Refugees ’42


Here is Dad’s version of the family’s escape from war torn Burma during the 2nd World War .This is in his own words from pages he had written and found after he had expired.
 
Tumsar 1959
 
From 10th to 15th Oct ’59 I wa s at Tumsar in a place where I could not get any thing to read except the daily newspaper.Time was hanging heavily on me.To keep my worries out of my mind, I started writing this auto biography ….
 
Syriam 1933
 
Hema was born on12-2-’33. She was a tiny but sweet baby.I was anxious to have both mother and daughter with me and pressed Sreemu’s mother to take them to Syriam as soon as possible.I still rember the day Sreemu and little Hema arrived in Rangoon .As SS Ethiopia came along side I was the first to get on board the steamer and ran up the passage to greet my dear ones .
 
Life in Syriam and work at B.O.C (Burma Oil Company)was really enjoyable.In 1938 we purcheased a car , Morris Oxford , a two seater.Even with four little ones we used to have our usual evening outings & badminton in the club. "Getting babies suits you" was a comment of one of the Anglo-Indian ladies when she met Sreemu a few months after Jaya was born.
 
Such a happy life in Syriam was to come to an end soon. In Oct ’41 talk of world war was strong.A Japanese attack on Burma became a general talk.When Pearl Harbour fell , the people of Burma became panicky.
 
On 12th Dec ’41 the B.O.C. advised us to evacuate our families as the Sukky Oil Refinery was a dangerous area. Sreemu and children were sent to a small town near Henzada.
 
On 23rd Dec ’41 at 11 am Rangoon was bombed by Japanese fighter planes which flew very low and machine gunned Rangoon.The office going people were all caught unawares on the streets.The air raid which lasted for about two hours in steady waves killed a very large number of people on the road and on the river.In the afternoon when the all clear signal was given, I made up my mind to go to Henzada.I came to the jetty in my car.Locked it safely but there was no launch to take me across to Rangoon.I was able to pusuade a Chittagonian to take me across the river in darkness on payment of Rs 50/- .I reached Rangoon at about 8 pm drenched with river water which was lashing me in the small sampan in which I crossed the turbulent Rangoon River.
 
There was no conveyance in Rangoon. All shops where closed.Dead bodies were still on the street .I had to walk the distance of two miles to the railway station to catch the Henzada Mail at 9 pm.The train was full .People were sitting on top of the carriages .I purchased a 1st class ticket to get a foot hold in any compartment. I reached Henzada in the morning.Sreemu and children were happy to see me.On 30th Dec we reached Rangoon and stayed with Dr Anandan who was making arrangements to evacuate women & childrenfrom Rangoon.May God bless that generous soul who had been so helpful in saving the lives of so many people.
 
A Chinese coal vessel was sailing for Madras and arrangements were made for women and children to go on board that vessel by 6 am on New Years day.We had to leave for the jetty by 3 am.As we were getting ready there was an air raid on Rangoon in the moon light.We rushed to the shelter.Even there Sreemu wanted to stand close to me to get to heaven together.Before dawn we reached the wharf.Only women and children were allowed on the wharf.Sreemu was helped by other ladies who had no children to carry the four little ones who were shivering with fright.Leaving them in the hands of God I returned to Syriam to my post.With God’s grace they landed safely in Madras.
 
I had a faithful servant Damodhar Nair to look after me.On many occassions when I was reluctant to go to the shelter in an air raid he would force me to go.I remember once he wept aloud when I said that I would rather die in an air raid than be a prisoner of war in Japanese hands.
On 19-2-’42 at 12 noon orders were given to evacuate Syriam within half an hour.The Japanese were only 40 miles from Rangoon.I went home to pick up Damodharan and my hand bag in which I had packed a shirt ,a pair of shorts for change , a few bottles of Horlicks and biscuits and first aid equipment.I left my house as it was and got into my car on my last trip in that car ,to the jetty where a launch was waiting to take us to Rangoon.Local Burmese hooligansd had occuppied the house even before the launch sailed from Syriam.At Rangoon we had to go to Ching Song Palace 8 miles away from the jetty and wait in the evacuation camp for further ordersof movement.
 
In a batch of around 50 we went to that palace .It was not a safe place to stay as prisoners from Rangoon jail and lunatics from Insien were released by that time and some of them had also taken shelter in that camp.Most of the people left in fear and by 23rd Feb only 11 of us including Gopalan,Nair,Subramanium,Burjajie,Webb,Alexander,Xavier,Yun,Marsh and myself remained together.Peacock had a revolver which we  used by turn for sentry duty to guard the group from attacks by hooligans.
 
Onthe morning of 23rd Feb we found the wardens of the camp leaving the palace in panic.We managed to get into a lorry and Peacock who could drive any vehicale brought us to the high court buildingnear the jetty.We also got news that SS Jalagopal which was in the wharf would be sailing that evening.
 
In the evening we had to fight our way through the crowd waiting outside the jetty .It was indeed a struggle to get through.I was completely exhausted by the time I reached the steamer which sailed in darkness.
 
Near Basiene we where asked by a Japanese Raider to stop.Messages where exchanged between the Raider and Jalagopal.Within an hour we could proceed safely to Chittagong which we reached on 27th Feb .The same night I left for Cannanore on a four day train journey .
 
—- I was happy to meet Sreemu and children and all at home .
 
And that was Dad’s story .I must have got some names and places wrong and possibly also missed a few passages as it was from a very old manuscript that I copied these lines.  

Author: hari008

Business Leader , Mentor and Executive Coach with a long track record of achievement , developing high performance teams and mentoring team members who now hold responsible positions in several leading companies

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