August 26, 2016 6:40 pm JST
Courtesy of Nikkei Asian Review

Helping Myanmar's forgotten WWII soldiers

DENIS D. GRAY, Contributing writer

Peter Mitchell, son of a British officer who fought in Myanmar, salutes a group of aging Karen veterans in Yangon during a visit in 2013. (Courtesy of Help 4 Forgotten Allies)


YANGON -- Perhaps for the last time, the old Karen warriors gathered around the grave of a World War II British officer they called ''Grandfather Longlegs,'' and in poignant harmony sang a Christian hymn to fulfill his last request made decades earlier before Japanese soldiers took him away to an execution ground.

An undated photo showing Hugh Seagrim at a wedding in England before the war (Courtesy of the Seagrim family)

Seven decades after the conflict's end, in the remote hills and frontier refugee camps of eastern Myanmar, Major Hugh Paul Seagrim remains a legend and inspiration among the Karen, one of the country's downtrodden ethnic minorities.

But Seagrim, an eccentric mystic and brilliant guerrilla leader who gave his life to save his comrades, is almost unknown in his homeland, as are the Karen who fought alongside the British only to be abandoned after the war.

"We have never stopped praying for him because he loved our people,'' said Saw Berny, who fought with Seagrim deep behind Japanese lines. Wheelchair-bound but still spry of spirit, the 92-year-old veteran looked down on Seagrim's grave during a ceremony last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the war's end.

Around him at Yangon's beautifully manicured Commonwealth War Cemetery were gathered 20 of his former comrades-in-arms, along with Sally McLean, a soft-spoken, unassuming British woman who has made it her mission to aid the mostly impoverished Karen veterans and bring the life and heroic death of Seagrim before the general public.


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