Stephen Brooks: Escape from Burma (1942)

Figure 1.--

Peter Hopkirk went in search of the influences and aspects of 19th century India which inspired Rudyard Kipling to write his famous novel Kim. There is a very interesting account in his book about the British Boarding School Kim attended. The name given in the book is fiction but it is thought Kipling based the fictional school on a real school that was at Lucknow. The name of the school was ‘La Martiniere.’ Hopkirk was able to meet a former pupil from this school. The story he had to tell was quite extraordinary.

Stephen Brooks’s father had been an army doctor. He had married a Burmese woman and he was retired from the military when Stephen was born. At this time he lived in Burma with parents and his older brother and sister. He enjoyed the life in this country but it was 1942 and the Japanese had invaded Burma. Stephen was then 11. They had to flee Burma.

They had tried to leave on the last planes to ferry people away from the invading Japanese forces. Stephen was climbing up the steps to board the aircraft. He did not know that he had got ahead of the others. His parents realised that there would not be room for them all on the plane so they called him back. He climbed down the plane’s steps. It was a lucky escape for him because these planes were shot down by the Japanese.

The only way to escape was to flee into the jungle and walk the 300 miles to British India. The journey was a hard one and would take them through the jungle and over the mountains before they reached India. They were with thousands of other refugees going in the same direction. It was to be a harrowing 6 month walk. They were machine gunned by Japanese war planes. They were ambushed by renegade Chinese soldiers who robbed them. Stephen is still hunted by nightmares of the trauma he experienced at this time.

They were two months into the walk when Stephen had his 12th birthday. A month later Stephen’s father, a 70 year old man and weakened by the journey died from ‘Blackwater fever,’ this is a type of Malaria. His sister caught another type of Malaria and she was lucky to survive it. His older brother had dysentery. His mum was torn by grief for her husband and filled with worry about her sick children. She was helpless and could do nothing to make them well again. She did the best she could to comfort her children through their sicknesses. His mum somehow held on. Stephen was the one who held everyone together and it was he who nursed everyone when they fell sick. It was probably Stephen’s care which helped his older sister recover from a very serious illness. One which is nearly always fatal but she was able to recover from it.

After the nightmare walk they finally reached India in October 1942. By this time they were totally destitute and had no papers to prove they were British. Eventually everything got sorted out and they settled into life in India. Stephen went to a school and settled into school life. It was remarkable that despite loosing 6 months of schooling he won a scholarship to ‘La Martiniere'. While at this school Stephen distinguished himself both in his schoolwork and at sport. The cups he won for athletics then are on display in his home. He has many sad memories of his escape from Burma but these are compensated a little by the happier memories of ‘La Martiniere’ School.


Hopkirk, Peter. Quest for Kim (Oxford University Press, 1996), Ch 8, pp. 138-140.

William E. Ferguson.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main World War II displaced children page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: January 21, 2004
Last updated: January 21, 2004