Sometime in mid 1944 Dad was advised by physicians and other friends to seek some medical consulting at the Japanese Army’s medical center (recently the British Military Hospital, Maymyo ), as a token of his concern for the wounded, disease- ridden soldiers who began to be transported in droves from the frontlines in northern Burma. He was not at all inclined to do so because of loyalty to the Brits, his hidden British Army rank, as well as his antagonism to the Japanese ruthless occupation of his homeland, Burma, after subjecting him to three massacres in the space of the first four months of their invasion... an experience he never quite rid himself of. Then the Indian National Army began to make inquiries about his patriotic volunteering in their great push into India with Japanese divisions on the Imphal front. That was a grave concern for him as he could not leave Mother and all of us young children and niece , Emily, with no support or sustenance; besides, he was not a supporter of Bose, but of Gandhi and Nehru.
As noted before, it so happened that at this time Dad, despite the increasing bombing by Allied planes, would try to support his patients in Maymyo by taking a tonga , a small carriage pulled by a horse, from Nawkangyi village to his dispensary in town. One day he noticed a Japanese officer of some rank, who had tethered his horse to the front porch, and who approached him with a wide smile and friendly gestures. Dad returned his open greeting but was nonetheless concerned that something was afoot with the powers-that-be. He was quickly reassured by this gentleman, with a lot of gestures , broken English and friendly facial expressions that his guest or “guesto’s” name was Dr. Ikeda who requested to observe and learn from him while he treated his many civilian patients. While Dad was not able to promise him to be in that clinic but a couple days a week, because of the increasing Allied bombings, Dr. Ikeda never missed a single visit and hung on every word that Dad uttered, or, I should say re-uttered (?) many times.
A big giant roly-poly of a man we kids fell in love with his friendliness when he visited us when we moved back into town upon the Japanese HQ demands that all refugees return to town.
It was a memorable family meeting with Dr. Ikeda San, the description of which only my sister Sheila could relate, as she did in her book “At Long Last Liberation” mentioned earlier. He took us kids by storm at the outset when Dad introduced Mother as “my wife”, to which he repeated: “Ah so des! My wife! My wife!”—and thinking that “ My Wife” was her given name kept addressing her as “my wife” throughout the evening despite subtle attempts to correct him. This, of course, lead to peals of giggles from my teenage sisters, and pinches on my leg under the table by Mom when I was tempted to join them with my very sonorous bellow!
A 'hey fella, nice to meet ya' Governor Christie kinda guy, he was down to earth and childish to a point that Dad's getting to know his medical colleague was lost to the peals of laughter he occasioned from us when he apparently challenged us ( in Japanese) to beat him eating a large bowl of strawberry custard pie which the girls had made for the party, and got quite sick in the garden when he consumed all of it!
Soon, thereafter, Dr. Ikeda noticed, at one of their consultation sessions, that Dad became pre-occupied with worries, and he inquired what they were all about. Dad mentioned that he was being pressured by the INA to join their ranks when he needed to be providing for his young family. Ikeda San told him that he would inquire about that and a few days later, at their next session, Dr. Ikeda told Dad that one confidence deserved another by informing him that the reason he was so ignorant about internal medicine and tropical diseases was because he was given an M.D. upon joining the services, even though he had only a year or two of training in anatomy and physiology. He, therefore, had requested his superior at the Japanese medical center to invite Dad as a consultant on one or two days of the week because of their great need. Dad could not believe his ears at this news, nor his eyes when Ikeda San presented him with a plaque stating to the INA :" Because of his expertise, Dr. Peter Valu’s services are required by the Imperial Army’s medical center in Maymyo." That resolved the problem forthwith, with Dad examining, diagnosing, and prescribing only, while another Japanese M.D. kept a wary eye on him, and Dr. Ikeda treated them, as the Japs were afraid he might sabotage the health of his soldier patients.
With the increasing Allied bombings (as many as five a day) we ignored earlier warnings and moved back to Nawkangyi village, when Norma, and the rest of us, became very ill with malaria, Norma’s infection being the most virulent since she had an attack of the cerebral variety or “falciparum” malaria, which involves the infection of the brain. Dad called in a well-known Indian physician friend, a Dr. James, who visited our village hut and concurred with Dad’s diagnosis. The problem was that while it was very difficult to obtain the quinine or 'atabrine' to treat common malarial disease, it was next to impossible to obtain a new drug, Mepacrine, for the falciparum variety. Norma was already so severely affected that she was in and out of a coma. On leaving, Dr. James, a very kindly sort, asked to speak to Mom to console her. He found Mom praying in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin. The good doctor gently said: “Mary dear, you should not pray for her to come around.” And when she looked at him through her grief and tears, he added his prognosis :”If she comes around she will be a vegetable for life!” I’ll never forget Mom’s loud sobs and surprising strong voice when she countered: “She will be O.K., and don’t tell me otherwise!” I looked at her and had the distinct impression that but for her deep religious faith she might have shied the statue at the the poor man, but she relaxed when he gently hugged her and said he would try to get the Mepacrine. A hurried search for Mepacrine through all sources had no success however, until Dad contacted Dr. Ikeda who quickly obtained that drug from the medical center and gave it to him for our use, and so saved Norma’s life..
Norma, who suffered a total loss of memory for months, did in fact come around and become so nimble of mind that she led her high school class (when the convent school reopened at the end of the war in 1945) by some two hundred points, became a linguist with the fluent knowledge of some 13 languages, retiring as an executive secretary of a major bank in Dallas, Texas in the area of her specialty. At some point in my graduate studies in microbial genetics I wondered if the malarial parasite had shared, or lysogenized, a fragment of its DNA with a complimentary strand of her brain cells’ DNA and so miraculously opened up a mental capacity hitherto unknown to her.
Be that as it may, I never forgot the unforgettable concern shown by that novice physician, Dr. Ikeda, which allowed Norma to live a long life, and profess such a wondrous liking for languages, especially Japanese hirakana.
It remains a strange, inexplicable happening in our lives that at the darkest twist and turn of Fate, an individual will appear to rescue a family member. While some might claim that this could be explained as happenstance or chance, along the way I learned to accept it as Providence.
Editor's Note: Recently I had the pleasure and honor of contacting a well known Anglo-Burmese family-- now living in the U.K.-- who provided me with information on "Dr. Ikeda San", our friend and benefactor of old. It appears that my source, who is more elderly and spry than I am-- and so must be considered young-- met with that Japanese gentleman in 1942 when he and his family were interred by the Japanese Army in the old Alexandria Barracks near Nawkangyi village. That gentleman and family, who were most helpful and gracious, informed me that he worked for Dad as a compounder/ pharmacist when the Brits appointed Dad Health Officer of Maymyo in 1945.
I was particularly thankful to learn that Ikeda San survived the capture of Maymyo (by Indian and Gurkha troops , led by Lt.Colonel Morris of the 62nd brigade of General Slim's British Indian Fourteenth Army on March 13, 1945)1, and was repatriated to Japan.
I would gratefully receive any information from Japanese authorities about Ikeda San's whereabouts after the War.
1."At Long Last Liberation" (Authorized Edition) by Sheila M.Valu and Joseph A. Valu (ed.), Copyright 2006. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2008 by Joseph Alwyn Valu. All Rights Reserved.