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The Commonwealth War Cemeteries in and near Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).

Taukkyan War Cemetery

Taukkyan War Cemetery

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.

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The battle for Meiktila March1945

The remains of a Japanese light tank from the Ha Go campaign, plinthed at the Nagoyan temple in Meiktila

The remains of a Japanese light tank from the Ha Go campaign, plinthed at the Nagoyan temple in Meiktila

Following the Japanese retreat from the borders of India after the defeats at Imphal and Kohima, they were followed by the retrained and reorganized 14th Army. Although many of the units of the British Indian army were the same as those involved in the bitter retreat of 1942, they were now confident and led by competent commanders.

Once they re-entered Burma the army split up into various sections, all making their way towards different objectives on the Irrewaddy river. Lt. General Slim, the British commander, has devised plans to fool the Japanese as to his targets. His immediate opponent, Lt-General Katamura Shihachi ‘s 15th army, was in agreement with his superior General Kimura Heitaro that the British would head for Mandalay.

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The battles of Mandalay 1942 and 1945

Royal Palace from Pagoda hill Mandalay

Royal Palace from Pagoda Hill Mandalay

Mandalay, the former royal capital of Upper Burma, is dominated by the  towering Pagoda Hill, which overlooks it centre, the former Royal Palace, which under British colonial authority became Fort Dufferin. The fort still contained the old royal palace, erected on the orders of King Mindon in 1858, but it was also the location of the British administration in central Burma which were overthrown by the Japanese in 1942. To the Japanese this city was the symbol of a Burmese monarchy which they sought to replace with a puppet regime – they were so determined to take it in 1942, and deend it in 1945 -come what may -and these policies led to massive destruction. But there are still many thing to see.

 

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Yangon Walks 1. The Strand Road

Strand Road Yangon

Strand Road Yangon

Dagon  to Yangon.  The former Mon settlement of Dagon was renamed “Yangon”  (which can be translated as “End of Strife” ) by the victorious King Alaungphaya to celebrate the end of Mon insurrection against Burmese rule in 1755. Yangon,  including the teak wood stockade, covered an area of seventy-five acres and lay roughly between the Sule Pagoda to the north and the Strand to the south, Mogul Street/Shwe Bontha Street to the west and Judah Ezekiel Street/Bo Aung Gyaw Street to the east. Although there were few Europeans there were Armenians, Moguls, Parsis, Hindus, Jews, Chinese, and other foreigners. Following the 1824-26 Anglo Burmese War, the British occupied the town for two years. The war of 1852 saw Yangon become a British possession, and eventually the capital of Burma.

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A trip around Mawlamyaing ( Moulmein) including Thanbyuzayat and Kyaikkami (Amherst).

Kiplng's PagodaIf you are staying in Mawlamyine and get up early, you can have a fruitful visit by driving south to to various locations near the city and then return to explore the the sites of old Moulmein itself.

After the first Anglo Burmese War the British took the territory of Tenessarim  and the Arakan, which were put under the direct rule of British India as provinces, and the  capital became Moulmein ( Mawlamyine) .

There are many old buildings, if you know where to look. Burma is changing fast and even this former  back-water is humming with energy.

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Battle of the Sittang Bridge -19 February to 23 February 1942

 

Buddha Hill, Sittang Bridge

Buddha Hill, Sittang Bridge

It was a decisive victory for Japan . Field Marshal Sir William Slim, who took Burma command soon after the battle called it “the decisive battle of the first campaign” and this it  is often remarked on as a key event in the loss of Burma for the British. It resulted in the immediate loss of moral to both military and civilians alike, which, together with very obvious mismanagement of the battle (resulting in approximately two thirds of the British Indian forces being left on the wrong side of the bridge once it was blown) led to key changes in British command. Burmese nationalist rejoiced.

It was the inevitable result of the conflicting strategies of General Hutton, who wanted defence in depth of all major areas, and of his subordinate, General Smyth V.C. who wanted tighter defence of strategic locations, all governed by General Wavell’s overall lack luster authority. Read more

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Battle of the Taukkyan Roadblock 7th March 1942.

Taukkyan cemetery

Taukkyan Commonwealth War Cemetery

This short battle near the present Commonwealth war cemetery north of Yangon in Burma was costly to the retreating British, but a lucky escape for the main garrison which could have been  killed or captured, if the Japanese had not strictly followed their orders to capture Rangoon ( Yangon), and avoid other actions or objectives.

The previous commanders in the field for the British, Smyth and Hutton, had been replaced following the debacle of the Sittang Bridge and General Harold Alexander had taken command. Following General Wavell’ orders, he did nothing to save Rangoon. When he took command it was too late anyway.

The situation was already a disaster – thousands of civilians fleeing north east to India – easy prey to dacoits ( bandidts), and now the military garrison of Rangoon followed

 

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The battle of Shwedaung – the retreat of 1942

 

The Buddha with the Golden Spectacles, Shwedaung The battle of Shwedaung was a series of grim incidents during the British army’s retreat north in   March 1942.  When the British garrison evacuated Rangoon the majority headed towards Pyay (Prome). They were harried all the way by the advancing Japanese, especially from the air.

There were a series of incidents which led up to this battle – the British had  their armour and and trucks “glued” to the roads (  trains had ceased to operate) whilst the Japanese exhibited far more maneuverability  – their shock troops were lightly armed and could move fast across mountain and stream.However the allied press making the best of this dreadful situation.

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Mandalay Palace – the old Royal capital of Burma ( Part 1) The wall and the gates

Mandalay Hill from the south

Mandalay Hill from the south

Mandalay was established in 1857 on the orders of King Mindon on the apparent prophesy that a new capital would come into existence on the 2,400th anniversary of Buddhism. In reality Mindon wished to move from the unlucky capital  Amarapura  from which since 1825 the Burmese monarchs had seen their fortunes decline, especially after two unsuccessful wars against the British.

Indeed, Burmese kings frequently changed the locations of their capital city, much to the inconvenience of their subjects. Amarapura had been the capital during the periods 1783–1821 and 1842–1857. Now it was Mandalay.

The capital was founded on Brahmin and  Buddhist principals, and a perfect match with these was made  with  Mandalay Hill being behind the proposed palace. In Beijing (Peking) they had to build a hill according to Feng Shui for the “Forbidden City”.

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