Names, Faces, Memories.

 

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THE BURMESE CONNECTION

 

Foreword by Trevor STUBBERFIELD 52A Arborfield AAS

 

February 1952 saw the start of a new chapter in the story of the Arborfield Army Apprentices School.  Intake 52A included the first of the Burmese apprentices and this was to be repeated in several successive intakes.  We had five lads, Aung Myint Thein, Myint Shwe, Ohn Thwin, Tin Ohn, and Tha Win.  Mystery surrounded them and even today, many years on, there is a feeling that we never knew the full story.

It was apparent right from the start that they had already undergone some military training, possibly at a military school, much as in the UK we had the Duke of York's Royal Military Academy or the Gordon's Boys School.  What was more difficult to gauge was their ages.  They were very much a mixture, some tall and well built, almost adult, whilst others were very small in stature but not child-like. 

We have to remember that these were lads, thousands of miles from home, who were going to undergo technical training in, for them, a foreign language.  Surely an undertaking that would daunt many older soldiers.  That they were specially selected was shown by one, Ohn Thwin, who at the end of the three year apprenticeship was awarded several accolades, namely, Best Progress in Education (Senior Division), Trade Prize for Telecommunication Mechanics, Chief Instructor's Cup for Technical and Educational Ability.  The Burmese lads themselves admitted that this may have been due in some small way to the novelty effect, but those who knew them would not totally accept that.  They appeared to all intents and purposes, a hand picked squad of lads.

They were monitored very closely by the Burmese Embassy, who looked after their cultural needs.  Food was supplied to them and tales abound of them getting together for a cook-in.  They were greatly appreciative of the help and friendship that they received from the British lads, many of whom took them into their homes for short leaves and weekends.  The hospitality was returned to anybody who could get up to London on leave by being taken to a Burmese restaurant for a meal and then being entertained by the staff at the Burmese Embassy, often including the Ambassador himself.

It is not intended that these pages should be a technically correct history of the Burmese Apprentices, others will have recorded that side of them.  Here we hope to record some of the more human tales and many of the faces from those days, and to that end we welcome any contributions from readers of their personal experiences with the Burmese lads. 

We also have to remember that there were intakes of the Burmese lads at Chepstow and Harrogate Army Apprentices Schools and recollections from those establishments would be welcome here.

The Closed Door policy of the Burmese, or Myanmar, Government has made contact with our friends almost impossible but some news does trickle through.

 

 

Published: 1st April 2007

Revised: 1st August 2009

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