Recapturing the memories of 1947 Martyrs’ Day

Bogyoke ShweBy Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

Every year on 19 July, the entire Myanmar nation mourns for their fallen leaders who were brutally assassinated. Seven decades and a year have elapsed since that tragic event. Though Myanmar’s independence was regained without any armed conflict on 4 January 1948, this brutal assassination of its leaders, just a year preceding it, has tainted Myanmar history with blood and loss of its leaders.
Seven decades and a year is a long period in terms of history, during which good and bad events could have taken place. Surely, they did so in Myanmar history. For someone like, the writer of this article, who is now approaching his late octogenarian stage, his memories of the 1947 Martyrs’ Day unfold today.
It was in 1947 that the writer was preparing for the Matriculation examination to be held in March 1948. Brother Director Rev Clementine of St. Peters’ English High School, Mandalay, was in high expectations for all of his 26 pupils to pass the Matric examination with flying colours. Just two weeks before that tragedy took place, the writer and his uncle were planning to come down to Yangon to see the Yangon University with all its affiliating Faculties-Medicine, Engineering, Education, etc. It was the writer’s first visit to Yangon.
Then, all of a sudden, the sad news of the ‘assassination’ was on the radio. So, we took the earliest UBA flight to Yangon. Rather than visiting Yangon University, we went straight to the Jubilee Hall in downtown Yangon, where all the fallen leaders lay in state and were receiving tributes from home and abroad.
They were laid in glass coffins. Bogyoke Aung San’s body was full of bullet holes that instantly killed him. We learnt that among the fallen leaders, some died on the spot, some died on the way to the hospital, and some passed away after some minutes in the hospital. We visited the Jubilee Hall almost every day to mourn.
The writer and his uncle chanted Paritta, especially Metta Sutta, calling upon the fallen leaders to take share in our good religious’ deeds and praying that they would be liberated from such kind of tragedies in their following existences and that Myanmar’s independence would be peacefully regained.
The writer had seen Bogyoke Aung San twice — first, when he came to Mandalay and gave a political talk to the public, second, in a newspaper report on his “Public Address on the Shwedagon Pagoda Platform”.
One other martyr that the writer knew very well was Sayagyi U Razak, the principal of Mandalay National School. Not only the school was close by, Sayagyi U Razak and his family were also our immediate neighbours. Though the writer never attended his school, all activities at Sayagyi’s school had an impact upon his boyhood days. Besides, Sayagyi, his mother, brothers and sisters were Buddhists and good friends of the writer’s mother, brother and sisters.
On the day Sayagyi U Razak was about to depart to Yangon, as he was appointed the Education Minister in Bogyoke Aung San’s Cabinet, he came to our house to say goodbye. He asked the writer to become his P.A. (Personal Assistant). The writer’s mother agreed if the writer wished to be, but he turned it down as he wanted to be free before sitting for the Matriculation exam. So Sayagyi took his pupil Ko Htwe, who is sadly now lying near his master U Razak’s tomb.
When the writer was at Mandalay University College, he learned about U Ba Win, Bogyoke Aung San’s elder brother, who had served at Mandalay Agricultural College before World War II. Like his younger brother. Bogyoke Aung San, U Ba Win was a patriot, upright and outspoken, appreciating English liberal education but against the English colonial rule.
The writer learnt about Deedoke U Ba Cho as the most senior in age and experienced in politics, Myanmar literature and culture. He was the doyen in Bogyoke Aung San’s Cabinet.
The writer appreciated his articles on Myanmar puppets and other performing arts, published in his Deedoke Journal.
Thakhin Mya was a school master in Myoma High School, Yangon. His pupils remarked that he was a good teacher in Maths, English, Burmese and History.
Regarding Mahn Ba Khaing, the writer used to study from his daughter who was a Maths professor at the Institute of Education. He was a successful small and medium businessman with a brokerage centre in his native town, trading in fruits and vegetables and other garden produce.
As for Mongpon Sawbwa Sao San Tun, the writer learned much from his two sons, who were my students in Modern History and Political Science class.
They were outstanding students in the writer’s class — very bright in English and Political Science. They helped the writer in compiling data on the biography of their father.
The writer did have some knowledge of the biography of I.C.S. U Ohn Maung and U Razak’s personal assistant Ko Htwe.
The writer’s memories of the Martyrs’ Day did not end then and there. When he was appointed as the Director General of Fine and Performing Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, he was assigned to the duty of the annual Martyrs’ Day observance and all appertaining duties of the Martyrs’ Mausoleum. For nearly eight years, the writer successfully took the charge of the annual observance of the Martyrs’ Day. Besides, he received the State Guests and newly-appointed ambassadors who came to lay their wreaths and gave homage to our fallen leaders at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum, including several dignitaries and luminaries.
The writer has mixed feelings — happiness and joy to have served his country successfully and have met international figures and leaders, sorrowful and mourning because some of these dignitaries have fallen from power, some assassinated and some passed away. But recently, the writer was overjoyed, because while he was in Malaysia, he heard that Mahathir Mohamed had won a resounding victory in the general election and became the prime minister of Malaysia, after some years of retirement.
His success gives the writer, who is just three years his junior, a wish to receive him again on the roof of the biggest monument in Bagan, where the writer briefed him on the history of the monument and the prime minister listened with interest and jokes, and making his lively, long visit a memorable one.
During General Ne Win’s time, at one of the parliamentary meetings, a proposal was made to compile an official biography of Bogyoke Aung San, which was unanimously supported and approved.
The big task was given to the Department of Myanmar Historical Research, of which the writer was the Director General. The writer and his colleagues began that monumental work, going to libraries, field researches and personal interviews, tapping home and foreign resources, and then began compiling the biography. Although the first manuscript had been completed, many unexpected circumstances cropped up, causing unnecessary delay in publication. A couple of years ago, the typed files were excavated from the heaps of unpublished work at the office of Myanmar Historical Commission. Though some of the compilers are dead, retired or gone abroad, a group, including the writer, is still at the commission.
An official compilation on the Biography of Bogyoke Aung San is now in the hands of his daughter, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor and the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs. It will come out, when it is ready. We have also learnt from the media that a film on the life of Bogyoke Aung San has started to make a good progress.

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