The Bengali Surti Sunni Jamah Mosque. Visit Yangon Time machine for a view in 1895 and more on its history. Probably Yangon’s oldest mosque, and where Latif and his followers attended prayers.

Tucked away as a random page in a file which would give no hint at its existence is a ‘MOST SECRET & SAFE HAND’ memo from B/B128 to B/B107. The former codename belonged to Lt.Col. Lewis Henry Owain Pugh, and he was writing to the then head of SOE in Burma, Lt.Col. Richard Ellis Forrester. The document is dated 14 November 1942. At that time, Forrester and his team were looking at every possibility for getting back into Burma and doing some SOE work. SOE’s India Mission was under huge pressure to justify its existence, and a huge recruitment and training scheme was in full swing at this time, ahead of the first infiltration back into Burma in January 1943.

Pugh wrote to Forrester to inform him of a secret Muslim organisation in Rangoon, ‘strength about two thousand men’, who were led by a Turk namd Latif. Many of the men in the secret organisation were said to have ‘connections with DACCA and are EAST BENGALIS.’

Latif apparently ‘peddled coloured drinks’, as well as introducing his own ‘new type of drink’, meaning that by 1942 he was a man of ‘growing influence amongst RANGOON Muslims.’ Latif is said to have formed a secret society of Muslims who had prepared for the Japanese invasion by taking ‘possession of certain caves (cellars?) [sic] in or near RANGOON’ which they had filled with stocks of food and weapons. In some respects, this would make them better organised than SOE in 1942!

Pugh advised that contact should be made with this secret society by sending in one of the members who had escaped to India in the retreat. This volunteer would be able to set up a reception for a trained agent. The chosen agent would use the group as a cover for the introduction of a W/T set in Rangoon, but no attempt would be made to use the society as a Fifth Column.

This plan was to be discussed with the second in command of India Mission, B/B101. Whether or not it was is unknown, but what can be asserted with confidence is that a W/T set never made it to this organisation. Over two years later, in late 1944, SOE was still desperate to get a set into Rangoon and this was only achieved when a Burman agent with the codename of Donkey finally achieved this aim in December of that year.

It would be interesting to find out more about the mysterious Latif and his secret society. Here is a post about SOE’s work with Muslims in the Arakan.