From Andrew Drummond,
Bangkok, January 17 2009
A relief group operating clandestinely in Burma have discovered the
whereabouts of what are believed to be the last two survivors of the
British led Force 136 which fought behind Japanese lines in the Second
A patrol of the Free Burma Rangers found one of the men within a mile of
where his commander, Major Hugh Seagrim, G.C., heroically surrendered
himself for execution to the Japanese, to save the inhabitants of a
village being massacred.
The 80-yr-old survivor from the Karen hill tribe is still hoping
wistfully that the British come to his ravaged country’s aid. FBR medics
did not have time to interview the second survivor.
Saw Nya They Mu, 80, was, at 16, just a boy soldier of the Karen
ethnic minority who refused to surrender to the Japanese and chose to
fight alongside the British.
Force 136, part of the Special Operations Executive, caused havoc behind
Japanese lines during the Second World War with volunteers
predominantly from the Karen and Kachin minorities.
After the war ended the Karen National Union and its army the Karen
National Liberation Army took up arms against the brutal Burmese
military regime when it failed to give the Karen any autonomy.
At independence talks in Panglong with the British attended by Burmese
leader Aung San, several ethnic states in Burma were promised autonomy.
These did not include the Karen.
Aung San stated: ‘ If we are divided, the Karens, the Shans, the
Kachins, the Chins, the Burmese, the Mons and the Arakanese, each
pulling in a different direction, the Union will be torn, and we will
all come to grief. Let us unite and work together.’
But the father of Aung San Suu Gyi, was subsequently assassinated along
with most of his cabinet and then the successive military junta’s
But in any case nobody got any autonomy after the military regime took
over and started brutalising the country’s ethnic minorities and
the Karen have been fighting the military regime ever since.
Survivor Saw Nya They Mu told the Free Burma Rangers in Muthraw District
of North Karen State, Burma: ‘In World War Two, the Japanese invaded
here and they killed and tortured us a lot. If they wanted to kill one
of us Karen, they just did it.
‘We worked with the British to help them fight the Japanese. They asked
us to help them and we did. 160 of us joined the British. 80 of us as
local militia or home guard, and 80 as a mobile unit to fight alongside
the British on their operations.
‘I knew Major Seagrim- Grandfather Longlegs- He was with us all the time
up to his capture. He was captured by the Japanese at Kaw Mu Pwa Der
village near here.
‘Only myself and Saw Tha Maw Ye, who older then me are still alive here.
He is up the valley a little way where he had to run after the Burma
‘The Burmese have not stopped oppressing us.
‘As for the British we did our best for them. We tried our best to help
them now we are in difficulty; we wonder if they will help us.’
Hugh Seagrim GC DSO MBE, from Eastbourne, Sussex, was known to the Karen
as ‘Grandfather Long Legs’ – he was 6ft 4 inches. He was awarded the
George Cross posthumously for ‘the most conspicuous gallantry in
carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner.’
He surrendered after a Japanese commander said he would put the
inhabitants of an entire Karen village to death if he did not do so.
Seagrim negotiated a guarantee that his Karen NCOs’ would not be put to
death, but the Japanese broke their word and Seagrim and his Karen
soldiers were executed in Rangoon.
Seagrim’s elder brother Lt. Colonel Derek Anthony Seagrim was awarded
the Victoria Cross, also posthumously after leading the Green Howards
in an attack against German positions on the Mareth Line in North Africa
in March 1943.
To this day they Seagrim’s are the only family to have one brother with the Victoria Cross and another with the George Cross.
The Free Burma Rangers are an independent charity trained in jungle
craft and medical care which penetrate deep inside Burma to provide
assistance and medical aid to thousands of people displaced by
Author’s note: This if of interest to me because some 20 years ago
after meeting Major Aaron Po Yin at Manerplaw I went back to London to
apply and collect for him the Distinguished Service Medal he earned
while saving his British Force 136 officers in a Japanese Ambush. Sadly
he died a few years later but was a truly wonderful chap. See the link
Burma’s Forgotten War
and also below for the splendid
From Andrew Drummond,