The Long Walk Home
When the Japanese invaded Burma the British Army had families of the 2 infantry Regiments that needed evacuating the 1,000 miles to Calcutta by train, river boat, trekked through the jungle & bus. The story is told by 7 year old Freddie who together with his mother endured the journey to safety. All this time his father was fighting the enemy and there was no way of keeping in contact with him. More
When the Japanese invaded Burma on 14th December 1941 the British Army had a problem. They had many families of the 2 infantry Regiments and other units living in Burma, all of whom would need to be evacuated to India if the enemies advance brought it towards Rangoon.
Unlike today, there was no air transport that could be called upon to remove the hundreds of women and children. Using the very few Dakotas that were in Burma they were able to fly out pregnant women and their children but the only answer for the rest of the families was that they would have to travel overland, some 1,000 miles from Mandalay to Calcutta.
All the evacuees’ from Rangoon had already been moved the 300miles to Mandalay and were staying with British families in that area.
In January 1942 it was decided that all the families were to be moved out of Burma as the army had not been able to stop the Japanese advance towards Rangoon.
The families were to travel by train, river boat, trekked through 40 miles of jungle, busses, more trains and then lorry before they reached the place they were to stay for the remainder of the Burma Campaign.
This story is told from the perspective of 7 year old Freddie Stanley, the son of the RSM of The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who was living in Maymyo, some 30 miles out of Mandalay. Together with his mother, all the families from his father’s regiment and those already evacuated from Rangoon they were taken to Mandalay station and were joined there by many other British families who were to be evacuated under the protection of the British authorities.
Freddie recounts the build up to the evacuation and follows their journey with its highlights and lowlights. Not all of those who left Mandalay survived the journey. Some failed because of their negligence. Others because they underestimated the dangers and some from just crass stupidity.
At one time a group of 40 of the evacuees decided that they knew better and broke away from the main party, to make their own way to Imphal but with the exception of one woman and her young daughter, the rest of them perished. Their trial was recounted to Freddie by Silvia, when she had recovered from her ordeal.
For nearly 2 months the evacuees had no contact with the outside world. Had their men been killed, captured or injured in the fighting? Gradually messages and letters filtered through to the group and this story reflects how the soldier’s families are just as much involved with the fighting as were their husbands, fathers, brothers and close friends.
The story goes on to the family’s eventual repatriation to England and being reunited with Freddie’s 2 older sisters, who had remained in England to attend senior school.
This story has been based on the accounts of the actual evacuation by one of the women, as recorded by the Imperial War Museum’s Sound Archives and retold in the Forgotten Voices series of books – Burma by Julian Thompson. As far as possible this story follows the exact route of these fleeing families and the two Burma Sheik Policemen who provided their only protection until they reached Imphal, where the British Army took over responsibility for the group’s safety.
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