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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Peggy Harris
Location of story: 
Burma, India
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 September 2005

This story was sumbitted to the website by Eleanor Fell on behalf of Peggy Harris, who has given her permission fro her story to appear on the website.

I was a nurse in the Burma Military Nursing Service. I started in June 1941 and I worked in 6 hospitals in total: Maymyo-Mandalay, Shwebo, Toungoo, Taungyi and Moulmein. I worked in two ambulance trains, one from Moulmein and the other from Mangoon.

Each hospital comprised of a C.O. Matron, Medical Officers, an X-Ray department, a Pat Lab, Nursing Orderlies, RAMC and Burma Hospital Corps — who were all training in a hospital with basic care and treatment and menials.

I joined the No 5 Burma Military Hospital in Taungyi-Shan state in November 1941, until we were ordered lock, stock and barrel up to Myitkyina by train. This journey should have taken a mere 48 hours, but it turned into a nightmare journey of 6 days. The train drivers and firemen deserted the train along the way, but luckily some brave R.A.M.C lads who knew something about trains managed to help get it on the sidings track so we could wait for a new driver.

I remember the heat and the lack of food and amenities made the journey very difficult. Fortunately we only had a few walking patients to care for, who needed to be despatched at Shwebo for evacuation to India. We spent a whole day sitting at the railway siding to get across the Saigaing Bridge and so we escaped the Japanese bombing, although we witnessed many that hadn’t as we tried to get out of stations and towns. The wayside sellers kept us in food and drink though!

When we finally reached Myitkyina, there was no accommodation ready for us and we were forced to spend two days living on the train which was very unpleasant. Finally a house was available for sisters and medical staff and the civil hospital which was very small, was cleared out for us to move into. We had to set everything up and then await a train with more than 600 wounded on it. Our main duty was to evacuate patients to India whenever a place put down and take the civilians too. We got the patients as fot as possible and sent then to the airfield to wait for planes with attendants and orderlies, although it did always depend on the weather. The A.V.G pilots heard of the difficulties we were having evacuating patients and landed whenever possible to squeeze in one or two patients as best they could, even after dogfights with the Japs, which helped to save a lot of lives.

The Nursing sisters left Burma on the 3rd May, when the Japanese were poised to attack on the opposite bank. Some of the Medical Officers finally walked out to Burma, including my parents. I never saw my father again, but my mother finally made it in October after a most dreadful time. We landed in Assam and we were assembled waiting posting orders, we only had a few belongings each that we had managed to salvage and we were a sad and bedraggled group.

The final orders came to send us to work in Evacuee Camps in Margurita, Tezpur and Gauhati. Then finally we were all sent to the army camp in Hoshiarpur-Puntab in India where the remains of the Burma Army were sent to. We had a tented hospital at first until the hospital was built, and then we worked there until March 1946 and then we finally returned to Burma by ship. Once we got back to Burma we were involved in setting up 2 hospitals in Mandalay and taking over military hospitals in Maymyo from QAIMN Sisters that were being de-mobbed. I eventually left the Army in March 1947 and came to Britain with my husband.

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