The assassination of Burmese General Aung San sparked a chain of events leading to the house arrest of his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi. With her life story now told in a new Hollywood film, Jon Macpherson spoke to ex-army officer Richard Colwill who arrived on the scene minutes after the massacre ...
HE is described as a revolutionary, a nationalist, and the man responsible for bringing about Burma’s independence from British colonial rule.
Affectionately known as ‘Bogyoke’, General Aung San is still widely admired by the Burmese people today.
But, in 1947, he was butchered by a gang of armed paramilitaries, known as Dacoits, after they stormed the Secretariat Building in downtown Rangoon.
Accrington resident and former sergeant Richard David Colwill had been stationed in the army’s Rangoon base since 1944 – and he was one of the first soldiers onto the scene after the General’s brutal murder.
Now Richard’s memories of the events have been reawaked by the release of new Hollywood film, The Lady, which tells the life story of Bogyoke’s daughter Aung San Suu Kyi.
Richard told the Observer: "I was in the headquarters of Burma command and I remember answering the phone call which came through telling us what had happened.
"It came as a big shock even though there was unrest in the country generally.
"Myself, Colonel Comper and Major Margison immediately got in a jeep down to Rangoon where he was assassinated. The Dacoits had just broke in and opened fire on the government – all were killed.
"I looked inside the building and there were bodies lying everywhere and lots of blood on the floor. After a while the colonel told me to get back to headquarters and keep track of all the events."
Six months after the assassination, Burma gained its independence from Britain and Richard arrived back in Southampton on Boxing Day, 1947 after two-and-a-half years in Burma with the Gloucester Regiment.
During his service with the regiment he also visited Malta, Cairo, the Persian Gulf, India and Singapore.
He returned home to his parents in south Wales and worked as a labourer for eight years on the railways.
He then moved to Great Harwood where he worked as a manager of a metalising firm before moving to Accrington, 33 years ago, with his partner Eileen Hodson.
Since returning from Burma, he said has tried to put the violent scenes out of his mind.
"It’s a part of my life I never really want to think about," he said.
"Going out to fight a war is one thing but seeing the massacre that night of those human beings was terrible. It was so violent."
After General Aung San’s death, his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi moved with her mother to India, then later to England where she studied at Oxford University.
In 1988, she returned to Burma and addressed more than 500,000 people at a mass rally calling for democratic government.
As a result of her outspoken political views, she was placed under house arrest in July 1989 and only offered freedom if she left the country.
She remained under house arrest for 15 of the next 21 years, and her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She was finally released in 2010.
The death of Aung San Suu Kyi’s father and her life story are now portrayed in The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh and directed by Luc Besson.
Grandfather Richard, 88, said he is keen to see how the events he remembers are portrayed.
He said: "It would be interesting to see it and maybe see a different perspective. Aung San Suu Kyi has gone through a lot and she’s a very brave lady."