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Ramree island entered the Guinness Book of Records for being the place where the biggest crocodile feast upon human flesh is supposed to have happened. After the Allies invaded in January 1945, the Japanese are said to have taken to the mangrove swamps rather than surrender, where around a thousand soldiers got chomped to pieces. This story has recently been debunked, but a quick internet search will still offer up a load of hits about this Second World War myth.
Before the Allied landings on Ramree, SOE’s Burma Section sent in a team of agents to spread propaganda and collect intelligence. The following comes from the instructions to the two agents, BBR/34 and BBR/71. At this point, I have found no names to go with these codenames. The designation ‘BBR’ was for indigenous personnel, and we know that BBR/71’s home village was on Ramree Island which is on the Arakanese coast.
The briefing for BBR/71 stated that his mission was to ‘establish a Chain of Post Offices, through which I can send letters to you or to BASSEIN.’ Bassein is in the delta area to the west of Rangoon.
Part of the instruction gave detail about how to make contact with an agent already at PONNAGYUN:
‘Ask the stall keeper in the course of ordinary conversation “What quarter of the moon is the best for trade?” If he replies “The 2nd quarter is the best” – it will be the first test. Then draw three lines on the ground with a stick – he will rub out the middle line. Then ask him who he is working for – if he says MG GYI of MOKSOGYAUNG, you or your agent will know he is our man. If the man does not react to the first test, you know he is not our man. You should then look for other shops and repeat the first question and so on till you do get a suitable response.’
DIRECTIVE FOR BBR/34 and BBR/71.
You have been given a Directive of the Tasks you and your parties will undertake. In addition to this you will carry out the following instructions:-
- Instruct your men that they will not make direct contact with the Officers to whom letters have been addressed. They will hang about the house or near the house until they can get in touch with a servant to take the letter to the addressee or some other reliable person. It is only when they fail to find a suitable person that they will approach the addressee personally. It may take them a few days before they can make this approach – but they must be warned against making too hasty an approach.
- Do not drop or distribute leaflets until they are leaving a village. They must only be dropped or stuck up in prominent places at night.
- When spreading rumours – never say that They know the rumour to be true – always say they met a man from some other village, who said that ……………. had happened.
- Their story must be perfect. They are running away from Indian Troops in the BUTHIDAUNG-KYAUKTAW area. If they are found with leaflets – they must say they were given Rs.5 by a stranger to distribute them.
- Arrange with Major Steer for a point at which to assemble. The Match Sign will be used for identification. When apprehended by our troops they must always ask to be sent to Major Cumming or Major Steer. Arrange for a point or place near BUTHIDAUNG where you can meet on a given day or after a given date. The operations of each man should take about a fortnight to three weeks if undertaken properly.
- Every precaution must be taken to see the men get safely through our lines and that they do not run into enemy hands. For this purpose it may be necessary to proceeda few days journey NORTH of KYAUKTAW before crossing the KALADAN RIVER. Go inland and approach the village from the EAST or SOUTH. Avoid battle areas.
- The party must split up into pairs or work singly. They must work separately when they reach a town or village and should never be seen together. To guard against losing touch with each other they should arrange a meeting place outside the village or town in the event of an alarm being given. REMEMBER THAT IT IS ALWAYS SAFER TO MEET AT A PLACE IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION TO THE ONE FROM WHICH THEY HAVE COME THAN ON THE ROUTE THEY HAVE TAKEN TO APPROACH THE VILLAGE. The first thing to do on entering a village is to study the system of guards – if any.
- On the return journey avoid villages if possible but take every opportunity to study the effects of the leaflets dropped on the way out.
(a) Do not approach a village from the direction in which you started your journey. Always work around the village till you find a path as near the opposite direction as you can and enter the village by this path.
(b) Do not enter a village by day light unless there is a large amount of traffic and you can mix with the crowd. Always try to approach soon after sunset – at about lamp lighting time.
(c) Do not take everything you have into a village. Always hide all your possessions – money, leaflets etc., – well away from the village. When you have thoroughly reconnoitred the village, then go to your hiding place by night, get what articles you require and return to the village for your operation. Never take more than a few rupees on your person when entering a village. A show of wealth always makes a stranger prominent.
(d) Do not get involved in argument anywhere. Sit down and listen but do not speak unless it is to praise the speaker or to agree to some remark. You learn much more by being a good listener than a talker. Talking only draws attention to oneself and must be avoided.
(e) Don’t get frightened if interrogated by Village Officials or Police. They do this in the ordinary course of their duties and not because they have any particular suspicion of you. Behave naturally – as other villagers would – tell your story and stick to it.
(f) Don’t move about suspiciously when nearing a village. Behave like an ordinary villager. It is often a good thing to be pretending to pick firewood when you have time to kill before entering a village. Be friendly with passers-by – if it is the custom to be friendly. Behave as you would outside your own village. If you can make friends with other people collecting firewood, so much the better – you can collect a lot of village gossip in nthis way which would be of use when in the village.
(g) Do not drink liquor when in a village. A man under the influence of drink generally becomes more boastful and says more about himself than he should.