From late 1943 until the Japanese attack on India in March 1944, SOE had patrol groups known a ‘P Force’ operating on the Imphal Front. Their job was to establish a network of agents through the frontline for intelligence purposes, recruit agents, and to hit any Japanese patrols in guerrilla fashion. What follows is the story of Levy Maung Kan, which gives us an insight into some of the Force 136 security infrastructure in India.
Maung Kan was employed as a cook. He is described as a ‘camp follower’ rather than as an agent or a ‘Levy’ despite that description heading the few documents about him. In late March 1944, while the men were out on patrol, Maung Kan deserted. He was arrested near the Kabaw Valley, making his way towards the Japanese lines, but also towards his own village. He was being held by Field Security when the Japanese launched U Go, and in the confusion of the offensive he was taken across the border to India without it being ascertained whether he was simply going home, or if he ‘was a deserter bent on selling his knowledge to the Jap.’
Maung Kan ended up in a Burmese Refugee Camp, and when Force 136 came looking for volunteers, he signed up. Using an alias, Maung Kan made it through the Filter, meaning he passed his vetting and could proceed to training. He went to Poona, completed a course at the Eastern Warfare School to become an agent, and was then sent to Ceylon for further training at ME25. At ME25, he was immediately recognised by Major Gibson and Major Peacock of P Force, and re-arrested. As an AWOL member of SOE, caught going towards the Japanese lines, he should have been ‘severley punished or shot’, but since they still did not know his intention, there was some discusssion of what to do with him.
Major Peacock made it clear that he did not want the case to go to a court martial, because that would mean the he and his officers would have to take time out from training to go to India for proceedings, and this might take a significant amount of time. P Force was in Ceylon training for operations due to take place in 1945, and they were keen that this schedule did not get interferred with. Another option referred to is the ‘Madras Holiday Homes’. This does not sound like a euphemism, as there was the worry that if he was sent there that he might go on the run again. It seems the Madras Holiday Homes were where personnel were sent pending a decision on what to do with them. Apparently, arrangements were made to sent Maung Kan to Madras, but they were shelved.
One option considered the ‘best thing to do’ was ‘to get rid of him to the Burma Refugee Camp.’ It was thought that this would be suitable because:
The knowledge in his possession since rejoining the Force does not amount to very much except for details of training, which really are of no importance, as they must be well known to the enemy by this time. The only possible security danger is his knowledge of parties whom he saw at Poona and M.E.25.
Another option was to send Maung Kan to Poona where there was a ‘Cooler’ in Camp B. A Cooler was where personnel that were considered a security threat were sent until the knowledge that they had was no longer considered dangerous. The problem with this was that in India, they did not think that there was a case to legally detain him, since there was no proof that he was going to the Japanese. In any case, it was felt that Force 136 ‘must restrict our detention to those who are really a source of danger.’
In the end, Maung Kan remained in Ceylon where ‘suitable employment’ could be found for him at M.E.25 by the Commandant. If this didn’t ‘prove satisfactory’, a new Military Detention Camp had just opened. Since it was in Ceylon and not in India, it was free from the red tape of the Government of India, no detention orders were needed, and it would also keep him ‘out of the way’. This camp is described as similar to the Cooler in Poona.
The case threw up a few important questions that needed answering. What ‘machinery’ was in place to prevent such re-enrolements? How did ‘such an undesirable type’ get through the Filter? How many others might have slipped through the Filter and therefore pose a danger to operations? Are records kept of deserters to prevent such occurrances? There is nothing in the records that I have seen to indicate something serious happened as a result of a security breach such as this for operations in Burma, but the opinion that ‘The danger of a re-occurrance of this type of thing does not require to be stressed’ was totally justifiable at the time.