I Was There! - In the Nightmare City of Rangoon Today

The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 208, Page 91, June 8, 1945.

The Burmese capital was reoccupied by British forces on May 3, 1945, after nearly three years' occupation by the Japanese. How the once lovely city had been transformed by the enemy to a horror almost beyond belief is told by Arthur Helliwell, the Daily Herald's special correspondent.

The Japanese have left their ugly trademark smeared heavily across the face of this once lovely city – the trademark of filth and degradation and misery they left in their wake across half Burma as we chased them down to the sea.

All the way from the Chindwin we have seen the same thing in their abandoned jungle camps that looked more like pigsties than human habitations. But here in Rangoon, where traces of the city's former beauty still shine through the dirt and decay, the trade-mark of Japanese bestiality is much more horrifying.

The refuse of months is piled up feet high along the broad, tree-lined, sun-drenched boulevards. Gutters are clogged with it and over the whole city there hangs a cloying and nauseating stench that sticks in your gullet – the vile odour of decay.

Rangoon today is a nightmare city – a city where the streets are paved with millions of worthless Japanese currency notes, where beggars squat on piles of paper money and beg for alms, where ownerless buffaloes roam the pavements of a city riddled with loathsome disease.

The still smouldering vaults of the impressive white Bank of India building, the bodies of native looters stabbed to death in a crazy fight for money lie sprawled among the litter of bloodstained Japanese notes.

People who remained here through the Japanese occupation are hungry. The children have that peaked, hollow-eyed look that comes from months of semi-starvation. And when you see them another tragedy of this sad city hits you. In Rangoon today children never laugh or play games. Most of them seem to have forgotten how to smile.

They simply squat and stare with their wizened little faces puckered in bewilderment and once again you recognize another trade-mark of the “sons of heaven” – the stamp of fear.

Reconstruction work has already begun, and out in the dirty river trim Royal Navy minesweepers are weaving to and fro among the gently bobbing sampans, clearing the waterway for the big freighters that will soon come sailing up to Rangoon again with supplies for more Allied victories.

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