Yangon War Cemetery
War cemeteries built and maintained by the British are mostly excellent models of architectural design. Each is usually a neat and tidy place worthy of a visit. To be exact, they are mostly war cemeteries of the Commonwealth and Allied Forces. The Taukkyant War Cemetery, lying 21 miles to the north of Yangon, is well known to both locals and foreign tourists. It is a memorial to about 26,000 war dead. Then there is another war cemetery at Thanbyuzayat in Mon State. It is perpetual home to more than 4,000 war dead, felled by a bullet but mostly by disease while they were building the Death Railway of world renown.
One in Yangon City
Surprise of surprises, there is an Allied war cemetery deep inside Yangon City, unknown to most natives of the city, covering 3.5 acres of land. It is Yangon War Cemetery, just a little off (No. 353), Pyay Road in Sangyaung Township, near the back of Sarpay Beikman Press.
This and the above-mentioned war cemeteries are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, based in Maidenhead, England. Of course, enquires can be made of the Resident Caretaker and staff at each cemetery.
The lone memories of the Westerners, especially concerning their war dead, are always worthy of consideration. It meets their match in Myanmar’s generosity. The public record at the Yangon War Cemetery reads:
“The land on which this cemetery stands is the gift of the Burmese people for the perpetual resting place of the sailors, soldiers and airmen who are honoured here.”
The shape of this cemetery is angular but not an exact square. The main stone gate looks ordinary and lacks a signboard. This is purposely so as those concerned does not actively invite visitors though anyone can go visiting there.
At the centre is a stone memorial called the Cross of Sacrifice about 20 feet high. There is a sword motif superimposed on the cross.
Further back, there is the stone of Remembrance, about 20 feet long. It looks like a big real grave. The inscription on it says: “Their name liveth evermore.”
Strewn all over are, naturally, hundreds of headstones. Between any two of them is a low flower bush. There are some trees but they number just right, and by no means detract from the scenery.
Some war dead were actually buried inside this cemetery, but the headstone, each a perpetual memorial to a soldier felled in sacrifice, is the theme.
There are 1,391 headstones in this cemetery. It is a low rectangle-shaped stone slanting a little forward. On top is the emblem with some inscription which says it all.
As the official name suggests the war dead here are from many nations. They include Palestinians, Nigerians, Rhodesians, Zimbabweans, Britons, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, Frenchmen, Americans, Indians and Myanmars. They also belonged to different faiths. The graves of Muslims face west and those of Buddhist east.
Then the soldiers are rank and file indeed, belonging to every combat arm. They are private, rifleman, corporal, sergeant, signalman, trooper, sailor, aircraftman, fusilier, gunner, sepoy, bombardier, lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, or what not. And any of them could come from Regiment, Unit, Artillery, RAF, HMS, So-and-so, or even Burma Auxiliary Force. Yet, on a headstone, no name can better the expression “A SOLDIER”, which at the same time inspires a longer memory or a deeper reflection in any viewer.
Inscriptions at a cemetery, connected with war or otherwise, have great sentimental value. They usually set the reader thinking. And the inscriptions in this cemetery are no less sentimental or thought-provoking.
Towards one side of the cemetery are four rows of headstones, perpetual home to 67 soldiers who are “Buried Near This Spot”. They are lying in “Peace, Perfect Peace”.
The soldiers killed were mostly in their twenties and thirties. For them “Brief is Life but Love is Long.” However, a description “A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War” should suit them all. They were servicemen but have since been “Called to Higher Service”. Sometimes the one who had made the supreme sacrifice was unidentifiable. He is just “A soldier”, or “An Officer”, known to no-one but “Known to God”. The soldiers seem to live forever, for the cemetery has the last word for any visitor: “They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old”.
A war cemetery kept by the British is usually a veritable horticultural show, strong on the floral side. If you will, you can visit this cemetery just to view the trees and flowers only. As for trees, there are Swaidaw (Bauhinia acuminate), Tayoke-saga or frangipani (plumeria acutifolia), gold mohur tree, Thawka or the queen of flowering trees (Amherstia nobilis), and bead tree.
As told above, between any two headstones is a small bush of a flowering plant. There are a dozen or so kinds of flowers. They are so planted as not to create monotony and regularly cut to create beauty in a low profile. Apart from the ubiquitous Ixora, there are star wars, the morning glory, zinnias, the belladonna lily, roses, china rose, the yellow oleander, orchids and those of the Kaempferia galanga family.
Anybody may visit this cemetery for study or research purposes, or just to enjoy some quiet and reflective thinking. Picnicking or merry-making is uncalled for. If needs be, help can be had from the Resident Caretaker (Phone: +95-1-531485)