When Colin McPhedran was 11 years old he lived in Burma, son of a Burmese mother and British Oil executive father. Life was good growing up until in 1941 the Japanese invasion of Burma began. The high point in his young life was when the Principal Father of the boarding school he and his brother Robert attended called an assembly to advise the school would be closing down due to an imminent threat of Japanese invasion
The boys returned home with a large amount of enthusiasm for the unexpected freedom granted and for a time life continued on with some restrictions. It soon became apparent it was becoming far too dangerous for them to remain in the small town of Maymyo, not far from the old capital of Mandalay. Plans were made to remove the family to somewhere a lot safer; Mandalay to begin with.
They managed to make the last train out of Mandalay, finally arriving at the small town of Mogaung, after an adventure filled with bridges being blown up once the train has passed, to Japanese planes searching overhead; scary, but from the view point of an 11 year old boy – incredible. They thought Mogaung would be the end of their journey, but sadly it was just the beginning of a journey that was to bring tragedy and death to thousands, over the coming days and months.
It soon became apparent that they would have to, like many others, join a trek out of Burma and into India, a journey of some 500 kilometres and so Colin and Robert set about gathering what supplies they could, for what Robert had estimated as a journey of about 150 miles. Adding to the challenge was the fact the Monsoon season was about to commence and it was a very great concern that the trails would become all but impassable across the mountainous terrain.
But set off they did, with thousands of others, on a trek which was to see his beloved mother and brother Robert perish along the way, and his sister Ethel die just one day after finally being rescued, not far from the Burmese-Indian boarder, and Colin’s life hanging in the balance.
Colin owed his life to Major Alasdair Ramsay Tainsh, a supply officer in the Royal Indian Army Services, a man who had risked his life on many occasions, going into the jungle along the border to rescue many survivors, describing the plight of the McPhedran children, when he found them, as ‘in a dreadful state’.
Beautiful, sad, joyful and reflective, it is a story which is all the better for the telling, will reach out and touch many, bring memories of times past to many, many others and also help fill in some of the myriad of missing pieces of a past that should not ever be forgotten.
Colin McPhedran passed away in Perth in 2010 surrounded by his family, leaving behind him not just an extraordinary, story but an extraordinary legacy.
|Publisher||New South Publications|
|Distributor||New South Books|