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Sampan’s virtual tour Promised Land: The Struggle for Burma in WW2 looks at how events in Burma during the Second World War have led in part to the country`s political turbulence in 2021. The tour focuses on General Aung San and the nationalist quest for independence; ethnic divides and allegiances in Kachin, Chin, Rakhine and Nagaland; and the role of Karen guerrillas and their rivalry with the Bamar ethnic majority.
The 3-part tour took place live in November and December 2021, led by Dr Robert Lyman, Field Marshal Slim’s biographer and tour leader for Sampan’s Beyond the Chindwin and Forgotten War Tour. Aided by technology and care-packages sent in the post, Rob led our guests through the diverse machinations of the Burma Campaign and how the ramifications continue to be felt today.
The first session looks at how the British dismantled the Burmese state upon annexing the country in 1885. This led to almost continuous expressions of popular dissent, the most dramatic of which was the Hsaya San rebellion of 1932.
Rob outlines how this fed into the `thakin` campaign for Burmese independence headed by student leader Aung San – who led the ‘thirty comrades’ to receive military training with the Imperial Army. There Aung San formed the Burma Independence Army and marched with the Japanese into Burma in 1942. Rob examines Aung San as a “great man” of history and focuses on the authenticity of his nationalist quest.
Aung San was wildly popular in Burma but was assassinated by a political rival in 1947 – less than a year before his country achieved independence. The country saw a decade of democracy before General Ne Win – one of Aung San`s thirty comrades – seized control of Burma and initiated decades of military rule. Rob looks at WW2`s legacy of fragmentation in the country – the fault of colonialism or something more fundamental about Burma?
After the British annexed Burma in 1885 they offered preferential treatment to many of the hill tribes while barring the Bamar ethnic majority from most administrative and military positions. This policy of divide and rule resulted in many of the hill tribes in Burma siding with the British in WW2 while most of the Bamar welcomed the arrival of the Japanese.
The second session of this tour looks more closely at these ethnic allegiances: how polarised was the divide and to what extent did Britain`s racial policy in Burma lead to the ethnic tension of today.
Rob looks at the role of the Chin Levies incorporated into V Force and that of the Kachin who supported the Americans in their construction of the Ledo Road. Rob considers Slim`s use of Rohingya Muslims in the Arakan and touches upon what has happened to these ethnic groups since the end of WW2.
The Karen were trusted allies of the British when the Japanese invaded. In this third and final session, Rob outlines their relationship with the British, their rivalry with the Bamar and their role in the Burma Campaign as a whole.
When the British retreated, they instructed the Karen to ‘lay low’ and wait for their return. British officer Hugh Seagrim remained in the jungle with the Karen and co-ordinated guerrilla warfare. Eventually caught and executed, many Karen continue to regard Seagrim as something of a romantic martyr.
Seagrim would have felt that the British betrayed their Karen allies when they left the entirety of Burma in the hands of the Bamar in 1948. The Karen quickly redirected their arms against the Bamar and came close to taking Rangoon at the Battle of Insein in 1949. They were eventually pushed back by the Burmese forces but the civil war between the two groups continues to this day. In this final session, Rob draws together his arguments and narratives and remarks on what responsibility Britain has, as the former colonial power, considering Myanmar`s challenges today.
Ten per cent of the revenue of this tour will be donated to Medical Action Myanmar, who in incredibly difficult circumstances continue to provide medical support to the people of Myanmar, including setting up vaccination centres. In turn, this tour is supported by the Lost Tea Company.
When it is possible to do so, Sampan will announce dates for The Forgotten War Tour led in Myanmar by Rob Lyman. We urge you to find out about the Grammar Productions documentary Forgotten Allies for which Sampan was the on-the-ground logistical partner. You can also read about the charity Help for Forgotten Allies and how they support veterans in Myanmar.
Rob Lyman explores the events and ramifications of WW2 in Kolkata, Kohima, Imphal and Shillong.
Kohima, the Chindits, the Race to Rangoon … join our virtual tour with Dr Robert Lyman.
In conversation with Grammar Productions, hearing the stories of forgotten allies of WW2.
A small British charity continues to work for the sake of forgotten allies from WW2.