Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Independence and Civil War (1945-1951)

Birthday of Two Men Tied to Anti-Colonialism in Myanmar

25 June is the birthday of the two most famous men tied to anti-colonialism in Myanmar: Lord Louis Mountbatten (b. 25 June 1900) the last Viceroy of India, who as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia during the war agreed in 1945 to support General Aung San and the BIA; and George Orwell (b. 25 June 1903) who was a policeman in Burma (in the 1920s before quitting and going on to become one of the greatest writers and anti-colonial...

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Birth Anniversary of U Nyun

U Nyun, one of Myanmar's most distinguished public servants, was born on 20 January 1910 and was educated at Rangoon, Oxford and London Universities. He served in the ICS and then as a senior civil servant in the independent Burma government, before joining the UN in 1953. From 1959 - 1973 he was the Executive Secretary of UN ECAFE (now ESCAP), working directly under Secretaries-General Dag Hammarskjold and U Thant. U Nyun was one of many trained and experienced Burmese...

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Birthday of General Aung San

13 February is the birth anniversary of General Aung San. This is a photograph of General Aung San at the Dorchester Hotel in London during negotiations with the UK government in January 1947. He is flanked by Thakin Mya and U Tin Tut (the delegation's principal negotiator). It was the moment of his greatest triumph. Thakin Mya would be killed together with General Aung San six months later. U Tin Tut was killed in September 1948.

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The Hanging of U Saw

U Saw was hanged at Insein Jail on 8 May 1948 for the assassination of General Aung San and his colleagues. Mysteries still surround the assassination but U Saw's involvement is beyond doubt. He was buried in an unmarked grave within the jail. The photo on the left was taken during his 1941 trip to London and Washington as Premier of Burma.

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An Old Flag of Myanmar

The current tricolour was first adopted in the 1930s by Dobama Asiayone (the ultra-nationalist "We Burmans" association). It was inspired by the 1919 flag of the Irish Republic. The "State of Burma" (1943-45) adapted the Dobama flag by placing the traditional peacock symbol at the centre (rather than the star used now). The image is from a painting of the August 1943 'independence' ceremony of the "State of Burma" at Government House, Rangoon.

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White Paper on Burma

On 17 May 1945, the British government issued its "White Paper" on the future of Burma. Burma's "Anti-Fascist Organization" (later AFPFL) under General Aung San opposed the programme outlined in the White Paper, leading first to a standoff against the returned British authorities, then to negotiations in London in January 1946 and finally independence outside the Commonwealth in 1948. The White Paper proposed the following: (1) A period of "direct rule" by the Governor (assisted by an "Executive Council" of...

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Warless Days of Myanmar

From 23 December 1941 until today, Myanmar has known no war for only 31 months - from August 1945 when the Japanese surrendered to the Allies to March 1948 when the Communist insurrection began. It is impossible to understand future options in Myanmar without first appreciating the legacies of more than 70 years of armed fighting. This is a photograph of the 1947 Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry that attempted to find a peaceful solution to the integration of Burma's...

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Relationship Between Lt. General Slim and General Aung San

General Aung San crossed the Irrawaddy at Allanmyo on 15 May 1945 and then flew to Meiktila on 16 May to meet for the first time with Lt General William Slim, commander of the (British) 14th Army. The 14th Army with nearly one million men was the largest Commonwealth army anywhere during World War Two - a giant force of Indians, Africans, British, Gurkhas, Burmese and others. By 16 May the 14th Army had already retaken Rangoon and General Slim...

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Labour Party's Election Victory Changed Burma's History

In July 1945, the Labour Party won a landslide victory over the Conservatives and Clement Attlee replaced Sir Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. Labour's election victory without a doubt changed the course of Burma's history. Clement Attlee was committed to decolonization and within a year reversed earlier policies and began moves towards Burmese self-determination. By 1949 the Attlee government had granted independence to India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon. A Conservative government under Winston Churchill would almost certainly not have granted...

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One of the Most Important Days, perhaps the Most Important Day in Burma's 20th Century History

On 20 December 1946, UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee informed the House of Commons of his government's intention "to hasten forward the time when Burma shall realize her independence, either within or 2343 without the Commonwealth". In other words, the UK had decided to quit Burma. We must remember that this was a time when Clement Attlee's Labour government were coping with severe and mounting economic challenges at home, and facing dire emergencies in India, Palestine, and Greece. Communal violence...

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U Nu with Gandhi in Delhi 1947

The photograph is from the last meeting between U Nu and Mahatma Gandhi, taken at Birla House, Delhi, on 4 December 1947, a little over a month before Gandhi was assassinated. Mahatma Gandhi was wearing a hat just given to him by soon to be Prime Minister U Nu (then Premier Thakin Nu). The struggle against British colonialism is a shared history of Burma and India. Mahatma Gandhi visited Rangoon three times: in 1902, 1915 and 1929. He had a...

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Jubilee Hall

Jubilee Hall was a place of immense historic significance, as the site many public events including the 1947 AFPFL convention, and as the place where Gen. Aung San and his assassinated colleagues lay in state. It was also where Sir John Gielgud, certainly one of the greatest actors ever to have lived, played Hamlet in 1946. Its demolition in 1995 was an act of vandalism, like the destruction of the palace of the Kengtung sawbwa around the same time.

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A Shared History of India and Burma Independence

India became independent from the British Empire on 15 August 1947. The country was partitioned and the new state of Pakistan was created at the same time. India and Burma immediately established diplomatic ties, but as Burma was then not yet an independent republic outside the Commonwealth, the country was represented in New Delhi by a High Commissioner (U Win). Burma's road to independence was intimately tied with India's. Modern Burmese politics began with the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1917 and...

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U Aung San's Historic Meeting with Pandit Nehru

The AFPFL leader was en route to London to discuss Burmese independence with Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Pandit Nehru helped U Aung San by having his tailor make for him a new set of warm clothes, including a greatcoat for the London winter. The winter of 1946-7 was to be the coldest in England in three centuries, with temperatures falling to -21 degrees Celsius and fuel shortages leading to widespread power cuts.

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Signing of Nu-Attlee Agreement

October 1 is the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Provisional Government of the Union of Burma on the independence of Burma (the "Nu-Attlee Agreement"). The agreement came after months of negotiations led by U Nu (Premier of the Burma Provisional Government), U Tin Tut (Finance Minister) and others. The signing by U Nu and UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee was witnessed by Bo Let Ya (Defense Minister), U Tin...

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General Aung San's Last Speech

On July 13, 1947, U Aung San gave his last speech from the balcony of City Hall to supporters in Fytche Square (now Maha Bandula Park). He was assassinated six days later. (Most of the buildings in the background were demolished after WW2 bomb damage and have been replaced by the Centrepoint and AGD bank buildings.) In his speech, he urged Burmese to be more disciplined in the face of challenges ahead. The country, less than two years from the...

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Union Day: Anniversary of the 1947 Panglong Agreement

"Union Day" (12 February) marks the anniversary of the "Panglong Agreement" of 1947. There is considerable mythology surrounding the Panglong Agreement and it's important to remember what it was and what it was not. U Aung San led the Burma delegation to London in January 1947 to negotiate the country's independence from Britain. He was very ably assisted by ICS U Tin Tut. The British side was represented principally by the Labour politician Sir Stafford Cripps and the Secretary of...

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Aung San-Attlee Agreement

The Aung San - Attlee Agreement which paved the way for Burmese independence less a year later was signed on 27 January 1947. Amongst other things, the agreement included as an objective "the early unification of the Frontier Areas and Ministerial Burma with the free consent of the inhabitants of those areas".  By late 1946 the Clement Attlee government had decided that with the looming independence of India, Burma would soon lose its strategic value on the empire's eastern flank....

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Nu-Attlee Agreement

October 1 is the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Provisional Government of the Union of Burma on the independence of Burma (the "Nu-Attlee Agreement"). The agreement came after months of negotiations led by U Nu (Premier of the Burma Provisional Government), U Tin Tut (Finance Minister) and others.  The signing by U Nu and UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee was witnessed by Bo Let Ya (Defense Minister), U Tin...

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The 1948 Government of Burma Was Genuinely Multi-Ethnic

August 1948: With communist ("White Flag" and "Red Flag") PVO, and "Mujahideen" insurrections in full swing, President Sao Shwe Thaik and Army Chief General Smith Dun inspect the troops in front of the Rangoon Corporation building. Martial law had just been declared. At the time, Karen, Kachin, and Chin battalions were fighting Burmese communist and PVO militias up and down the Irrawaddy valley. It was also a time (the only time) when the government of Burma was genuinely multi-ethnic, with...

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When Myanmar Became a UN Member

October 24 is United Nations Day. United Nations (UN) Day marks the day in 1947 when the UN Charter first came into force (after ratification by all the five big powers: China, France, UK, US, and USSR). Burma became independent a little more than two months later. The first image is the letter from ICS U So Nyun (then ambassador in Washington) formally applying to Secretary-General Trygve Lie for Burma's membership in the United Nations. Burma from 1948-62 was a...

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Myth of Burma Independence

On 4 January 1948, at 4:20 am, Burma became an independent republic outside the British Commonwealth. The Union Jack was lowered for the final time at Government House in Rangoon and the last Governor Sir Hubert Rance formally handed over power to the Union of Burma's first president the Yawnghwe Sawbwa Sao Shwe Thaik. (U Thant was at Government House that morning too, escorting an elderly J.S. Furnivall). There is a myth that Burma at independence had all the attributes...

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United Nations Day

October 24 is United Nations Day. UN Day marks the day in 1945 when the UN Charter first came into force (after ratification by all the five big powers: China, France, UK, US, and USSR). Burma became independent a little more than two years later. The first image is of Burma Army officers in the Congo in 1960. The second image is the letter from ICS U So Nyun (then ambassador in Washington) formally applying to Secretary General Trygvie Lie...

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Foreign minister U E Maung’s Visit to India 1949

This is a photograph of Burmese foreign minister U E Maung arriving at Delhi airport in September 1949, together with the ambassador to India Sir M.A. Maung Gyi and other Burmese and Indian officials. U E Maung and Sir M.A. Maung Gyi are both smoking cheroots or cigars, something you do not see much at VIP airport arrivals any more.

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General Ne Win in UK 1949

In July 1949, General Ne Win at the UK Foreign Office together with U Hla Maung (then Burmese Ambassador to Thailand) Bo Setkya, and Burmese Ambassador to the UK ("San Shay") U Ohn (who translated for General Ne Win). They were there to meet British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin as part of a week-long visit. General Ne Win then went on to Washington. In 1949, General Ne Win was Deputy Prime Minister as well Commander-in-Chief of the Burma Armed Forces....

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Anti-Government Demonstration in 1949

An anti-government demonstration in 1949 - at the corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Montgomery Street (now Bogyoke Aung San Street). The government then controlled little outside Rangoon and much of the country was in the hands of the Communist Party of Burma, the Karen National Defense Organisation, and various militia. Le Maison Continental (a leading French restaurant) is partly visible on the left, the offices Burma Railways on the right.

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Photograph of Lunch Hosted by President Sao Shwe Thaik in 1949

In 1949, President Sao Shwe Thaik hosts a lunch at Government House in Rangoon. The civil war was then at its height, with the Burma Army battling to regain control of Insein, Twante, Bassein, Henzada, Toungoo, Prome, Mandalay and Maymyo and many other towns from the KNDO, PVOs, Communists, Mujahideen, and others. Peace talks with the KNU had just broken down the day before and in a few days time, WW2 hero Naw Seng with an irregular column would strike...

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Martyr's Day 1949: Civil War Raging, Economy in Ruins, Government Promises 'Peace Within a Year'

The commemoration of Martyr's Day 1949 was held at the Secretariat. Burma was then at the height of its civil war, with much of the country in the hands of the communists, the Karen National Defence Organisation, the Mujahedeen, the PVO, and dozens of other militia groups. The Karens held Insein and the communists controlled most of central Burma from their base at Pyinmana. Half the Burma Army had deserted and the army was down to 12,000 men (against far...

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The Civil War at Its Height in 1949

Nearly all major towns were then in insurgent hands and the government barely controlled Rangoon.  In January 1949, the Karen National Union had just begun its insurrection against the AFPFL government. The Communist Party of Burma under Thakin Than Tun, the "Red Flag" Communists under Thakin Soe, the Mujahideen in northern Arakan, the Arakanese rebels under U Seinda, the "White Band" PVO under Bo La Yaung, and various other militia were already in rebellion.  In March 1949, a combined Communist...

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The First Ever Meeting Between Burmese and American Leaders

On 3 July 1956 Prime Minister U Nu met with President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House. The meeting was at the start of U Nu's two-week tour of the US. U Nu and President Eisenhower said that the two countries "share two fundamental goals, a peaceful world and a democratic way of life" and reaffirmed their "loyal steadfast support for the Charter of the United Nations". Relations had recently been difficult because of US support for KMT forces in...

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