The soldiers who fought for Britain in Burma (now Myanmar) in World War Two have often been called the Forgotten Army, but the Burmese who formed part of this army were truly forgotten by the UK in the decades after the war. For the last 11 years, reports film-maker Alex Bescoby, a group of British volunteers has been struggling to find survivors and to help them in the final years of their lives.
The year is 1944, and darkness is falling over the thick jungle of Burma’s eastern hills. Under the dripping canopy, a young Karen man holds his breath as he carefully conceals a landmine in the undergrowth beside a jungle track.
He scrambles up the steep hillside, uncoiling wire as he goes. At the top of the hill, he removes the fuse from a hand-grenade and connects it to the wire. He settles into position and waits.
It doesn’t take long. A cohort of Japanese soldiers – who have been occupying Burma since 1942 – approaches the young man’s position. With the enemy just yards away, he closes his eyes and activates the fuse.
“Oh it was horrible,” he gasps. “So many died. The stones flew up high into the sky and then fell back down.”
Saw Berny, now 94, recounts the story sitting in a wheelchair in his tumbledown little home in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, but he has me hanging on his every word, and feeling as though I’m by his side in the jungle.