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Jagjit Kohli's story

The bombing of Mandalay

When we talk about World Wars we always think of England, Germany, Russia, America and Japan. The fact is that India and Indians took part in both World Wars and we lost millions and we suffered a great deal, especially in World War 2. We have seen bombing, we have lost thousands of lives and we suffered all those things that other countries suffered.

In addition to these things many people had to walk for months to reach a place of safety.

My grandfather was an ordinary farmer's son in the middle of 19th Century. He was very well educated and matriculated, as a result of which he got a very big post with the Indian Police and was eventually transferred to a post in Burma, which is how my family came there.

He was once given a special award for helping the British Government to make a treaty with the King of Burma and was given a special promotion and made Police Commissioner in the City of Mandalay.

Capital of Burma was Rangoon, but Mandalay was an important administrative unit that controlled the whole of the north of the country and my father was born there and settled down. He served in the British Army for two years then quit to go into business. He set up a cement business and I can tell you that the factory he started is still there. He then went to Punjab and married my mother and brought her back with him to Mandalay and there brought up his family, the three of us being my elder sister and an elder brother and myself.

In 1939 Governor of Burma realised that Japan has started moving towards the middle of Asia. By 1940 Japan was already in Malaysia and the British Governor was trying to keep Burma safe, but the Governor never thought Japan would attack and would be happy with taking Malaysia. So only Rangoon was strongly defended.

In 1940 Britain was losing heavily in Europe, and so in Punjab and Rajasthan young men were being taken into the army to be trained. In 1940 there were just 138,000 in uniform; by the end of January 1941 these numbers had swollen to 1,000,000.

The war all seemed so far away from us in Burma. But suddenly, during the afternoon of 20th of January 1941, 180 to 200 bombers moved across the border and within an hour or so they arrived over Mandalay.

We didn't know what the noise could be. In India we have an insect that flies in its millions and covers the whole sky, swoops suddenly and eats up everything green. The noise of their wings sounds like a continuous humming, and we wondered why were we hearing it in this cold weather?

We were having tea in the garden when we heard the first bombs; for 3 days and nights we were bombed continuously. Central Mandalay was destroyed. We took shelter in the cellar of my father's house and we were there for 7 days.

Mrs Jagjit Kohli
Royal Leamington Spa
10th November, 1994

Jagjit Kohli has written another story about her childhood :

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