Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Escape from Bangkok

The following is an extract from a letter written by Mrs Mollie Dods to her family and details her remarkable escape with her husband Samuel from Bangkok to Rangoon - and then the Japanese went there.  The letter was sent to the site by the Dods' Godson, Jeremy Taylor:-

  

Now news during November and the beginning of December made us definitely uneasy. We were quite sure that something was going to happen. How when and where we could only guess and even so when it did happen it came as quite a shock.

 

There were roughly 250 Britishers in Thailand. The majority were in Bangkok and included 50 women and 15 children. Out of the above number only 26 got away from Bangkok and about 20 from North Thailand. As far as we know only one American got away from Bangkok and 30 Missionaries from the north and one Dutchman.

 

So many people have asked me since why we didn’t get out as it was obvious that something was going to happen, but there were two very good reasons a) the men had to stay and keep the businesses going and b). The legation and the attitude of the firms naturally guided us.

 

On December 3rd, Wednesday, we had a notice from the legation advising women and children and non-essential male residents to leave, but saying that they could not go through Malaya or Burma except in transit. The first available transport out of town was on Saturday December 6th to Malaya but it was impossible to make bookings to Australia India or elsewhere at short notice. So though some of us were trying to make arrangements, nobody left Bangkok that week and no firm released any of their men. On the Saturday Sam had cabled Batavia for a booking for us on the first ship to Africa as Sargant had given us permission to go home in Feb – March.

 

Actually I do think that there was no excuse for women with children to be in Bangkok and I would never have gone back myself even, if we had not been told we were going home on leave, but poor things, I’m afraid they will have a pretty rotten time with food etc.

 

Personally I was too busy those last few days to be really bothered. The St Andrews show was on the Saturday Dec 6th and after the Legation notice we decided the bazaar the same night instead of the 19th, which meant hectic last minute work. We thought some of us anyway would be away by the 19th.

 

Saturday night was a marvellous show. Money poured in (which of course eventually was never remitted home) and I made £100 on my stall. The show went on all night, I was taking part in various side shows that were on, dancing scotch reels etc and we never went to bed but straight to the sports club for a swim and breakfast next morning, that is a good many of us. I think we all felt that this was Bangkok’s final fling.

 

We dozed and lazed by the pool on Sunday morning. About 1 o’clock an American friend on mine showed me a cable from a naval relation of hers in Manila “Waste no time in leaving”. I said, “ Well I would not be surprised if the Japs were not here tomorrow, I must go home and get some sleep”. Actually we were then lured out to lunch and I got to bed at about 4.30pm. However except for when Sam woke me up at about 9 o’clock I slept right through until 6.45 next morning.

 

I woke up feeling fine – thankful that all of my responsibilities of the show and the Bazaar were over, Sam and I went down to hear the 7am news as usual – Monday December 8th and we heard that the Japs had attacked Malaya and various points in Thailand and the show had started.

 

I admit that we were rather shaken. Of all times too, our car had broken down and there we were miles from Europeans and seven miles from town and no telephone, so we had breakfast, hastily packed two suitcases, left in Rickshaws and I went to the office with Sam. There was a wireless fixed up in the office and Thai reports came through every short while.  Mr Sargant, who had gone to catch the plane to Singapore that morning came back to the office looking a bit pale as of course no plane, had come in from Rangoon to go.

 

I left about 10 o’clock in the office car and went to my friend Jean Howden’s house, which was near the Legation in case of emergencies. We had just heard then that the Japs had landed 20 miles away (further down the same road we lived in) and the Thais had been told not to resist.

 

I stayed with the Howdens all that day. Sam was busy at the office – they paid off their staff etc. He rang up during the morning to say that the British Minister would speak to us that morning at the British Club and that we were to stand with suitcases ready  - so there was not much more we could do until evening.  Sam came to the Howdens for lunch and we managed to borrow a car to go back to the house for 10 mins. We gave the boy hurried instructions about the animals, which we just had to leave. It was terrible; I can’t bear to think of it. Pussy there so proud with two kittens in one of the trunks too. But the veterinary surgeon and his wife promised me just before I left that he would see to them if they possibly could. He ought to have had time, as they did not leave Bangkok themselves.

 

Sam came back to the Howdens about 6 o’clock, very tired, with our car, which had been repaired. We had a drink, collected our cases and went down to the British Club. It was dark by this time and practically a complete blackout on. Sam had to shine his torch on the road for me to see at all to drive.

 

Sir Josiah Crosby was already speaking. He explained the situation. Briefly the Japs had invaded Malaya and we were at war with them.  The Thais had given free passage of troops etc to Japan through Thailand. We were not at war with the Thais and there was no reason technically why any of us should not leave the country if we wanted to. But he went on as we all knew already, there was only one possible exit, by train to the North and across the border to Burma by car and Lorry and it was not too easy a journey. He said he would try and arrange a special train with the Government if people wanted. Those who did were to give their names in after the meeting. However he really advised them to stay quietly in Bangkok, or if they could act on their own initiative to do so (actually we have a circular to this effect from the Legation, which we received about 5pm that afternoon). To quote it:

 

British Consulate General

Bangkok

8th December 1941

Dear  Sir/Madam

 

I am directed by His Majesty’s Minister to advise you to make immediate arrangements for yourself (and your wife and family) to leave Bangkok. If you can, act on your own private arrangements at once. In any event standby to leave on a moment’s notice and arrange to keep in touch with the Legation.

 

Signed by the Consul General

 

After his speech Sir Jos then invited questions, but after about two found them so embarrassing that when the leading lawyer started to talk he would not listen to him and called the meeting closed. There were cries of “shame” and it was most unfortunate.

 

I think that at this point that I began to realise that we were pretty well trapped. One must remember of course that Sir Josiah was an old man. He had put all his faith in the Thais, much as Chamberlain did in Hitler. He was too late to help us at this stage.

 

As the meeting closed I hurried to find Sam and Sargant and the rest of the firm. The light was so dim we could hardly see our people at all. What followed was all very confusing. Mr Sargant naturally would advise nobody. He said for his part he was waiting to see if the Legation Train would run and all our names were already down for it. But if any of the younger people (meaning certain young chaps who were here and certainly not Sam and I) wanted to have a shot at getting away, good luck to them. Everybody in the office had been given a certain sum of money that morning we had 1000 Ticals.

 

Sargant then asked how anybody would propose getting away. One salesman who travelled and knew the country to a certain extent and spoke Thai well – then explained – vaguely. He said it would mean a long walk through the jungle at the end, anything up to 80 miles. I listened to all this and when we dispersed I said to Sargant, “ I have no faith that the Legation will be able to do anything for us – I feel we should make some attempt.”  He answered rather dryly, “ Even I could not walk through the jungle that distance, I am sure you couldn’t.” I answered, “ I’d rather have a shot at it anyway if the alternative was to remain in Bangkok, which I felt it was.”

 

That I am afraid was the last time I spoke to him. He waited along with the No 1 and 2 for the Legation Train, which never ran. They made an effort to get North on the Wednesday, but it was too late, some Japs arrested them at some station up the line. We heard this from another man who was on the same train as they were. He escaped by hiding behind some Chinese women in a compartment when the train was being searched. We are very sorry about it; Mrs Sargant is in Australia.

 

To go back to the meeting, it was now every man for himself. Sam had disappeared, it turned out to find out what plans the young chaps of the BAT were making to get away, but he saw I was pretty determined.  When I saw him again he expressed doubt if I could manage the trip. I said that I knew I could and of course we would only go on the understanding that if I could not keep up we would fall out, so it was decided.

 

Our original party was six people. We had an idea of going to the station and waiting there all night and somehow getting on to, a train going north which should leave early in the morning. We abandoned this idea later and by 11pm had joined up with six others and decided to get away by River Taxi launch at once. There was a girl in the party half-Thai, half-British; we two and two from the North were the only women who got away from Thailand.  The girl was the secretary of one of the men in the party. (as a matter of interest, Runciman of British Airways was at the club meeting. You may have seen in the papers that he got away with two others. One of them had to leave his wife behind  - she was going to have a baby, which was due this month. I don’t know how he brought himself to do it – but he had to help Runciman get out.)

 

To continue – our party of 12 complete - at midnight we drove our cars down to a quiet stretch of the river where we abandoned them and with the help of one of the party’s servants we got a launch, a small thing which just held the 12 of us and our suitcases. Hard seats and no cushions and everybody having to sit upright. Thus we crept out of Bangkok. We left no messages for anybody and told nobody that we were going except that we did hand in our names at the Legation. One of the last sights in Bangkok was of Japanese troops marching in long straggly groups towards the sports club. We had to detour to avoid them.

 

Vaguely, our plans were to go as far up the quieter rivers to the north west as we could, then strike off into the jungle and make due west for the Burma border, avoiding connecting with the railway or known routes. Though we knew that we would have to cross the railway at one point. Of course we hoped to pick up guides on the way.

 

From Monday night we had four days and four nights on the rivers on various launches, going Southwest first to Meklong then striking north. Thai police stopped us three times on the river trips. Once for 12 hours at a place called Ratburi where the railway runs south to Malaya. Here we were confined to our launch in great heat and masses of mosquitoes with police on guard. We were very nearly under a railway bridge, which crossed the river, and after dark we heard a convoy of lorries and trains which took hours to cross. Obviously a Japanese convoy going south to Malaya.

 

The police were not unfriendly but it was clear that they felt that they ought to hinder us and had no definite orders as to what to do with us. Why on each occasion when we were held up, they decided to let us go on I don’t know. We were paying fabulous sums for our launches and maybe the owners handed over some of the money to the police. We will never know anyway.

 

The delays were agony, we knew that time was our most important factor, for once the Japanese spread into these villages they would take control and we kept hearing that they were only an hour or two behind us.

 

On the Wednesday morning early we had to cross overland from one river to another. We had been released from Ratburi in a strange way at 4am and arrived at a place Ban Pong about 8.30am that was also on the railway. We were terribly lucky in getting three small buses and were out of the place in 15 minutes. We just had time to buy large quantities of Bananas while waiting for the buses. We were having no proper meals at this time, the odd Banana, or tin of sausages or a plate of rice that we picked up at the riverside and at any old time. Our original party had no food with us, but the party that we joined up with had brought a few tins.

 

The journey overland took one and a half hours and at break-neck speed, most of the time clinging to a piece of wood overhead with one hand and eating Bananas with the other and trying not to look at the various dogs and villagers that we were missing hitting by the skin of our teeth and listening all the while to one man (who had been in Singapore on business) telling us that whatever happened Singapore was impregnable, especially from the air.

 

We arrived at our last village and police post in Thailand and we felt that if we could get past this place, Kanburi, we were well away. We drove up the one village street and stopped at a coffee shop, where we saw various other people from Bangkok! They had managed to get on to various other trains to the nearby village. Our party was now 22 of whom the majority was under 30.

 

The new arrivals had not left Bangkok until Tuesday Morning. They brought news that the American and British Legations were being guarded by Japanese soldiers on point duty and a rumour that they had heard was that we (our party) had been arrested. Also that the Legation train was not going to run and that large number of Japanese troops had taken up positions in the large parks and the sports club.

 

Well at this village our hopes of help were dashed. The earlier arrivals of the past had not been able to get any information; it seemed as if everybody was afraid to help us.

 

The police examined our passports and papers and said that we could walk on if we wanted but that we could not get any guides or assistance.

 

As quickly as we could we divided the party into four groups and discarded our suitcases and made a small bundle each of necessities. I sadly parted with my attaché case, which had all sorts of small treasures in it. We next ransacked the village for food a haphazard shopping, each for their own particular group. Tinned milk, sardines, raisins such as we could carry also things like string, knives, rope, quinine etc for the jungle. The whole village gazed at us as we hurried up and down the street. They had never seen so many Europeans in their lives and of course thought that we were quite mad.

 

Eventually, in a very short time, we were off. The police pointed out directions to us down the street and out of the village and then there was a huge river to cross sometime. They must have had their tongues in their cheeks, thinking that a few hours would see us back. We did have a compass and knew that we would have to make west over the mountain range, but we had not the faintest idea how long it would take. We were however all determined.

 

We were a picture walking out of that village! It was midday and very hot, we were streaming with sweat, people wearing the strangest assortment of hats mostly bought in the village. The majority of people had bought blankets and wrapped their things in them and then slung them from their shoulders. Knives and bottles of water hung by strings from their waists.

 

Half and hour out of the village we paused. The huge river we had to cross was just below us. We proceeded to discard still further possessions.

 

The gods must favour the undaunted for our outlook was grim at this stage, and at no stage in our journey did we know how many days travelling we had ahead of us. But we were all quite determined to reach Burma.

 

It was while contemplating the river ahead that a Chinese on a bicycle overtook us. He said that he would let us have a launch for 1500 ticals, about £150, which would take us two days and two nights up river on our way and there we could find a path into the jungle and probably a guide. Price was no object we had at least 10000 ticals between us and none of us expected them to be of any use in Burma.

 

With great relief we retraced our steps to the banks of the river and sat down by a ruined temple to wait for the launch while a handful of natives produced sugar cane and fruit for us.

Within half an hour the launch turned up towing a fairly large flat bottomed river boat which had a roof and held us all quite well. One of the crew went to buy a large sack of rice and a case of soda water. We expected the police to get wind of us at any minute and stop us. We got away at 1.30pm only to be stopped an hour or so later by a police launch. They took the launch owner away and said that they would let us know in an hour or so whether we could go on. So we just had to wait and a very silent and depressed group it was too.

 

Three hours went by and then we heard the sound off a launch in the distance. We strained our eyes to see who was on board and all was well the launch owner had returned on his own and said we could go on. We all cheered!

 

Two nights and days on the river ahead of us, so we settled down to get ourselves well rested and ready for the jungle. We staked our claims to various parts of the boat.  Sam and I went on the top deck and parked our belongings which were by now somewhat depleted.

 

Continuing our river trip one of the first things we did was to make a list of all the stores drink and medical equipment we had, the medical stores being kept by one person. We divided the rest between the four groups each of whom had roughly six tins of milk, 12 small tins sardines (all that the village could produce) and six small tins of miscellaneous item such as beans together with a bag of rice and two tins of cocoa.

 

We decided on two meals a day, morning and evening consisting of plain boiled rice occasionally flavoured with one of the tins of other food that we had. At midday we opened one of the tins of sardines that we had which meant two sardines each. The rice became almost impossible to eat after a few days even though we collected the odd measly chicken which had some sort of liquid with it.

 

I managed to sleep fairly well on the top deck on the covered boards, though one’s body soon felt as if it was bruised all over. My only pillow was a hat with the odd garment folded over it. The nights were very cold with a very heavy dew, but in spite of that those nights under the stars were rather grand and the hours one lay awake were by no means miserable.

 

A friendly young Thai auxiliary police joined the launch and wanted to a lift to some post up river. My conversations (in Thai) were held with him and the crew who of course knew the river well. It was decided that at a certain point we should be able to collect one or two coolies and at least one guide also two elephants to carry our rice and water and any of us if necessary.

 

On Tuesday afternoon a second launch caught up with us as had been arranged as the river at this stage was flowing too strongly for one launch to manage. We had gone ashore for five minutes and were watching a flight of ten aeroplanes flying low when we heard the launch approaching and there were some anxious moments until we were sure that it was no more police. The planes were Japanese returning from bombing Tavoy as we found out afterwards.

 

We were travelling day and night now, all the launch crews who were mostly Chinese, were splendid. By Friday morning we arrived at a hut by the riverside and there negotiated two guides, coolies and elephants collected from the jungle. The friendly Thai police hustled us off the riverside and into the Jungle to wait while the leaders negotiated. It was amazing how gingerly we sat down in the jungle to begin with, watching for ants and other biting creatures. After a day or so we just flung ourselves down full length at any stop not caring whether the ground was damp or not or what crawled over us.

 

At about midday Friday we started our trek. It had been decided that two of the party were to go ahead with one of the guides. They were to get through as quickly as possible and collect help and more food to meet us on the border if they could. 

 

We had no map; the guide and coolies were straight from the trees so to speak and very vague. We knew there was thick jungle ahead of us and a range of high mountains to get over to reach Burma. This mountain range was a natural boundary. We were not going to follow any known route but an old one that had been used for smuggling and naturally this would be in wild and inhabited country and this was what we would be going through. Most of the way there was no path and the guide would be marking the trees to ensure that they would be able to find their way back.

 

Well, we saw our two trailblazers off shortly afterwards and the elephants appeared and were loaded up with rice and drinking water and our bundles divided among the coolies. We armed ourselves with stout bamboo poles, which came in very useful in some of the more difficult places. Then, getting our groups, we started off single file after the guide – the Elephants bringing up the rear – we solemnly filed past our friendly Thai policeman, shook hands with him and received a salute. We had tried to offer him money for his help, but he refused it.

 

To begin we thought it was marvellous to have the Elephants, but my goodness they were the slowest things ever and many we could get through fairly easily took them a long time. The lower jungle was bamboo with bushy jungle vegetation growing among it. The bamboo trees were of every size and growing in all directions and there were many decayed and fallen making a barrier across our path. Towering above all this were the jungle trees in fine Tarzan style.

 

The Elephants seemed to enjoy hacking their way through, seizing a huge bamboo in their trunk and breaking it into pieces using their knees and feet as well. The Elephant Boy sat on high helping with a small axe, slashing at the bamboo in front of him and often singing a strange hallooing song, which rang through the silence of the forest.

 

One man had been chosen as the leader of the party. He was a very nice fellow, but definitely on the cautious side. He gave orders that the man leading and setting the pace with the guide must keep the Elephants in hearing and he himself brought up the rear with them.  So always keeping in file and in our groups, the last man of a group had to keep the first man in the next group in contact. This was very necessary to keep the man ahead in sight as in rough stuff, in a few yards; he could be out of sight and nothing to show the way.

 

As I said the Elephants were very slow, their pace being roughly half ours and in order to keep track of them we often walked only fifteen minutes and waited as long until they caught up. Maddening, as we were longing to stride on, but we were forever waiting for the Elephants. Soon the stock remark when any delay occurred was “Waiting for the Elephants”.

 

At night the Elephants were shackled, that is to say that their feet were chained together and they would clank off into the jungle to feed. The next morning their boy would be off to find them, calling them to come. If they had had a heavy day before they got temperamental and were sometimes an hour to find. We longed to get rid of them but the going was too rough for people to carry stuff and if anybody had hurt himself or herself or gone sick we would have been in a fix without them.

 

The going was heavy; you had to watch literally every step. One was either climbing over fallen bamboo and tree stumps, or crawling under them. The ground was covered in creeping undergrowth, these creepers and thorny tendrils clutched at your toes and heels and would trip you up if one was not on constant guard. You also had to protect you face against thorny stuff too. After a while this all became quite automatic, the eyes to see trouble and the body to avoiding it and as a result there were very few scratches.

 

We were six days and nights in the jungle. The morning starts were between 7 and 8:30 am (according to the mood of the Elephants) we stopped at night any time between 4pm and 6pm where there was water. We had to have water for cooking, for the Elephants and to boil to carry next day in case we did not come to any more.

 

I might say a good few of us thought there was too much caution displayed at times, boiling water, stopping early etc in case there no more. We felt that we were escaping and that we should take more risks. I for one drank quite happily from many of the mountain streams (straight from the hills), but I soon found that it was not wise to drink at all during the day however hot and thirsty you were. The people who did found it much harder to keep going, but it was difficult to resist when one came to a sparkling little stream which we often did during the day. The thing to do was just to wash out one’s mouth.

 

Camping procedure was as follows. A dry a place as possible was found, this meant sometime choosing a slope (very awkward for sleeping). The coolies hacked a clear space about 20 feet by 30 feet a coolie acting as cook started a fire going and began cooking the supper.

 

We all got settled in our groups collected our little bundles, took off our shoes, washed our socks, shirts, and selves and then relaxed. Five or six big fires were built for warmth and to keep insects and wild animals away. There were a certain number of these though we never saw more than their footprints. We had one revolver (with five cartridges) bought en route by one of the party and one hurricane lamp. By firelight we ate our supper of rice and followed it up with a small cup of unsweetened cocoa then we hung our washing by the fires and settled to sleep by 8 o’clock at latest, choosing the least lumpy bit of ground one could find.

 

From 8 o’clock two men kept two hourly watches. This was to keep the fires going and look out for robbers, watch the washing and boil water for next day. The water was put in soda water bottles and in bamboo containers, which the Elephants carried. This latter always tasted of bamboo, which was foul.

 

I used to get four hours good sleep till 12 o’clock or so, then the cold seemed to rise up from the ground and settle right into your bones. We were always thankful to see the dawn.

 

A painter could have got a good subject for a picture i.e. “The Camp Watches”. The bamboo made huge fires with the flames leaping feet high endangering the trees around. The coolies grouped into one corner talking and smoking far into the night. The rows of people trying to sleep, the firelight showing up their bearded faces and grotesque clothing. The watchers bending over their fires and filling the water bottles or seeing to the washing, which had been put on the logs, near the fires to dry.

 

There was very little talking done on that trip. At night we were too tired. In the morning the less said the better. While walking the mind was too occupied and anyway the line stretched too far ahead and you often never saw the people in front all day except at stops. We were by no means a gloomy party, but all our thoughts were so concentrated on the one point to get over the border into Burma.

 

It’s amazing how tenacity of purpose can spur one on can help one endure hardships which ordinarily would defeat you and wear you out. Admittedly there were times – maybe in the cold grey dawn – when eyeing distastefully one’s breakfast of unseasoned rice which somehow had to be got down that one wondered if the Legation train had run eventually and everybody else comfortably in Rangoon.

 

The first two days in the jungle were fairly flat going. There were a good many muddy streams that filled one’s shoes with grit and mud but had to be waded through.  On the third day we had a chit from the two men ahead. A coolie suddenly appeared as it were from nowhere, the first living soul we had seen. The note told us that the party had reached a so-called village (of five or six huts) where there were five policemen – but that they had not trouble with them. They said that the going was rough and they did not expect us to get over the border for eight or nine days and to cut down on our rations.

 

However they underestimated our powers. We were only a day behind them at this stage and they were expecting to be over the border in two days, so feeling a little indignant we carried on with new zest and arrived at the village that night. We found that the Police were away for the day and night. We were very lucky, as they might have protested at such large numbers.

 

We spent a most uncomfortable and cold night sharing the huts with the villagers, which they had offered to us and we would have offended them if we had refused. Needless to say next morning we were full of bugs, some of which came to Burma with us.

 

Next day we bribed every man in the village to come as coolies with us (we managed to collect about 10) and intended to get rid of the elephants as soon as possible.

 

The country became rougher now, mountains and valleys in turn and lots of river work crossing and recrossing them as we followed their courses up the valleys. We must have waded through nearly a hundred rivers sometimes up to the knees. Often the current was strong and the bed always stony and slippery. It was very exacting walking and it was amazing that nobody slipped or fell.

 

We bathed once or twice in the rivers, but it was also leech country and the brutes came on your legs in dozens. To begin with we tried to get them off, but it was impossible so in the end we just let them suck until they were full of blood and dropped off. Luckily at night the leeches seemed to disappear.

 

The great day came when we were to reach the border. The elephants were paid off as well as a good many of the coolies who wanted to get back. The guides told us that we had a long climb over a mountain of several thousand feet and the border was on the top. The climbing proved to be nearly sheer but we scrambled up somehow and got to the top much sooner than we had expected, suddenly round a corner a shout from the people who were in front and we were there. What a lovely open view it was too, mountains and jungle as far as they eye could see a very blue sky and glorious air. A mound of stone was all that marked the border. We rested a while and I celebrated the occasion by having 3” of sugar cane to suck!

 

So over the border and down the mountainside we went. Still jungle of course, but it took on a pleasant British look to our eyes. We got another note from our forerunners at this stage; they told us that our first civilisation in Burma was Chinese owned tin mine. There they would let us have four canoes to take us 20m miles down river to a village; this would take four hours. At the village we would get stores and bullock carts would be arranged to take us 18 miles to an English owned tin mine.

 

We decided to camp early and start at the crack of dawn next day. We could only guess it was some five or six hours walking and if we arrived early enough we could do the canoe trip the same day and reach more food as we were really past eating the rice by now.

 

So the seventh day found us walking to the tin mine. We walked with a will with no stops for 6 hours. I must admit I was just about finished, shuffling one foot in front of the other. I consoled myself during the last hours of walking that I should never walk again if I could help it!  Anyway we would have a nice peaceful canoe trip in the afternoon.

 

The tin mine was very small but we collected some biscuits and tinned pineapple from their store. We rested by the riverbank and paid off our remaining coolies. The canoes lay waiting for us

 

At 2.30 PM we embarked in the canoes, as I stepped into the one that belonged to our group, I realised that any hope of a peaceful trip was madness. The canoes were the types you see in the films, long and narrow things with usually with Indians in them shooting rapids. Well it was just what we had to do, shoot rapids that is.

 

Our canoe was last off with our bundles at one end and us in the middle with our legs straight ahead each side of the person in front. The Boatman sat at the extreme back and steered us, every movement he made nearly toppling the thing over.

 

The river was wide and consisted of several hundred feet of smooth water alternating with a stretch of rapids. The boatman waded through the smooth parts pushing the boat, avoiding the boulders tree trunks etc en route. The water was very shallow and we kept sticking. When we approached a rapid the fellow manoeuvred us into position, leapt on to the back giving us a fearful; lurch and off we shot at terrific speed.

 

The first twenty minutes were agony and I could not imagine how we could exist through four hours of it. It was a most tiring way of sitting too. Shortly after we left I glanced around and discovered that we were just about to shoot a rapid by ourselves. The boatman having failed to jump on at the right moment and he was about 100 yards behind. Nothing happened however and we just began to giggle weakly and from then w felt easier about it all.

 

The sun went down and it got dark. There was no sign of any village and of course we could not ask the boatman as he did not speak a word of English and I can’t tell you how cold it was. A wind blew up and there we were sitting in our wet things in the cold. We decided that the boatman was mental and had never been down river before, the way he kept missing things by inches, however we had to go on, just shooting rapids in the dark.

 

About 7.30pm we at last saw a light. We staggered ashore from the canoe, clutching our soaking bundles and were led to the village by a man with a lamp. A Burmese schoolmaster and three volunteers were at the village and had just arrived at the village on their way to the border to meet us. They had hot coffee and stores for us. A huge fire was blazing on the village green and the entire village was out helping to feed us and dry our clothes.

 

It was decided that we should go on that night in bullock carts as it meant that we would reach the English owned tin mine next morning. Which we did and what a welcome we got.

 

They drove us into Tavoy next morning and then up to Rangoon by a coastal steamer, which was already packed with evacuees from the coast.

 

Rangoon at last and we were arriving just in time for Christmas. We were just about to go ashore when there were six blasts on various sirens from the town. Dash it we said they would go and have a practice and it did not dawn on us for some time that this was no practice, in fact not until the planes arrived. Rangoon’s first air raid and the docks were no health resort and we had a good many bombs fall around us. We lay down on the deck where we were and had a good view of what was going on. We saw a Japanese plane burst into flames very near us, it came down in bits. Another crashed in the docks a few hundred yards away. We could see any number of parachutes, some of which never opened properly.

 

Postscript

 

When we reached Rangoon Chinese turned up who had got out of Thailand by our route, except that he had crossed the border lower down than we did. When interviewed by the police he said that he had heard of our party who were ahead of him. That he saw Japanese going up the river in an armed launch after us and hid in the Jungle. Also that robbers had been on our track. Our intelligence department who had word that the Japanese had turned back on hearing from somebody on the river that we were 24 hours ahead and across country confirmed this.

 

But there is one tragedy, the crews of the launches who took us up that final stretch of river for two days were all shot when they got back to Kanburi.

When you go home

tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

we gave our today

Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945 Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
Print Print | Sitemap
© Burma Star Association