Return to Burma

The page Original   Burma Page   had become overloaded

thus the addition of this page-- Return to Burma

As a starter for the page:

We are privileged to have  Ken Joyce's writings regarding his visits to Burma in 2008 and 2011.They make great reading and I'm sure many others will enjoy Ken's storytelling gift and the added touch of humour. it was such a bonus to be in touch with Ken, an Edinburgh man who was on MTB's at the Normandy landings and later chasing Japanese in similar vessels up the Irrawaddy in Burma!

Ken, as one of the only four surviving members of the Association, now lives with his wife at Ettalong Beach in New South Wales, and we are privileged to share his adventures and memories

 Ken Joyce who has visited Burma several times in the last years and knows our correspondent Khine very well indeed

Please click on the heading of the story you wish to read

Burma Again 2008

Burma Again 2011

 January16 2012 



Why on earth would you want to go back to Burma (Myanmar) again? This was a question put to me by family and friends. It is an understandable question from my Burma Star army mates whose experience of the country, following long marches over the Indian border, led them into sodden paddy fields, smelly swamps and unforgiving jungles. In contrast we of the Royal Navy's gunboat flotillas sailed directly to the Arakan, to cities such as Rangoon (Yangon), towns like Bassien, Yandoon, Henzada, Pyapon, etc, etc. Other friends and well wishers were, and still are, influenced by distorted press reports and biased commentaries.

Since the end of the War in Burma in 1945, I have been able to have two visits, in 2004 and 2006. On the first of these visits my wife, Heather, was able to return to the land of her birth for the first time since she and her Rubber Planter father and mother left Burma for the U.K. in 1948. She has retained a very good knowledge of the Burmese language learned from village elders and her childhood playmates throughout the war years under Japanese occupation. We were able to visit the Moulmein (Mawlamyine) area where she had started school and where her Shetland Island grandfather had been a ship's Pilot. To all who heard her speak she was treated like a returning celebrity!

In 2006, I returned alone to visit areas that her health would not allow her to attempt;. I was able to see the Rubber Estate, Sookalat, where we had first met in 1945. On that trip, I was fortunate to be able to obtain the services of Khine, (, a Burmese lady who has helped many British and American ex-servicemen to return to remote areas of interest such as Chindit landing places, scenes of hard fought actions for them and US and Chinese forces close to Myitkyina. In my case, she had fulfilled one of my dreams in getting me to the Delta village of Kokkowa, the scene of our first gunbattles with Japanese boats.

With the help of Heather and her strong support, it was not difficult to find some very good reasons to again return. There was the wonderful team of Burmese from Singapore whom Heather and her friends helped financially in their fine efforts to support the villagers hit by the cyclone, Nargis. Then she had heard of the Irish Columban Sister who was following a 25 year stint in Korea by going to the far north of Burma to nurse the many HIV / Aids patients, mostly women and babies. There had been an article in the Columban magazine about her raising pigs to help finance her work.

My war service had been in the wide Delta of the Irrawaddy and up this great river to the north of Henzada. As a tourist or returning Veteran, I had also done the ferry trip from Mandalay to Bagan. Now with Sr. Dillon up in Myitkyina, I had the opportunity to go there, travel to Bhamo and see if I could cover more of the river by doing the ferry trip down the river to Mandalay.

Very soon an itinerary was laid out; a few days in Rangoon that had been our base from May to December 1945. Then fly to Myitkyina, to see if I could contact this wonderful Nun, drive to Bhamo for a day or so and then join the ferry to Mandalay. Include a visit to Maymyo (Pyin-oo-win) where Heather had finished her schooling in Burma and then fly back to Rangoon. I got  in touch with Khine but after a while she found that other commitments precluded her from accompanying me to the North, however her colleague Tony Yang from Baron Travel ( agreed to do the trip. A modest fee was arranged and hotel, airline and ferry bookings were made, it seemed that all would work out as required.

Now however, the spanners started to fall into the works. The first of these was an attempt to alter the starting date that would mean a change to the airline ticket that had been paid for in full, with massive surcharges, some three months previously. ‘No trouble ‘ said the agent, ‘all you have to do is to stump up a further $614 to cover our costs and also the airlines charges". Absolutely no shame!. Never again would I use a travel agent but only deal directly with the airline as I had done in the past. We decided to stick to the original dates. The next problem arose through what is thought to be Burma's best private airline, Air Bagan.  Just before flying out, they decided to cancel my flight to Myitkyina and then a few days later to cancel the changed flight! The only way ahead then was to fly to Mandalay and consider travel by road or ferry from there to Bhamo then organize a car trip to Myitkyina and return to the ferry to get back to Mandalay. The very poor road all the way to Bhamo is thought to be out of the question so the alternative would result in a double ferry trip against the flow of the river going north but hopefully a quicker return trip!

This was how things stood when I joined the Thai International flight to Bangkok to change planes for a flight to Rangoon. I left home after dinner and took the train to Sydney where I stayed overnight in my Club. A quick change over in the new Bangkok monster airport and I arrived in Rangoon, being greeted by Khine before 8pm on the same day.  I had been booked into the Central Hotel where I stayed on my last visit.  This time there was a definite drop in standards with none of the usual supply of coffee and tea and the lighting so poor that it was impossible to read until they dragged in a standard lamp.  A pleasant dinner and drinks at the famous Strand Hotel and back to the Central Hotel for a short sleep with a 4am wake-up for the flight to Mandalay. A drive in the dark to Mingladon Airport, now modernized, to find that Air Bagan hadn't given up its little games and had now cancelled the morning flight and invited us to come back in five hours time!  That was a bit of sleep I could well have done with!. Eventually reached Mandalay and as there was a day or so to spare to tie in with the Ferry service, we drove from the airport all the way to Maymyo arriving in the late afternoon. A most interesting drive up the original winding Burma Road, now with sections of dual highway, now dodging monster trucks that are a strong economic link with China. Arrived just with time for a shower and started to tour this very interesting former British Hill Station where the government retreated at the onset of the hot season.

Our driver, Soe Than, really knew Maymyo. We visited the new Chinese built pagoda with its wide views and then on to the Waterfalls that are breathtaking with a series of pathways giving easy access. We then had a taste of the teaming markets, bright with masses of vegetables and flowers that grow in this cool atmosphere. Dinner at the San Franscico and a welcome bed after such a long day. In the morning I got out for a short walk in the neighbourhood. Old homes from the British days with jagged glass embedded in the top of the walls. Saw young men digging in the grass verge for what turned out to a kind of grub known as Pyet. Later had a taste when fried, very salty. Back at the hotel, there was one of the traditional horse drawn carts or gharrie. After breakfast I found that Tony had kindly ordered this for me and I was soon up in the drivers seat far a short ride around the pleasant tree lined streets. I thought I handled it quite well but the driver was taking no chances and kept himself handy. A very pleasant experience that was photographed by our car driver going ahead to suitable spots. We later did a tour of the Indawgyi Gardens with tame deer, West Australian black swans. Quite a few Burmese tourists, the most notable being very good-looking Shan girls from Lashio, maybe the prettiest girls in Burma. We then visited the replica of the old Governors House that had originally been built for the Bombay Burma Trading Company. The next gem in this area was the Waterfalls with a clever pathway allowing perfect views.

 I had mentioned to Tony that Heather had attended boarding school here in Maymyo and he instituted a search. We took a number of photographs of various schools that had been taken over by the government but none seemed to fit Heather's description. We then spotted a Catholic Convent and when I entered I met a beautiful Nun, Sr. Mary Flora, who knew the school I was looking for. She directed us to what was known as St Joseph's where another lovely Nun, Sr. May Myo took us a tour of her establishment that included the school Chapel Heather had attended and also the magnificent school buildings now run by government. Strangely, the Catholic statue group in front had been left in place.  Heather has drooled over the photographs I have of this school with the covered walkway from the school to the Chapel. She has vivid memories of how an English Nun, who was so upset with Heather's lack of education during the Japanese Occupation, that she made her take a chair to the walkway, stand on it with a wastepaper basket on her head.  The Nun meanwhile stood at the Chapel door entreating the Lord in a loud voice to put some sense into Heather's head !

We then left Maymyo with the streets full of young soldiers from the Military Academy, all looking too young and earnest to do any harm. There was a long drive down the winding mountain road in the pouring rain. The Monsoon doesn't seem to realize that it should now be over! Back in Mandalay we toured the river front,visited Paul Strachan's magnificent ferries. That evening we had a Buffet Dinner at the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel. Very upmarket, obviously getting us ready for the coming ferry trips.

Next day there was a 4.30 am call to join the ferry in the teaming rain. We were quickly ushered aboard and taken to our tight two-berth cabin. The ferry was the ‘Pyi Gyi Tagon' built in China in 1995 but sorely lacking maintenance. I have in the past served on ships more than 25 years old, even two that had been sunk for a number of years and then refloated and even they were in much better condition.

All of this was well compensated by the wonderful Captain. I introduced myself and Tony explained that I was a Veteran of the Japanese war and I showed some photographs of my boat on the Irrawaddy back in 1945. The Captain straight away pointed to a very good wooden deck chair forward of the Bridge and announced that this was for my sole use. In the Bridge I was given the Captain's high chair and invited to be there whenever I wished. He came to our cabin two or three times each day, giving the latest news regarding where we would stop for cargo, our speed, etc. Where we had prolonged stops loading cargoes of rice and other goods, he insisted we come ashore with him to see the town and also see him being greeted by many people. "When you are with the Captain, you can't miss the ship"

All of the passengers on this deck  were very friendly and doing all they could to help this old man who may have been better of at home before a warm fire. Our nearest neighbours were two sisters-in-law taking their elderly mother home to Bhamo. We had a bit of fun with my use of my limited Burmese vocabulary. It seems that great care must be taken less a change in inflection results in a quite different meaning. These fun loving people are quick to identify any mistakes that could be construed as sexual!  You have to be careful in handing out sweets to other than children as they do try to give you a gift in exchange..

I quite often took my seat on the Bridge watching the passing scenes and also the modern steering without the use of the traditional steering wheel. I only wished I had some command of the language to be able to enter into the banter. I had a small photo album with pictures of my grandchildren, home, garden and car but these seamen were more interested in the armament on our gunboat.

We were pushing up river against a strong current and barely doing 5 knots. Poor visibility with mist and rain. After 58 hours we crawled into Bhamo, quick shower and limited sleep as we had to leave for Myitkyina at dawn. With Bagan Air and its antics, I had lost much time as instead of 58 hours, we should have been here under two hours.

The drive north to Myitkyina is on a terrible bit of road for thirty miles and then on a new Chinese built road for about 100 miles. It is through dense jungle close to the road bringing memories of the kind of territory my  Chindit and Army comrades had to endure. We stopped at a Monastery built by descendants of a Japanese general in honour of him and his troops who had all perished in this area. There were a number of army checkpoints and it seems that foreign visitors should have a permit to travel by road. However, they realized the trouble being caused by Air Bagan, even telling us that a number of tourists were stranded north of Myitkyina in Pateo.  When reaching the town, we drove directly to the Catholic Cathedral where we were given news of Sr. Mary Dillon. It seems that she was on her rounds of homes of patients with HIV/Aids. Someone went hunting for her and she soon turned up in an old car that she was driving. Tony went to make peace with Immigration, whilst I was taken to the house that was a refuge for these people. It seems that the husbands or partners  were infected through needle and prostitute use and when they died they left behind pregnant women, who with their child have the disease. All very sad and moving but uplifting to see this Nun, plus others from the Philippines giving such loving care.One of their remarks was, "we are not Nurses, we don't shout at patients"

Our next move was to drive nearly thirty miles north on a hopeless road to reach the Confluence. This is the point where the rivers N'mai kha and Mali kha meet to form the mighty Irrawaddy. We arrived at the top of a cliff to look down on this magnificent scene. To me who had first sampled the Irrawaddy so many miles south when we had powered up its tributary, the Rangoon River in May 1945 to retake this Capital City, this was a wonderful sight. Against my guide and carers wishes I was determined to get right down to the bottom and so slithered and slid to the river bank where I jumped in to the cooling water. Tony came with me and we both collected some river stones as momentos and stood for a while taking in the scene. It took a lot longer and much puffing on my part to get back to the top. It is very moving watching this River come to life before setting on its journey for a thousand miles down gorges and over plains, giving life to this country and its people. Soon it will be pushing rafts of enormous teak logs or even bigger, more spread out, rafts of bamboo with its working family living on top, down to their destination. A river to doff your hat to.

We then had to turn around and make our way back to Bhamo. We had left at 5.10 am and arrived back at our hotel at 7.30 pm. It had been a memorable day, passing through areas of terrible warfare back in 1944, seeing the goodness of the Nuns and then the source of the Irrawaddy.  Hadn't had any proper meals during the day, in fact only dry biscuits. Now called for a few slices of fresh toast to take with my supply of cheeses, a long hot shower and bed until early morning.

Up again in the dark and having a tour of the early morning markets. Streets jammed with stalls but motorbikes still pushing through! Taxi to the wharf and pleased to find it was the same Ferry with our same Captain. He took us to our cabin and checked all was well. Tony had bought an electric kettle freeing us from the dodgy boiled water available on board. I had brought my bright red cross-country ski-ing plate, good for digging a snow shelter or calling in a helicopter in emergency. This I took down to the kitchen when ordering food but had a hard job explaining its wintertime use in sunny Australia!

The lady who had the franchise for the food and drink store is quite a character, offering me strange foods, that I wouldn't touch.. She also sleeps behind her counter. She sells beer but only bottles and there is only one cold one available at a time as the ‘fridge is full of other foodstuffs. I find it not possible to drink more than a small glass before it becomes too warm.

Had a strange episode in that on two occasions I tripped whilst climbing up from the shop, probably due to me wearing a longyi. Next thing the Captain arrives at cabin, telling Tony what happened and giving instructions to be careful. How did he know?

Another impressionable character on board was the Manager, I believe responsible for cargo. He had been an army captain who had lost his leg in battle and it seems that as well as a generous pension, he was helped to get this position on the ferry. He had a cabin separate from the other officers and spent quite a bit of time talking with us. I asked if he kept contact with his previous comrades and his answer was that they were now all Lt. Colonels!

Quite soon after leaving Bhamo, the Captain came to let me know to be on the Bridge for when we entered the Defiles. This is like sailing along a corkscrew with massive cliffs towering over us. Mostly you have the impression that you could land up on the bank but deft steering keeps the boat on course. Now that we are going downstream, the flow of the river is giving us a good turn of speed. The Captain points out a grave where is buried the captain of a ferry attacked and sunk by Kachins in 1975 before they made peace with the government. Another example of the difficulties faced by the rulers of this country.

There are two seamen in the bow groping ahead with long polls and calling out the depths. On passing other boats the same chant can be heard.  There is now one other tourist on board, Michael, an English lawyer. He had been unable to get a cabin as they were all booked and now had his small bit of deck marked out! He left the boat at the port for Shwebo and we gave him a cheer when he negotiated the slippery plank to the shore. He earned a bigger cheer when he took his place climbing on top of the old bus. Many of the Burmese joined in our acclamation for him. At this stop, Tony and I had a feast of fried chicken and sticky rice cooked in a bamboo tube. At all the stopping places, the villagers are ready with their trays of various foodstuff, the very smart ones get a jump on the others by boarding the ferry from a boat while we are still coming alongside.

Whilst on the Bridge on one occasion, there was a bit of a stir when a country boat, motor driven, appeared to be heading to cross ahead of us. The Officer of the Watch spotted that he had a long towline, mostly under water, back to a barge that would have been a problem. He immediately grabbed the lanyard of the ships whistle and gave an unholy long series of blasts. This soon stopped the problem and it was followed by everyone giving the pedigree of the errant boatman by a long stream of curses!  During this period we had fine sunny weather and were able to appreciate the heavy traffic on the river. There were little powerful tugs pulling massive barges loaded with logs, fishing boats, a few sampans getting a passenger over to the other side also other ferries exchanging greetings.

Before finishing with the river ferries, I would like to include some tips for foreign travelers, especially the good people of Lonely Planet. Bring an electric jug so that you can prepare drinks such as tea or coffee, cup a soups, and the like. They are quite cheap and can be given away to a family. There is hand basin with poor plumbing so a container to wash from is handy. No towels are supplied. Using the toilet can be a problem. You need to be wearing a longyi that can be hung around your neck out of the way of flooded floors. Be sure you know how to crouch. Fly spray and aerogard can be handy. If you like ice-cold beer, maybe you should bring a few cans that may be more easily brought to a suitable temperature by being poked into a corner of the fridge. Be nice to the shop lady. In the war days we could get cold beer by sinking a sack of bottles to the silt at the bottom, but now there is not likely to be enough time.

After about 32 hours, a day early, we reach our destination, the former royal capital, Mandalay. There were a string of farewells from many passengers, much hugging and handshaking, sincere thanks to the Captain who had made both the trips so memorable. Now we would have a couple of days to again explore Mandalay.

Had a tour of the pagoda that has the Arakan Budha, worth a visit if only to see the locals and their devotion.  Now was the time to buy T-shirts for grandchildren, once again I misfired with the sizes. Better job with jade bangles.  I have an order for Shan Bags large enough to stow sheet music. Went out to eat Chinese, have to get used to having smokers in the dining room.

My hotel room looked down on a neat building with the Christian cross over its doorway. At 4am I found that this building was the Priests home and the rest of the compound, that I couldn't see was the grounds of the Cathedral with the church bells competing with Buddhist early morning chanting! Had a good morning walk and got back for breakfast just in time to get a telephone call from home. One of my very smart grand-daughters had found the hotels phone number on the internet! A further tour of the city enabled me to see the finished, 3 arched bridge that I had glimpsed in the mist when heading to Bagan a couple of years ago. Now very impressive.  We drove over to Sagaing and climbed the hilltop to enjoy the wide views.

Back on the riverside in Mandalay, we met one of the intrepid young travelling ladies you can read about on the internet. This was Lourdes from Madrid, who on hearing what is left of my Scottish accent, fell into wide praise of Edinburgh. I haven't been propositioned for a longtime, but before long, Lourdes had arranged that we go out to dinner that evening. She turned up promptly at our hotel, taking Tony, my guide and diligent carer by surprise, and whisked me of to the Golden Duck, overlooking the Palace. Very enjoyable Duck with rice and ‘Dos cervessa, por favor' from a hidden corner of my mind, brought some really cold beer. It must have gotten past my bedtime, as my anxious carer dispatched our driver to bring me home!

One of the highlights of this day in Mandalay was to come across a long procession of elephants, horses and decorated carts taking young boys, dressed as Princes, to a monastery to commence their stints as monks. The procession was broken up by groups of finely dressed ladies, an excellent Karen dancing troupe, and music from decorated stages.

In the morning we visited some of the oldest pagodas and also the Royal Palace. Was able to get the Shan Bags, being a poor shopper, I arrived home with some of these being quite unsuitable. Later in the afternoon we got on the flight to Rangoon, via Heho, and reached the hotel in time to again meet Khine and enjoy her company at the Savoy. Also met Heather's Nuns, Srs. Helen and Bridget, who do so much work for the community.

In the morning it was up at a reasonable hour for a change and enjoy the usual limited breakfast for Europeans, sweet bread toast and fried eggs! Then getting dressed in Burma Star shirt and wearing Medals; it was off to the Rangoon War Cemetery. This is distinct from the magnificent Taukyan War Graves, having been opened in 1945 for those who fell in the Landings and retaking of southern Burma, plus the unfortunates who died in Japanese custody. Tony had produced two fine bunches of flowers that I laid at the Memorial and distributed among the graves

.I have a friend who lives in a nearby suburb, whose uncle is almost certainly buried here but is not recorded. He was in the Royal Australian Air Force but was in a crew of an RAF plane that was downed by the Japanese near to Pyapon in the Delta area. He was probably fortunate in dying at the crash as the rest of the crew, except for two who were transferred to Rangoon for interrogation, suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese. They were all executed only a few weeks before this area was again in British hands. The evidence at the trial of the Japanese, led to the posthumous award of the George Cross to one of them. This was my third visit here to graves of men who were within a few months of my age at the time of the Rangoon Landings. Our boats had been chosen for this task after being the Navigation Leaders at Normandy, only eleven months previously. This time the landings were in the main unopposed, the Japanese by then on the way to their ally, Siam, now Thailand. Still, of course, there were sufficient casualties to justify having these new graves of British, Australian, Gurkha, African, Hindu and Moslem servicemen. The Moslems buried facing towards Mecca.  If there really is a hereafter, surely I just might meet these fellows.

Whilst still dressed with medals, etc., we went to the Defence Forces Museum where I was royally treated by the young serving Soldiers and Sailors. For a time I concentrated on the Naval displays, helped by a couple of friendly young sailors. We had heard that there were relics of our gunboats but this was not so but it was good to see photographs of the class of boats on which I served. There have been stories of the boats that we had passed over to the Burma Navy in October 1945, being seized by Karens and then involved in actions against Aung San, but of this we have no definite information.

At this stage, the hectic trip and likely the dodgy water, was catching up on me and I had to call off any further activity, return to the hotel and sleep until called to get ready to leave for my plane to Bangkok and Sydney. Khine and Tony were waiting in the lounge area and took me out to the new International Terminal. Tony had been my guide throughout, it wasn't easy for him as of course he is a Rangoon business man, surely not used to roughing it on a ferry. He had done everything he could for me, including obtaining medication that Heather is looking at with suspicion!

There is now at last a new International Terminal with bridges from planes instead of climbing down long stairways and being loaded into buses for a trip to the buildings where, if your luggage didn't arrive quickly, your porter would climb through with your docket and search for it.

It is still quite a shock to find that after just a few steps, you are separated from your dear friends and herded into large lounges waiting to be called.

So once again, it is goodbye to Burma.

Ken Joyce.

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January 17 2012  

Burma Again 2011

Why go back again to Burma?(Myanmar)  One reason is that Scotland is just too far away!But no, my war service there must take some of the blame, I was just over 19 years old when we took Rangoon (Yangon) and even at that young age I had been in the Royal Navy for nearly two years. I had been lucky enough to have served on two D-Class MTBs of the 64th Flotilla, mainly around enemy occupied Normandy, Brittany and the Channel Islands. We didn't do anything earth shaking but we had our moments.This episode came to an end when MTB 749 was badly damaged and the crew were drafted to other craft. This resulted in my transfer to Motor Launch 269 of the 14th flotilla that had been a Navigation Leader at the Normandy Landings. A spot of leave and so from Normandy to Burma.

After powering into Rangoon, just days before the 14th Army who had been doing all the fighting right down from the Chindwin, we had the job of clearing enemy boats from the Delta. This meant calling at just about every river town from Rangoon over to Bassein (Pathein) and from Henzada down to the sea. Our flotilla strength was much reduced when two of our boats, including the leader, were struck by a tidal wave or bore in the mouth of the Sittang and were completely lost. Along with boats of the 13th Flotilla we had two significant very short range gun actions against Japanese boats at Kokowa and on the Irrawaddy just north of Yandoon.(Nyandon) Met hundreds of Burmese and Karen people, all very welcoming and in some cases worried about our welfare! What proved to be the turning point of my life was meeting an interned Irish rubber planter, Tom Joyce, and probably being the only serviceman in Burma to get official leave in the country and so spent time with him and family on Sookalat Rubber Estate. This led to marrying his daughter Heather, then aged 12, some years later in 1954.  We returned to Burma together for a short stay in 2004, giving Heather a chance to visit orphanages she has helped over the years but her health stopped us visiting many parts in which we both have an interest.

All this has given me an excuse to return on a two year cycle and extend my trips as far north as the Confluence of the Irrawaddy, visit centres such as Mandalay, Maymo(Pyin U Lwin), Bagan and Delta towns. Now I am off to Toungoo to see the Elephant Camp,plus Prome(Pyay) on the river that I missed in 1945 as the boat I was on had to return to Rangoon with the wounded. Now also visit the hill station, Kalaw, plus Taunggyi and Inle Lakes.

Once again my arrangements were in the hands of Baron Travel whose owner, Tony Yang, had previously accompanied me on a memorable trip on the Mandalay ferry to Bhamo. This time I would be under the care once again of the charming Khine who had got me to the site of our first ship to ship battle at Kokowa. Now within a month or so of my 85th birthday, I decided to go for a bit more comfort and arranged a flight to Singapore leaving Sydney at about 4pm, arriving in S'pore at 9.30pm their time. Good time for a light supper, with of course a S'pore Sling and a restful night in the Transit hotel. Up in the morning for the flight to Rangoon arriving completely fresh at 9.30 am. Khine was there to meet me looking as beautiful as ever. Sydney to S'pore was on a Singapore Air A380, a massive plane with the ideal seat, window on upper deck with your own locker, nearly as good as Business Class. Even though Baron Travel had stipulated another hotel,   I had  decided  once again on the Central Hotel but only for its familiarity and convenient position; however never again until it changes management and has a full refurbishment, also a half decent breakfast.

Lunch with Tony Yang at the top of the Sakura building with wide views of Rangoon River over to Dala.Quite a lot of shipping, the first sign of the economic advance of this country. Managed to buy a number of cards to send to the grandchildren, Tony stepped in and dealt with sealing them up and getting them off in the mail, pleased to say they have arrived safely. After lunch I contacted the Good Shepherd nuns and soon had a visit from Srs. Helen & Bridget. Helen the sister of dear friends in Sydney and Bridget the younger sister of a now deceased Burma Navy friend of 1945. Through them was able to organise the distribution of Heather's donations to the far north, Myitkyina, and away to the south in Moulmein and even further south to Myeik. The next morning I looked in on the Nuns at their Mass in the Chapel close to Central. When I got there I could hear the choir singing  "Amazing Grace" in Burmese.  I asked Sr. Helen what they were doing singing good old Scottish Presbyterian hymns but she answered it was in my honour!  A Nun wouldn't tell a lie, would she?

That evening off to 50th Street Foreign Correspondence Club for drinks and steaks. Whilst there a special gathering was arranged for the coming Saturday night, sounds good. The next morning, Wednesday, we are off to Toungoothis road also goes to the new Capital of Burma and although a concrete surface is as good as the F-3! (Articles in the Myanmar Times about the high death toll from speeding drivers on this road) On reaching Toungoo, we booked into Dr Chan Aye's Guest House. A rambling structure but I had for myself a dormitory like room with beds for 6-8 people with two balconies! As to be expected when dealing with the ‘Good Doctor" as he is known, all the staff are wonderful and friendly. Breakfast is like a wedding banquet with about 10 to 15 dishes. That afternoon we toured the nearby village where there was a procession of Buddhist monks and then arranged dinner in a Chinese restaurant. In the morning we had an early start to drive to the elephant camps. It took nearly three hours to get to the start point, this included a delay at a military checkpoint.

At last these magnificent animals came in sight, three elephants aged 35 to 45 years. They nudged and pushed logs into position under the command of the mahouts. This was pretty rough terrain, paths merging into dense jungle all at quite a high elevation. I nearly spoilt the whole outing by rushing up the hill to get in front of an elephant to take photos and then collapsed at the top. Not too sure of the sequence of events but I know I was sprawled on a rock and then found myself lying on a bed of large leaves with a ring of mahouts around me.   I understand that I was out for a while but I can remember the ‘good doctor' talking to me. Then a mahout squatted beside me crushing betel leaves for me to inhale. As he was doing this I could see the enormous feet of the elephants around me, made me recall the history of Queen Supayalat and her method of disposing of claimants to the throne! The mahout was giving a commentary and when I heard everyone laughing I ask for a translation and found it to be the statement that ‘when you receive amassage from an elephant, you wake up in Paradise'. I tried to move away from those enormous feet!  After claiming that I was OK, I was allowed up and to save me climbing up the path back to the vehicles,  I was put up on the elephant very well ridden by the ‘Good Doctor'.  (Dr Chan is always spoken of in this manner, I would imagine because of his and his wives magnificent medical work for the poor people of the district.) Somehow we were in the village where the German couple presented pencils and books to all the school children. Dr. Chan was administrating care to sick babies.

I can never forget the kindness of all the people on this trip, all the mahouts and the way they constructed a tent over me after the ladies had stood in the sun sheltering me by holding a cloth at the four corners. Vivienne from England/Wellington. NZ, who put a peppermint in my mouth. The German couples guide whom I heard calling out, ‘'No, he is not alright", not least dear Khine who was worried sick. Really everyone who must have thought this old B---- should know better than ape teenagers at his age. I really thank themand apologise to them all.

 I must admit that no matter how I felt the ride back to base on the elephant was wonderful. This was not a walk along a roadway but an uphill and downhill trip, guarding my face from swinging branches, swaying around like clinging to the mast during a storm, almost worth all the trouble! When they were getting me up on the elephants back I had to undo my belt and the top buttons of my pants to give me some comfort. However I forgot about this when they got me off the elephant and I found that I was standing there with my pants around my ankles!

Somehow the day came to an end and I woke in the morning and realised that the previous days happenings were not a dream. Soon we were back to the hire car and heading over the Bago Yomas to Prome. The first part of this drive was over the route to the elephant camp but soon we were on the world's longest corkscrew of a road heading over the mountains. Drove over what seem to be dozens of Bailey Bridges, that engineering marvel of the Second World War, detoured over planked streams as the bridges were being repaired or improved. For Khine and I this was a most comfortable car ride but for the Driver it must have been hell as every few minutes we twisted and turned around another hair-pinned bend. After about five hours we were on the planes approaching the Irrawaddy and soon into Prome where we booked into the two year old Lucky Dragon Hotel. Very well set out with  rooms with a front balcony and a pool but too cold for swimmers!. The very wide Irrawaddy had little traffic although Prome is reputed to be the hub joining the Delta to Central Burma. Like everywhere in Burma now there was of course a bridge across the river and we were able to view the town from the otherside.  This is a town of important archaeological sites but I found more interest in a thriving business that exported thousands of plums to China that unfortunately came back in little plastic packets of a few prunes selling at high prices. The Owner commented that the Chinese had even extracted the seeds to be used for pharmaceuticals! The centre point of the town has a golden statue of Aung Saung on horseback and I recall that most towns give him this honour. However in Toungoo, the statue was that of the heroic Bandoola, I wonder if there is a message here?. Not in the best of health and so feeding on dry biscuits but had dinner with Khine on the balcony of my room helped along with G &T I had brought from Australia. Up next morning at 5am and down the Prome road for a 5 hour drive to Rangoon.  The drive through many market towns with crowds either buying or selling produce.  The Mandalay Rail line at our side most of the way.  Back at the Central Hotel and over to the Market but there was no seating and I had to sit in a stall for a time until well enough to get back to the hotel. Lay down for a time but the mattress was hell, got another room and just as bad. Had to raise hell before transfer to a superior room, this hotel is on the skids. Got a message that Heather would phone at 6pm but the front desk put her through the discarded rooms before getting to me!

That evening Khine had organised a dinner at which it turned out that I was to be the guest. About 15 wonderful people were there and I was overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity. Unknown to me they were there to hear me speak of the recapture of Rangoon on 2nd May, 1945. We had a very convivial dinner and I enjoyed hearing from people who are employed at their countries consulates, including two US Marines who presumably keep their Embassy safe. After dinner we adjourned to a Pub but as midnight approached I felt that this company of beautiful young people could well do without an 85 year old observer! Wishing I could magically discard some 60 years, if only for a short time, I took myself off by taxi guarding the magnificent carved  one and a half kilo Chinthe presented to me by Jamie Humphries of the Chindit Company.

Now I am off to Sookalat Rubber Estate where,as I said in the beginning, I first met my wife Heather in 1945 when she was only 12!  Khine had the hire car and driver and off we went. Roads had changed over the years, many new developments, and in the past the only way I knew to Sookalat was by ferry up the Canal to Twante Town and then over reasonable roads to Pyinee village and the estate. When I went some six years ago with the former De La Salle old boys, we went by cross harbour ferry to Dala , then taxi to Kawmu and the rest of the trip by Jeep. This time we drove through Rangoon suburbs, crossed a series of bridges to reach the SW Bank of the Canal and then on a poor road to Kawmu. Here we got a jeep that shot off along really horrible roads to the Rubber Estate. The Estate and the rubber trees had been badly damaged by the Nargis storms and now only employed 20 staff whilst the trees had been severely trimmed back in the hope of eventually saving them. In the old days when Heather's dad managed the Estate, they employed some 400 tappers and engineers to produce a fine rubber harvest. It was sad to see the present state although in time there could be an improvement. It was good to see the lake, where we used to cool off, was a bit less of a swamp than when I last saw it in 2004. Sitting in the passenger's seat alongside the driver led to severe jolting and a very sore tail bone that is only now on the mend.  Khine seemed to cope better in the back, must be something to do with female anatomy!

The next day, Monday, was when all started to go horribly wrong again. We got on the plane to Heho with the intention of visiting the hill station, Kalaw and then Taunggyi and later the Inle Lakes. I had a bit of a turn, passed out for a bit and had nausea and sickness. The plane had a scheduled stop at Mandalay and of course I was off loaded and put into the hands of the airport medical officer. With what had happened at the Elephant Camp my healthy integrity was shot to pieces and of course my guide had to inform my family in Australia.  I think I slept for a bit but next thing Khine got me on a plane back to Rangoon and straight away to the Asia Pacific medical centre. After an ECG, X-Ray, Nebuliser, etc lots of examinations by Dr. Myint Zaw it seemed that although no heart problem, my lungs were playing up causing similar effects as Pneumonia/Pleurisy. I expected that all of this treatment would require a raid on my credit cards but in fact the ECG cost was $US51.00, figure much less than an insured patients gap in Australia. Khine booked me in to a nearby top class family hotel, he Classique Inn. This hotel is situated in an interesting street, Golden Valley Rd. with a number of luxury homes.  The Inn insists that footwear be left outside and the reason is obvious when one sees the magnificent furnishings of this building, teak floors and ceilings plus beautiful carved furniture. In the morning back to the Clinic with Khine for an X-Ray.

Now was a time of indecision, some thought of my daughter Jennifer flying to S'pore to accompany me home. This would have meant me getting there to have a few days with her, fortunately none of this was possible as she wasn't ableto get a booking on my flight and due to Chinese New Year, no other flights available for me to switch to,  again blamed on theChinese New Year.  What happened was that I was booked into the Panda Hotel for a week of rest.  A good friendly hotel, having Tony Yang's electric kettle put coffee on tap. I spent this week watching sport on TV, visiting the Nuns who are not too far from the hotel. Left the pencils that were meant for Taunggyi orphanage with them as they have a children's care unit.  Went to the Scott Market now named for the wartime Aung Saung and with Khines help managed to get longyis for my five grand-daughters. Asked them for something suitable for my 12  year old grandson and they finished up giving me a jade bracelet for him to give to his girlfriend! Each evening went out with Khine for drinks and dinner, not hard to take as she is great company. The best dinner was one where Khine's mother joined us, a charming lady I had met some years ago. It seems that there is also a grandmother; I wouldn't be surprised to find that she is also a stunning person.

One day I took myself to the local train station, Shan Road, and bought a US$1 ticket that could take me around the Rangoon train circuit. The very kind Station Master made me wait for what he knew would be an uncrowded train. This meant a fairly long wait enlivened by lots of people gathering around to talk. Showed them my small photo album with snaps of my family and also of the days when we  recaptured Rangoon in 1945. Lots of joking and laughter. When I finally got on the train, a couple of ladies with a sick child used their command of English for long conversation. It turned out that they were from the old Akyab, now Sitwe and of course were Rakhines. They were delighted that I could rattle off the names from my 1945 days on the Arakan such as Ramree, Kyauk Pyu, Chebuda, Myebon, etc. However they got a bit over the top inviting me to their home in Tamway so I hopped off the train at Central!  The Burmese have a saying, ‘If you are confronted by a Rakhine and a deadly snake, kill the Rakhine first'. Unfortunately Central Station has very steep stairways that again put me out of action for a half hour or so.Whilst at the Panda, I took the opportunity of going out to street vendors and buying much needed fruit.   I managed a 6am visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda although I had to wait a while until the escalator was started. At this time in the morning it is quite peaceful but still with many Burmese pilgrims.

 Khine received an e-mail from Matt Poole in the USA who has done a lot of good work tracing downed planes from the War for the families of the crews. He needed a photo of the Grave of an unknown RAF airman for a family. I had intended going to the Graves in any event to check the condition of the Markers that had been peeling on my last visit and that I had reported to the Commonwealth War Graves.  Khine and I were able to photograph the required grave that has been sent to Matt and have now received a report from him of the original tragedy showing that all the ten crew of the Liberator perished but were buried on a Irrawaddy Island but some of the original graves were washed away. It is always a good feeling to have given some help to the families of these genuine heroes.  The graves are now in excellent condition and are under the care of a new Manager, Robert, and his team of gardeners.

Again I saw the Doctor and received slightly grudging permission to fly back to Australia, providing I had a nights stop-over and sleep in Singapore. Tony saw me off to the airport and so, almost certainly for the last time, I had to say farewell to Burma and returned home to my wife and family in Australia. Looking through the file of e-mails between the family and Khine left me in no doubt that I had put a lot of people who I love through a deal of worry. I hope I can be forgiven. (Within hours of arriving home I receive the news that a Burma Star comrade, Jimmy Kyaw Hoe, had died in southern Sydney. Regardless to my state I just had to attend his funeral and conduct a formal ex-service farewell.  A moving Australian/Burmese service that I felt privileged to have taken part)

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