Hand-to-hand Combat at Migyaung-Ye Town (As Related by Maj. Shan Lone, OBE, MC)

(The battle at Migyaung-Ye took place in the chaotic days when the British were desperately scrambling to withdraw from Burma, after the Japanese army successfully penetrated its defenses through the Moulmein/Mergui front. The British, expecting the Japanese invasion to come farther north through Southern Shan States, had been caught completely off-guard. Maj. Shan Lone was one of a few Kachin officers serving in the British Burma Army at that time.)

On the early morning of May 18, 1942, my Kachin Company, together with Battalion Headquarters, was marching into Migyaung-Ye town (south of Magwe, in Central Burma), where we were to rendezvous with a Frontier Force Company, and take over command from them.

Before our entry into the town, our attention was drawn to the fact that there were Chinese troops in the area, on their way to reinforce the withdrawing Burmese Army, and that their uniforms somewhat resembled that of the Japanese. However, when we got there, there was so sign of any of them. Unbeknownst to us, they had flitted away in the night when the Japanese arrived.

It was pitch dark when our advance platoon was accosted by voices shouting: “We, Cheena – Cheena; friend – friend; no shoot – no shoot!” Thinking they were our allies the Chinese, the point section of my company and others, let themselves be disarmed and herded into a walled compound. So well did their ruse work that we did not resist, thinking we were being checked for our credentials.

However, at the first break of dawn, I discovered to my horror that we had been tricked. I found our Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. B Ruffel, and two other British officers from the Frontier Force Battalion lying on the ground blind-folded, with their hands tied behind them. My men were also ordered to lie down, while several Japanese soldiers ran about, shouting loudly amongst themselves.

As soon as I realized that we had been tricked, I ordered my men in Kachin, to jump up and lash out with their dahs (swords), still strapped to their sides, the minute I gave the command “Go!” The Japanese Sergeant standing near me shouted: “Hey, you! No talk, no talk! Lie Down!” all the time pointing his rifle at me.

Then suddenly there came a loud piercing cry from the upper floor of the house. Evidently, someone had been shot, for it was the cry of a man in his death throes. It was our assumption that an officer had been shot and killed.

At that moment, C Company of our battalion started firing with their Bren guns into the compound, not knowing we were trapped inside. They yelled: “Charge! Charge!” firing as they ran into the compound. There was complete mayhem and confusion all around.

I then shouted: “Fight! Fight!” in Kachin, and my men jumped up and soon engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese. I then ran and cut Col. B. Ruffel loose. I found to my horror that Capt. Edgeley of the Frontier Force had already been bayonetted, while the other Frontier Force Officer, whose name I do not recall, had escaped unhurt. In the melee that ensued, we killed five Japanese with our dahs and bayonets. My men then ran out of the compound shouting to each other to regroup outside.

I at once organized a counter attack. With the Bren gun I had picked up from a dry gully, I began firing at the Japanese who were attacking some my men running up a slope towards the main road. Col. Ruffel crept up behind me and asked where the Japanese were. I pointed to a bush behind a tall tree about 50 yards away, where a section of Japanese soldiers were firing at us. He told me to keep it up, giving me a pat on the back, and then vanished. That was the last I saw of him throughout the whole campaign.

Later, when we had regrouped about three furlongs off the main road, I found that about 11 of my men were missing. Evidently they had been shot and killed during the melee earlier in the compound. We then withdrew towards Magwe town, about six miles up the road. We were machine-gunned and bombarded with mortars all the way to Magwe. Three of my men were killed by this bombardment.

On May 19, 1942, we again escaped encirclement from a Japanese roadblock at Yenangyaung Crossing, north of Magwe town. The roadblock was however reopened after intense artillery and mortar bombardment by Allied Forces. This was to be our last battle with the Japanese. Our battalion then withdrew to Ye-U town and thence to Tamu through the Chin Hills, finally reaching India on May 24, 1942.

I was awarded the Military Cross (M.C.) for gallantry during the battle at Migyaung-Ye. I later learned that on the strength of my testimony, Capt. Edgeley’s father, a sitting judge in England, filed a strong protest with the International Court on the treatment of prisoners of war by the Japanese, stressing that his son had been bayonetted while blind-folded and held a prisoner.