If you are fortunate enough to visit Yangon, you will no doubt want to visit some of the many popular tourist sites around the city. Open all year round from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm, you may wish to visit the Commonwealth War Cemeteries. There are three in Myanmar, all maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and in this post we will visit two. One, in central Yangon is little visited, which is a shame as it is, like all the others beautifully maintained and a place of tranquility. The other lies 32 miles north of the Yangon city, just before the junction of the roads to Pyay ( Prome) and Bago (Pegu). For details of the third cemetery, please see this post A trip around Mawlamyaing ( Moulmein) including Thanbyuzayat and Kyaikkami (Amherst).
Another post details the fighting which took place just a few miles from the Taukkyan cemetery in 1942 during the British retreat. Battle of the Taukkyan Roadblock 7th March 1942.
Most of the dead of that action have no known grave as the rout of the British army by the Japanese led, to the great regret of those involved, to the abandonment of corpses all along the retreat.
Japanese accounts relay that their advance north was littered with the bodies of soldiers and civilians (it is estimated that at least 50,000 of the latter died on their flight to India). So Taukkyan is a place for reflection today, a site which witnessed the fear and panic of the civilians pouring out of Rangoon, and the violence of armed conflict in the past.
Taukkyan Commonwealth War Cemetery is the largest of three in Myanmar. After Burmese independence in 1948, a savage civil war broke out, initially with the Karen, who almost captured Rangoon, and latterly with various other minority groups throughout the country. This delayed the collection of remains from various battlefields around the country, and Taukkyan was eventually opened in 1951 and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on land donated by the people of Burma.
Initially it contained those remains found in cemeteries established near battlefields, principally around Mandalay, Meiktila, Sahmaw (which contained many Chindit graves) and the Akyab (Sittwe). As time went on and more cemeteries could be accessed, the number of graves and inscriptions increased.
Presently there are graves of 6,374 soldiers who died during the Second World War, and the graves of 52 soldiers who died in Burma during the First World War.
Engraved on the memorial pillars of the Rangoon Memorial are the names of over 27,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in Burma during the Second World War who have no known grave. A large number of these are from the 1,000 mile retreat of the British army in 1942, but the majority are from the fighting of 1943,1944 and 1945.
The Cremation Memorial commemorates 1,000 soldiers whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith and the Taukkyan Memorial commemorates 45 servicemen of both wars who died and were buried elsewhere in Burma but whose graves could not be maintained. Likewise there are 52 graves of servicemen who died during the First World War and were initially laid to rest at various military and civilian cemeteries around the country which could not be maintained.
There are 867 graves that contain the remains of unidentified soldiers.
It should be remembered that the British Indian army was a composite of many nationalities and religions, and the 14th Army which retook Burma in 1945 included even more, including African troops, and over 100 different languages were spoken in the ranks. Indian soldiers are interred in 1,819 of the graves. As an indication of this multinational force on the Rangoon Memorial are written the words ” They died for all free men” in English, Burmese, Hindi, Urdu and Gurmukhi (written Punjaubi).
The names of five holders of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honour for valour are inscribed on the Rangoon Memorial. Seven others holders are interred.
” The following details are given in the London Gazette of May 11th, 1945:In Burma, on 3rd March, 1945, during the battalion’s attack on the town of Meiktila, this officer commanded one of the two platoons leading the attack. Fire was heavy from guns and light automatics situated in well bunkered positions and concrete emplacements. The fighting throughout the day was at very close quarters and at times was hand-to-hand. With magnificent bravery Lieutenant Weston inspired the men of his platoon to superb achievements. Without thought of his own safety he personally led his men into position after position, exterminating the enemy. Throughout, the leadership was superb, encouraging his platoon to the same fanatical zest as was shown by the enemy.”
The official wreaths from the embassies in Yangon on November 11th. The lack of presence of a wreath from the Myanmar government is noticeable. The Remembrance Service at Taukkyan is on every November 11th, and starts at 8.00 a.m.
We shall now go back into town and visit the Rangoon Commonwealth War Cemetery.
The Rangoon Commonwealth War Cemetery.
Sadly many people either do not know of it’s existence or mistake it for the larger cemetery at Taukkyan. However it does contain or commemorate the remains of 1,381 servicemen, including 36 Commonwealth servicemen who died in Rangoon during the First World War who were moved into this cemetery from smaller locations in 1948, just after Burmese Independence.There are 86 unidentified servicemen’s graves and special memorials to more than 60 casualties whose graves could not be precisely located.
The cemetery is much closer to the centre of Yangon than the one at Taukkyan, being only 7 kilometres from the nation’s mile marker, the Sule Pagoda.It iis accessed by a half hidden lane east of the Pyay (Prome) roundabout.
At the end of the war this area was cleared ground and used as a temporary cemetery for servicemen interred in Insein Jail and Rangoon Gaol, together with dead buried in mass graves in locations such as the Kemmendine Cemetery, which was used as an execution ground by the Japanese .
The former Kemmendine Cemetery was located only 10 minutes walk from here (it’s now a shopping mall), on the other side of the Prome Road roundabout. This is where one particular execution took place which is still remembered by many, especially the Karen people, who fought together with the British against the Japanese. The executed were put into common mass graves, and this was the fate of Major Hugh Paul “Grandfather Longlegs” Seagrim. Fluent is several Burmese languages ( his brother won a posthumous V.C), Hugh was a gallant soldier.
“The following details are given in the London Gazette of September 12th, 1946: “Awarded the George Cross for most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner.” Major Seagrim was the leader of a party which included two other British and one Karen officer working in the Karen Hills of Burma. By the end of 1943 the Japanese had learned of this party who then commenced a campaign of arrests and torture to determine their whereabouts. In February 1944 the other two British officers were ambushed and killed but Major Seagrim and the Karen officer escaped. The Japanese then arrested 270 Karens and tortured and killed many of them but still they continued to support Major Seagrim. To end further suffering to the Karens, Seagrim surrendered himself to the Japanese on 15th March 1944.
He was taken to Rangoon and together with eight others and he was sentenced to death. He pleaded that the others were following his orders and as such they should be spared, but they were determined to die with him and were all executed.
The Commonwealth War Cemeteries are well maintained by excellent staff who are very happy to assist with personal enquiries as to the location of particular graves or memorials. An Anzac Dawn Service is held here every year.
The cemetery gates are open between 8am and 5 pm.
For more details on how to get there contact: www.dtctravel.com