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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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Eye Witness Account – Magic on the Burma Railroad

‘One day, the Japanese camp commandant said he had generals coming to visit and that he wanted me to do some magic. He asked what I would need for a trick. I requested an egg. He wrote out a chitty and told me to take it to the cook house. The cook asked me how many I wanted, so I asked for 50. I went straight back to the hut and we had a 49-egg omelette, saving just one for the trick.

Egg-shaped: Fergus Anckorn with the secret of his success

Gus Anckorn 7.egg-trick today

Gus Anckorn
7.egg-trick today

After the war, as a lecturer in subjects including English and economics at West Kent College, Fergus often pepped up his lessons with anecdotes about his extraordinary wartime survival. Now 92, he has decided to record everything in a new book, Captivity, Slavery And Survival As A Far East POW.

‘At the prison camp that night I did the trick for the generals and it all went very well,’ he says.

‘But the next day I was summoned to the commandant’s hut. He was glowering. The chitty was on his desk. He said, ‘You do magic one egg. Where 49 eggs?’ I thought, in ten seconds my head will be rolling across that floor.

‘Out of my mouth came the words, ‘Your trick was so important to me, I was rehearsing all day.’ He nodded and let me go. I couldn’t perform that trick again for 40 years. My knees would knock together even thinking about it.’

FERGUS ANCKORN. With the nurse he married.

FERGUS ANCKORN.
With Lucille, the nurse he married.

 

The Japanese wanted to know how the trick was done, so Fergus showed the commandant how he made a hole in the back of a second eggshell into which he dextrously stuffed the handkerchief. The hollow egg is switched for an intact egg, which is cracked on a bowl, and out plops – not a handkerchief – but yolk and albumen.

Fergus and his twin sister were born in Dunton Green, Kent, in December 1918. Fergus’s father, Wilfred, a writer on The Hotspur, and his mother, Beatrice, instilled in him the moral code of decency, honesty and kindness that helped him survive the war.

On Fergus’s fifth birthday his father gave him a box of magic tricks and he became hooked on the expressions of amazement his family would feign at his childish conjuring. But as Fergus practised, this wonder became genuine and, at the age of 18, he was admitted to the Magic Circle.  ‘For about five years I was the youngest member and now I am the oldest,’ says Fergus. ‘I have joined the Inner Circle of 150 members.’ 

When war was declared in 1939, Fergus joined the Army.

He served in the 118th Field Regiment Royal Artillery and spent the first two years in Britain, preparing to fight a Nazi invasion.  While stationed in Woolwich, South-East London, he contracted pharyngitis and met the love of his life, a pretty, bespectacled nurse called Lucille.

‘I was lying in a ward for two months,’ he recalls. ‘One day, the fellow in the next bed asked if I was engaged. I said, “Good God, no. I haven’t got time for women.” And then Lucille walked into the ward. I quickly added that if I ever did get married, it would be to her.  ‘Lucille and I hit it off straight away. I used to go and talk to her when she was in the sluice cleaning out the bedpans – very romantic.’ 

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Fergus found himself heading to the Far East instead. Just before they departed, the colonel of Fergus’s regiment gave him the then huge sum of £30 to buy magic props, declaring: ‘You’re the only man we’ve got to entertain the troops.’

POWs working on the Thailand/Burma Railroad.

POWs working on the Thailand/Burma Railroad.

 

But on arrival, it was the enemy who were full of surprises. ‘We arrived in Singapore 15 days before it fell,’ says Fergus. ‘My war lasted five days.’  On Friday, February 13, 1942, Gunner Anckorn was driving an armoured lorry just outside Singapore when 27 Japanese bombers swooped out of the sky. ‘There were so many of them, there was no escape,’ he says.

By the time the bombing stopped Fergus had taken a severe blow to the head, his right hand was hanging off and he had a bullet in the back of his left knee. He was found in a ditch and taken to a field hospital, where a surgeon told Fergus his damaged hand would have to be amputated. 

Luckily, when an orderly came round to administer ether he recognized Fergus and cried: ‘You can’t cut his hand off, Sir, he’s our conjuror and a bloody brilliant one, too!’

The next day Fergus woke up in the Alexandra Military Hospital to find he still had his hand but that the hospital had been taken over by the Japanese, who were taking away the staff and shooting them.

From the Daily Mail. co. uk

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor –

article-2169177-13EF191F000005DC-287_306x466

Well, I didn’t read it myself, but my mate knows a bloke who got a mate that’s a mess orderly and he knows a bloke on P party who says…….

 

 

buck.jpg from Muscleheaded

Courtesy of Chris, from Muscleheaded.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Charlie Aldridge – Olive Branch, MS; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI

Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal

Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal

Stanley Atkins – Fort Lee, NJ; US Army, WWII, Africa & CBI, Bronze Star

William Baldwin – Stroudsburg, PA; US Navy, WWII,PTO, USS Batfish & Bass

Angelo DeRosa – Toms River, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI

Mary Dunne – Milford, CT; US Army WAC Nurse Corps, WWII, CBI, 159th Sta. Hosp & 181st Gen. Hosp.

Earl Hayes – San Jose, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI, P-47 pilot

William Kast – San Francisco, CA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, gunnery officer

Duane Oberlin – Ft. Wayne, IN; US Army, WWII, CBI

Donald Peck – Tampa, FL; US Army, WWII, CBI, Bronze Star

Peter Zaharko Sr. – Brooklyn, NY & Delray Bch, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI, 68th Air Service Group, Sgt. Major

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In the Jungle – POWs 3

The CBI Theater of Operations is rarely heard of and Hillary’s posts on the subject deserve attention_________

Green Writing Room

Barry and the men of 27 Line Section, arrived in Singapore in the Autumn of 1941. They spent very little time in that teeming, multicultural city, before being posted into mainland Malaya as an independent unit.

This picture shows some of the men in a very relaxed state in Kota Tinggi. Barry and his Lieutenant were familiar with life in Malaya and unfussy about uniforms and the men adapted quickly to the climate and the work.

27LineS1941_1

They did encounter occasional problems. Barry remembers:

So in late 1941, based at Kota Tinggi in Johore, No. 27 Line Section went on with their job of building telephone lines between the many small headquarters, unmanned but established, “Just in Case”, and the small air strips in Johore and Pahang. I don’t remember much in detail of this period just before the invasion but one incident vividly comes to mind. I was with a small party…

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