A Journey to Burma
by RICHARD FORD (COFEPOW Member)
Father - Cyril Richard FORD - Died - Burma 30th May 1943
About 3 years ago after a visit to Duxford the seeds were sown about visiting my father's grave in the Far East. The first step was to find out where he was buried. This we did by a friend surfing the Internet for us. The information came through that he was buried in Burma at Thanbyuzayat. We were given a report from the War Graves Commission explaining the remoteness and difficulties of travelling to Thanbyuzayat. This made us stop and reconsider the situation especially given the media reports coming out of Burma. Then eighteen months ago we tried to contact the Burmese Embassy in London to check if it was possible to travel as a couple on our own to the cemetery. The Embassy failed to reply. We then contacted various travel agents with no luck. Finally we tried the British Legion Travel Department. They had a package tour going to Thanbyuzayat in the first two weeks of November 2001, which was great because I was 60 in the first week of November 2001. This was April 2001 just about the time a newspaper report caught our eye. It was a publicity piece about COFEPOW and Carol Cooper's party journeying to the Far East to visit several War Cemeteries including Thanbyuzayat where Carol's father is buried. This was our first contact with COFEPOW of which we have since become members in May 2001. It then seemed forever to wait for November. I was counting down the days. Final payment - just eight weeks to go. Not long now then HORROR - September 11th 2001. By the end of September 2001 the British Legion had cancelled the tour due"to the uncertainty of World Events". Fortunately we got all monies back BUT we still had not got to Burma.
Our friends at COFEPOW suggested we made contact with Silverbird, [these are Far East Travel specialists]. It was suggested we speak to Sue Pryde. We then made contact and told her our requirements. After a few days she returned to us with a tailor-made agenda. All our wishes had been covered so we then booked the holiday to leave the U.K on 20th February 2002. I was counting down the days again! All that was left for us to do was pay and obtain our Visa, which was done on a pre printed application form. This process was done by post to the Embassy and only took two weeks.
At last departure day arrived and we got to Heathrow but on checking in we were told our flight was delayed 40 minutes. This in fact turned out to be 2 hours. All flights we took were with Thai International who were brilliant and we would recommend them 100%. Several hours later we were met at Yangon Airport by the Tour Mandalay guide who whisked us off to Inya Lake Hotel [marvellous] for a well earned rest.
DAY 1. Next morning the guide collected us for a sightseeing tour of Yangon, including St George's Cathedral. This is English built and holds a Roll of Honour book plus Regimental Crests also Shwedagon Pagoda.
DAY 2. Early start for the trip to Mawlamyine which is the largest town to Thanbyuzayat . First stop was Taukkyan cemetery which has 27,000 names engraved on several stone pillars which form part of the memorial plus 7,000 named graves. After several more stops visiting local people and their crafts everybody was friendly and made us very welcome. Of course we visited many more Pagodas. Finally we arrived at the hotel after travelling for ten hours. The roads!! This would be another long story.
DAY 3. Finally the day has arrived. This morning we are off to Thanbyuzayat. Another two hours in the mini bus with our guide and driver - more interesting sights to see. At last we have arrived after all the planning. First impression - how peaceful, although the main road was the other side of the fence. All details of the grave block, row, plot had been given to us before hand. We just needed a bit of help to find him. The curate was at hand and we were taken immediately to the grave, where I was able to spend time with my Dad and call him Dad for the first time in my life. I now feel at peace with myself with another ambition at last achieved. We spent some time wandering in the cemetery looking at other graves and marvelled at how neat and tidy everything was - the buildings, graves and grass. Reluctantly we moved on to the memorial to the start of the Burma-Thai Railway where an old steam engine has been placed on part of the original railway. The remainder of the day was spent sightseeing locally then back to the hotel.
DAY 4. We then made the return journey to Yangon which was just as interesting and exciting and long as the outward trip. We visited Sittaung River Bridge which was bombed during the war. The local headman pointed out to us an overgrown site telling the tale that it was a Japanese war cemetery.
DAY 5. Free day - we have no guide today so venture into Yangon via the courtesy bus to wander amongst the local people and visit the market. It was great fun crossing the road.
DAY 6. Time to leave Burma. Sad to say farewell to the wonderful people but have fantastic, emotional memories which will last forever. Now saving hard for a return trip. We left Burma to travel to Thailand for a seven-day beach holiday to recover from all the travelling.
NOTE FROM RICHARD'S WIFE BARBARA
The above is from Richard. This is my bit - Before we left I was very worried and apprehensive about going. In fact I would have been happy to miss out the Burma trip. But I knew this was Richard's dream and he needed me to be with him. In all honesty at no time did I feel threatened, intimidated or feel uneasy. The people were friendly and helpful. The day we had no guide was wonderful. I even had young ladies helping me cross one of the very busy roads. In fact I am sure we were safer in Burma than if we were in central London. I am looking forward to the return trip.
By the way Burma is now called Myanmar.
For any more details about our trip do not hesitate to contact us
Richard & Barbara Ford Phone 01508 531041 Fax 01508 532628