This week the British prime minister is visiting Myanmar, the first Western leader to do so for many years since the imposition of military rule there. Mr. Cameron visits the country, more commonly known as Burma, following successfully carried out elections there. But British historical links with Burma are very old, the first Englishman to visit the country was Ralph Fitch, a prospector, who travelled there in 1586. The East India Company made contact in 1617 and opened trading depots there along with the Dutch. On 5 March 1824 Britain declared war on the Burmese after General Badula invaded Cachar, a British protectorate, and threatened the frontier of Sylhet. The First Burmese War lasted until 1827 and resulted in the annexation by the British of Arakan and Tenasserim to Bengal in February 1826. The Second Burmese War began in 1852 when the Burmese arrested the captains of two British merchant ships and resulted in the British annexation of Pegu. In 1885, the Burmese king attempted to negotiate with the French and imposed cash penalties on British timber firms; as a result the Third Burmese war began and a force under General Sir Harry Prendergast took the Burmese capital, Mandalay, and with the fall of The Kingdom of Ava, the British annexed the whole of Burma incorporating it in the Indian Empire on 1 January 1886. Indian stamps were used in Burma until 1 April 1937 which is when the country was transferred to direct British rule. The first definitive series consisted of the contemporary stamps of India which depicted King George V, who had died the year before, all overprinted "BURMA" in black. Values ranged from the small sized stamps 3ps to 12as and 1R to 25Rs in the large designs, the three highest values being depicted below.
On 15 November 1938 a new definitive series which depicted the new king, George VI, was issued, there being 8 small, low-valued stamps (a 1p value was issued on 1 August 1940) and 8 larger designs which were pictorial in nature including the 1R and 2R which showed a displaying peacock which was the emblem used as the country's flag badge when placed on the blue and red ensigns.
The 2As 6ps value was overprinted and surcharged and issued on 6 May 1940 to commemorate the centenary of the penny black, the world's first postage stamp.
Burma was occupied by Japanese forces in April 1942 although the Chin Hills District in the far north-west remained in British hands. On 1 November 1942, the Japanese Army Administration handed over control of postal services to the puppet Burmese government. A number of stamps were issued during the period of Japanese rule. With the defeat of the Japanese, a British Military Administration was established at Mandalay on 24 March 1945. The definitive series of 1938 was overprinted "MILY ADMN" and issued from 16 June 1945.
With the restoration of British Civil Administration, a new set of definitives was released on 1 January 1946 and took the form of the old designs in new colours. The values ranged from 3ps to 10Rs.
On 2 May 1946, a set of 4 stamps was issued to commemorate the victory of the British Empire in the Second World War. Two of the values in blocks of four are depicted below. In addition 9ps and 1 and half As values were issued.
Burma moved rapidly to independence and an interim local government was established in October 1947 with the definitive set being overprinted in black in Burmese script and issued on 1 October 1947.
Independence was achieved on 6 January 1948 and Burma became a republic which meant that it was not then eligible for Commonwealth membership. Subsequent political events resulted in Burma, later renamed Myanmar, always being ineligible to join The Commonwealth but perhaps, now that matters seem to be improving there to the extent that a British prime minister feels able to visit the country, we may one day see the country join The Commonwealth and collectors of Commonwealth stamps will find that they must begin to collect Burma's stamps again.
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