How It Began
The two of us, Colin & Johni van Orton visited Burma in 2004. We planned to tour a number of areas whilst we were there to explore this wonderful country and meet some of the people.
During our stay in Burma we decided to make a detour to Maymyo [now known as Pyin Oo Lwin.] Friends of ours had lived there in the 1940s and told us what a wonderful hill station it was and regaled us with stories about the glorious Kandawgi gardens there.
Whilst we were in Maymyo we visited All Saints Church. The church was in a poor state of repair and as we were leaving we looked up at the most beautiful windows, the evening light was streaming in through the stained glass and we were overwhelmed by the colour and content. It had a picture of St Peter in the left panel, and a picture of Jesus in the right panel. At the bottom of the windows was an inscription that has changed our lives, it said – “Feed my lambs”. The windows were in a state of collapse – they were held in by chicken wire and had many pieces of glass missing; but despite this the transparency, the luminosity, the vibrant colours and the wonderful painting in such fine detail made them so special that we felt compelled to find out more about them.
After some research we found that the windows were of Pre-Raphaelite design and thus a valuable artwork which had been dedicated to Rodway Swinhoe, a Judge in Mandalay in the1920s. He was an eclectic individual who was an enthusiastic water-colourist and who had been involved with development of the Kandawgyi Gardens in Maymyo where he had lived.
We then discovered that whilst David Knowles had been on a recent visit to Burma to renovate the stained glass windows in Rangoon Cathedral had been able to travel to Maymyo and inspect the windows. As an expert restorer he had concluded that they had a very limited life (approximately one year) before they collapsed.
On our return to England we visited David and asked him if he would be prepared to travel to Burma and do the restoration work if we were able to raise the funds to restore the windows and meet all the costs involved. He willingly agreed to do this. Our next big move was to raise the funds!
We made many enquiries and discovered that Viscount Slim had visited Maymyo where he had been interested in the condition of the windows and had also wanted to help. Colin contacted him and we were delighted when he agreed to become our Patron. Not only had he fought in Burma during the Second World War but his father, Field Marshal Bill Slim, had commanded the 14th Army that fought the victorious campaign there. Viscount Slim is the President of the Burma Star Association and gaining his support was a tremendous boost to our cause.
As anyone knows who has tried to raise funds for projects within UK it can be very difficult. It is even more difficult when you are trying to fund-raise for distant Church Windows in Burma – which at the time was a fairly closed country. We wondered where to start, and decided to write to many organisations that we thought would be interested in fine art, as well as companies and anyone else who just might have associations with Burma.
Three hundred letters and many phone calls later we had brought in just a few hundred pounds! Nothing like the thousands required for the project. Colin next contacted Colonel Piers Storie-Pugh the Head of Remembrance Travel who had led veterans Pilgrimages to Burma. He was very supportive and became personally involved and joined our committee. With his support we got an article about the plan to restore the windows published in the Royal British Legion’s magazine. Finally we felt we were making headway.
We had the most wonderful response from the Burma veterans and their relatives. We received letters, phone calls, e-mails and a generous flood of donations, which rapidly swelled our funds. We arranged for a similar article to be published in the Burma Star magazine, and many of their veterans were also supportive with their personal donations.A large number of the veterans who had fought through Burma in the last war had been stationed in, or had passed through Maymyo. They had many fond memories of the Church and were happy to make donations towards the restoration of the windows. Our appeal fund was growing fast!
We still needed several thousands of pounds more so we decided to hold a Charity golf day, which proved to be a great success; it became an annual event, attracting up to a hundred players. We have been fortunate to have had some great teams of golfers who have supported our Charity and enjoyed a great day together.
David Knowles the window restorer agreed to travel to Burma in early 2005. He took with him all the equipment he would need and spent three weeks in Maymyo (POL) working terribly hard removing the windows, restoring them, and replacing them. This he did with the aid of some old bamboo scaffolding and some local people to help with the lifting etc! It was a fantastic achievement.
The support of Chris Harrison the Churchwarden at All Saints was vital in co-ordinating the local help that was required.
Chris has made a huge contribution in many ways to the local community, including setting up a website for POL. [www.pyinoolwin.info.] This site helps to encourage tourism and provides a great opportunity to discover more!
There was so much interest in the restoration project from veterans and their relatives that we decided to organise a Pilgrimage to coincide with the Service to rededicate the restored windows. We worked closely with Remembrance Travel and the lottery funded “Heroes Return” programme to arrange for a total of a hundred and fifty veterans, family and supporters to travel to Burma in November 2005. Viscount and Lady Slim headed this fantastic Pilgrimage.
The journey started in Rangoon where on the 11th November 2005 we all attended a very moving Remembrance Service at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Taukkyan. We then went to the military cemetery in Rangoon for a further service; a final service was held in Rangoon Cathedral in the evening before attending a splendid reception at the British Embassy. This was hosted by the then British Ambassador – Ms Vicky Bowman, who is now a BCF Trustee.
The following day we went to Mandalay and then finally up to Maymyo for the Service of rededication of the windows conducted by the Bishop of Mandalay. Members of the team, including both of us and David Knowles, took part in the service. Afterwards it was fascinating to hear the stories from the wonderful men present who had served in Burma and were making this special Pilgrimage. So many of them are well into their eighties but were so full of spirit and joy to see how the church had been restored as well as the military memorials that had been renewed in honour of their old comrades.
A special new memorial was taken out to Burma by two serving members of the Air Despatch Squadron; it was placed in the church in memory of all those men who had lost their lives flying and dropping food, medicine and equipment for their comrades in the jungles and mountains of Burma.
We had always said that if there was any money left over from the windows fund we would give it to Orphanages. The reason for this decision was the text at the foot of the beautifully restored windows, which read “FEED MY LAMBS”. There are many “LAMBS” to feed in Burma. They are the children that are being loved, cared for and educated in orphanages and little pre- schools throughout the country. They are children that are displaced, children without parents, children who are sick and in desperate need of care. These are the children we are helping in any way we can. So little goes so far in Burma. Food, Clothing, Medication, Books, all these things cost money.
TEACHERS although they earn very little, still have to be kept, fed and paid. DOCTORS AND NURSES need basic but VITAL EQUIPMENT that is scarce and expensive. This all costs money. We raise this money to meet the children’s needs and improve their lives.