Photo credit: Steve Fogden’s superb Chindit website
The Burma Gallantry Medal (BGM) was established by Royal Warrant on 10 May 1940 to be awarded to Burmese personnel serving in the various units formed for the defence of Burma. Former soldier, now author and researcher, Nick Metcalfe is currently working on a book entitled ‘For Gallantry’ which will reveal the stories of the men who won the BGM between 1940 and 1947. See his website HERE.
Men serving in the Burma Rifles (Burifs), Burma Military Police (BMP) or Burma Frontier Force (BFF) frequently ended up recruited into SOE / Force 136, and many won the BGM while on operations behind the lines. This short post is about Havildar La Shi Naw, and is intended to whet the appetite of all those who read it in anticipation of ‘For Gallantry’ when it is published in the not too distant future.
La Shi Naw was born 6 October 1906, and is recorded as having spoken five languages: his native Kachin language, English, Burmese, Shan and Yunnannese. He was a Christian convert, weighed 140lbs and stood 5’3″ tall. He worse a size 6 shoe. In 1930, he enlisted in the Burma Rifles, serving in the 1st Battalion. Details of the 1st Battalion the Burma Rifles can be found on Steve Rothwell’s excellent website HERE.
La Shi Naw’s SOE record does not reveal anything about his part in the first Burma campaign, but presuambly, like many others, he remained in Burma after the retreat to India by the bulk of the Allied forces. There were an estimated 20,000 personnel in the various Burma Army units, of which an estimated 6,140 made it to India. Many were told to hide their weapons and return to their villages and await the return of British forces. British forces returned from 1943, famously in the form of the Chindits, but also in many SOE operations. In February 1943, Operation Dilwyn was launched in northern Burma to work with the Kachins; further east in the Kokang region, Operation Spiers aimed, from August 1943, to support the Kokang Defence Force and support Dilwyn. La Shi Naw was recruited by SOE’s Spiers team in August 1944. He remained with Spiers until exfiltration to Calcutta by 2 October 1944.
By early November, La Shi Naw had completed parachute training, and in the last days of November into December, he attended a paramilitary training course at India’s Eastern Warfare School. With training complete, La Shi Naw was dropped into Burma on 27 January 1945 with Lt.Col. Crosby‘s team. In the field, on 1 February, he was promoted to Naik, and just over two months later to Havildar, on 10 April 1945. He remained in the field serving on Operation Dilwyn with team Bear until 22 September 1945.
Here’s an extract from Lt.Col. Crosby’s report on Operation Dilwyn:
“A convoy of carts and coolies sent down with stores to the HSAIHKAO detachment and returning empty towards NAWNGHKAI discovered that a party of 80 Japs were moving towards HSAIHKAO by jungle tracks from NAMMAWNG. As the HSAIHKAO party was at that moment much reduced, owing to a number of SHANS going home, the NCO in charge of the escort, Havildar LA SHI NAW, who had eight men with him, decided to attack the JAP party. Leaving three men to lead the coolies, etc. into the jungle, he took the remaining five together with two Brens guns and went to meet the Jap force. He laid a successful ambush for the advance section, killing five, and when the remainder ran back to join the main body he took his five men further ahead and laying another ambush for the main body, opened fire at almost point blank range, killing over 20. The remainder ran off into the jungle and Havildar LA SHI NAW took his section back to join the coolies… Next morning before leaving his camp he heard that the same force was in a village a few miles away. He once more took five men and marched down to attack the village. Owing to the open ground around the village he had to open fire from around 150 yards, but once more drove the Japs away from the village after suffering casualties.”
On La Shi Naw’s record, Crosby wrote the following:
‘A wonderful fire eater. Only content when he was taking on 50 his number. Throughout the whole operation he was always dashing about after Japs. A first class BREN Gun man and an excellent shot with it. Never happy unless he had his Bren Gun with him, almost slept with it. No good at drill & all the time was in the BURIFS remained a RFM [Rifleman], but absolutely TOPS in action. With 5 men he attacked 80 Japs. Recommended for the B.G.M.
Here is the London Gazette, announcing his award.