Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday, September 04, 2015
Flying Sporran's Weekend Diary

An article in the Myanmar Times today by R J Vogt about the Karen minority celebrating VJ Day in Rangoon (Yangon) last month and an accompanying picture certainly brings back a few memories.

The story centres around of Sally Mclean and her organization ‘Help for Forgotten Allies’  or H4FA which of course the Burmese Karen, or Kayin, certainly were.

Major Aaron Po-yin  being decorated with his DSM which he received more than forty years late

The Karen were loyal to the British against the Japanese during the Second World War and fought with Force 136 officers behind enemy lines.

What went on is the stuff of legends but Britain broke its promises to the ethnic minorities or Burma, and what promises it did not break Burma’s post war military leader Ne Win did.

There then followed some seventy years of insurgency which has still not ended to this day – though many of the rebel factions have come to terms with the Burmese military led government..
Sally Mclean got to Buma in 1999 where she met a Karen veteran called Saw Lawshoo.

According to the Myanmar Times article.

Myanmar reports Karen  veterans in Rangoon for VJ Day

87-year old Saw Yoshoo easily rattled off his former rank, number and the name of his commanding officer, someone he had not seen or heard from in 50 years.  
Despite living in severe poverty, he requested only one thing of McLean: that she return to Great Britain and “inform his officers” of his whereabouts. 
During the last seventeen years, McLean has worked to inform the world of Saw Yoshoo and hundreds more like him – WWII veterans who served the Allies honourably only to be forgotten after Burma’s independence. 
Her non-profit organisation, Help 4 Forgotten Allies (H4FA), provides grants and support to veterans of the Allied armed forces still alive in Myanmar. In some cases, the organisation also supports the widows and surviving children of the former soldiers.

I got into Burma in 1986/7 and into Karen State (Kawthoolei), illegally of course, and met up with Major Aaron Po-yin formerly of the (British) Burma Navy and who later fought with Force 136 and got the Distinguished  Service Medal for saving his officers from a Japanese ambush.

I went back to the UK contacted the Ministry of Defence, gave them details and they gave me his medal which he took back to the Karen headquarters at Manerplaw near the Thai border. ( If I tried that today under the new tick box civil service I am sure it would not have happened.)

The old Major, who came out with 40s English expressions like ‘Crikey’ and remembered officers in his Navy days receiving Christmas hampers from Fortnum and Masons, was invested with his medal in the jungle (Picture at top).

Shortly afterwards I returned to film with the Karen with a TV crew to make the doc ‘Burma’s Forgotten War’ which I wrote for BBC Everyman. We based ourselves in Manerplaw – but made weekend trips to Mae Sot for R’n R.

At the time we were able to travel extensively in rebel held area in Karen State by 4x4 and had a couple of skirmishes with the Burmese Army; being mortared and shot at.

Drummond left being filmed while producer ducks

In one place the Karen faced the Burmese along fixed front lines only 90 yards apart. There were not any wild ‘over the top’ charges thank god.

However after sitting there for a few hours brewing tea etc with cameras set up, I have to admit the question was asked ‘Well, does anybody actually shoot at each other around here’?’ – answer: ‘Well we do not want to waste ammunition’.

After some deliberation the Karen let off a few rounds. The stuff that came back at us from the Burmese lines answered out question more succinctly.

The funniest part of the film came when the producer appeared to be wanting to create the ‘Elephant Patrol’ from the ‘Jungle Book’.

The Karen assembled some 20 elephants to make an armed elephant patrol which we followed going down a jungle stream.

Has anybody tried to get 20 elephants in a single frame in the jungle let alone three?

Anyway I made good friends in the Karen – friendships which were last for years. As readers of this site will know – my Nanny – May – was a Karen and a registered nurse – and we all miss her terribly.

So if anybody wants to help them they can find the H4FA here.


  1. That's the difference between Andrew Drummond and Drew Noyes. Absolute day and night.

    Mr. Drummond walks the talk, has faced danger head-on time and again without flinching.

    You must be insanely jealous Noyes - of Mr. Drummond that is.

    Moreover Noyes, you'd rip off your own Grandmother to buy a two-bit junkie hooker living in a Dumpster - your next home address, right?

    Livin' it up in a Dumpster Noyes, you can assume the role of Head Honcho and lord it over your new underlings - red-eyed rats.

    1. He'll be king of the trailer park, telling them all about his 15 years as a lawyer serving the King of Thailand.

  2. No chance to sponsor May for a work visa as a Nanny in the UK Andrew?

    A lot of Thais find the grass is a little greener in "the west."

    Count my wife as one.

    Makes for very short trips to Thailand, and then not at all.

  3. I grew up thinking that the Allies were the good guys and the Germans and the Japanese were the bad guys.

    Once you look deeper, Great Britain has its ample share of shame to bear too, and the betrayal of Burma and the heroes may be at the top of the Colonial heap.

    Sometimes it's nice to clean your own mess, before you look at say Japan for example and their own general denial issues of WW 2.

    Fast Forward to 2015 - and most every country has joined the "Wall of Shame and Delusional Denial,"

    or is a long-standing member already.

  4. A reader offers the following which I am happy to pass on:

    1) Medals, particularly those for bravery, are Earned rather than 'got' (or given) &

    PS - He earned it but I gave it to him
    2) The Commonwealth ex services league might be of interest to anyone in a similar position or reading this story on your website. Their details are:

  5. The Karen people shiuld be top of Britains refugee agenda. They remarkably hold no ill feeling towards Britain who abandoned them after helping to defeat Japan.

  6. Thanks Andrew. Much appreciated Sally Mclean