Why is Burma now Called MyanmarHow come Burma is now called Myanmar?
In search of Burma's lost World War II hero
People in Burma (now Myanmar) who were fighting for Britain during World War Two have often been called the Lost Armies, but the Burmese who were part of that force were really forgot by Britain in the postwar years. Filmmaker Alex Bescoby says that for 11 years a group of UK citizens have been fighting to find and help those who have survived in the last years of their life.
It is 1944 and it is dark in the dense jungles of the east of Burma. In 1942 a group of Japonese troops invading Burma approached the young man's post. "Saw Berny, now 94, tells the tale in a wheel chair in his run-down little house in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest town, but he lets me hang on every single one of his words and feels like I'm at his side in the rain.
On the same night, a Japan military corps started a mass counter-attack in which many fighters and soldiers were killed. He was just one of ten thousand people from all over Burma who voluntarily fought for Britain against the Japans, what historian Philip Davies described as "the most effective guerilla battle of World War II, the biggest failure the Japons had ever experienced in its whole history".
I think he likes to remember the name of his English commander. However, Britain did very little to pay back this allegiance. He was raised in tales of Burma. She had been the director of a state college while she was still a UK settlement, and she was attracted to the area.
First of all, not to Burma itself - which was trapped for years under a oppressive army jungle - but to Thai refugee camp where Burma's decades-long civilian conflicts have left for security. He had been enlisted into the Burma rifles of the UK army more than 50 years previously and had then been a proud fighter for Britain during the Second World War.
In her opinion, as a UK army vet in his period of need, he must certainly be eligible for some kind of UK aid. Had Saw Joshua been a former Commonwealth vet, such as Ghana, Uganda or India, he would have been able to obtain funding, medicine and other types of aid from charities such as the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League.
However, when Burma achieved sovereignty in 1948, unlike most other former settlements, it decided not to stay in the Commonwealth. Although some effort was made by UK veteran organisations to help these men, the country's increasing insulation even means that the aid was marginal. MacLean soon found that there were several other former UK troops in the Thai camp, but she was all too well conscious that there were a thousand more out of her range in Burma.
At the beginning of the 2000s this began to shift - Burma began to open up to the outside community. In 2007, 19 years after she met Saw Joshua, she established Help for Allies, H4FA for short. before it' s too late. What?
At the end of last year I escorted H4FA to the city of Hakha in Myanmar's Chin State, one of the most isolated and impenetrable parts of the state. That' s where McLean found Liau Chang, a former scouts in the UK Army. "If the Japanese had gotten to you, what would have happened?" asks McLean. Later, another 91-year-old vet arrives on a motorcycle.
McLean is accompanied by Peter Mitchell, who himself is a vet of the UK army. His greetings come one by one from old men, men who may have been fighting alongside his fathers, who during the Second World War ministered in this area on the border with India. Mitchell and a vet use an translator to liken reminiscences of UK Army skydiving schooling.
Small yearly subsidies of around 120 and H4FA assistance for emergency health services can be life-changing for the old men and their wards. It' not just about the cash - it' s the personality that matters, says Mitchell. "Sally McLean and Peter Mitchell travel through Chin State, Duncan Gilmour - another member of the H4FA crew - is on his yearly trip to Kayah State in East Myanmar to see veteran athletes.
When he chooses his path on a weak path in the head-high gras, not far from where Saw Berny waged his fatal guerilla warfare against the Japans, he follows in the steps of his grandfathers - Lieutenant Col Edgar Peacock. Turns out Saw Tun Thein knows where the retiring Japons threw a large amount of weapons into a near-by stream, and despite his years of progress, he's very interested in getting hishand of them.
Although this is a trip he has made several dozen visits, Duncan is always touched by the warmness of his encounters with vets and his allegiance to Britain, which has lasted for more than seventy years. "Never old men ever perish. "Whatever the true nature of this saying, H4FA has plenty of proof that even these old men will finally perish.
Every year the number of known vets who have been fighting with UK troops is shrinking. However, there are some on this shortlist that H4FA will never achieve, either because of Burma's domestic conflict or because of the shortage of available road. Drawing on his beliefs to keep the hopes alive not only for Burma's own futures, but also for his old UK comrades.
"Everyday I am praying for Britain, for all the English nation.