Sentry Page Protection
Extracts from a compilation of lectures delivered by
W.L. Barretto, O.B.E., Bar-at-Law of the Middle Temple
W.L. Barretto, O.B.E., Bar-at-Law of the Middle Temple
A talk given at the Pyapon Social Club on the 6th Sept. 1932
1780 – 1825
The last Burman Commander-in-Chief
National Hero and Military genius
1780 – 1825
The last Burman Commander-in-Chief
National Hero and Military genius
There are two Bandula’s known to students of the history of Burma. One belongs to the legendary period and the other to modern history. The first Bandula lived over two thousand four hundred years ago. He was a great warrior and served under the Kosala King. His superhuman skill and strength was so much eulogised that the term “Bandula” became a household word.
The students of modern history are concerned more with the Bandula of modern times whose military skill, courage and genius the Burmans still take pride in.
Maung Yit who was destined to play a great part in the military history of Burma was of a humble origin. He was born in Ngapayin or Tabayin in Lower Chindwin District in 1142 B.E. Tazaungmon lazan 2, Sunday (1780 A.D.) His parents were U Pauk Taw and Ma Me Nyein. Maung Yit was the eldest son of the family. In his youth he led his playmates in all athletic games and proved his capacity for leadership. In the defence of his village against robbers and dacoits Maung Yit was invariably at the head.
Leaving his village he rose to the post of Wun of Alon and later he took service under the future King at the Capital who afterwards became King under the title of Bodawpaya. Bandula was impatient at receiving only scant recognition from his superiors, he gave way to his impulsive impetuosity and committed an assault on one of the Ministers. This would have led to his undoing. He was however, not severely dealt with. Bodawpaya saw in him qualities that would one day be a national service and accordingly he was saved from the fate he legally deserved.
Next we hear of him as an officer in the army when he rose to pre-eminence by his ability, indomitable courage and indefatigable energy.
The Burmese Empire had several vassal states. Manipur was one of them. Marjit Singh, the young Raja was placed on the throne in 1813 by the Burmese Emperor Bodawpaya. Like many of the princes of these vassal states, Marjit was brought up at the Burmese Court. These Princes served as hostages to ensure the loyalty of their parents, the tributary Kings.
When Bagyidaw ascended the throne, Marjit absented himself from attendance at the coronation. It was the practice of all tributary Kings to pay homage to the Burmese Emperors after their coronation. Indications were not lacking that Marjit was scheming to secure independence. Bagyidaw determined to make an example of the young Raja and appointed Maung Yit the promising military officer to the supreme command of the force to subdue Manipur and its disloyal Raja. The Burmese force without any difficulty overran the whole country of Manipur in 1819 and occupied it till the year 1824, when it was found necessary to recall them for the more important home defence against the British invasion.
Maung Yit proved a most successful General. His military genius was universally acknowledged and he became a national hero. In public recognition of his military successes the Emperor of Burma conferred on the distinguished soldier the title of Maha Bandula.
Assam was overrun by the Burmese force in 1816 and declared a province of Burma. Chandra Kanta the deposed Raja obtained assistance from the British East India Company to recover his throne. Bodawpaya sent a Burmese army under Maha Thilawa to Assam and later Maha Bandula, after his Manipur expeditionary campaign, proceeded to Assam to reinforce the Burmese army.
Chandra had taken refuge in British territory and had in his service, Bruce, a British Anglo-Indian officer. The Burmese force, however, proved too much for Chandra and his colleagues. Chandra fled to Calcutta from whence the Burmese authorities demanded his extradition but without success.
The Burmese columns entered British territory as far as Goalpara which was the base used by Chandra. There they pulled down the British flag. The villages in the neighbourhood were sacked and 30,000 captives from Assam alone were taken to populate the de-populated parts of Burma.
On the way these captives suffered much privation and the cruel treatment they received at the hands of the Burmese conquerors is remembered in Assam even to this day.
The success of the Burmese armies in Manipur and Assam raised high hopes amongst the Burmans. Bengal was expected to be the next country to be annexed to the Burmese Empire.
Bodawpaya had early in his reign annexed Arakan which had become a province of Burmese Empire. The country however remained in an unsettled state, partly on account of the harsh administration and partly because the Arakanese could not break foreign rule. Thousands of the Arakanese had been taken captives to Burma where they were forced to work at the pagodas and to serve in the military campaign.
A number of the Arakanese chiefs rose against the Burmese authority. Prominent amongst them was Chin Pyan who took shelter in the British territory and who made a number of successful raids on Burmese frontier posts. The Burmese officials suspected the British of encouraging Chin Pyan who had terrorised most parts of the province of Arakan and even threatened the Burmese rule.
The British Government was suspected of aiding and abetting Chin Pyan and other Arakanese rebel chiefs and were enraged at this suspicion. The Burmese forces attacked the British. Maha Bandula’s army crossed the Ann Pass. The Burmese General invariably succeeded in inspiring the Burmese soldiers with confidence of success. The British troops stationed at Ramu were attacked. On the 17th May, Capt. Norton and his forces were defeated by Bandula. News of this spread to Calcutta. The success of the Burmese armies led to the preparation for the defence of Calcutta, where the news caused no small stir and anxiety. Crowds of Indians fled from Calcutta in terror. The Burmese army however could not advance on Calcutta according to plan as Rangoon was unexpectedly occupied by the British on the 11th May. Bandula was wanted for the defence of the homeland.
Under the command of Sir Archibald Campbell the British expeditionary force consisting of 5,000 European officers and 6,500 sepoys had occupied Rangoon and the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. The resistance offered by the Burmese force was feeble and ineffective.
The unexpected repulses of the Burmese forces in Rangoon produced considerable consternation amongst the people and in the Court of Ava. New armies were formed. The country realised that the only man who could save Burma was the great General Maha Bandula who had up to then overcome all forces that had confronted him. He was accordingly recalled from Arakan and placed in supreme command to drive out the British invaders.
The appointment of Maha Bandula to this post was universally welcomed. The British force occupying Rangoon had suffered much from sickness. Maha Bandula’s return from Arakan was swift and carried out very secretly. The Burmese army repulsed by the British forces had retired to Htantabin and Danubyu and Prince Tharrawaddy was in supreme command.
Maha Bandula met the Prince at Danubyu where he took over the supreme command. The Prince advised him to be cautious, realising power the power of the British arms. Bandula however, was full of confidence and remarked that in eight days he would be giving thanks at the Shwe Dagon for the success of the Burmese army. His rapid march from Arakan to Rangoon during the rains was an admirable feat.
Four days after taking over command he arrived, on the 30th November, before the British force in Rangoon, with a strong force of approximately 60,000 men of whom about 35,000 had muskets. He also had about 300 cannon. The method adopted by Bandula of raising earthworks and digging in, and the rapidity with which the works were carried out was described by a British officer who watched it as a “work of magic and enchantment.”
Bandula displayed his military genius in his methods of attack which showed that he was well in advance of his day. Determined to reoccupy the Shwe Dagon he formed a semi-circle round Rangoon from outside Kemmendine to Pazundaung. A force was stationed at Dalla. Earth works were rapidly built all round. On the 1st December the Shwe Dagon was closely invested.
Sir Archibald Campbell commenting on the military tactics of Bandula writes: “They had commenced entrenching and stockading with a judgement in point of position such as would do credit to the best instructed engineers of the most civilised nation.”
From Kemmendine fire rafts some 200ft. in length were sent down with the ebb tide to damage the British vessels. The rafts consisted of bamboos firmly tied between earthen jars which were filled with petroleum. The situation of the British vessels was perilous and one cruiser caught fire which was extinguished with great difficulty.
Sir Archibald defending the Shwe Dagon determined to get the Burmese army into the open. The Burmese forces comprising the artillery and the Manipur cavalry led by Bandula, Prince Tharrawaddy and Prince Toungoo commenced the attack which lasted from the 1st to the 5th December. Sir Archibald allowed a section of the Burmese forces to approach within 300 yards of the pagoda. Having succeeded in tempting the Burmese forces into the open on the 6th, the British vessels in the Pazundaung creeks effectively shelled and broke the left wing of the Burmese attacking force. The centre and the right wing were undaunted and continued their attack but by the 7th December the British artillery completely routed the attackers. Bandula for the first time realised the force of modern European military science.
Unable to stand the strain, the Burmese Forces became demoralised. Desertions started and Bandula, on the 9th December, collected the remnant of his forces, some 25,000 and fell back on Danubyu.
The Burmese authorities, through their agents, endeavoured to overpower the British by burning down half of Rangoon on the 12th December, hoping to destroy the British magazines which, however, miraculously escaped damage.
The British columns were unable to follow up their successes for two months. Sir Archibald’s plan was to attack Prome. Villages en route were deserted. So effectively was the Burmese methods of devastation that the British forces found great difficulty in getting supplies and transport during the marches.
General cotton was sent with the fleet, while Sir Archibald marched with the land force. Cotton took the Panhlaing stockade and proceeded towards Danubyu which Bandula had strongly fortified. Bandula was called upon to surrender. He strongly refused. Accordingly Cotton began the attack and though he succeeded against the outer works he suffered such serious losses when attacking the inner defence that he re-embarked, went down the river and awaited reinforcements. Sir Archibald, hearing of Cotton’s failure, returned and joined forces. Bombardment was recommenced on the 1st April.
Bandula was superintending the defence works. He refused to dispense with the state umbrella and thus courted death. A stray shell burst near him, killing him almost immediately. His remains were cremated. Though attempts were made to prevent the news of his death from spreading, desertions followed rapidly and there was no one at Danybyu with sufficient ability to take over the command. Bandula’s younger brother endeavoured to keep the troops together but without success. The Burmese troops melted away and the British on the 2nd April, occupied Danybyu without opposition.
Bandula was a thick set man, approximately 5’ 8” tall, judging from his armour, which may be seen in the British Museum. He possessed charming manners and a commanding presence. His attention to the sick and wounded during his swift retreat from the Arakanese campaign showed his mastery over details. The British army officers acknowledged his military genius and deemed him to be an officer well in advance of his day.
His assault on a minister early in life as well as his refusal to take shelter from the bombardment at Danubyu are indications of his fearlessness. He was uniformly successful in his campaign in Manipur, Assam and Arakan. His successes raised high hopes of the annexation of Bengal and this accounted for the popular desire for war amongst all classes, from the King to the beggar. The over-whelming confidence of success was universal.
It is said that Bandula was ruthless and ferocious but these are traits that are common against some of the great military leaders when they allow expediency to override principle, when thousands of lives are deliberately sacrificed for some definite strategic advantage.
Like all great men he was possessed of an indomitable will and indefatigable energy and these traits together with his military genius will account for the reason why, like Napoleon Bonaparte, Bandula inspired confidence in his brave soldiers in an almost magical way. To the Burmese army the name Bandula was one which conjured up high hopes. His kindliness and generosity towards them enshrined his memory in their hearts and he became the national hero of his day.
His untimely death was a great blow to the nation. A pagoda was built by the King to his memory. At the spot where he met his death, a pillar with a suitable inscription, stands to remind posterity of the heroic life of one of Burma’s military geniuses.
This extract is taken from a small book, the Introductory page reads as follows:
Heroes of Burma
A compilation of lectures delivered by W.L. Barretto Esq., O.B.E., Bar-at-law of the Middle Temple.
“Lives of great men all remind us we can make
our lives sublime;
And departing, leave behind us footprints on the
sands of time.”
“The object of this book is not to embalm
the history of the past,
but to use it to inspire the on-coming youth
to greater achievements in the future.”
Cost of printing paid by Mr Tan Shu Yon, Honorary Magistrate and Proprietor Electric Supply Company, Pyapon
The sale proceeds are in aid of the Artha Booth-Gravely Memorial Endowment (Blind School) Fund.