The British Empire Library

Lost Warriors - Seagrim and Pagani of Burma The last great untold story of WWII

by Philip Davies

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
In his foreword to this inspiring story of courage and resourceftihiess behind Japanese lines in Burma during World War II, Viscount Slim remarks that this book is long overdue. The events it describes with authentic detail were in danger of being forgotten, as they gradually slip beyond first-hand memory. However, with Burma once more making headline news, it is appropriate to be reminded of this epic struggle between two empires and its enduring impact. Philip Davies employs his detailed knowledge of this fascinating country to retell the interwoven story of two inspirational heroes with a freshness borne of painstaking research. Rather than a mere historical account of their adventures, the author's descriptive powers provide an insight to the driving forces that sustain both men through unimaginable hardship. The prologue recalls events of summer 1985 when villagers from Hugh Seagrim's home in Norfolk and his loyal Karens gathered to commemorate the unveiling of a village sign depicting Hugh and his brother Derek - the only members of the same family to have won Britain's two highest awards for gallantry, the George Cross and the Victoria Cross. Present was the other subject of this story, one of the most intrepid escapees of World War II, Roy or Ras Pagani. Davies proceeds vividly to describe the shattering Japanese attack on Rangoon and how this event precipitates the six feet four inches tall Seagrim into becoming a charismatic and spiritually motivated guerrilla leader. One of five sons of a village rector, he inherits his father's mischievous renowned for coolness under pressure. He travels widely during his early service with the Indian Army, developing powers of endurance and a solitary nature that will serve him well. Commanding Karens in the 1st/20th Burma Rifles, he develops an affinity with these deeply moralist and loyal people who had been natural converts to the Christian faith with its parallels to their previous belief in messianic deliverance. Volunteering to lead irregular forces remaining behind Japanese lines, Seagrim in many ways becomes the Karens' messiah and ultimately sacrifices his own life to save them from further torment at the hands of the Japanese. Ras Pagani enters Seagrim's beleaguered jungle world when the latter most needs determined companionship. They launch the Karens into offensive operations that eventually provoke the Japanese to mount sustained operations to capture Seagrim, after Pagani has set out alone to continue his escape from Burma. A remarkably resourceful soldier, Pagani, aged four, is seized by his father and raised in a French convent. Returning to England in his midteens, he works in hotels including London's Park Lane. Joining the East Surreys on a whim and almost refused entry at a height of five foot three, he marries his beloved Pip in 1939 before departing for France with the BEF a week later. Escaping from Dunkirk alone and seeking further action, he is posted to Singapore. After his troop ship sinks and he is immediately thrown into fierce fighting, Pagani refuses to obey the order to surrender to the victorious Japanese and takes his chances in commandeering a sampan. His island-hopping journey is an epic in itself, but he is ultimately destined for captivity. Being put to work on the infamous Death Railway, Pagani becomes the only European to escape. Unable to conceal his conspicuous appearance, he narrowly avoids recapture before joining Seagrim in the Karen hills. Both men end up as PoWs, with each enduring capture in their own exemplary ways. While Seagrim is executed alongside his faithful Karens, Pagani miraculously survives to be rescued by the liberating 14th Army.

Lost Warriors is illustrated with maps and photographs that assist the reader in imagining these increasingly distant events, while chapters are headed with inspirational poetry. Overall the book does credit to two very different heroes, both providing exemplary role models in demonstrating remarkable courage and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. While Seagrim is imbued with the spirit of service and self-sacrifice driven by the highest principles of Christianity, Pagani finds his faith in a remarkable instinct for survival and selfdiscipline to keep his word to return to his wife; in their different ways they are both driven by a love of others that transcended morale sapping deprivation and brutality.

Philip Davies tells this story of human endeavour in a thrilling and inspirational narrative, which will appeal to those who seek to understand human nature as much as those interested in one of the bitterest military campaigns of modern history that is now a little less forgotten thanks to this admirable book.

British Empire Book
Philip Davies
First Published
Atlantic Publishing
Review Originally Published
Spring 2018 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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