In August 2014, I made my first ever visit to Burma/Myanmar. It was just a few days, and I didn't get beyond Rangoon/Yangon. I had the privilege of meeting a number of remarkable men and women - and on this page, I am posting my interviews with two of them, U Ba Aye and (if you scroll down) Daw Myint Myint Han, both of whom have vivid memories of the country during the Second World War and immediately afterwards.
It's difficult to believe that, in the summer of 2014, any of Aung San's contemporaries could still be around and in a position to share their memories of the man and the manner of his death. Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi) was Burma's independence hero - but he was assassinated in Rangoon in July 1947, a few months before his country gained independence from Britain.
On my visit to Yangon, I met U Ba Aye, aged 97. He was a contemporary of Aung San at Rangoon University. He was offered a military post by Aung San when the latter was head of Burma's army during Japanese rule in the Second World War. Most remarkably, as a senior police officer, U Ba Aye was put in charge of one of the most sensitive aspects of the investigation into Aung San's killing - the suggestion that British nationals were in some way involved. He was present at the jail when some of those found guilty of the murder were hanged.
I met U Ba Aye at his Yangon home, in the company of his daughter Khin Nwe Aye. Although frail, U Ba Aye's memory was sharp and he clearly relished the conversation and the opportunity to share his memories of key moments in Burma/Myanmar's history. It was one of the most memorable interviews I've conducted - a window on a distant but crucial moment in Asia's modern history, and the privilege of hearing from a participant in that history.
Khin Nwe Aye was later in touch to pass on the sad news that on August 21 2014, twelve days after the interview, her father died. She has given permission for the interview and transcript to be posted on this site; she has checked and corrected the transcript; she has also sent the photographs of her father which you can see above.
I have subsequently received the photos below from Mo Aye, U Ba Aye's grandson. He explains that the photo below on the left, on horseback, appeared undated in U Ba Aye's Burmese autobiography. When asked, U Ba Aye recalled that it was taken in about 1939 when he was in the police battalion (7 Battalion Burma Rifles) - but that's not absolutely confirmed. The photo below on the right was taken when he was Deputy Commissioner of Rangoon Police in newly independent Burma in 1948.
The audio of the interview is posted below. It's in two sections because, after the initial interview, U Ba Aye began speaking about interrogating those believed responsible for Aung San's murder, so I switched the recording device on again! This second part of the interview is not included in the YouTube posting for technical reasons.
U Ba Aye interviewed by Andrew Whitehead at his home in Yangon, 9 August 2014 in the presence of his daughter Khin Nwe Aye. U Ba Aye died on 21 August 2014.
Q: First, could you tell me, sir, your name?
Q: And when were you born?
28 December 1916. So I’m now 97 and 6 months.
Q: And your career was initially in the police force?
Well, initially. I would say initially. Because during the British administration, the youngest was the age of 21 to get into what they called the Indian police in those days, but afterwards, after ‘37, when Burma had a different constitution, it was called Burma police class one. So I was in the Burma police class one from January 1939 till independence.
Q: Where were you when the war started.
During the war time, when I was in the Burma police class one, still under training in Pegu, what is now called Bago, I volunteered to serve in the seventh Burma police, Burma rifles. Seventh battalion. When the British withdrew, I was in the seventh battalion
Q: So you were a soldier?
Well (chuckles) I was a soldier, it's a police battalion formed during the war, that was formed in1940. While under training in the civil police, I volunteered to join the seven Burma police battalion, Burma rifles. So when the British withdrew, seven battalion was ordered to the Maulmein front, but I was left behind in Mandalay as a officer in charge of the depot of the seven battalion. So when the British withdrew from Burma altogether, then I withdrew from Mandalay up to Katha. In Katha - all the battalions are disbanded.
Q: What did you feel when the British were forced out of Burma during the war? Were you upset?
When the British withdrew from Mandalay, I was on a steamer, on a river steamer, with many other soldiers and another battalion, ten battalion. I was placed in charge of all the Burmese soldiers. There were about 400 Burmese soldiers. and when we reached Katha and the battalions were disbanded, they said well, everybody is for himself. Whoever wants to come along with them to India, they can do so with them - or if they want to stay behind in Burma, they are allowed to do so. So I asked the soldiers under my command, and there were about 400, and majority of them naturally said they wouldn't evacuate to India, they would stay behind. So I had to stay behind too. So I did not go along with other officers to India, (5'15)
Q: Did you actually fight the Japanese?
Well, I didn't have to fight the Japanese. I had to work under the Japanese. So when I evacuated, when the British withdrew, my family was in Mogok, so I walked from Kathar to Mogok
Q: How far is that?
Along the Shweli river - it took me seven nights and eight days, About 130 miles or so. Then from Mogok with my family, I returned to my home town, Zigon, that is about 120 miles from Rangoon on the north-west, on the [ph]Prome road side.
Q: And you said you worked for the Japanese during the war, what did you do?
Well, I had to - I was called back by the. Burmese government during the Japanese time, because I was staying in [ph] Segong and did not join the Japanese, what shall I say, the Japanese service. So I was called by the. Burmese administration after several years, and was given a job in the police. I was then assistant chief of police in Rangoon during the Japanese.
Q: That's a very important job
Well it was, yes - I was the second man in Rangoon.
Q: How difficult was life in Rangoon at that time?
Well in a way I would say I was fortunate because the officers, the Japanese officers that I met during the war time, they were all very decent persons. I don't know whether they may understand English, but I had no problem with the Japanese.
Q: What was life like for ordinary people in the city at that time?
Well in the city of course, everything is very difficult to get, especially no medicines, no medical care, no - I would say all the things that you need are very difficult to get, it's a very difficult life for the people.
Q: And how many people had left Rangoon, because you hear that lots of people had left Rangoon when the Japanase came. So was the city empty?
When the Japanese came, I wasn't in Rangoon. When the Japanese came, I was in Mogok and Mogok, the Japanese and the Burmese Independence Army, what was called the BIA, they heard that there was one British army office in Mogok, so the family with whom I was living, he advised me to flee away from Mogok. So I had to flee from Mogok. Then Mogok was under occupation by the Burmese Independence Army. (Chuckles) I left Mogok as a monk, as a monk, because there was a sentry spit at the entrance of Mogok town. So I left with other monks. And then my family was brought by the relatives of the people who took care of our family in my car.
Q: So when you were disguising yourself as a monk, who were you hiding from? From the Japanese?
From the BIA.
Q: From the Burmese Independence Army? Because you were worried that if they got you,bcause you were a police officer, thatyou would be in difficulty?
No, because I was not - they didn't know I was a police officer. They said there was a British, not a British, they said a soldier of the British army in Mogok
Q: And that was you?
- I was the only one. The person who took care of my family said it must be me and advised me not to meet any person from BIA and just to escape from Mogok (12'20)
Q: At that time what your own views about Burma’s independence and who should control the country?
At that time, I had very littlec ontact with the Burmese Independence Army. I knew nobody in the Burmese Independence Army.
Q: Later you met Aung San?
I did. When I worked in the Rangoon police under the Japanese, then Aung San, Bogyoke Aung San, was head of the Burmese army, so I met him. But - there was no relation.
Q: When you met him, what did he look like? Describe Aung San to me.
I knew Aung. San when I was in the University. I joined the University in 1931. Aung San joined in 1932. He was about one year and two months older than me, but was one year junior to me in the Rangoon University. Well, since then I knew him, but not as a friend because I was in a different hostel -.he was in [?] Pegu hall.I was in [?} Seguin hall.
A: What was he like as a man. When you went to see him, what did he look like, how did he behave?
Well, he then was practising to be a very good orator. When I was in the University - reputable persons gave a lecture about once a month in the students’ union building and in every lecture, when the lecturer gave the floor to the audience, Aung San never failed to say something, whatever it was, sometimes it was connected to the lecture, but sometimes it wasn’t. I think he was then practising to be a good orator.
Q: Did you admire him?
Well, in a way. You can say, you can quite obviously knew that he was trying to be a politician.
Q: And when you met him, he offered you a job
When he met me, he said would I come, would I join the army. So I said, let me ask my boss, because I was assistant chief of police, let me ask my chief of police. Then he said, well, it's ok then, forget about it. Because I didn't. give him an answer on the spot.
Q: So he wanted you to say yes straight away?
That's what I meant.
Q: And you weren't going to say yes straight away
No. It was quite natural that I should tell that to my chief and then ask his opinion and what would he think, but Aung Sam wanted me to enter on the spot.
Q: for somebody who had never seen Aung. San, how would you describe him, what did he look like.when you saw him was he wearing military uniform.
No- in the army or in the university?
Q: When he offered you the job
Then he was head of the Burmese army, with the Japanese, so he was in military uniform
Q: Was he an effective military leader?
That I couldn't tell.
Q: When Aung San was killed, where were you?
When he was killed, I was on my way back from England to Rangoon. I was in England on leave in 1947, from about February 47, then I was recalled back to Burma in July. And I was on my way back from England to Rangoon, and I arrived in Rangoon only two days after the assassination. Then I was given, we were allowed six days joining time to rejoin the service from leave, so after that, say about a week later, I was given a secret assignment by the Deputy Inspector General of police of the Criminal Investigation Department who was in charge of the assassination case. The secret assignment was to find out if there was any British conspiracy in the assassination. So I had to investigate very secretly - and all about the investigation was written in my book, all what I remembered then about the investigation. (19'30)
Q: When you heard that Aung San had been killed, was that when you were on the ship or when you arrived back?
In those days, there was - BOAC had no air service with aeroplanes, there were seaplanes – I was on a seaplane. We had to land in river Ganges because Calcutta was our next stop. The sea lanes didn't fly during the day [sic] so during the night we were put up at a house on the land by BOAC. So on the night of the 19th July, while we are at a house in Allahabad, then I heard on the radio that Aung San was killed.
Q: Which radio were you listening to?
Well, I didn't know. That was provided by the BOAC at the house. I would think it, it was maybe the BBC.
Q: The BBC?
(Chuckles) I think so.
Q: What did you feel when you heard that news?
Well, I was quite surprised. I was away from Burma for fiver six months,I was not in touch with Burma and not in touch with Burmese politics. When I was recalled, I was told by the home minister under the Japanese - who was then in England, in London - to go back to Burma because the political situation in Burma was very unstable.
Q: You were training at Scotland Yard were you. when you were in London?
It wasn't an official training. While I was on leave it was my private arrangement to have a study tour. It’s not an official training.
Q: when you heard the news about Aung San’s death at Allahabad on the radio, were you shocked .
Naturally, yes, I was. And when I reached Rangoon two days later, Rangoon was all very quiet. I was met at the place where the seaplane landed, I was met only by my family.
Q: The streets were otherwise empty?
The whole town was all quiet and the streets were empty. So we were allowed six days joining time, so I went back to my home town.
Q: And then when you came back to Rangoon, you are given this special task - but it was always clear who was responsible for the killing of Aung San and his colleagues?
Of course it was clear, because the persons who killed Aung San, and U Saw, they were arrested on the day the assassination occurred. The assassination occurred at about 10:37, and U Saw's house was raided about 3 o'clock. That was what I knew later, of course wasn't in Rangoon, that was what I knew later. U Saw's house was raided and U Saw and his people were arrested on the same day. (23'40)
Q: And these were basically political rivals of Aung San?
Well, they were Aung San's – not, the murderers were not the political rivals
Q: But U Saw was the rival
U Saw's private army or U Saw's - in those days the politicians had got a sort of a small committee of their stooges
Q: So the killers were part of the private army of U Saw who was a rival political figure to Aung San?
That's right. (24'30)
Q: So when you were given this task of working out whether there was any British involvement, why did anybody think that the British might be responsible?
I think - by then there was already a case about a month or so before the assassination, an issue of about 200 Bren guns from the British army, withdrawn by the police supply officer who was then an army captain seconded to the police. So it was on his [word indistinct] that 200 Bren guns were issued. So then, well, I assumed that the CID, that the Burmese government has already known that U Saw was involved in it.
Q: Did these Bren guns which were withdrawn from army supplies – were they the guns that killed Aung San?
Well, those Bren guns were issued to the army battalion. The guns that killed Aung San were not Bren guns, I think Tommy guns, these automatic machine guns.
Q: So your investigation into British involvement – did you find any British involvement in the killing of Aung San?
No, my assignment ended without any result, because when I was investigating, when I found that the point man in Rangoon was one – was known as G.S. Bingley, he was head of the British Council, and he had diplomatic privilege, so we were not allowed to – not to touch any British persons because we were still under the British administration. So we couldn’t get any further information at all. So it came to an end.
Q: So you didn’t have the access you required to do the job that you had been asked to do?
No, there was no result at all, no result. It was, well, an empty assignment. So then my assignment came to an end.
Q:Do you think there might have been British involvement in the killing of Aung San?
Well, we had only suspicion, because then already talks were going on for independence, the government was going to give independence. And what we thought in our opinion, but was never expressed, that probably this group of persons in England, maybe supporters of the former governor Sir Dorman Smith, who was a British minister in the Conservative army [sic] who was then governing England –
Q: So you’re suggesting that if there was involvement, it wasn’t the British government but it was people linked to right-wing figures in Britain?
I think because, what we thought was, well, if when Aung San was killed and when U Saw – if Aung San became Prime Minister, the Conservative person would find it difficult to handle Aung San, because what we knew was the Conservative party consisted of many business people, and they had known U Saw when Sir Dorman Smith was governor, they knew U Saw would be very much easier to handle than Aung San, so they probably would prefer Aung San [sic] become the Prime Minister in the government after Aung San’s assassination
Q: For Burma, how important was Aung San and how much of a difference did his killing make?
We considered, at that time we didn’t think – I find it difficult to answer that question because when I was in the police, I had very little connection with the political side. Mostly I was in the administration of the police force, so although I was in the police force I knew very little about politics, Burmese politics. I think that people considered Aung San would be a good leader. [brief interruption] (32’00)
Q: If I may ask one last question, when you look back on those timse and your work in the police, how do you feel about looking back on those times? Do you feel pride in what you did, do you feel sadness about the way in which things developed in Burma, how do you feel?
I resigned from the police after my secret investigation. When it came to an end, I was posted to the Rangoon police, that was a time the British officers were replaced by Burmese officers, and I was posted, transferred, as deputy commissioner of police in Rangoon. That was in about October 1947. Then when independence came, we of course lost our career under the British and we were taken over by the Burmese government. And we were not – well, what shall I say, we were not so much trusted by the new Burmese government.
Q: Because you were seen to have been involved with the British?
All of us in the British service, what was then called Burmese police class one, also in the civil service, they thought they were all, what shall I say, stooges of the British people. So, well, generally speaking – there were only about ten or twelve Burmese officers in the police force, in the class one service, and we were not trusted, and it was very difficult to work with them. So I resigned from the police force
Q: When was this?
In – actually January 1949, one year and one month, but officially I had the leave credit, so I officially ended in April 1949. So I left the police service - because from the time I joined the Burma police service, joined the police service, I wasn’t very happy about it.
Q: And of all the cases that you did, was that Aung San secret investigation the most interesting and exciting case you had?
It was a very, very difficult and you have got to be very careful. I had to investigate and talk with British army officers, and even my colleagues in the police didn’t know what I was doing. Because the head of the CID, that DIG that I mentioned, I think he knew already there was some British involvement in the assassination because the issue of 200 guns is unheard of. Actually, in those days one British battalion was issued only with 12 Bren guns. So an issue of 200 guns from the army in one lot is, obviously, is very dangerous.
Q: Were you given the job because the DIG trusted you or were you given the job because they thought you would be sympathetic to the British?
No – because I was then back from England and they knew that I had – although it was not an official arrangement with the Scotland Yard – they knew I with Scotland Yard and by experience in Scotland Yard, I think because of that they gave me that assignment. That’s what I felt at that time. (Chuckles) (38’00)
RESUMED AFTER A FEW MINUTES PAUSE – NEW TRACK
Q: Did you know U Saw?
I talked with – I had to talk with U Saw during my assignment, while U Saw was in Insein jail. While under investigation, I had to talk to take charge of U Saw’s finances, that was a bank account, and U Saw’s clothing. (Chuckles) So I went and talked with him to find out if there would be any clue in the conversation, but he was – he was a Prime Minister (Chuckles) I was just a very junior, very young, policeman, probably he felt – well I thought he knew that I was trying to scoop something out of his conversation and he would never talk whether he was involved or not. He never denied it. He never admitted.
Q: And did he talk about his friends in London?
No he didn’t. No
Q: Do you think U Saw was responsible?
Well U Saw – [word indistinct] he didn’t admit it. He didn’t deny it. And then the gunmen who killed Aung San, when they were reassembled after the murder in his house, so he must be quite confident that after Aung San was killed he might be called up by the governor to form the next government. Otherwise I couldn’t think that – of course, I didn’t ask myself why he reassembled these persons in his house after the murder.
Q: Because from his point of view it was very reckless, the people who ahd killed Aung San and several of his ministerial colleagues then gathered in the house of U Saw, a political leader, and therefore incriminated U Saw himself.
Well, yes. But if they were not reassembled, the police would not have been able to discover the case right on the day. Because the DIG of police - his name was U Tun Hla Aung – he had his friend opposite U Saw’s house, and he asked his friend to watch the movement of U Saw’s – and U Saw’s car. It was on his friend’s report that on that day that the house was raided.
Q: And U Saw was hanged?
U Saw was hanged.
Q: Did you attend?
No, that was – it was attended by my chief of police. I think out of five that were hanged, two were hanged in the Rangoon jail, three were in Insein jail. U Saw was in Insein jail. I had to go and see the two who was [sic] hung in Rangoon jail. Because our responsibility then was to verify that the person who was going to be hung is the right person. Then after hanging, you have to see that he was really dead. I was with a doctor, medical doctor, and so was the chief of police in Insein jail. That was the procedure.
Q: So you were present when those two killers went to the gallows?
Went to the gallows – but (chuckles) I wasn’t brave enough to watch at the gallows. I just waited in the office. I had identfied the person when he was took to the gallows, and I identified him after he was dead, never want to see him at the gallows.
Q: So you saw the body afterwards, but you weren’t there when he was hung?
No, I was not at the place of the gallows, no. (5’50)
(This is a full transcript but stumbles. repetitions and occasional interjections have been omitted.)
My interview with Ba Aye formed the main part of an edition of the BBC World Service prize-winning programme Witness, broadcast in February 2015 on the centenary of the birth of Burma's independence here, Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi). I have posted the audio of the programme on YouTube - and it is available below.
Ba Aye was a contemporary of Aung San at Rangoon University - was offered a wartime role by Aung San in Burma's army - and played an important role in investigating Aung San's assassination in 1947 a few months before Burma gained independence.
Daw Myint Myint Han
Daw Myint Myint Han was born into a well-connected Burmese family. When I visited her at her home in Yangon in August 2014, we focussed on her memories of the country during the Second World War and particularly during the Japanese occupation, when her uncle was appointed as Burma's nominal leader. She was born in March 1928 and was 86 when we met. The transcript of our conversation is posted below.
Daw Myint Myint Han interviewed by Andrew Whitehead at her home in Yangon, August 2014 in the presence of her grand-daughters.
My name is Daw Myint Myint Han. I have an English name, Marjorie. I was born on March 11th 1928.
Q: Now you mention you have an English name and a Burmese name. Which one would you like to be known by?
Today I'm known by my Burmese name - but when we were young and we attended English schools during the British regime we were known by English names.
Q: You met Aung San once -
In London - in a meeting room. I went with my husband to stay in London for some years. As I told you, my first son was born in London. And he asked me what I was doing, what I was studying. And I told him I was studying music. And he made a face as though he wanted to say - just imagine, wasting your time studying music. I was studying the piano.
Q: When would this have been? What year would that have been do you think?
1946. About the end of '46.
Q: So he would have been over there discussing steps towards Burma's independence.
Yes he was there for the - Aung San - at the agreement
Q: What did he look like? Describe him to me?
He had a crew cut, not too tall. and quite - I would say he would look quite rough. Not a very refined sort of person.
Q: Did you admire him?
I didn't know him enough to admire him.
Q: Did you look up to him at that time?
Maybe - a little. Q: But only a little?
Q: You were saying that there's a family connection to Aung San as well.
Yes. My father was professor of law in the Rangoon University and Aung San attended one of his law classes. He was one of his students.
Q: Did your father talk about him much?
Not that I remember.
Q: Do you remember hearing about his death?
Yes. We were in England then. About the assassination.
Q: What were your feelings when you heard that news?
Oh, we were horrified of course. We were in London - couldn't do a thing. We didn't know actually what was happening. But we know that it's a horrible, horrible time for our country to go through.
Q: Where were you when the Japanese came into Burma?
I was in Rangoon.
Q: What are your memories of those times?
We heard that war had broke up - that is early '40s I think. 1942, was it? '42, '43, round about that area. We were in school, I was not yet 13 at that time. And then I remember all the schools being closed and all the teachers going back to their families, to their homes.
Q: Were people frightened?
Yes. Bomb attacks had started. The sirens were going on and we had to run into our air shelters.
Q: And when did you first see a Japanese soldier?
Oh they were around all the time . They used to come into the compound.
Q: And when you saw them were you frightened of them?
No - not really. Because my parents (laughs) were with me and I was under their shelter.
Q: Tell me about your uncle? (4'20)
Dr Ba Maw. He was a fine looking man.
Q: But what was he doing during those war years? How did he become Burma's leader at that time?
I don't know the history of that. Have you ever ready his - book he had written: Breakthrough in Burma.
Q: No I haven't. But what memories do you have of that time?
I was too young - 12, not even 13, when the war broke out. I remember my uncle - I know my father was very attached to his brother, never even called him by his name, called him little brother. They were very close. And it was my father who sent him to England to be educated. He himself went to educate himself first, came back and then he sent his brother at his own expense.
Q: And how did your uncle come to be the prime minister?
That I don't know. That's a political question - I wouldn't answer. How he got into contact with the Japanese I don't know, but he was one of the - There were the Thirty Comrades. Have you heard about them? Aung San was one of them.
Q: And so when the Japanese came, your uncle became prime minister. Do you have any memories of visiting your uncle at that time?
We were often at his ceremonies, his parties - all the ceremonies he had. My elder brother was working under him as secretary of ceremonies. And we often went to visit them.
Q: What were things like in Rangoon at that time with the Japanese military here and with Burma having a lot more freedom than it had before?
Freedom? I wouldn't say - but there was a lot of scarcity of commodities and all. We couldn't have bread, butter - no butter, no sugar - things like that I remember. And then -
Q: But your family was such a powerful family - but even you didn't have bread or butter during the war years?
Q: And then what happened when the Japanese started leaving Burma?
That was the time we were dragged in - dragged together with the military, the retreating Japanese army, from Yangon to Moulmein.
Q: So when the Japanese military pulled out, your family left with them?
My father went with his brother to be with him. I think my uncle must have persuaded him to come.
Q: And where did they go? (7'30)
All the way along - we had a lot of experiences I cannot forget. We were stopping, resting, at certain villages and whenever we'd go into a village we'd look out for the head man's - village head man's house. We had rest there. And then one time when we were dragged from Bago - that was first time, the first stop in Bago - we had a very bad air raid attack. The little hole was so shallow and all the family of more than eight of them - eight of us - then, it's a wonder how we escaped. There was a lot of machine-gunning. And it was a divine hand that kept us safe through that terrible air raid.
And then from Bago we went on - along the road - and went to, stopped at certain villages to have a bath or to have a meal. And the Burmese hospitality is such that whenever people come they find ways and means to offer whatever they have.
Q: And were you being escorted by Japanese troops?
All the time - the Japanese MI, they call him the [?] - they were with us in the car.
Q: MI is, what, military intelligence?
Yes - military? Yes, yes. That's it. And then I remember one incident after the air raid, that we are told we have to go hurriedly, quickly quickly. And we had all our clothes and belongings in one suitcase for each one of our families. And suddenly we couldn't find out what to take - what clothes to take - and we hurried off so quickly that we found ourselves in the car taken by the Japanese escorts with nothing - no extra clothing in our hands. We had nothing but the clothes on our back.
Q: Were you sad to leave Rangoon with the Japanese?
Sad to leave Rangoon? Yes - I didn't like the Japanese. (Laughs)
Q: You didn't like the Japanese?
No - of course not.
Q: Why not?
Too rough, too uncouth. And all the things they did in Rangoon like - very cruel. You know, when people - thieves are caught, they would keep them out in the sun all day long. And their ways of torture is very frightening. (10'10)
Q: But they were your protectors as well?
Yes, in a way. Because the British had left, and I don't know what was happening in the - and I know that my uncle was in the top place. (Laughs)
Q: So you went out of Yangon -
Q: Where did your uncle go?
We went together all in different cars with our families - uncle, our family, some other minister like [?] and U [?] and - I can't remember, a few others, ministers, were all there. All along - we went in a long line of cars. But some stopped here, some stopped there, and we met together in Moulmein.
And that was a time when we had nothing to wear but only our clothes on our back. So when we wanted to have a bath, I was - always told that story to my grandchildren - we had to go to a village called Abiyar [ph] and there was a head man's wife. She didn't seem to have many clothes. She had one extra lungi, sarong - a black one - so my mother had to take off, take the black sarong, lungi, and have a bath and while her clothes were being washed and dried in the sun. she had to wait for the clothes to dry and then she put them on. And she gives a wet lungi to the next one. The next one, next person, was my sister-in-law - my elder brother's wife. She took her turn. She too put on that black lungi, had a bath, her clothes were hung on the line in the sun and then when she finished it was my turn. Then my sister, my younger sister. That's how we had our - we had a bath and we had our clothes washed. There was no extra - nothing, nothing at all - in our hands.
Q: But just a few days earlier, you'd been part of the prime minister's family. You were one of the most powerful families in the country -
Q: - and here you were with all the women in the family basically sharing clothes.
Q: How did you feel?
(Laughs) I can't remember. I was too young. Suddenly it was very - what shall I say - I can't imagine things like that happening to us.
Q: Were you upset?
Q: And was your father with you as well?
Yes. Father, mother, brother, sisters - one sister and one brother. Four of us in the family.
Q: How long did you stay in Moulmein?
Only a few days and then they took us - there we met my sister-in-law's aunt and uncle. They were so good. They embraced the whole family - eight of us, seven or eight of us - into their homes and they fed us and looked after us and gave us the whole floor in their house. And then they were about to evacuate to Bilu Kyun - Bilu Kyun islands - from Moulmein. So we decided to go with them. And we stayed in Bilu Kyun till the war was over.
Q: And what happened to your father and uncle? Did they stay with you?
Uncle stayed behind - he and his family stayed behind in Mudon. My father was with us all the time - father and mother.
Q: But your uncle ended up in another country?
They were going to take the whole family over to French Indochina - when my father decided to go with him. So what we did, the whole family - one thing, father was a very strict man. All the family was dead scared of him. So we daredn't tell him verbally, so we all wrote letters, each one, begging him not to go, go on to French Indochina. That we would all like to stay in Burma. So the four of us - we all wrote letters to, short notes to my father. And then we didn't know who was to go and give him the letters (laughs), so we chose our nephew - the first grandson of the family - and told him to go and give it to Popo [?] that's a grandfather.
Q: How did he respond?
He cried - we saw tears in his eyes and he decided to stay behind because of the children's wishes.
Q: So you stayed in Burma throughout the war?
Q: How long before you went back to Rangoon, what's now called Yangon?
As soon as the war was declared, we were jumping and longing to go back to Yangon, to our home.
Q: As soon as peace was declared?
Yes. As soon as peace was declared. So, we came back. At that time the road was very dangerous, full of robbers and people trying to stop the cars going. But in spite of that we reached home.
Q: And you were pleased to reach home?
Oh yes. But our home was bombed out by the British (laughs). So when we came back, the house had to be repaired and (ringing sound) ...
Q: So tell me what happened when you came back to your phone here?
That was during the Japanese time. The house we were living in is the church today. The house was donated to the church by my step-mother. When my mother died, my father married again, and the step-mother was good enough to leave the whole estate and whole house for the church. That is where the church is today. And before that - before mother died - we were all living in that house. That was our childhood home. And we had the British coming to -
Q: When you came back to Rangoon after the war, how was the house?
I think it had been repaired again and I think my father allowed some of my mother's relatives to stay in the house.
Q: But you say the house had been damaged during the war?
Yes - by the British?
Q: The British damaged the house.
Yes. During the Japanese regime.
Q: What happened?
So my uncle allowed his brother to stay - our family to stay in the government house. You know where that is? Where the British Governor used to stay. We were allowed to stay there - occupy one wing in that house. And from there we were dragged to -
Q: And when did your uncle return to this country after the war?
That I don't remember.
Q: And he was in Hanoi was he, or Saigon?
I don't know.
Q: But somewhere in French Indochina?
All I know is that we parted ways in Mudon and he was taken to French Indochina. And after that where he went, I don't know. My parents may know but I didn't.
Q: How do you look back on those times, those very difficult times when you were young?
In a way, very difficult and hard. Everything was scarce. But at the same time, being Dr Ba Maw's family we had special privileges.
Q: What sort of privileges?
A lot of clothes and whatever we wanted, we took uncle's supply.
Q: Do you remember hearing that war was coming to Burma? Do you remember that news that war was coming or the Japanese were coming?
I remember war was declared. World War Two. But whether it is coming to Burma or not - I was too young to understand all those things.
Q: Do you remember being told that the Japanese had reached here, to Burma?
Q: Tell me about it. Did you hear because it was in the newspaper or did your father tell you or was it the chatter at school or - how did you hear what was happening in the war?
It must be hearsay. I don't remember clearly.
Q: When your uncle became prime minister, did you feel very proud?
I don't know. Because my uncle's family and our family - not very close. The brothers were very close but our families are - we stay quite apart. Not very close.
Q: In some ways it's quite controversial working with the Japanese when they were here. How do you feel about that now looking back after all these years?
(Laughs) I hope I answer all your questions. (Laughs)
Q: How did you view it then, because there must have been different opinions among people here about what was the right thing to do? How did you feel then about your uncle working so closely with the Japanese?
I remember one thing about - my uncle saying: the British will never come back. That's what he was shouting - with his mouth. At the same time, on the quiet he was teaching his children, having tutors, having them taught maths and English and all those subjects. Because they were all, we were all interrupted in our studies. So he kept on with the tuition of his family, so when the war - when peace was declared, his family was all ready to sit for the matriculation exam.
Q: The British exams?
Q: How did you feel about that?
(Laughs) My father was so simple. He believed his brother so implicitly. He really believed that the British would never come back. So he didn't give us any English tuition or maths or all those subjects that we should be learning. He made us study Japanese. So we studied Japanese. I managed to study some five-hundred kanjis. Now I've forgotten all that (laughs)
Q: Have you forgotten it all? Can you share a few words of Japanese?
Arigato is thank you. And kondesai [?]
Q: And did you speak Japanese with Japanese administrators or soldiers?
Not that much. We had a private tutor come to the house -
Q: Who was Japanese?
Yes. Japanese tutor.
Q: Can you remember his name?
Her name - she's a lady. Hemi-sa (ph)] . Q: Did you like her?
Yes, we were very fond of her.
Q: Did she speak Burmese?
Q: So you had to learn Japanese otherwise you couldn't communicate with her at all. Did she speak English?
Q: How did you get on with the English when they were here? When they were in charge here, how did you get on with the English?
During the English time? Oh, we went to English schools, had English names. We sang English songs. We read English books.
Q: What is your English name?
Q: And did people call you Marjorie?
Yes. My friends all called me Marjorie.
Q: And today?
They call me by my Burmese name.
Q: And you prefer that?
I don't mind. If they call me Marjorie, Auntie Marjorie, I'm known as Auntie Marjorie to all the relations, I don't mind.
Q: Where were you when Burma became independent?
In London. 1948.
Q: What were you doing in London?
I was with my husband. My husband was an officer in the Royal Air Force. He volunteered during the war. And then after the war, he came home, we got married and my father managed to persuade him to take law. He wanted him to be a barrister - wanted him to work with him, under him. So he agreed. He was a air force officer - aeronautical engineer - during the war. So we went back and while he studied law I was in London with him. And that was the time when my first son was born.
Q: So you would still really be very young then? You would still be a teenager?
Me? I was eighteen when I married. Those days, people marry eighteen, early.
Q: So how did you get to meet Aung San in London?
That is a time I told you about at a meeting - meeting room - in - Aung San and my husband knew each other. My husband was a law student of my father's, so they knew each other.
Q: Did you like Aung San?
That was my only meeting with him.
Q: Which of your family were part of the Group of Thirty?
Not my family - Dr Ba Maw's daughter, the eldest daughter, she's living still, her husband is one of the Thirty Comrades.
Q: And how do you view the Thirty Comrades today?
I didn't know much about it.
Q: But they must have been very exciting times for a young person and you must have known so many - or you met so many - of the leading figures in Burmese society and Burmese politics. You sort of knew them all.
I was young (laughs) - didn't know much.
Q: Did you have a sense of excitement that Burma was starting to make its mark on the world, it was becoming independent, that the colonial era was almost coming to an end?
Q: How did you celebrate Burma's independence when you were in London. Did you go to an event or -
There was a celebration at the Burmese embassy. The Burmese ambassador was a friend of ours. We were there.
Q: How did you feel? Pleased - excited - disappointed -
No. I was pleased, happy.
Q: If there is one memory of life in that difficult period in the early 1940s that stays with you, what is it?
We went through two evacuations. When the British left we evacuated to [?] and stayed in a small village called [?] . That was the first evacuation. And we had to leave everything in the house, everything - left the house and everything in it with a cook and her husband. When we came back we found the place completely empty. Furniture, piano, everything is gone. So we had to start from scratch again. Then the second time - second evacuation is when the Japanese were retreating.
Q: So you evacuated once when the British pulled out and you evacuated again -
Q: - when the Japanese pulled out.
Yes, yes. That's right.
Q: That must have been tough? Painful?
Yes - and we had to stay in the village. We had to use the sanitation - it's awful in Burma, especially in the villages. So we know all that - we've been through all that. All those handicaps.
Q: And your children and your grandchildren won't have been through those sorts of experiences?
They wouldn't know. Now I thank God we can live in a good house. Sanitation is modern and up-to-date and just as we want it. When I look back, with all these experiences, God is teaching us so many lessons. And today we can only praise God for his goodness to us - for his many blessings that we enjoy. Because I'm in my 87th year - all my children around me, except one who is in Hawaii ...