- Contributed by
- Richard Hurley
- People in story:
- Richard Hurley, Joe Wamick
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 May 2005
I was born in Shillong, Assam, India on 23rd December 1932 and in 1938 together with my parents, brother and sister we moved to the beautiful hill station of Maymyo, fourteen miles from Mandalay in Burma. My father was an official in the Survey of India and had been transferred to the Burmese territory
During late 1941 the Japanese invasion of Burma was imminent and Britain and its allies started to reinforce Burma. There was a small British army Garrison in Maymyo at the cantonment not far from our home and the reinforcements set up tented camps there.
There were British and Australian Infantry Regiments stationed there and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) was one of the Regiments. The soldiers favourite drinking place was Fosters’ Hotel, an establishment situated not far from our home, which had to be passed by the soldiers on their way to the Hotel and back to camp.
I also witnessed columns of soldiers on route marches dressed in shorts, bush jackets and headdress of various kinds including the Australian bush hat, with its wide brim.
They were always equipped with rifle, water bottle and other accruements.
Heavier equipment was usually carried on mules or very sturdy mule carts.
Gurkha soldiers were also stationed in Maymyo and I loved seeing them march in their very wide legged shorts, which seemed to stand still as their stout little legs went back and forth. This military display impressed me and probably had some influence in the choice of my career.
In 1942 two Japanese divisions advanced into Burma, accompanied by the Burma National Army of Aung San, capturing Rangoon, and forcing the British forces to begin the long evacuation west. They captured Mandalay in May 1942 and the British forces under General Alexander withdrew to the Indian frontier.
Early that year, Joe Wamick, a Sargent of the KOYLI, was assigned to help us with home defense. I remember helping Joe and my father to dig a trench at the front end of our garden and to build a roof of bamboo poles and banana leaves before covering it all with earth to make an air raid shelter.
One day before the roof was complete Maymyo was attacked by Japanese warplanes. We ran for the trench and I held my Daisy Airgun up to the sky in determination to shoot them down as they flew above us. This was in about March 1942 and I was 9 years old.
Because the Allied forces were short of equipment, many forms of improvisation was needed to deter the Japanese enemy, and one of these was the building of dummy Ack-Ack gun emplacements in open fields not far from our home.
About this time my father came home one day in the uniform of a Captain in the Corps of Indian Engineers and a few days later we prepared to leave Burma.
The son of a Doctor Cox joined my mother and us three children to make a party for our evacuation. Our fathers were to stay behind to fight the Japanese.
After nearly four years of bliss in this beautiful country this was to be the last time that we lived as a family in our own home. We had to leave everything behind and just walk away in the clothes we wore and some other minor articles we could carry in our hands.
All our possessions, including the many silver trophies won by my parents in Tennis, ballroom dancing and other events were lost.
We left Maymyo by taxi in April 1942 and headed to the village of Shwebo situated across the Irrawaddy to the north west of Mandalay. The British army had made an airfield here and put up some huts to shelter reinforcements, these became swamped by refugees like us very quickly.
The five of us were allocated one bed in a dormitory and told to wait further transportation.
There was very little food and with my mother’s foresight we survived a few days on the dried Horlicks we carried with us from Maymyo and boiled water. There was a canteen of sorts but the food was suspect and inadequate.
My mother discovered that there was one DC3 Aircraft doing as many flights a day as possible between Chittagong, on the Bay of Bengal, and Shwebo and managed to get our names on the waiting list.
I had my first lesson here of ‘relative size’; it happened when we heard an aircraft noise and thinking it was Japanese warplanes we all rushed outside and saw an approaching aeroplane much larger than the Japanese fighters we had seen in Maymyo.
Word went around quickly that it was the DC3 and therefore safe. The plane looked small in the sky but as it approached over our heads to land, its wingspan seemed to fill the sky. Frightened, I tried in vain to run from under its shadow.
We stayed in Shwebo for a few days and watched many people become very sick and frightened. We were lucky and managed to get on a flight but many were left to trek out over the mountains for the safety of India. Many died and I met some survivor’s years later at school in India and learnt of their harrowing experiences of death, sickness and starvation.
The DC3 aircraft had bare metal seats, which flapped up against the fuselage wall, and a row had been added along the middle. The plane was packed with people. As we rose into the air the seats got very cold, but this first experience of flying was so exhilarating that nothing else concerned me. To see the mountainous jungle below was awe-inspiring. On arrival in Chittagong, a very hot and humid sea port we were able to catch an overnight ferry boat running across the Bay of Bengal to somewhere east of Calcutta. This was a fearful voyage because there was a terrific storm with thunder and lightening and torrential rain and the behavior of drunks on board frightened me. From our landing we were put on a train by the British/Indian authorities and sent to Fort William at Calcutta.
We were allotted officers quarters at Fort William, which was garrisoned by the British Army, and where we were well looked after. We stayed here for a few days while arrangements were made for our onward destination. My mother was able to contact her sister in Lahore, over in the Northwest of India and arrange for us to live at her home. With this the Army allowed us to leave the Fort and we set off on the long rail journey to Lahore. I never knew what happened to Derrick Cox, the doctors’ son who came out of Burma with us.
Clearly, my mother must have had a very trying time and showed her determination and strength.
My father spent the next three years as part of the British 14th Army opposing the Japanese Army in Burma.
He was part of a small Survey Group under Brigadier Guy Bomford, who was the Deputy Director of Survey in the 14th Army from 1942 to 1945.
Late in 1941 when an invasion of Burma by the Japanese seemed imminent, Bomford had established a small survey group in Burma for the triangulation and production of maps.
Dad was part of this team who produced maps of the country printed on silk, so that the 14th Army had a reliable map, which would not deteriorate in the very humid and wet conditions of the jungles. (I have one of these maps in my possession)
When the Japanese invaded, all records were buried at Myitkina.
Subsequently the team had to walk many hundreds of miles in conditions of great hardship and danger to reach the safety of India.
The Japanese discovered the buried records and took them to Singapore from where they were recovered by the British army after the Japanese surrender.
Dad was "Mentioned in Dispatches" for distinguished service during the Burma campaign and this was published in the London Gazette on 5 April 1945
Dad returned to India in late 1944, and after taking leave in Dehra Dun with us, he was posted to General Headquarters in Delhi in the rank of Major.
In 1945 he was given command of an Army map depot at Barrackpore near Calcutta, where he stayed until being demobilised from the Army and returned to the Survey of India with an appointment in Delhi.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.