Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Sagaing Hills During Wartime


The following interesting incident occurs from the celebrated biography of British Field-Marshal Sir William Slim, Defeat Into Victory. It gives a fascinating account of how the most spiritual part of the country, with a history of over 1,000 years of meditation, fared during the war.

“I was sitting outside my headquarters at Sagaing when I was surprised to see a civilian motor-car drive up and disgorge half a dozen Burmese gentlemen, dressed in morning coats, pin stripe trousers, and grey topis. There was a definitely viceregal air about the whole party. They asked to see me. They were a deputation of influential Burmese officials from the large colony who had taken refuge in the Sagaing Hills in the bend of the Irrawaddy opposite Mandalay. They submitted a neatly typed resolution duly proposed, seconded, and passed unanimously at a largely attended public meeting. This document stated that the Burmese official community had received an assurance from His Excellency the Governor that no military operations would take place in the Sagaing Hills, a locality held in particular veneration by the Burmese people. Trusting in this, they and their families had removed themselves there. Now to their dismay Chinese troops had entered the hills and were preparing defences, even siting cannon. They there demanded that I, as the responsible British commander, should order out the Chinese and give a guarantee that, in accordance with His Excellency’s promise, no military operations should take place in the Sagaing hills.

I was terrible sorry for these people. They were all high officials of the Burma Government, commissioners, secretaries, judges, and the like; their world had tumbled about their ears, but they still clung to the democratic procedure of resolutions, votes, and the rest that we had taught them. They brought me their pathetic little bit of paper as if it were a talisman. When I told them that, as far as I was concerned, I had no wish for military operations in their hills—I might have added truthfully, nor anywhere else at that moment—but that the Japanese general was equally concerned and not likely to be so obliging as to agree, they departed polite but puzzled. The impressiveness of the proceedings was somewhat marred by one gentleman who came back and asked could he not be issued with a six-months’ advance of pay? I do not blame him—it would be a long time before he would draw his British pay again."