Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)

The engineering group, John Brown, built a fertiliser factory in a very remote place, almost directly across the Irrawaddy River from Pagan. There were two Englishman living there, who managed the operations and maintained the works. I remember them as Bill and Cliff and also remember that they were somewhat eccentric.

I first met them at the British High Commission Club where they appeared fairly regularly on rest and recuperation in Rangoon! You always knew they were there because the noise level would go up a few notches and they were always at the bar.

The time came when I went on tour and while in Pagan I arranged to hire a boat to take me across to the factory to see them and to find out who else was there that might want to use BOAC’s services.

It was, as I said, remote. There were no roads leading out of there - the only way in or out was the boat via Pagan and it was extremely hot and dry - much as I imagine it must be in the desert. They were living in extremely basic small wooden huts - I wouldn't call them houses, and each had a young Burmese girl ‘housemaid ‘.

There was nothing to do apart from work, no other expatriates, and no leisure facilities except their 'club' bar. Everything they needed in the way of food and drink they had to take in themselves, hence the regular R&R in Rangoon. I think the conditions they were putting up with were literally driving them to drink - and slightly mad!

On one of their subsequent appearances in Rangoon, Cliff, who was a tall, gangling chap from northeast England, announced he wanted to get married to the young lady who was his housemaid, and as I was the only friend he had in Rangoon (I was the only British commercial representative in Rangoon at that time - the few other Brits were either High Commission staff or technical aid people) he asked if I would help him arrange it - and be his best man! I agreed to perform this duty, the wedding went off smoothly enough, and then they all went back up country.

Some time later, Cliff came in to see me again to collect his ticket prior to flying back to London. I understood that his contract had come to an end. He then asked when I would next be flying back to London, because he wanted me to escort his new wife to UK! For some reason which escapes me, he could not take her with him and since he didn't have any other friend in Rangoon, I was his obvious choice!

This lady had of course never been outside Burma before, nor could she speak any English except please and thank you. Incidentally Cliff didn't speak any Burmese, and neither did I!

The appointed day came and the young lady turned up with her Burmese passport and suitcases. I had her ticket and we duly boarded the flight to London together. Quite how we managed I'm not sure. Apart from anything else she was scared of being on such a ‘big’ aircraft (compared to the Fokker F27 from Pagan it was!) and among so many non-Burmese for the first time in her life. I took her to show her the toilets soon after take off, and with the aid of improvised sign language we managed the journey to London.

I was rather pleased, and not a little relieved, to see Cliff waiting as promised when we came out of Customs at Heathrow. I've often wondered how, and where, they are now…

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