Life and Times of Capt. Dau Hkawng: Champion Marksman

Capt. Dau Hkawng is one who clearly deserves to be in the Burma Army competitive shooting hall of fame. He dominated the sport, winning championship after championship title atinter-regimental competitions at home and abroad, spanning a period of over 2 decades from British colonial times to the early days of independence.

Dau Hkawng left home at the age of 16 to join the army, following in the footsteps of many young Kachin men of his time seeking advancement and adventure through service in the regular army. For them, it was an opportunity to earn a steady income, see the world, and in some cases, become literate. Recruitment of Kachins into the British Indian Army began with the outbreak of the First World War, and many Kachins servedwith honor and distinction in the Mesopotamia CampaignMasawplamia to the Kachins (1914-1918), followed by the Kurdistan War (1919) and the Malabar Rebellion in India (1921).

Dau Hkawng enlisted on July 23 of 1926 with the 10th Battalion of the 20th Burma Rifles (10/20th), a training unit at Maymyo. Upon completion of the 7 month recruit training, he was attached to the 2nd Battalion of the 20th Burma Rifles (2/20th), and served with the unit for about 2 years at Lansdowne, India. He was then sent back to the 10/20th to train new recruits, during which time he underwent a Physical Training Course at Ambela, India. He finished the course with a first class certificate, and returned to the 10/20th as its PT instructor.

After about 3 years with the 10/20th, he rejoined his mother unit, the 2/20th, at Tai Ping, Malaya (Malaysia). When he arrived at Tai Ping on July 13, 1933, the unit officers told him how glad they were to have another sportsman joining the battalion. Dau Hkawng was indeed an accomplished sportsman – an acclaimed footballer and champion small arms shooterWhile in Malaya, he competed at Rifle Meetings in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, snagging at least 16 trophies during the 2 years he was there. Dau Hkawng apparently found favor with his sports loving superiors, for one of them, Capt. L.R. Phillips, gave him a radio to listen to, and console himself at a time when he was feeling despondent over news of the deaths of his mother and infant daughter back home.

By 1935, he was back in Burma, stationed at Mandalay, continuing to compete and win at every shooting event. He was also his battalion’s small arms shooting instructor, having completed a course in India with a first class certificate. Following Burma’s independence in 1948, his regiment was absorbed into the new Burma Army, becoming the 2nd Kachin Rifles. Capt. Dau Hkawng continued to compete and win at the Burma Army annual small arms shooting competitions. At one such meet, he and Lt. Dashi Gam, competing in the rapid fire revolver team category, took first prize with a total of 152 points, hitting 2 moving targets within 2 seconds using 2 bullets.

Capt. Dau Hkawng’s army career is remarkable not only because it showcased his sharp shooting talents, but more so because it provides a glimpse into a period in Burmese history that can only be described as cataclysmic. He was in the thick of action during the Japanese occupation and subsequent Allied Campaign to retake Burma (1942-1945), and the chaotic years after independence when the country was nearly torn apart by a myriad of insurgencies (1948-1951).

When the Japanese incursion took place on January 18, 1942, Jemadar (Lt.) Dau Hkawng was on duty with his platoon at an outpost near Moulmein. As the invasion had been anticipated farther north in the Shan States, not through the Moulmein-Mergui Front, the British were caught off guard, and the Japanese were able to easily penetrate their defenses. A hasty withdrawal to Mergui, 157 miles down south, was ordered. From there, Dau Hkawng and men of his regiment were evacuated by ship to Rangoon. But since a direct route was no longer possible, they had to sail first to King Island (Kadan Kyun), before heading for Rangoon. When they finally arrived at Rangoon on January 28, they were met by a big welcoming party at the jetty, and the Anglo and Indian officers were treated to a big dinner reception at Jubilee Hall that night.

Soon, with the Japanese invasion in full swing and the British scrambling to regroup, Jemadar Dau Hkawng found himself shuttled from one Front to the other in the next 2 months or so. First sent to Moulmein from Rangoon, and then to the Pegu Yoma/Range to take up defensive positions as part of a commando platoon led by Lt. KD Banks, before being ordered back to Prome, the temporary Column Headquarters. From there, it was retreat up country through Meiktila and Mandalay, all the way to Bhamo, Myitkyina.

These military maneuvers were hazardous to say the least, as the Japanese now had the upper hand. The train to Moulmein was strafed by Japanese fighter planes. At the Pegu Yoma, the platoon ran out of rations and had to go without food for about 5 days. They were then ordered back to Prome as the Japanese were now rapidly advancing north, and in great force. On the way back, while resting at the Paungde police station after a night-long march covering about 45 miles, they found themselves encircled by Japanese troops early the next morning. They had to break through the Japanese cordon with guns blazing, losing 6 of the men as a result. At Meiktila, Dau Hkawng narrowly escaped being killed in a Japanese air raid that killed many civilians. From there it was withdrawal by rail with the 9th Burma Rifles to Mandalay, where they found the town totally devastated, almost burned to the ground. After spending 3 nights at the Mandalay jetty, it was by boat to Bhamo on April 24th. The slow moving steamer, powered by firewood as charcoal was no longer available, was continually harassed by Japanese reconnaissance planes as it chugged its way up the Irrawaddy.

The steamer docked at Bhamo on May 2, 1942, just days ahead of a Japanese Division advancing from Nam Hkam in Northern Shan States. At that point, with the Burma Rifles men breaking up into small units, Jemadar Dau Hkawng led a group of 8 other Kachins to make the trek up to Myitkyina. Along the way, they met up with their Commandant Lt. Colonel R.M. Jacob at Sinlum Kaba, who told them it was too hazardous for them to make the withdrawal to India, that they were to go home with their weapons and await the return of the British in about 3-6 months.

When the first expedition of General Wingate’s special forces, the Chindits, entered Burma in February 1943, Dau Hkawng was summoned by the No. 2 Column to be in the Bhamo area by midApril. He reported to the Column Commander Capt. DC Herring, but by May, the Chindits had been withdrawn back to India, and he returned home to his village of Lahkam, about 5 miles northeast of Kutkai town in northern Shan States. A few days later, he was summoned to report to the Japanese command post at Kutkai. He escaped imprisonment only by managing to convince the Japanese that he knew nothing of the Chindits as he had parted ways with the British since 1942. But in reality he remained active, and on October 7, together with other ex-Burma Rifles men, rescued 77 Indian Sikh soldiers captured on the Moulmein Front and brought to Kutkai as POWs.

As the Allied Campaign to retake Burma gathered speed, British intelligence unit Force 136, and US Detachment OS-101 were busily recruiting Kachin levies for the fight against the Japanese. In December 1944, Lt. Dau Hkawng met up with Capt. Kumje Tawng (M.C.) and others of Force 136 who had parachuted in near Kutkai from India. He was given command of a Company of the newly formed Force 136 levies, and fought on until March 7, 1945, when the territory that the Kachin fighters had liberated – all of Upper Burma from Meiktila northwards – was handed over to Allied forces.

After the defeat of the Japanese, Burma was declared independent on January 4, 1948. But the country came under threat almost immediately from a number of insurgencies. The strongest and most prepared were the Red Flag and White Flag communists and the KNDO (Karen National Defence Organization). The situation became so dire that the new administration led by Prime Minister U Nu, under siege in the capital city, was being derisively referred to as the “Rangoon Government”.

It was during this time that Sama Duwa Sinwa Nawng, U Nu’s right hand man on Kachin affairs, flew up to Myitkyina to consult with Kachin military leaders, asking for their support to put down the rebellions. It was decided to summon all Kachin war veterans and retired military personnel and expand the existing 2 units of the Kachin Rifles to 5. And so it was that Capt. Dau Hkawng and men of the Kachin Rifles were air lifted from Myitkyina to Rangoon to stave off the rebellions that were threatening to tear the country apart.

When the Kachin units arrived in Rangoon on August 18, 1948, they saw a long convoy of lorries carrying defectors from the 3rd Battalion Burma Rifles leaving their barracks to take up arms against the government. No action was taken as orders had not yet been given to contain the situation. It was only about a week later that the order to go after them was received, and the Kachin troops caught up with them at Hmawbi, and engaged them in battle, killing 8 and capturing a cache of arms. After that, Capt. Dau Hkawng was at the Thaton Front until his unit was transferred to Moulmein.

When the 2nd Kachin Rifles arrived at Moulmein on Sept 19, 1948, they found KNDO and MNDO (Mon) flags flying all over the place as the groups had taken control of the town’s entire administration apparatus. But the need to engage them in battle was avoided as they readily relinquished their positions once the Kachin troops arrived. The KNDOs were strongly encamped in the surrounding areas of Thaton, Bilin, Kyaikto, Pa-an, and Pa-pun, but no battles ensued since the KNDO had not yet been declared a rebel force.

From Moulmein, the 2nd Kachins were urgently called back to Mingaladon with news that the KNDOs had captured the Insein/Mingaladon area. Fierce battles raged from February 10 to April 30 of 1949, leading to the recapture of the suburbs of Kamayut, Thamaing, Hkawoi Chan, Gyogon, and Sawbwagyigon from the KNDOs. The Kachins then handed over control of the Insein Front to the 2nd Chin Rifles.

On June 14, 1949, Capt. Dau Hkawng was ordered to take up duties as Forward Column Commander to combat the KNDOs on the Thaton Front. After negotiations with the KNDO to lay down arms failed, hostilities began on June 22 and continued until the 26th, when Thaton was retaken. Capt. Dau Hkawng and the 2nd Kachins next saw action on the Daik-U Front on the Rangoon-Mandalay Road where the communists and the KNDOs had a strong presence. With their Tactical Command HQ at DaikU, the 2nd Kachins retook Pyundaza and Nyaunglebin towns in November 1950. While other units moved on to the Taungoo Front, the 2nd Kachins made their Battalion HQ at Nyaunglebin, and stayed on to guard the area.

In January 1951, acting on intelligence that the biggest stronghold of the White Flag communists was located at a place called Wami in the Pegu Yoma, Capt. Dau Hkawng led Company A of the 2nd Kachin Rifles to smash the camp. In an operation that lasted from January 9 to 14, the men were able to overrun the communist camp and demolish it without suffering any casualties. A large cache of weaponry was captured, and over 30 barracks, a number of storehouses, printing presses and wireless sets were destroyed. The wily communist leader Thakin Than Tun however, managed to slip through their hands, carried out as a corpse in a funeral procession replete with mourners solemnly striking Kyeezis, or brass triangular gongs.

Capt. Dau Hkawng was honored with the Sithu award for his part in the military campaign that quelled the rebellions threatening tobreak up the Union. He retired from the army on August 13, 1959, with a feeling of relief that he no longer faced the danger of losing his life at hostile hands, a sentiment no doubt shared by many like him who had seen intense combat.

Capt. Dau Hkawng spent his retirement years devoting his time and energies, and the major part of his gratuity fund to help establish the new settlements of Chya Hkrau, Jebu and Loi Seng in the Kamaing Township area. The new villages were to settle Kachins migrating from Northern Shan State in search of more fertile farmland and better livelihood opportunities. Capt. Dau Hkawng was also the driving force behind efforts to create a writing system for Lhao Vo, the language of his ethnic sub-group within the Kachin, and the translation of the Bible into Lhao Vo.

 

Source:

Capt. Dau Hkawng’s hand-written autobiography in Kachin.