Lone Spur – A Miraculous Survival

Introduction

???????????????????????????????????????????My Grandfather, Major Enriquez, believed it was in answer to his prayers that the Monteiro family, fleeing the 1942 bombing of Rangoon, arrived in Mogok. The Major was to leave Lone Spur within a few days to take up his post as Assistant Commandant in the Mandalay Battalion of the Military Police. He desperately needed someone to move into his home and take care of it while he was away. Emily Monteiro, his son-in-law’s sister, and her family were now homeless. The Major gladly took them in, asking that they look after Lone Spur for as long as he was away. They were to take in any others who needed refuge.

My cousin Valerie Monteiro was nine years old at the time. She remembers Lone Spur and the three years she, her family and twenty-five other refugees spent in the house throughout the Japanese Occupation.

Her depiction of the house and its gardens is important in that it is the only full description on record of Lone Spur — a mansion that was so celebrated in its time that at one point its location appeared on maps of Burma. Visitors to Burma, and Mogok in particular, made it a point to call on The Major and to see Lone Spur. During the war, various Japanese detachments in Mogok used the house as their headquarters and their presence assured protection from raids by the Burma Independence Army (BIA).

When the war came to an end in 1945, to the great relief of my Grandfather, he returned to find Lone Spur almost as he had left it. It turned out that it was the only European residence in all of Burma to have survived the war intact with its furnishings.

The Monteiro Family played their part in bringing about this miracle.

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VALERIE’S NARRATIVE

My memories of Lone Spur begin with an important visit we paid Major Enriquez in January, 1942. The Japanese were advancing rapidly north and the Major was to leave for Mandalay. Mum and I with my little brother Colin, walked up the hill to the back gate of Lone Spur. The cherry trees were in full bloom in the driveway. Flowers blossomed everywhere in the terraced gardens and around the house.

We were ushered into the splendid drawing room. Oriental statues were everywhere and a large golden Buddha sat on the grand piano. A life-sized portrait of an elderly man looked down sternly from the walls. [This was Sir Theophilus John Metcalfe, the Major’s favorite Uncle.] There were photographs and ornaments on the mantelpiece and tables. Above the beautiful white marble fireplace was the motto: ‘Be At Thy Ease’.

Major Enriquez was in his late fifties, a tall, lean man with untidy eyebrows, ruddy cheeks and a reddish moustache. Courteous and hospitable, he exuded charm and had a great sense of humor. Although I was a child, I got the feeling that nothing escaped his shrewd eyes. He gave Mum lengthy instructions about the care of Lone Spur and his precious collections.

Lone Spur was a large, ranch-type wooden building, painted dark brown with “earth oil”, presumably as a protection against termites. It’s charm lay in its spaciousness and beautiful setting. It had a magnificent view of the hills and its gardens must have been one of the glories of Mogok. There were 18 rooms, including the bathroom and toilet. The wooden floors were polished and there were windows all around. The house faced east and the morning sunshine streamed into the lounge and into Major’s bedroom.

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Major had buried his most precious objects d’art under the chicken-house before he left. [See “Burma Invaded”, entry for February 1st, 1942 regarding the burying of the treasure.] But there were still lots of valuable items all over the place, on shelves and in boxes. Wooden chests containing various precious things lined the walls of the formal dining room. The chests had cushions on them and were used as seats. At the entrance of the library was a golden statue of Ma Nemi, a “Nat” [spirit] with a little top knot. Major had written a poem about her, entitled “The Legend of Ma Nemi”. We children were told the statue was “very powerful” — that it had magical forces, and we were not to go near it.

In the Library a ceiling–to-floor polished teak bookcase stretched across the room. There was a pile of beautiful carpets in this room and another pile in the annex. The annex was full of costly articles: carved wooden chests, statues, masks, samurai swords, daggers, etc., etc. A frightful head sculpture of a scowling black African with angry, bulging eyes was tucked away out of sight around the corner of the mantelpiece. I got nightmares each time I saw it. Both rooms had fireplaces with mottoes engraved above them. In the annex there was also a “miraculous” gold statuette of the Buddha in a golden shrine — but more of this later.

What I call the “ante-chamber”, for want of another name, also had a fireplace, with the motto: “Be kind at heart”. This was a rather spooky room, dark and full of creepy shadows. Late one evening, my cousin Neville saw a black figure, something like a chimpanzee, come out of this room, dart across the drawing-room and vanish under the statue of Ma Nemi.

The servants’ quarters were spacious and housed the numerous Eurasian refugee families that descended on Lone Spur in the early years of the war.

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Lone Spur was built on one of the spurs that jutted from the hills that held the town reservoir. To the right of the house, on an adjoining spur was Circuit House where officers of the British Raj, such as District Commissioners and Visiting Magistrates, stayed when on tour. The house stood on a terraced hill planted with beautiful flowers. Along with the garage it occupied the whole of the first level. Under the bedroom windows the grounds were filled with flowers — zinnias, phlox, snapdragons, hollyhocks, carnations, asters, and marigolds. On a pergola at the side of the smaller dining room were masses of pink tea roses. Just inside the back fence were beds of glorious dahlias.

The second terrace was a place of enchantment — flower beds in every nook and corner. The gorgeous flowers that flourished in this “second garden” were red and white lilies, gladioli, candytuft, sweet William, chrysanthemums, larkspur, cosmos, salvia, petunias, violets, sunflowers and sweet-peas, to name a few. Among the giant boulders were a couple of huge glazed jars with trumpet lilies. Bushes of golden allamanda grew around a man-made rock pool at one end of this terrace. There was a marble sun dial not far from the summerhouse where the Major wrote his books during the hot summers. On the other side of the summerhouse was a “secret” garden on a little terrace of its own. Yellow lantana grew beside the stone steps which led to this haven overlooking the ravine which marked the end of the spur. Scattered among the boulders were beds of lilies and other flowers.

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I remember sunflowers, bamboo and broom in the “third garden”. From this terrace one could look over the roofs of the wooden and bamboo houses of the town below.

Steep flights of rocky steps, with white daisies growing in the interstices, led from one terrace to another.

To the Japanese, Lone Spur was an oasis in the Burmese wilderness. As they looked at the cherry blossoms, the samurai swords, the dolls and calligraphy hangings, their hearts were filled with yearning for their homeland. Mum lavished her hospitality on them and they became very fond of us. Ordinary Japanese soldiers were barred from entering Lone Spur and only officers visited. These men were well bred and treated us with consideration. I remember them thumping on the grand piano and singing Japanese songs with tears in their eyes. They also missed their children. I happened to be of the same age as Captain Tanaka’s daughter. This poor fellow sat me on his knee and hugged me — much to my annoyance. I’m sure I bore no resemblance to his daughter. I was an unprepossessing child, diffident and tongue-tied, but quite perceptive. On his departure, Captain Tanaka gave me two Japanese blouses, which we later exchanged for three beautiful sapphires.

At one point when the Japanese officers were away, Lone Spur was raided by a unit of the Burma Independence Army (BIA). The BIA soldiers ordered us to line up in the driveway under the cherry trees while they looted the mansion, however, as soon as we saw them approaching, Mum sent word to U Lu Maung, an old acquaintance and an important official in the town’s administration. Lu Maung rushed to Lone Spur immediately and remonstrated with the so-called BIA who called themselves “Freedom Fighters”. We were terrified of what they would do to us. There was no love lost between the Burmese and the Eurasians, whom they considered the bastards and lackeys of the British. They would have murdered us quite cheerfully, taken everything and burnt the house to the ground. While they were turning the house upside down, they came upon the miraculous gold Buddha mentioned earlier. This gave them pause, for they feared the consequences of their actions. Coincidentally, U Lu Maung arrived at that moment and we were saved. All the same, the BIA took armfuls of Major’s precious ornaments, swords and other items which had been stashed away in the formal dining room and the library annex — U Lu Maung himself, walked off with the revered Buddha!

LONE SPUR 6 STONE GARDEN

In 1944, the Allied campaign in Burma was meeting with great success. In the latter part of that year, the Eurasians were rounded up and interned in Mogok Jail, after the criminals has been let loose. Our family, however, was allowed to stay on at Lone Spur, in a caretaker capacity. But we were relegated to the servants’ quarters, while the new Commandant of Mogok, Major Okada, [see “Unwelcome Guest” under Journal Excerpts on this site.] took up residence in the main part of the house. Okada did not belong to the educated officer class. His peasant origins were apparent in his lack of finesse and rude behavior. He had a couple of hens and it was amusing to see him peeping into the chicken-house watching them lay their eggs — ironically in the sandy depression under which Major’s treasures lay buried.

Mogok soon became a regular target of Allied bombs. As the bombing raids increased, it became too dangerous to remain in town and we were given permission to leave Lone Spur.

On 19th March, 1945, less than six weeks after we had moved, the Allies marched into Mogok. We learnt that in the few days between the Japanese retreat and the Allies’ advance, Lone Spur lay empty and had been raided again. Amongst the looter were some Eurasians, who helped themselves to Major’s carpets. These were the very people who had sought protection in Lone Spur. Mum was furious.

We never returned to Lone Spur. I think often of that beautiful home that sheltered us long ago.

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[My grandfather lived in Lone Spur till the night of May 29th, 1965. A fire started in one of the rooms. Although the Major escaped with his life, the house was burned to the ground.

Today, in 2014, the only reminder of the once glorious gardens of Lone Spur is a little stone seat,

LONE SPUR 5 STONE SEAT

 

 

 

 

 

LONE SPUR 3 J AND D

and a flight of stone stairs between the first and second terrace.]

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