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.
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.
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
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.