The Battle for Mandalay Remembered, 70 Years On

By Zarni Mann 23 March 2015

MANDALAY – Two allied veterans of the Burma Campaign gathered alongside Burmese and foreign officials in Mandalay on Friday to commemorate 70 years since the city was retaken from the Japanese.

Colonel John Douglas Slim, a former soldier and the son of Sir William Slim who, as Commander of the 14th Army in Burma, led the allied resurgence against the Japanese, was among those who honored the fallen during a ceremony on Mandalay Hill.

The British Ambassador to Burma Andrew Patrick, defense attachés of Bangladesh, Britain, India and Australia, and Burma Army official Maj-Gen Soe Htut also attended.

Attendees laid wreaths at the foot of two memorial stones embedded in pillars in the northern chamber of the Sutaungpyei Pagoda on Mandalay Hill. A minute of silence took place to the sound of bagpipes.

The memorial stones are in honor of soldiers from a Gurkha battalion—the 4th Battalion of the Prince of Wales’ Gurkha Rifles—who lost their lives in the storming of Mandalay Hill on 8-9 March, 1945.

“This is a somber moment for me as I miss my comrades who fought side by side with me,” said David Daniels, a 91-year-old veteran who took part in the fierce fighting at Mandalay Hill.

“General Slim ordered us to shoot with care to prevent damage to the pagodas and Buddha images. But the Japanese soldiers, heavily deployed at Mandalay Hill, were hiding behind Buddha images and between pagodas. Many Gurkha soldiers died during the fight to recapture Mandalay Hill,” he explained. “That was the cruelest battle of my life.”

On March 20, 1945, Mandalay was recaptured from the Japanese by troops of the 19th Indian Division. The battles in central Burma, including an allied assault on Meiktila waged in concert with the offensive in Mandalay, were among the most decisive of the Burma Campaign.

Ceremonies to remember those who served in the Burma theatre during the Second World War are held annually at cemeteries in Rangoon, Moulmein, Thanbyuzayat and Meiktila. However, British Defence Attaché to Burma Colonel Tony Stern told The Irrawaddy that Friday’s commemoration was the first held at Mandalay Hill in the 70 years since the allied victory.

Stern said the event had received the support of the Burmese military and the Buddhist committee that manages the site on Mandalay Hill.

“We are very grateful to the [Burmese] people that have preserved these memorial stones here, dedicated to the Gurkha Rifles,” he said.

“The battle was achieved with a great loss of lives from 20 nations and the people of Burma and Mandalay itself. So it is important that we should hold commemorations because such a sacrifice should never be forgotten.”