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Major Alfred George Bird FINAL DAYS – A SYNOPSIS

 

On the 22nd of November 2003 I landed for the first time on the Andaman Islands at the Port Blair Airport.  My quest was to discover what had happened to my Grandfather Major A.G. Bird who had been stationed there for 20 plus years until the Japanese Occupation in 1942.  I was most fortunate to find that there was still a witness to the events that follow in my synopsis.  I was given access to the Cellular Jail National Monument Library Archives, where most of the detail below was obtained.  Much of the story was corroborated by an interview with a surviving eyewitness Mr. Appa Rao 85 years old who also took me to the burial spot and the locations of the following events.

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The Andaman & Nicobar Islands British Administration Supply Department or Commissariat was under Supply Officer Maj. A.G. Bird who also happened to be Assistant to The Chief Commissioner C.F. Waterfall in 1942.  He was assisted by other Indian Officers and was responsible for procuring daily requirements of food and commodities.  Government departments such as Hospitals, British Soldier Regiments, the Cellular Jail etc., drew their rations from the Supply Department.  They were resident on Ross Island.

During World War II when the South East Asian countries were overrun by the Japanese, the British India Government knew for certain that the defense of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands was simply not possible.  It was decided to abandon the Islands.  The British garrison stationed at Ross Island, Officers and members of European families, the families of Indian Officers and employees were evacuated to Calcutta on the 2nd of January 1942 on the S.S. Maharaja and on the 9th of January 1942 on the Naval Ship Alanga.  The last ship the S.S. Norilla sailed off fully loaded from Chatham Jetty on March 13th 1942.  it was intended for a ship to return for one more trip.  As the ship was preparing to leave Calcutta for its last voyage to carry the evacuees still remaining in Port Blair, news reached Calcutta that the Japanese forces had landed in the Andaman Islands.  In the early hours of March 23, 1942 the Japanese landed simultaneously at several points, and converged on the Headquarters at Aberdeen without firing a shot.

Chief Commissioner C.F. Waterfall and Maj. A.G. Bird who were waiting for the last ship to evacuate them, were taken prisoner and confined to Ross Island. C.F. Waterfall was later sent to Rangoon and Maj. Bird was put under house arrest. 

One of the convicts who was released by the Japanese after their occupation, had a grudge against Maj. Bird who at some stage also had Judicial Powers.  Maj. Bird had convicted Pushkar Bagchi to 6 months imprisonment for accepting a bribe.  He was an intelligent but dangerous young man.  He fooled the Japanese by projecting himself as a political prisoner and this suited the Japanese intelligence service.  He was appointed Naval Intelligence Officer to furnish information about the activities of the people and officials.  According to the Andaman Shimbun the local newspaper dated 1 May 1942,

“Pushkar Bagchi was decorated with a medal for his valuable services rendered to the Imperial Japanese Forces, on the occasion of the Birthday of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Japan”.

Bagchi had devised a plot whereby he could settle his score with Major Bird as well as project himself as a sworn enemy of the English and a well wisher of the Japanese.  He concocted a plan, with the help of one of his co-prisoners, to single out Major Bird as a “spy” who was supposedly conspiring with a few Indians to obtain information about the Japanese military installations, and was also obtaining good food and supplies for the British prisoners of war.  Major Bird was a God fearing and gentle British Officer who spoke fluent Hindustani and was well liked by the local population during his more than 20 year stay in the Islands. One of his closest friends was Dr. Dirwan Singh later to become the President of the Indian Independence League (IIL).  Major Bird had assisted him in obtaining a site for the New Gurdwara complex.  Bagchi planted four letters, allegedly written by Major Bird, disclosing the location of  strategic military installations.

Major A.G. Bird and the co-conspirator were arrested on the charge of espionage.  Major Bird was put under house arrest and the rest of the British Officers were sent to the abandoned Ross Island 1 mile  offshore from Aberdeen Port. Bagchi’s co-conspirator falsely confessed that Major Bird was a “spy” for the Allied Forces.  In a summary trial the Inperial Naval Head quarters handed down the death sentence by firing squad.  A news item in the Andeman Shimbun dated 10 April 1942 under the heading “Mr. Bird, the worst English war prisoner, read:

“The above persons in spite of being a war prisoner, made some Indians his tools by sending them money for bringing his food-stuffs and using them to inform him about the secret military activity of our forces.  Four such letters have been discovered on investigation.  He will be awarded capital punishment on the charge of spying according to the Japanese law, in the compound at 9 PM Tokyo time this evening”

Major Bird dressed in white was handcuffed and paraded through the Aberdeen Bazaar to the Browning Club in a most humiliating manner.  The local population, including young children, were ordered to attend the execution. The Japanese touts jeered, insulted and abused the 6’ 4” tall composed and cool Major Bird, he showed no sign of embarrassment or fear at the harassment or the fate that awaited him.

Major Bird was placed standing in front of a trench across the square of the Browning Club (located 100 feet from the World War I Memorial the Aberdeen Clock Tower), whilst Pushkar Bagchi read the charges leveled against him.  Major Bird stood unruffled but was not given the opportunity to say anything in his defense.  Bagchi declared that the charges being brought against him were so serious that under Japanese law death was the only punishment.  There was silence from the people assembled there as they anticipated the fate of major Bird.  The firing squad was ready with rifles pointed when the worst brutality imaginable occurred.  A Japanese soldier came forward caught him by the ankle and twisted it until it snapped.  He beat him with his fist and hit him in the stomach a number of times until he collapsed the soldier then began to kick him in the face.  He was in unbearable pain and agony but uttered no sound as he was forced to sit in front of the trench his neck and arms twisted and broken.   Major Bird asked for some water, a young boy brought some to him, but the Japanese soldier standing with sword in hand behind Major Bird took the water and poured it on his sword and beheaded him with one stroke.  He wiped the blood-smeared sword on his dying body and shouted “An enemy must be killed like this”.  Another soldier charged the body with his bayonet and pushed it into the trench.  Major A.G. Bird died gloriously upholding the dignity of his race and his country.  He neither cried nor asked for mercy although suffering terrible pain.  A gloom descended on the people who witnessed this barbaric act, every man and child was saddened by the event that had just taken place to a kind and generous man who was well known and very well liked by the local population.

Witness to the event as a young man Appa Rao, said that Dr. Dirwan Singh came forward to claim the body of the slain Britisher so that he could give him a proper burial in the Christian Gymkhana Cemetery nearby. The Japanese did not like this and felt embarrassed that the President of the Indian Independence League and Indian National Army had volunteered to bestow this honor on a British “spy”.  The body was taken to the Gymkhana Cemetery (now Aberdeen Cemetery) where it was cremated and the ashes buried near the entrance.

On the morning of 7 October 1945, more than a month after Japan Surrendered, a British mercy ship entered the harbor and anchored between Ross Island and Aberdeen Jetty. Thus came to an end the Japanese occupation.  

Prior to the Japanese Occupation, Major A.G. Bird owned some land about 5 miles outside of Port Blair Township S.E. of the airport. He had bequeathed this land to his faithful cook, and as a lasting memorial to Major Bird the village of some 3 shops  a Church and a Temple has been named BIRD LINE

Evidence of Bird Line Name Attribution.                                                                                                                                     Author: Chris Pratt-Johnson: Contact: prattjrc@gmail.com