Thompson Document 27: Introduction to Hla Sein
Hla Sein was twenty-two when she participated in the 1942 Walkout from Burma to India led by General Joseph Stilwell. Hla Sein had studied nursing at the hospital run by Gordon Seagrave in Namkham, and in 1942 she volunteered to work with Seagrave’s mobile surgical unit. Most of the wounded soldiers the unit saw were Chinese, from among the troops sent by Chiang Kai-shek, who were in retreat by the time Stilwell, the general sent to command them, arrived in Burma. The nurses and surgeons were frequently forced to hurriedly abandon their site as the British and Chinese troops retreated north. The Friends Ambulance Unit of British conscientious objectors worked with Seagrave’s mobile surgical unit, delivering the wounded by truck. Nurses such as Hla Sein and Ruby Johnson refer to the horror of tending to the mutilated soldiers. It seems indicative of the difficulty of her nursing work that, when talking to Henrietta Thompson in 1972, Hla Sein remembered that she experienced the thirteen days of walking of approximately two hundred miles barefoot as a welcome reprieve: “It was wonderful to get away from all the hard work we had been doing with the Chinese wounded.”
In the summer of 1971, Henrietta Thompson began her interviews of Walkout participants by interviewing the nurse Ruby Johnson. At Johnson’s recommendation, Thompson wrote to Hla Sein proposing a meeting and an interview. Hla Sein responded, as Thompson recalls, “that she did not want to see me or to be reminded of that part of her life.” However, in November, 1972, Thompson invited Ruby Johnson and her husband and another Walkout participant, Sargent Ray Chesley, and his wife to dinner. Thompson's guests brought Hla Sein with them, and she agreed then to talk to Thompson about her experiences in 1942.
Burma, Myanmar, Hla Sein, Ruby Johnson, Henrietta Thompson, General Stilwell, Gordon Seagrave, Retreat With Stilwell, Burmese nurses
Asian History | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Military History | Oral History | Women's History
Thompson, Henrietta and Sein, Hla, "Thompson Document 27: Introduction to Hla Sein" (1992). Henrietta Thompson Papers. 11.