you safe journey and happy trip. i would like to give information regarding to Armanian cemetry which was in the city centre of Yangoon.The cemetry was situated at the corner of Sulay pagoda road and anaw ra da road(before it was Dalhosie road).but the cemetry was moved or destroyed before 1988?. Now sure. Just for your information.
      With mitta and best regards,
      shwe Myint(a burmese living in Australia) 30/1/2013

    • Comment by alakananda nagJuly 31, 2013 at 3:35 am   Reply

      Dear Sharman

      I am a photographer, and I have been on a photo story, Armenians of Calcutta for the last 4 years. http://alakanandanag.com/Armenians-of-Calcutta
      Interestingly, my new project is about the shared history of India and Burma.
      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?

      I hope your trip to Burma was a good one.

      I look forward to hearing from you.

      My email is info@alakanandanag.com

      Warm regards

      Alakananda

  21. Comment by Subodh MathurDecember 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm   Reply

    For a detailed personal account of a barefoor escape from Rangoon, please read http://www.indiaofthepast.org/contribute-memories/read-contributions/the-unforgettable/93-barefoot-from-burma-to-india-1942-by-benegal-dinker-rao

    I am the editor of http://www.indiaofthepast.org, and would appreciate stories that are at least 50 years old, like this one.

    Subodh

  22. Comment by Carol Horne — December 9, 2012 at 4:10 pm   Reply

    My grandparents were British Salvation Army officers serving at the Maymyo Salvation Army Soldiers Home from 1936 to 1942. My grandmother, mother and uncle trekked from Maymyo to India late in February 1942, reaching Calcutta three weeks later. I have my grandmother’s diary. It was not easy for them. My grandfather evacuated Maymyo in May 1942, 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.

  23. Comment by andrew — January 5, 2013 at 7:20 pm   Reply

    thankyou to all contributors
    my mother’s story was similar.Just wish had the chance to talk to her about it.

  24. Comment by Lakshi — January 27, 2013 at 5:11 pm   Reply

    Dear Mr. Ghosh,
    What a joy it was to find your blog, especially when I have your signed autographed copy of ‘the glass palace’ sitting right before me. (I also have a similar copy of ‘the hungry tide’ on my bookshelf).
    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.
    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. Even so, it was ‘women and children only’. The menfolk of the family walked the hazardous route. They all survived, had productive lives, and have all departed.
    Mum ‘s life was a little more colorful, as she later migrated to Uganda after marriage, where history repeated itself, albeit in varied hues.
    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.

  25. Comment by Richard Payton — April 4, 2013 at 2:04 am   Reply

    Please fwd to Dr. Krishnan Gurumurthy: My friend the late author of The Paddy Field Tigers (Amazon.com) discovered that her father was a British Secret agent who also ran the largest newspaper in Rangoon when the Japanese invaded. He made the trek and was in charge of 5 groups totaling close to 25,000 refugees. Unfortunately, with the recent passing of the author I am left with little information regrading his true identity. If he would like, I’ll be happy to supply him a free PDF copy of the book to see if he happened to be in one of the groups that made it to India. I”m hoping to find facts to help support the book. 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

  26. Comment by H Haokip — June 6, 2013 at 5:15 am   Reply

    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.

    • Comment by Chrestomather — June 12, 2013 at 6:17 pm   Reply

      I’m glad to hear from you. 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.

      I have a close friend from the Kuki tribe – Ms Nengcha Lhouvum.

      best wishes

      AG

  27. Comment by Malini — June 13, 2013 at 3:07 am   Reply

    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.

  28. Comment by Jak BazinoJune 13, 2013 at 3:55 am   Reply

    Dear Mr. Gosh and dear all,

    Thank you for sharing these stories. We should never forget these terrible event.

    I lived 4 years in Burma and I published a first one last year about Burmese alchemy and 2007 demonstrations untitled “Zawgyi, l’alchimiste de Birmanie”. I am currently working on my second novel about Burma which will take place in 1942, 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 1942 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.bazino@gmail.com

    • Comment by Peter Kipps — October 27, 2013 at 5:46 pm   Reply

      Hi
      I can help a bit with freemasonry in Burma, at least one held meetings in Calcutta after the long march, lodges resumed after the war in Burma until forced to close in the 1980′s by the Govt – one came back to London in 1968 and is still working here. Actually it’s history is of two lodges that operated in Rangoon
      Lodge Rangoon No. 1268 since 1869 and Lodge Ormond-Iles No.4270 since 1921 they amalgamated in 1964 to become Rangoon & Ormond-Iles Lodge No.1268 contact me for more details
      peter.kipps@virginmedia.com

  29. Comment by Ani — July 2, 2013 at 1:45 am   Reply

    Unfortunately I am just finding this site, but I’d like to share this link with you about two Armenian families from Burma.

    http://yerevanmagazine.com/family-trees-from-burma/

  30. Comment by alakananda nagJuly 31, 2013 at 3:35 am   Reply

    Dear Sharman

    I am a photographer, and I have been on a photo story, Armenians of Calcutta for the last 4 years. http://alakanandanag.com/Armenians-of-Calcutta
    Interestingly, my new project is about the shared history of India and Burma.
    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?

    I hope your trip to Yangon was a good one.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    My email is info@alakanandanag.com

    Warm regards

    Alakananda

  31. Comment by Yogesh Raj — November 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm   Reply

    Thanks to Amitabh and other contributors,

    Just to share with you friends:

    I am reading two published accounts of the 1942 exodus: a contemporary record (written around 1943, and published as Memories of Burma by Ranasur Limbu from Kathmandu in 1961) and latter reconstruction (written around 2006 and published as From Burma to India, 1942 by Nandalal Rasaili from Darjeeling in 2008). 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 1940s, 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.

    Limbu’s account, being fresh, is bare and interestingly dispassionate. Rasaili’s on the other hand is ornamental and tainted with nostalgia. Nevertheless, these narratives are vivid to get the sense of the scale of human castastraphe that the 1942 exodus was.

    Regards,

    Yogesh

  32. Comment by Hashim Tyabji — November 21, 2013 at 7:40 pm   Reply

    Very excited to have found this site and also to connect with Amitav and the other contributors. My late father Nadir Tyabji, grew up in Burma and worked for TOMCO until war came. 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. His services were co-opted by Robert Hutchings ICS, the Agent of the Government of India to Burma in charge of Indian refugees and he was appointed Hutchings’ assistant responsible for the refugee columns using the Mandalay-Kalewa-Tamu-Palel-Imphal route. As a youngster I listened enthralled to my father’s stories. 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. I have just finished reading a book called “Through the Jungle of Death” by Stephen Brookes which eloquently and movingly describes his family’s experiences walking out through this route and the affect it had on all the members who survived. 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 have also discovered a book called “Battle Tales form Burma” by John Randle who served as a young company commander in the 7/10th Baluch Regiment and fought through the entire Burma campaign from the first defeats on the Salween River at Hpa-an, through the long retreat, the battles of Imphal and Kohima and the fight back to finish the war virtually back on the Salween where he had started! To match the chronology of events that my father describes with John Randles’ story has been fascinating, providing depth and context to the story of the refugees.
    My father’s story runs to over 40 typed A4 pages so I am just sending a copy to Amitav which he can perhaps share with anyone who may be interested or I will be happy to send it as well.

    Hashim Tyabji

  33. Comment by william hawken — November 29, 2013 at 6:25 am   Reply

    Hi I have an un published novel written by my grandfather he worked as an accountant for a major oil company in burma during 1940s 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 400miles 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 1942 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

  34. Comment by Yogesh Raj — December 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm   Reply

    Dear Hashim.

    It is really wonderful than you have saved your father’s story. It would be great to read it – if you will – and compare it with the two narratives I am studying at the moment.

    Amitabh, could you please share it with me as well?

    Yogesh

    • Comment by Hashim Tyabji — March 7, 2014 at 2:38 pm   Reply

      Dear Yogesh,

      Apologies for my delay in responding. I have been busy and could not find time to visit this site. However, I have sent my father’s account to Amitava and I think he plans to publish it in segments as the formatting is time-consuming. Must keep in touch through this forum.

      Thanks you
      Hashim

  35. Comment by Shobhana Bhattacharji — December 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm   Reply

    Dear Mr Ghosh

    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.

    I enjoyed The Glass Palace very much.

    Regards,

    Shobhana Bhattacharji

  36. Comment by chitra s/o subbusamy ramanujam — January 6, 2014 at 10:47 pm   Reply

    it is interesting because my grandfather subbusamy who was a postmaster in than malaya in tapah had a brother who was a docter in burma during these times under the british govt they are from tanjore

  37. Comment by Terence GallacherJanuary 18, 2014 at 5:38 am   Reply

    I am currently compiling a book to be called “Movietone at War”. One of my former colleagues in Movietone was Alec Tozer who was in Burma from December 1941 to the middle of 1942. 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’s book “Far on the Ringing Plains” includes details of their experiences in Burma at that time. 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 ?

    Tozer spent two more years in China before returning to Burma to see the Japanese driven out.

    I have found your blog and your correspondents’ comments most interesting.

    • Comment by Chrestomather — January 22, 2014 at 8:09 am   Reply

      Thanks for your comments and for this interesting sidelight on the march. I have no idea how he could have escaped in a Jeep – I haven’t heard of anyone driving over the mountains. It must have been a special route.
      Amitav

  38. Comment by Anand Ganesh — January 25, 2014 at 4:19 pm   Reply

    Dear Mr. Ghosh,

    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. I dug a little deeper to find that though it wasn’t my grandmother or her immediate family that had to face this tragic experience, my dad’s cousin’s husband did the walk when he was 9 or 11 years old along with all his siblings. 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.

    Best regards,
    Anand Ganesh

    • Comment by Chrestomather — January 25, 2014 at 10:51 pm   Reply

      Dear Anand

      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. If you would like to send excerpts from your relative’s booklet I would be glad to post it. It’s important I think to make these accounts available to those who are interested in the subject.

      Best wishes

      Amitav

  39. Comment by A.V.Krishnan — March 3, 2014 at 12:49 pm   Reply

    Grateful for the opportunity to read Dr. Gurmurthi’s narrative. I was born in Burma in Shwebo in October 1937. 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 1941). My father remained to serve in the war efforts of the British but had to trek to India when the British evacuated Burma. He walked through the “Black Road”, and used to be bitter about the racism of the English even in such dire situation. 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. My father used gratefully recall how his loyal office peon (Indian) accompanied him and help and assist all the way. My fathers’ accounts match that of Dr. Gurumurthi.

    • Comment by Chrestomather — March 4, 2014 at 10:27 pm   Reply

      Thanks very much for this. If you would like to write a longer account I would be glad to post it here.
      best wishes
      Amitav Ghosh

  40. Comment by Sue — April 15, 2014 at 5:52 pm   Reply

    Does anyone know anything about the “Girls Friendly Society” operating in Rangoon as a residence for girls who had lost their families during 1930s? My mother, Julia Helga Francine, lived there and I am trying to contact anyone who lived there. So far I have not a trace of the place.

    Thank you.

  41. Comment by Prajit Basu — June 1, 2014 at 10:33 am   Reply

    Dear Dr. Gurumurthy,
    Thank you very much for sharing the story. My mother, then 12 years old, did a similar trek with her parents and siblings in January, 1942. My grand father, Mr. Dhirendra Nath Roy Chaudhury, was an advocate in Toungoo at the same time. I am trying to piece together the story as I talk to my mother who is 84 years old.
    I just wonder whether your father and my grand father knew each other or if the two families ever met.

    Prajit Basu, Hyderabad

  42. Comment by Ashish Macaden — June 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm   Reply

    My grandfather, Ernest Macaden, stayed in Maymyo after 18 April 1942, while his wife, son and daughter were in probably one of the last trains out of Maymyo. He was a noncombatant in the Indian army and a pianist who played at official events there. We have been trying to find out what happened to him and I wonder if anyone could shed light?

  43. Comment by Angamba — July 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm   Reply

    Dear Amitav,

    This is Angamba here co-founder of 2nd WW Imphal campaign foundtion..just finished the book Exodus Burma the britishescape through the jungles of death 1942….the contribution from Mr Nadir Tabyji is wonderfully accounted in the book…..we are also told that Mrs Helen from bollywood trekked through Tamu-Moreh-Imphal axis during the exodus
    We recently commemorated the 70th annv of Battle of Imphal.
    Please let me know if I can be of any help to you.

    regards,
    angamba
    imphal

  44. Comment by PS Krishnan. — July 12, 2014 at 4:22 am   Reply

    Dear mr Ghosh,
    First of all your recent book the glass palace was very interesting. It was a very timely find as I was chronicling my parents’ account of their adventures through their livelihood in Burma. I have only my mother to tell me about what she remembers and my sister born in Rangoon is also beneficiary of the account that I am compiling. My thanks to your book as I was able to locate Maymyo only after I learnt the correct spelling in your book which is buried somewhere in its interior. Her tale is very different as her period of stay was from 1945 to 1949. I am curious to know about places Pyabway and Meewa. She has very interesting tales of these places where she stayed in 1946/47. Can you help please?
    PS Krishnan

  45. Comment by Iftikhar AliJuly 14, 2014 at 9:51 am   Reply

    Hi! Amitav Ghosh. i am very surprised to know about your ancesstors relating to Rangoon or according to you Indian city at that time. I am also very anxious to find my ancestors.
    Grandfather Name: Syed Najam Saleem Shah
    Grandmother Name: Zohra Bibi
    Please tell me or send me document if any you have related to him. My grandfather had a son named Ali Ahmad and I am not confirmed about other children and this Ali Ahmad (diseaced) was my father. Please reply me as soon as possible.
    Regards,
    Iftikhar Ali

  46. Comment by Esmael Abbas — August 12, 2014 at 10:11 pm   Reply

    I am born in Rangoon, and was 8 years of age, when it was bombed. I have already written about 10 essays/ articles on Burma, Rangoon, and What happened, from my memory and tales I heard. My family returned after end of war and left after it became communist. I lived, attended school and college, had business and services. As a member of writers’ Group, I have written many essays/articles. Members encouraged me to write about my experience of Burma, and that is how it all started. I searched web sites and came across your topic, which is interesting and informative. I hope you may help me to publish my work for readers to read for their pleasure, and comments if any. Thanks for your assistance.

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