LONDON: The Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge has released a short film of a remarkable story of a daring World War II operation in which hundreds of people fleeing the Japanese advance through Burma were rescued by elephant. Letters, diaries and amateur films shot during the expedition, which was organised by a British tea planter called Gyles Mackrell, will be examined in detail following their donation to the Centre of South Asian Studies.This short film, chronicling the epic rescue mission and using the footage that Mackrell took himself, explains how, amid the chaos of the British retreat from Burma early in 1942, the tea planter mounted an operation to save refugees who were trapped by flooded rivers at the border with India using the only means available to get them across elephants.Gyles Mackrell was 53 when, in January 1942, the Japanese invaded British-held Burma. He had spent most of his life in Assam, where he was working as an area supervisor for Steel Brothers, a firm exporting tea.
The collection at Cambridge has been donated by Mackrell’s niece and an independent researcher, Denis Segal. It includes not just his films and diaries, but papers and accounts by some of those who were rescued.Underscoring the importance of the collection, Dr. Kevin Greenbank, archivist at the Centre of South Asian Studies, where the collection will be housed, said in a media release: “The story is a sort of Far Eastern Dunkirk, but it has largely been forgotten since the war. Without the help of Mackrell and others like him, hundreds of people fleeing the Japanese advance would quite simply never have made it – App