ANZAC Day in Rangoon 2004*

The Cross of Remembrance, Rangoon 2004

by Tony Rigby


In April 2004 my Bangkok employer sent me to do a task in Rangoon, and it was a very interesting time as my wife and I were in Rangoon for the ANZAC Day commemorations.

ANZAC Day in Australia traditionally starts with a dawn service, a gunfire breakfast and later a march and another commemoration ceremony. In Rangoon there was a dusk-to-dawn curfew, so the dawn service started 75 minutes after dawn. This was held at one of the three Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Burma – near the previous location of the military hospital in Rangoon. This is the smallest of the three Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Burma and includes more females interred than I have seen at any other war cemetery. I believe this was because of the number of nurses and female naval yeomanry who had worked in Rangoon in the later stages of the war. The two other cemeteries in Burma are the Tuakkyan War Cemetery, the largest cemetery located 35 km north of Rangoon, and the Thanbyuzayat war cemetery, near Moulmein. This cemetery marks the Burmese end of the Burma-Siam Death Railway.

The central Rangoon cemetery is now surrounded by suburbia, but is beautifully maintained. There are about 15 Australian and New Zealanders interred there, and each of these graves was marked with a small Australian or New Zealand flag for ANZAC Day. The ceremony was very simple, with three Burmese buglers sounding Last Post and Reveille, and the children from the Australian and New Zealand community recited the Ode. Wreathes were laid by representatives of many Commonwealth nations, community groups and individuals. 

The grave marker of Australian Lieutenant Bernice Inglis, Womens Auxilliary Service (Burma) The grave marker of Flying Officer B.J Bohane, RAAF. The grave marker of Flight Lieutenant J.G. Buchanan RNZAF

The gunfire breakfast at the Ambassador’s residence rolled into the barbeque lunch and a swim in the pool, as the thought of organising an ANZAC Day march in the streets of Rangoon was a non-starter. It was too hot, there was too much traffic, and the Burmese security forces have been known to react badly to people marching in the city.

Prior to the Dawn Service The Cross of Remembrance, Rangoon

Rangoon is an interesting city as it is a series on contradictions – traffic but no motorcycles; second-hand right-hand-drive Japanese cars and vans (still with Japanese sign writing) in left-hand-drive streets; grinding poverty and five star hotels. In 2004, the official exchange rate was six kyat to the US dollar at the airport, and 1,000 kyat to the US dollar at the local market. The kyat is one of those currencies that you do not want to exchange outside Burma or at the Rangoon Airport, and it is therefore worthwhile to spend the money during your visit. And having been cutoff from the mainstream of tourism since 1963, there are some nice antiques and handicrafts available for purchase in Burma.

And speaking of antiques, no visit to Rangoon would be complete without taking a ride in one of the Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) trucks that have been converted to busses. These are limited to operating in the city centre and they seem very prone to breakdown. In South East Asia there are a number of ‘blitz buggies’ still working, but the most colorful ones are certainly these buses in Rangoon.

Tony's wife Linda and the buses


And for those sticklers for detail - Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’ features the line: “An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!” This is about as accurate as the final scene in the movie ‘The Green Berets’ - where the sun sinks slowly into the South China Sea off the coast of central Vietnam.
* As a democratically elected legislature is required to change the names of a nation and its cities, the US Government does not recognize the terms ‘Myanmar’ or ‘Yangon’, and continues to use ‘Burma’ and ‘Rangoon’. Therefore I have used the terms Burma and Rangoon. I don’t think we will get any emails of protest from the nation just to the west of Thailand.   

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