A Star of Burma?
Lieutenant Colonel Fred Dawson Ogden ERD Royal Signals
Fred Dawson Ogden
The Man Fred Dawson Ogden was born on 23rd June 1898 in Heywood, Lancashire. Son of Edward, a Stone Mason and Jane he was the oldest of five children, Harold, Alice, Billy and Edward. He did not have a privileged childhood, his father dying whilst Fred was still quite young. As a result he matured early in life, assuming responsibility for his siblings; this sense of responsibility remaining with him throughout the rest of his life. At the outbreak of World War 1 on 4th August 1914 he joined the Army as early as he was able and over-stated his age to do so. He enlisted into the Royal Field Artillery with service number 10288 and serving in the UK until he was sent to France on 29th November 1915 aged 17, as part of the 30th Division 1st Army Corps British Expeditionary Force based in Bethune. During the course of the war he was promoted to Bombardier and Sergeant and it is possible he suffered from Shell Shock as he was awarded a Silver War Badge but continued serving in France until , although he never discussed the subject for the rest of his life. Following the end of the War he was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals. On 11th March 1925 he was Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers (RE) Regular Army Supplementary Reserve of Officers (RASRO) Category B in the 49th (West Riding) Division based at The Barracks, Glossop Road in Sheffield. On 1st August 1925 he relinquished his Commission in the RASRO and transferred to the 61st (North Midland) Field Brigade Royal Artillery (RA) Territorial Army (TA) and in civilian life gained an engineer apprenticeship, possibly in Leek where he lived for a time during the 1920s. On Saturday 23rd October 1926 aged 28 he married Ethel Cooper, whom he always referred to as Gladys, at St. John's Church, Wakefield. On 16th March 1927 he transferred from the RA TA back to the RE SRO, as 2nd Lieutenant with seniority backdated to 11th March 1925 and on 8th August 1928 transferred again from the
SRO to the RASRO on the Regimental List RE, with the same seniority. During 1928 Fred and Gladys moved to Rangoon in Burma where he worked as an Engineer and Surveyor on railway and road construction. This was during the days of British Colonial rule and when Burma was known as ‘Further India’. On 11th April 1929 he resigned his Commission in the RASRO and the same day was appointed as Captain with the Army In India Reserve of Officers, seniority from 24th May 1926. He served with the Military Engineer Service coupling this with his civilian job. During this time Fred and Gladys had their first daughter Jean Sheila Maragret who was born in October 1930 and the family remained in Rangoon until 2nd May 1932 when they returned to the UK. He resigned his Commission in the Indian Army and re-enlisted on 10th December 1932 into the
RASRO Regimental List, RE as Captain. In civilian life began work at the Harrow Urban District Council as a Surveyor, living at ‘Brinmore’, 67 Chester Road, Northwood. Fred was keen on Rugby and had named the house after a friend who had died during a match. His second daughter Barbara Eileen Patricia was born in 1935, both she and Jean later qualifying as doctors. During his time at Harrow Fred designed and built his own house on a private estate at 28 Elgood Avenue, Northwood, Middlesex, living there for the rest of his life. Just before the outbreak of World War 2 on 3rd September 1939, he was mobilised aged 41 reporting to Aldershot Military Barracks. He was promoted to Acting Major on 24th August and War Substantive Major three years later on 13th October 1942. During the war he served in North Africa, landing at Algiers in October 1942 with the 1st Army and returning to England during August 1943. He was then attached to the United States Army Combat Engineers in Cornwall as Liaison Officer and in January 1944 was posted to the Corps of Royal Engineers (CRE) at Hereford until June 1945. Promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel on 14th February 1944 he moved to CRE Carmarthen from in 1945 until July 1946 and was awarded the 1939-1945 Star, Africa Star with 1st Army Clasp, Defence Medal and 1939-1945 British War Medal for his war time services. Fred was released from the Army in 1946, relegated to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and on 23rd June 1948 aged 50 having attained the age limit of liability to recall, relinquished his commission and granted the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He continued his work in surveying and was appointed Deputy Surveyor to the Prison Commission, Fred was also a committed Freemason being elected Grandmaster of Wharton Lodge
in 1952 and had several hobbies in which he dabbled, including photography, an interest in nature and was elected a member of his local Parish Council. His denomination was given as Non Conformist and during the late 1950s he was confirmed at a ceremony held in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, organised by his daughter Jean. In January 1961 aged 63 he was awarded the Army Emergency Reserve Decoration for 12 years service in the Supplemetary Reserve, one of 109 awarded during that year. He retired from the Prison Commission aged 70 in 1968 but continued with various consultative positions including as Chairman of the appointments board for Civil Service applications. Fred died on 11th December 1984 aged 86 at Northwood and Pinner District Hospital and his funeral service was held at Emmanuel Church, Northwood followed by a cremation at Breakspear Crematorium in Uxbridge. He was survived by Gladys who lived until 1991 and died aged 96. He was described by his daughter Jean as being a serious and very dutiful person, but by no means lacking a sense of humour.
The Story The group of medals awarded to Lieutenant Colonel Fred Dawson Ogden were acquired from the Orders and Medals Research Society annual convention on Saturday 27tth September 2008. They were not especially well displayed with his First War medals on their original bar, the World War 2 medals and his Emergency Reserve Decoration being separate as issued and all in a dirty condition. In addition there were a number of his uniform rank and cap badges but most importantly photographs of him in uniform and Commissioning parchments. A search of his Medal Index Card from The National Archives revealed that he was also entitled to the Silver War Badge. A visit to the Family records division at Holborn in London on Monday 31st March 2009 and the extraction of his will revealed he had been married to Ethel Ogden. It also revealed that he had a daughter Dr Jean Ogden and her details were located quickly form the internet on 192.com. On Tuesday 7th April 2009 Jean Ogden was telephoned and was initially a little guarded due to the nature of the call and thought it best that a visit be arranged to discuss the matter. A copy of the above biography as existed at the time was sent and on Wednesday 29th April 2009 a visit made to see her at her home address in Norwich. Dr Ogden was extremely helpful and provided a lot of useful additional biographical detail to help expand Fred’s life as well as loaning some extra photographs and the sought after World War 2 Medal Certificate confirming the award of four medals and one clasp for the Africa Star. It was also useful to discuss Fred with his daughter as several interesting facts emerged such as the fact he may have suffered shell shock; although he would never discuss this with his family and would become emotional at remembrance time, which could explain the Silver War Badge.
She was also able to confirm she had sold the medals in 2005 and that sadly Fred’s World War 1 miniature group has been separated and lost! She also gave permission for his medal entitlement to be confirmed with the MoD Medal Office which they did as above. One rather poignant comment made by Jean his daughter was that her mother's wishes were that Fred's medals were not to be disposed of after her death. Jean kept them for 21 years after Freds death before parting with them; and it is only fitting therefore that they are now preserved together with Fred’s biography within this research. Another excellent result and proof again – if it were needed – of the benefits of research and the recording for posterity of lesser known personalities.
British Colonial Rule in Burma British colonial rule in Burma was known as ’Further India’ and was run on the principle of ‘divide and rule’. The colonial administration relied heavily on Indian bureaucrats and by 1930 – to the resentment of the Burmese – Indian immigrants comprised half of the population of Rangoon. The British permitted the country’s many racial minorities to exercise limited autonomy. Burma was divided into two regions: Burma proper, where Burmans were in a majority – which included Arakan and Tenasserim – and the hill areas, inhabited by other minorities. The Burmese heartland was administered by direct rule. The hill areas which included the Shan and Karen states, the tribal groups in the Kachin, Chin and Naga hills retained their traditional leadership, although they were under British supervision. These policies gave rise to tensions that continue to plague today’s government. The colonial government built roads and railways and river steamers belonging to the Irrawaddy Flotilla company, operated between Rangoon and Mandalay. The British bought electricity to Rangoon, improved urban sanitation, built hospitals and redesigned the capital on a grid system. While the British set about building and modernisation, they benefited greatly from an economic boom in the Irrawaddy delta region. When they first arrived in Burma, much of the delta was swampland, but under the British, Burmese farmers began to settle in the delta and clear the land for rice cultivation. In 1855, paddy fields covered 400,000 hectares, by 1873 the forests had been cleared sufficiently to double the productive area. Land rice cultivation increased by another 400,000 hectares roughly every seven years, reaching 4 million in 1930. Population in the area which was about 1.5 million in the mid 19th century increased more than five fold.
Initially the rice paddies were farmed by Burmese smallholders but as the rice prices rose, larger holdings were bought up and large tracts of land cleared by pioneers from central Burma. The agricultural economy in the Delta region was dependant on complex credit facilities, run by Indian Chettiars, South Indian money lenders who extended credit to farmers at much lower rates than Burmese money lenders as a result of which they grew into a very prosperous community. Land rents had risen dramatically during the boom years and when the world economic depression set in the 1930s, rice prices slumped and small holders went bust. Between 1930-1935 the amount of land owned by the Chettiars trebled in size due to foreclosures , leaving them with well over a ¼ of the Delta’s prime land. The agrarian crisis triggered anti Indian riots, which started in Rangoon in May 1930 and then spread to the countryside. From the beginning of the colonial period, the British stressed the benefits of education and formal western-style schooling replaced the traditional monastic education system. Rangoon University was founded in 1920 and a new urban elite evolved. They attempted to bride the gap between old and new Burma by calling for the reform of traditional Buddhist beliefs and practices. In 1906 the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) was established in an effort to assert Burmese cultural identity and remain distinct from their colonizers. In 1916 the YMBA objected to the fact that Europeans persisted in wearing shoes inside religious buildings , which was considered disdainful. After demonstrations in over 50 towns, the government ruled that Abbots should have the right to determine how visitors should dress in their Monasteries – a ruling hailed as a victory for the YMBA. Following the introduction of greater self government in India and the spread of Marxism, the YMBA re-named itself the General Council of Burmese Associations and determined more autonomy for Burma. A strike was organised at Rangoon university the year it was founded and this spread across the country as schools were boycotted.
The most serious uprising was initiated by a Monk; called Saya San; it represented the first concerted effort to expel the British by force. From 1930-1932, during what became known as the Saya San rebellion, 3000 of his men were massacred and 9000 taken prisoner, while the government suffered casualties of only 138. Saya San was hanged in 1937. The underground nationalist movement also gained momentum in the 1930s and at the University of Rangoon the all Burma student movement emerged. The colonial regime was clearly shaken by the extent of the unrest and the level of violence and in 1935 the Government of Burma Act finally granted autonomy. In 1936 the groups’ leaders, Thakin Aung San and Thakin Nu, led another strike at the university and called themselves Thakin a previously honorific title only used to address Europeans. In 1937 Burma was formally separated from British India and received its own constitution, an elected legislature and popular governments served until the Japanese invasion and occupation in 1942.
- 1914-15 Star: 10288 BMBR. F.D.OGDEN. R.F.A.
- 1914-18 British War Medal: 10288 SJT. F.D.OGDEN. R.A.
- Victory Medal: 10288 SJT. F.D.OGDEN. R.A.
- 1939-45 Star: Unnamed as issued
- Africa Star: Unnamed as issued
- Defence Medal: Unnamed as issued
- War Medal 1939-45: Unnamed as issued
- Emergency Reserve Decoration: 1961
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This page last updated 14 Aug 14