Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Pacification Of Burma (1885-90) – Part (6)

Nothing has been said as yet about roads and communications, the most powerful of all aids in pacifying a disturbed country. The plains of India in most provinces lend themselves to military operations, and for the greater part of the year an army can move about at will.

In Burma the long and heavy rains, the numerous streams, and the extensive and dense forests and jungles, make campaigning very difficult. The country, in Sir George White's words, quoted before, "is one huge military obstacle."

Sir Charles Bernard had not lost sight of this part of his work. With the aid of Mr. Richard, of the Public Works Department, a most able superintending engineer, as much as possible had been done. No time had been lost.

In Mandalay itself, in 1886, fifteen miles of road had been re-formed, the bridges renewed and metal consolidated, and in the country generally more than two hundred miles of roads had been taken in hand and partially finished. Tracks one hundred feet in width had been cleared of forest and jungle between many of the military posts, a work in which the military officers took a large part.

Civil Works

As our occupation of the country became closer, more roads and more tracks were called for. These forest tracks can hardly be called engineering works, but they were of first importance for the free movement of troops. The time during which road-making can be carried on is short in Burma, owing to the great rainfall. The dry zone in the centre of the province, where the climate is no impediment, is precisely the country where roads are least necessary.

Eastern Governments as a rule trouble themselves very little about roads and public buildings of a useful kind. In Burma there were pagodas and monasteries innumerable. But roads and prosaic buildings, such as court-houses and jails, received little attention. Such a thing as a trunk road did not exist.

Controlling the engineering establishment in Lower Burma there was a chief engineer, who was also Public Works secretary. His hands were full. To ask him to supervise the work in the new province as well was to lay on him an impossible task and to ensure the waste of much money.

A chief engineer for Upper Burma was appointed at my request, and Major Gracey, R.E., who was selected for the post, had arrived in Burma. I have met with few men who had more power of work and of getting their subordinates to work, or who took greater care of the public money, than Major Gracey.

On his arrival, in consultation with Colonel Cumming, the expenditure was examined and the whole situation discussed in Rangoon, and afterwards both officers met me in Mandalay. There was much difficulty in obtaining a sufficient number of engineers and a competent engineering establishment.

The Indian Public Works service in the higher grades is recruited in England, and the subordinates are appointed in India. Service in Burma was for many reasons unpopular with men trained in India. The other provinces were not anxious to part with their best men. Hence the men who came to Burma were frequently unwilling and sometimes not very efficient.

The difficulty was to apportion the existing establishment as fairly as possible between the two provinces, so as to give Major Gracey a fair number of men with Burman experience. With Major Gracey's help everything went on well, and as fast as possible. A list of the work done in 1887 would fill a page.

The grant for military works in that year was £317,500.

Permanent barracks at Mandalay and Bhamo, and a great number of temporary buildings to accommodate troops, were erected all over Burma in the first year of Major Gracey's tenure. Many of the temporary buildings were put up by military and civil officers; but after a time, all military buildings were carried out by the Public Works Department.

The Civil Works grant was nearly £350,000.

The provinces had no court-houses, no jails, no places of detention at the police stations, and no barracks or accommodation for the military police. Two larger jails, one at Mandalay for eight hundred prisoners and one at Myingyan for one thousand, although not yet completed, were already occupied.
British Mandalay Jail in 1890.
Of three smaller prisons at Monywa, Pagan, and Minbu, one was finished and two partially, but enough to be of use. At ten stations small lock-ups were being built for persons arrested by the police. The jails and lock-ups were pressed on, because the existing arrangements for confining prisoners inherited from the Burmese Government were insufferable, and in some cases inhuman.

Provision had to be made for housing some thousands of military police. At the headquarters of eighteen districts accommodation had to be provided for about half a battalion, with hospitals, guard-rooms, magazines, and cook-houses. These buildings, especially the hospitals with accommodation for 8 per cent. of the strength, were constructed of good permanent material.

The barracks, officers' quarters, stables, and the like were built in the cheapest way consistent with comfort and health. The condition of the country in a year or two would permit, it was expected, of a reduction of the military police force, or at least of a change in its disposition; the barrack accommodation would not be permanently wanted, but the hospitals could be used for the civil population.

Added to all this building work, roads to the extent of five hundred miles, of which one hundred and fifty were hill roads, were laid out and made passable, raised and bridged in most cases, and in some places metalled. These works were scattered over the province from Bhamo to the old frontier of British Burma.

In designing the roads it was remembered that the great trunk lines of communication were the great rivers in the centre and west of the province, and the railway in the east. All the main roads were designed to be feeders to the rivers or the rails.

In addition to the larger roads, many hundreds of miles of tracks and rough district roads were cut through the forest and jungles, and a survey was begun, to open up the difficult Yaw country, through which we had afterwards to push troops. I think it may be claimed that our engineers did their duty.

The middle of Upper Burma, the dry zone, as it is called, differs in climatic conditions from the country to the south and north of it. The rainfall is deficient, and droughts, sometimes severe, are not unknown. The Burmese rulers were capable of large conceptions, but they lacked skill; and their great irrigation schemes, attempted without sufficient science, were foredoomed to failure.

The largest works of this class existing, when we took the country, were the Mandalay and Shwèbo Canals, which were of little use, as even where the construction was not faulty they had been allowed to go to ruin. In Kyauksè Salin (Minbu district) and elsewhere there were extensive canals of a less ambitious nature, which although neglected were still of much service.

An old irrigation structure in the Kingdom of Ava in Burma (1890).
Even in the turmoil of 1886 and the pressure of what was in fact a state of war, Sir Charles Bernard found time to attend to the irrigation systems; and as soon as a skilled engineer could be obtained from India, and funds allotted, the work of irrigation was tackled in earnest.

The first business was to examine the existing systems and see whether they could be made use of. Before I left Burma in December, 1890, I had the pleasure of knowing that this work was in hand, and that further deterioration from neglect had been stopped, and also that new schemes were under consideration.

The expenditure in Upper Burma at this time was very great. An army of fourteen thousand men cannot be kept in the field for nothing. The military police force was a second army, and there was besides all the cost of the civil administration. The incoming revenue was in comparison insignificant. In 1886-7 it had been £250,000 in round numbers, in 1887-8 it rose to £500,000—not enough to cover the public works expenditure alone.

It was not wonderful, therefore, that the Government of India, whose finances at the time were by no means happy, should be nervous about the expenditure.

They were most gentle and considerate in the matter; and although it was evident that our success in Burma would be measured in England mainly by the financial results, no pressure was put upon me to get in revenue, and I felt the pinch chiefly in the difficulty of getting an adequate and competent engineering establishment and immediate funds for works, the urgency of which was less apparent to the Government of India than to me on the spot.

With Lord Dufferin's backing I obtained what I wanted, and I hope I did not exhibit an indecent importunity.

I had considered and reported to the Finance Department all possible means of raising the revenue. On the whole, my conclusion was that we had to look rather to existing sources than to new taxation, which in a country not yet completely subdued and of which we had imperfect knowledge would have been inexpedient.

The excise revenue might have been made profitable, but we were debarred from interfering for the time with the regulations made and sanctioned (somewhat hastily, perhaps) by the Government of India, immediately after the annexation.

Under the circumstance, the best and quickest method of improving the financial conditions was clearly the reduction of the field force. This was already under discussion. The initial step had been taken and one regiment of Native Infantry had been sent back to India. The military police had begun to relieve the troops in the outposts.

The Major-General, Sir George White (who in addition to his merits as a gallant leader and good strategist, was an able administrator), was careful always of public money, and in perfect accord with the civil administration. He desired his men to be relieved as quickly as possible.

Military Works

It was a matter, however, in which it was unsafe to rush, and in which a heavy responsibility rested on me. Events were happening from time to time which warned us that we were not yet out of the wood.

On the 3rd of June, for example, the troops at Pyinulwin, forty miles from Mandalay, led by Colonel May, had attacked a stockade held on behalf of the Setkya Mintha, a pretender. Darrah, Assistant Commissioner, was killed, an officer named Cuppage badly wounded, and several men lost. Hkam Leng was active in the Möngmit Country.

The Commissioners of the Northern and Central Divisions were urging me to have the large and numerous islands between Mandalay and Sagaing cleared of the gangs who held them. They represented the necessity of a river patrol. The cry from the Southern Division was for launches.

British Hampshire Regiment at Mandalay in 1885 Christmas Day service.
The Commissioner wrote that the only boat in his division fit for service was that assigned to the military authorities; and this was the day after Captain Hext's arrival on his mission from India, to persuade me to reduce my demand for boats.

The Deputy Commissioner for Mandalay reported that there was a dacoit leader stockaded within forty miles of Mandalay, and that he was unable to get a force to turn him out of his position.

At the same time (July, 1887) bad news came from the Ye-u district. Two pretenders had appeared with a considerable following. As a prelude they had burnt villages, crucified one of the village headmen, and committed other brutalities. The civil administration was obliged to ask for help from the soldiers in this case.

The weather was fine, and the country which these men had occupied was a good field for cavalry. The Hyderabad Cavalry were in the field at once, and the Inspector-General of Police was able to get together a hundred mounted military police and send them to help.

A force from the Chindwin side co-operated. The gathering was very soon scattered. One of the leaders died of fever and the other escaped for a time, but was afterwards captured in the Lower Chindwin district, where he was attempting to organize another rising.

I was compelled in Sagaing also to ask Sir George White's assistance. The Sagaing Police battalion was backward in training and not fit for outpost work in a bad district. The death of Hla Oo had been expected to bring peace.

But it now appeared that the district on both sides of the Mu was in the hands of three or four dacoit leaders who collected a fixed revenue from each village, which was spared so long as the demand was paid. Any headman who failed to pay was murdered remorselessly. In some cases the man's wife and children were killed before his face, to add to the sting of death.

The system in the Sagaing and other districts much resembled—in its machinery, not altogether in its methods—the organization of the Nationalists in Ireland.

At my request Sir George White consented to occupy the district closely, and although the gangs were not caught or brought to justice, some protection was given to the peaceful part of the population until we were ready later on to take the district in hand and destroy the gangs.

In Sagaing, as in some other cases, the local officers had been ignorant of what was going on around them. It was believed to be quiet because we had no touch with the people, and they told us nothing.

The intention in referring to these events is to show why caution was needed in the matter of relieving the troops. It must be remembered that a very large proportion of the military police had received very little training before their arrival. With the exception of some two thousand men, all were recruits entirely untaught in drill or discipline.

Burma Military Police Mandalay Battalion in 1890 (Indian soldiers & British officers).
The employment of such raw men on outpost duty under native officers whom they did not know was not without risk. In many cases the risk had to be faced, and consequently some disasters were inevitable. Progress was slow, but under the conditions it was good.

"To instil discipline into so large a body of young soldiers," wrote the Inspector-General (General Stedman), "was a far more difficult task than to teach them the rudiments of drill. By discipline must be understood not only good conduct in quarters and prompt obedience to the orders of superiors, but the necessity of sticking to one another in the field and the habit of working together as a welded body."

Before I left Mandalay again for Lower Burma, Sir George White and I had arrived at an agreement regarding the force which it was necessary to keep up. We were able to propose the abolition of the field force and the reduction of the garrison by one regiment of British Infantry, two regiments of Indian Cavalry, eight regiments of Indian Infantry, and one British Mountain Battery.

The allocation of the troops and police was reviewed in consultation with the Commissioners of Divisions and so made that the one force supplemented the other. The reduction was to take effect from the spring of 1888.

We were now about to enter on a new development of the British occupation. The civil officers, supported by the military police, were to take the responsibility of keeping order. The soldiers were there ready to help if need be, but they were not to be called out except for operations beyond the power of the police.

Victorious British forces dismantling Burmese cannons in captured Min-Hla Fort (1885).