A New Chapter in the Major’s Life


In this excerpt from my Grandfather’s 1927 diary, he writes of his decision to retire from the Army and settle in Upper Burma and build the home for which he has always yearned. He finds a site of great beauty, and Mogok and its small group of Europeans welcome him into their community.


26TH September, 1927. Alice and I arrived this day in Rangoon. For eighteen months I have been on sick leave in England. I am confronted with the fact that my leave ends on the 5th October, and on the 10th I complete twenty-four years in the Army. I am resolved to retire from His Majesty’s Service at the earliest possible opportunity. My family has served it for seven generations with little enough profit. Even on a reduced income I can better myself by living in a more settled and rational way.

I yearn with a great and imperative longing for peace, sunshine and stillness, and for the solitude of the hills. I thirst for leisure — not the leisure of idleness, but for time in which to busy myself with things that matter. Lastly, I want a home, a garden, a library, animals, and a settled place for Alice in which I can bring her up, and in which she will be secure and sheltered if anything happens to me. Such are the considerations which have moved me to this decision. There are difficulties ahead, and they are immediate. I may have to fight for my discharge, for I am well aware the Regiment wants to keep me. I then have to build and furnish a house, and that is no joke.

27th September, 1927. Reached Sagaing. I still have a few days leave in hand, so came here first. Passing through Burma, the thing that strikes me after the hurry of Europe is its blessed emptiness. The crowds here at the railway stations, and the noises, are small by comparison. O happy land! I am more than glad to be back in it. The Monsoon is shedding its last showers, and the country is wet and green, with a fresh loveliness. In Lower Burma there is the flat green of the rice fields, and in Upper Burma the green scrub is a foil to the dignity of the great Raintrees, Tamarinds and Gold Mohurs. The Tamarinds surpass themselves in beauty amidst the quiet ruins of Amarapura. The Irrawaddy is in magnificent flood, and the crossing to Sagaing was truly beautiful.

BURMA HOL Irrawaddy Sunset

The Deputy Commissioner of Katha with whom lies the gift of land in Mogok, has wired me to say he has ordered the local people to meet me in Mogok, so I am to proceed there by steamer on the 29th.

29th September, 1927. Mandalay to Mogok. The mail boat left at 6 a.m. on its up-river voyage. All the sensations of Burma are re-tasted. It seems like a dream, all so familiar and dear, and yet I feel I am not taking it all in as I should. I am rusty now in Burma. The stories of the pagodas are hazy in my mind. The legends of the birds are half forgotten. But then it is, after all, four years since my days here of Recruiting, and I have been little in Burma since that time. My mind also is befouled with materialism, and needs to be cleansed in the tranquility of the wooded hills.

We reached Thabeikkyin at tea time. A car was awaiting us, and we drove through the sunset and dusk, reaching Mogok at 7 p.m. So Mogok, which is supposed to be rather remote, is, in fact, only thirteen hours travel from Mandalay. Nor is it travel in a hot train. Instead you pass the time lying late abed over morning tea while the pagodas pass in review, and the timber rafts float slowly by. All the morning from a deck chair you may watch the great monsoon clouds pile up over the distant mountains till the Irrawaddy closes in to its long passage through the Third Defile. Later from the car, while the shadows lengthen, you pass through splendid forests, and creep up from the valleys to the great hills. The last time I saw teak forests they were dry and leafless. Now they are in their full glory of leafage. The road is in excellent condition. The Rains are still on, and Mogok has just had one of its wet spells. It is deliciously cool, and there are no mosquitoes, flies, or dust. The old ruby mines have now been abandoned and have turned into lakes, so that Mogok’s ancient sores are healed, and replaced by a new beauty. As I lie abed, I listen to the almost audible silence, and thank God for it.

30th September, 1927. Mogok. A clerk from the office of the Sub Divisional Officer (S.D.O) called on me at 7 a.m., so we went off to inspect possible sites. 1935_03There is only one which fulfills every condition of which I ever dreamed. I can find no fault with it, and to think that it will soon be my own, my very own for life! This site is to the east of the water reservoir, and occupies a long spur of hill with valleys on each side. If I take up some three acres on this spur, no one will be able to build in front of me, or indeed anywhere near me. So there is the quietude I require, and yet the town and market are only half a mile distant behind me. The ground is clothed with low shrubs, and in many places granite outcrops come to the surface. The whole area slopes very gently, giving scope for something original in the way of a landscape garden. Lastly there is a magnificent view up the Mogok Valley towards limestone and granite mountains which are 7,000 feet high — Mogok is at 4,000 feet. There is a touch of wildness in the peaks. In the near distance, and to the right, is a wooded hill with a pagoda spire rising from the foliage, and beyond it the lakes of Mogok. The only house close by is the Circuit House, (a Guest House, usually meant for temporary residential accommodation for visiting Government high officials). It is across the ravine and can soon be hidden with quick-growing cherry trees.

There does not appear to be any difficulty with regard to the lease of ninety-nine years. Other people crowding into the “residential quarter” have hitherto neglected this ideal site. The problem of building is more difficult, and I have veered all day like a weathercock to the various opinions expressed. Mr. Morgan, the Manager of the Ruby Mines, was wholly pessimistic. The two Forest Officers were unhelpful. Billy Wemyss, a member of one of the county families, is anxious to secure a contract, and is likely to be useful, though Blake, a forest expert who is himself building here, advises me to do the construction myself.

1st October, 1927. Mogok. This evening the Club gave a little dinner and dance to which Alice and I were invited. It afforded me the opportunity of meeting everyone. Twenty-nine people were present, which is as much as Mogok can assemble. The atmosphere is kind and friendly. Blake in particular is charming, and Major Nolan, a nice old fellow, and his daughter Mrs. Bacon, were gracious and hospitable.

And now a new chapter opens in my life.