Saturday, 9 November 2013

Taukkyan War Cemetery, Burma/Myanmar

The main memorial has a central round 'atrium'
and two large columned wings.
If you read this blog regularly or chat to me on Twitter, you’ll know I went to Burma/Myanmar recently, in part to search out my family history. One of the most important places I wanted to visit was Taukkyan War Cemetery, within driving distance of Rangoon/Yangon. With Remembrance Sunday tomorrow, I thought I'd share my trip with you.

My grandfather’s youngest brother, Walter Alexander (‘Bunny’) and his stepfather, John Rowley, both served in Burma, and both died there. I don’t believe Rowley has a grave, and I know Bunny definitely doesn’t, so their names on the memorial are the closest thing they have, and none of the family has been able to visit it before now. Rowley was a friend of Bunny, and married my widowed great-grandmother. He was a Yorkshireman with the 2nd Battallion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry; Bunny joined them, though he never set foot in England in his life. The KOYLI suffered terrible casualties during the war, losing nine men out of every ten. Rowley promised my great-grandmother that he wouldn’t leave Bunny, who was just 18 when he joined up and 21 when he died, behind. Rowley kept his promise in the saddest possible way, and so I wanted to put a little cross at the memorial for both of them.

Every one of these columns is covered with names
 It is possible to get the bus from Rangoon/Yangon to the cemetery, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re feeling especially adventurous - you need to get to the station in the north of the city and on the correct bus. Fortunately, as part of our trip (arranged through excellent local travel company One Stop) we had a car and driver for the day. Spring, our guide in Yangon, was a little surprised that we wanted to go to the cemetery, probably because it’s a long way for a destination without much of tourist interest, but as soon as I said it was a family thing he understood completely.

Bunny and Rowley.
Taukkyan War Cemetery is a peaceful place, kept in immaculate condition by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission staff who work there. I headed straight for the central memorial, which is huge and lists all the servicemen who died in Burma during the war. I’d already looked at the CWGC’s website, which has details of many war memorials and cemeteries around the globe and allows you to search for graves, and so I knew the number of the face Bunny and Rowley were listed on. I entered next to a different face. The names are grouped by regiment, and I entered next to a face bearing the names of servicemen from Africa, names like Saidi Mwembele and Seluce Kasungu. Every November I seem to come across at least one idiot who spouts anti-immigration nonsense and links it to the war; I wish I could take them to Taukkyan and show them every face of this memorial - the Brits and the Anzacs, the Indians, Gurkhas, Africans and more. United they fought, united they fell, and if they died for anything, let it be for greater tolerance and decency, not for ignorance and distrust.

I wrote Bunny and Rowley's names on the back of
this little cross, and left it near their face of the memorial.

We found Bunny and Rowley easily, and Spring, asked the gardener if it was okay for me to place my little cross nearby. He said yes. We made sure we got photos for the family.

After that, I took a walk round the graves. They’re split by religion, as different sections of ground are consecrated to different faiths, and then within those sections the dead are grouped by regiment, so soldiers lie beside their comrades. I liked the fact that there were flowering plants on the graves, and that butterflies fluttered around. The place was neat and tidy, but it was also beautiful and peaceful. Going to the cemetery was a sad, sober occasion, but I found consolation knowing that Bunny is, in a way, with his friend and comrades, and has such a tranquil place where he’s remembered.
Looking at the memorial from one end, out across the
graves of some of the Indian soldiers.

All photos copyright PP Gettins.

3 comments :

  1. It is very beautiful isn't it? It must have been incredibly moving to find their names, I get chocked up anyway so it must be even more moving when you know a relative is buried there.

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    1. To be honest, I got more blubbery in York over the summer - we went into the Minster, and by pure coincidence the book of names in the KOYLI chapel was open at Bunny's name, then the organist started playing 'I Vow To Thee My Country'. I had a bit of a blub at that.

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  2. Is there anything more weep inducing than a war memorial? They have me in pieces. What an interesting journey you had.

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