The British Empire Library

Heaven-Born in Burma:
Volume 1: The Daily Round
Volume 2: Flight of the Heaven-Born
Volume 3: Swan Song of the Heaven Born

by Maurice Maybury

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by R.J.B and M.L.H.

Volume 1

Mr. Maybury has written a delightful volume of memoirs, which will interest those who have lived and worked in Burma as well as those who have to rely on books and the tales of old Burma hands. The record of Mr. Maybury’s work in Burma, as recorded in the Government of Burma’s History of Services of Gazetted Officers (Rangoon 1941) is very short, even with the official abbreviations expanded: Moulmein Assistant Commissioner (training) 18-11-39 Kawkareik Subdivision ditto, Subdivisional Officer 8- 9-40 This volume explains exactly what Mr. Maybury had to do in these posts. He was indeed one of the “Heaven-Born”, one of the last British Officers to join the Burma Civil Service (Class I), and arrived in Rangoon, with his wife, just after the outbreak of the second world war. After training at Moulmein, the headquarters of the Tenasserim Division, he was posted to the small town of Kawkareik in Amherst District, and assumed authority for all governmental activity in that Subdivision until driven from his post by the advance of the Japanese Army.

Mr. Maybury gives a very lively account of his work as a Sub-divisional Officer, living in an isolated small town which was described by the wife of one of his predecessors as “that dreadful jungly place in the back of beyond”. A daily launch service provided a connection with Moulmein, and the only other European in the subdivision was some forty miles away in a jungle station, where he ran a small teak extraction operation for Steel Brothers. Mr. Maybury had a large area to administer and relied entirely on the support and co-operation of his Burmese staff, particularly the Subdivisional Police Officer at Kawkareik (a Karen) and two Township Officers. During the dry season Mr. and Mrs. Maybury toured extensively, staying in a variety of accommodation. Public Works Department bungalows. Forest Rest houses, and makeshift shelters in remote villages. The work was always interesting and absorbing; it included inspecting local records, levying customs duties, enforcing law and order, supporting Township Officers and local headmen, and taking part in Burmese festivals. At every place he learnt something new about the country and the language, about country customs and beliefs, and the role of the Chinese and Indian communities in rural life. Mrs. Maybury accompanied him throughout these tours, and clearly contributed a great deal to the success of the Subdivisional Officer’s work; not only did she set up house in Kawkareik under very trying circumstances, but she also organised a working party which cleaned and re-equipped the local hospital.

The importance of this slim volume is much greater than this brief description of its contents suggests. Few of Mr. Maybury’s contemporaries have written in such detail about their experiences as Subdivisional Officers, and thus his account complements the memoirs which Mr. Vernon Donnison has edited in the chapter on Burma in The District Ojficer in India 1930-1947 by Roland Hunt and John Harrison (London:Scolar Press 1979). This is an enjoyable book to read, and Mr. Maybury must be encouraged to continue the story in a second volume.

Volume 2

The first volume of Heaven-Born in Burma - The Daily Round, was reviewed in the last issue of The Overseas Pensioner. In this second volume Mr. Maybury describes the prelude to the invasion of Burma, the action that they took there, the shock of the invasion itself, and the events which led to the eventual evacuation. The invasion itself came across the frontier of his area of jurisdiction and is thus an account of his own personal experience.

The problems that faced him on the frontier - the conditions in which Mrs. Maybury and their infant son had to be evacuated from Moulmein, the withdrawal of our troops from British Burma make fascinating reading yet again and leave nothing to the imagination.

He describes in detail the evacuation of the troops and the problems which beset the civilians as well. The destroying of documents and files; the demolition of buildings by the army, and the tragedy of leaving behind an empty town are some of the events in this latest book - a reminder of an era which is thankfully no more.

Truly a remarkable book.

Volume 3

In the third and final volume of the “Heaven-Born in Burma” Series entitled “Swan Song of the Heaven-Born” Maurice Maybury continues the story of his life in Burma after he had to leave there at the end of Vol II. After a spell in exile where he helped to re-construct a government, he returned to Burma in 1945, to a country that had been occupied by the Japanese army and where some of the Japanese surrendered personnel were still living . One reads about the villages that were destroyed and starved by the occupying troops, and surprisingly some that were not. The joy of meeting old friends and establishing some sort of law and order when he is finally posted to “The Kingdom of Mergui” is written with great detail of personal experiences and the reader cannot fail to be moved when, after the author is re-united with his family after nearly two years, they settle down to a busy life re-creating the various welfare committees and administering civil duties. Independence is declared in 1948 and they have to leave the country they have come to know and love so well.

You will not be disappointed in this book, for it has many amusing incidents and Mr. Maybury writes with great clarity about the Burmese and their country that is so dear to him and recaptures so well the atmosphere of those times.

British Empire Book
Maurice Maybury
184, 180 & 244
Castle Cary
Vol 1: 0851260306
Vol 2: 0851261108
Vol 3: 0851261701


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