The British Unsung Hero of Burma

Major Hugh Paul Seagrim

Major Hugh Paul Seagrim

For all the heroes that became famous, there are just as many that did heroic deeds which, for them, was their duty. One of them, British Major Hugh Paul Seagrim, dedicated his life to resisting Japanese forces when they invaded Burma.

Seagrim was born in Hampshire, England in 1909. He was schooled at Norwich and then joined the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. In 1929 he obtained a commission in the British Indian army. He was sent to Burma and before long was accepted by the Karens, forming close friendships.

British in Burma

Burma, now called Myanmar, is situated west of Laos and Thailand in Southeast Asia. It was a colony of Great Britain from 1886 until 1948. The different major ethnic groups living in Myanmar are Burmans, Karen, Shan, Chinese, Mon, and Indian.

Most Indonesian countries regarded the British as haughty foreigners, who looked down on the native peoples while exploiting their land. They were pleased to find none of those traits in Seagrim.

He discarded his uniform, grew a beard and due to the sun his skin turned brown. The Major was always identifiable due to his extreme height of six feet four and earned the nickname “Grandfather Longlegs” from his men. He was a calm, grounded man who always put his men first and was kind to everyone.

Stuart tank advancing on Rangoon

In 1940, the Japanese invaded Burma, with their objective being the conquest of India. Over three hundred thousand British soldiers were forced to withdraw. Seagrim, however, stayed and fought.

The Burmans had their own Independent Army, which sided with the Japanese against the Karen, who possessed only crossbows for protection. Seagrim and his men hid in the jungle and obtained food and weapons when they could. Forced to move around to keep out of reach of the Japanese, they slept in crude bamboo huts and often had to eat rats. The Major was a man of faith and held a daily prayer service for those whose families had been converted to Christianity by missionaries in the 1800s.

After about a year of guerrilla warfare, the Japanese were aware of Seagrim and his men. Having by then lost their ability to wage war, they spied on the Japanese and relayed information to the British in India. Seagrim begged for reinforcements but to no avail.

The frustrated Japanese began attacking the Karen villages to flush the Major out of the jungle. One of their victims finally gave in after horrendous torture and revealed the location of the guerrilla army. As many as three hundred Japanese soldiers closed in on the area, but Seagrim and his men escaped.

Japanese firing squad

Rather than put the Karens in any more danger, the Major decided to surrender. He was taken to the “Rangoon Ritz,” a notoriously brutal prison. All through his captivity, the Major kept his poise, good humor and ability to walk with his head held high. He pleaded for the lives of his men, pointing out that he was the spy, not the Karens. When Seagrim refused to do what the guards told him, he did so courteously. He would not bow or show any submission but did so without animosity. Just his presence buoyed the spirits of the other prisoners.

After being sentenced to death by a Japanese tribunal, and ordered to dig their own graves, Seagrim and seven of his men were executed on September 22, 1944, as they were singing a hymn.

Seagrim posthumously received the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire; the Distinguished Service Order and the George Cross.

The medals are on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military in the Movies – 

General admission – Private showing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Kenneth Adams – Cincinnati, OH; US Navy, WWII

John Bauer – Furth, BAV; US Army, WWII, ETO & Nuremberg Trials, MIS Interpreter “Richie Boys”

Harold Dawson – Bartow, FL; US Army, WWII

Allen Glenn – Great Mills, MD; US Navy, ATC, Vietnam, Desert Shield & Desert Storm

Gerard Gorsuch – NYC, NY; US Navy, WWII & Korea

Bonnie Jackson – Edgar, AZ; US Army Air Corps,WAC, WWII

Jack Moyers – Denver, CO; US Navy, WWII, pilot

Christina Neigel – Verendrye, ND; Civilian, Red Cross, WWII

Robert Sommer – Woodstock, IL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, B-17 gunner

Frederick Wheeler – Concord, MA; Civilian, WWII, ETO, ambulance driver

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on January 10, 2019, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 129 Comments.

  1. I fear we’re not producing such men these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Musings of a Penpusher and commented:
    Bravery can so often result from extreme cruelty; and there was more than enough cruelty in those fields of conflict of which you write.

    Men such as Major Seagrim must remain an inspiration; thanks to you and your painstaking research. The manner of his death, and those who caused it, have long been consigned to infamy and conveniently forgotten for the sake of international harmony. We may forgive, but we must never forget, or their sacrifice will have been in vain.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravery can so often result from extreme cruelty; and there was more than enough cruelty in those fields of conflict of which you write.

    Men such as Major Seagrim must remain an inspiration; thanks to you and your painstaking research. The manner of his death, and those who caused it, have long been consigned to infamy and conveniently forgotten for the sake of international harmony. We may forgive, but we must never forget, or their sacrifice will have been in vain.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderful story. I will never understand the desire to conquer other countries.

    Like

  5. Not just a hero, G, but an unusual and caring man, the type of person I would like to know. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful story and biography

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such bravery is not often recognized. Thank you for this posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post! I love biographies!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Touching account. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. An amazing story. Major Seagrim’s story has a number of parallels to the story of Dietrich Bonhöffer.
    https://56packardman.com/2018/04/09/dietrich-bonhoffer-martyred-9-april-1945/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember reading about Mr. Bonhoffer, but I appreciate you bringing the story here. That generation produced some exceptional people and some downright evil ones.

      Like

  11. Well that story brought tears to my eyes. I had never heard of Major Seagrim. He sounds like an incredible man.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a fine example and inspiration he would have been to the rest of the men. I admire his strength coated with humility.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I was amused by his nickname, and touched by the mention of his kindness. Being kind to others in the midst of difficult and trying circumstances is its own kind of heroism — one that could be practiced by everyone today. Should be practiced, in fact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is for that reason I’ve said to other readers that losing a man like the Major was a loss for the world. We lost far too many people with those principles back then, maybe that’s our problem today.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. That picture of the Japanese firing squad is iconic. Captured Indian soldiers sat crossed-leg while the Japanese used them for target practise. This is the “before” picture. I’ve also seen the “after” pictures – one with the Indian soldiers crumpled, and another where the Japs go among the dead and dying and stabbing the fallen with bayonets.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. How terribly tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. An incredible man. Inspiring.

    GP, I found this link to download ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’.

    https://yifyddl.com/movie/they-shall-not-grow-old-2018

    I recommend the 1080p download. It takes longer, but the resolution is better.
    An amazing documentary.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. and THAT is true heroism.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Great man. I’m glad you feature his story. I don’t believe he would have been caught by the Japanese but surrendered to save others. What a loving move.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. XIV …

    Brit Fourteenth Army and its long hard slog. A lot of resentment in the ‘Forgotten Army’ and for bloody good reason. Unsung heroes?

    My paraphrasing, but words to the effect of—

    “When you go home
    Tell them of us, and say
    For their tomorrow—
    We gave our today”

    —as if anyone gives or gave a damn.

    Thanks for the post, GP …

    Liked by 2 people

  20. An amazing chap. I am thinking there are still heroes in our Armies, we here of ours now and again and I should think it’s the same over your way. I hope they don’t get forgotten as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. The Forgotten Fourteen Army.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. A man of the calibre of Major Seagrim being given the Order of the British Empire is so ironic. Nowadays it’s given to pop stars such as the Beatles, time serving civil servants and faithful party members. The George Cross is so much better as it is at least the second highest award after the George Medal even though it is “awarded for services not quite so outstanding as those which merit the George Cross”. The Distinguished Service Order is awarded for “meritorious or distinguished service during wartime, typically in actual combat.” so that’s a good fit. Until 1993 only officers could win it, but that’s a different issue.

    How I wish we could use the examples of men like Major Seagrim as role models in our schools, men who value all human beings, irrespective of who they are, and men who care so strongly about others. They are qualities you don’t come across too often and our world would be so much better if everybody had them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for explaining the British medals, John. And I totally agree with you that we should have more heroes such as the Major. Sports figures and radicals seem to have taken over that role (how that ever happened I’ll never know!)

      Like

      • Thank you for the account of Hugh Seagrim’s life.
        I learned that his brother Derek was awarded the Victoria Cross, posthumously.
        Such fine, courageous men.

        (To be accurate, the Beatles and many like them have been awarded the MBE [Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire]; the OBE [Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire] ranks higher.)

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_British_Empire

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for that information. I have often felt that by giving the MBE to entertainers sort of reduced the significance of the award, but that’s just my opinion. Men like the Major are rather difficult to come by.

          Like

    • Actually the George Cross is higher than the medal.

      The cross is usually reserved for Officers, and the Medal for other ranks in the British Services.As are orders such as the DSC and DSM, Cross for Officers, Medal for the rest

      The George Cross and Medals are actually civilian awards the GC is the civil equivalent to the VC

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Moving story. I’m very impressed with how he never lost his values. Wish we had a few more like him today.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Why don’t the history books cover more individuals like the Major? Now there was a role model! Keep the stories coming, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thanks for this excellent story of a true WWII hero.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Sometimes it is so hard for me to grasp how brave some people are. Thanks for sharing this story!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. What an amazing guy. How did he not get noticed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To the British, the CBI was a small war that didn’t affect them. It is basically forgotten about over there. That’s why I was so happy to see Hilary Custance Green write “Surviving the Death Railway.”

      Like

  28. Honour, glory, and highest respect are due for the unsung British hero. We need more of these stories which provide a model for our youth stuck in the quagmire of modern life style.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. That was an interesting and often ignored region during WWII. While it was just a movie, one of my favorite movies about WWII has always been Bridge Over the River Kwai. Purely a work of fiction, the construction of the Burma Railroad, however, was a real horror story for prisoners of war during 1942 – 1943.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, DC. It did put across the idea of pride and duty, even during a war and under those conditions. I wish Hollywood had done more justice to it with fact. Such as, how exactly did the prisoners feel when the Allies bombed that bridge?

      Liked by 1 person

  30. My high school Biology teacher was a veteran of WWII and had fought in Burma—I think I learned more about Burma that year than I ever did Biology—and that might have been the beginning of my love of history—especially that of WWII

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you vey much for this interesting and touching report! Very best regards Martina

    Liked by 1 person

  32. By every definition a remarkable leader, role model, and hero. Thanks, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. “…that did heroic deeds which, for them, was their duty.” That statement includes so many people.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Wow. What a story. What a man. Painful to think of digging one’s own grave.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. What an amazing man. Thanks for sharing, GP! I love the General admission-Private showing comic. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  36. A wonderful story of an unsung hero. There are so many of them who most likely will never be known for their act of bravery during the war. Glad you are posting them, one hero at a time.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. A wonderful story. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Wow, truly a great man. A true hero of the people. Thanks for sharing his story.

    Liked by 3 people

  39. That is true grace and courage, to keep his wits and respect about him. Incredible strength and fortitude. We do not see much of that these days, sadly.

    Liked by 4 people

  40. An incredible story. An incredible man.

    Liked by 2 people

  41. An unsung hero indeed, but at least he received his rightful honours posthumously. We could do with commanders of such calibre in the armies of today.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Humbling to wake up to the celebration of such an honorable man.

    Liked by 3 people

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