"Burma Jack" Girsham
Circa 1950's.
Image from back cover
Burma Jack Pub. 1971

Book & TV Appearance
Site Notes



"Burma1 Jack" James Girsham

"Burma Jack" James Girsham was an adventurer and big game hunter who loved the jungles of Myanmar (Burma). During World War II he was a lead army scout for the American Army Merrill's Marauders operating in Burma during 1944. After the War he moved to India and in the 1960's to England for the remainder of his life. In 1958 he appeared in the High Adventure with Lowell Thomas India program hunting a tiger that was attacking people in the tea plantation area of northeastern India. His autobiography titled Burma Jack was published in 1971 with Lowell Thomas.

"Burma Jack" James Girsham was born in Bago 2, Myanmar, formerly known as Pegu, Burma, circa 1894 to a British father and Burmese mother. In 1886, about eight years prior to his birth Britain had made Burma a province of India. Jack's father had a good job working for the government as an accountant and his mother raised their family, which consisted of two sisters, a brother and two older half-brothers from his mother's first marriage.

Growing up in Bago(Pegu) Jack had memories of a good life living with his parents in a nice house, horseback riding, two-wheeled pony drawn carriage (trap 3)rides and of trips to the market, which was often overflowing with people and many exciting trade goods. His parents could afford servants but his mother did most of the cooking. In addition to learning English, Jack's mother taught him Burmese and their Indian servants taught him the Indian languages. He was also taught the Christian religion as both of his parents were Christian. Bago(Pegu) was surrounded by jungle and this was where Jack first hunted and learned to love the jungle.

In 1903 at the age of nine, Jack's father died. The family then moved to Pyin U Lwin 2, formerly known as Maymyo, where one of his older half-brothers was headmaster of a school. During British rule, Maymyo served as the summer capitol of Burma/Myanmar due to its 3,539 foot (1,078 m) elevation above sea level which provided cooler summer air than the winter capitol in Rangoon(Yangon 2). In Pyin U Lwin(Maymyo), Jack attended school and further developed his passion for hunting in the jungles around the city. There were also annual Maymyo Week celebrations when the government was in town that Jack participated in including shooting contests. Jack was good enough to shoot for the Upper Burma team against Lower Burma. He also liked to play football(soccer) and was a very good amateur boxer to the point of considering a professional career.

Jack's first job after completing school was in Rangoon (Yangon), Myanmar's principal seaport, working for the Customs Department of the Burmese government doing trade shipment inspections. Then he moved on to the Forest Department of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation for at least seven years as a manager of local teak logging operations which included using elephants to harvest and transport the teak wood (Sample).

Jack Girsham's first marriage was in the 1930's to a young woman whose family lived near his home in Pyin U Lwin(Maymyo). They had a son together. During this time Jack was mostly away from home working timber operations with a small firm operated by an Indian proprietor and later for a job with the Elephant Control Division of the Burmese Game Department.

In 1937 Burma was separated from India but still within British colonial rule and on July 7, 1937 Japan invaded China with the goal of achieving military, political and economic control of China including control of its raw materials, food and labor resources. Burma was not involved in the conflict at this point and remained officially neutral but did supply some materials in support of the Chinese Army by an overland route known as the Burma Road from its major port city of Yangon, then Burma's capitol and called Rangoon. During this period life in Burma appears to have been relatively normal with the average Burmese citizen not affected by the Japanese fighting in China including Jack Girsham and his family.

All that changed in January 1942 when Japan invaded Burma/Myanmar with the initial objective of capturing Yangon, Myanmar's principal seaport. Capturing Yangon would close the overland supply route to the Chinese Army and provide a major base of operations to defend Japanese gains on the West Coast of the southeastern Asia peninsula.

Jack Girsham had just traveled to Mawlamyine 2(Moulmein) in southern Burma on assignment to examine local sawmill timber and classify the best as war supplies for the Burmese army at the time of the Japanese invasion. Moulmein was in the path of the Japanese army on its march to Yangon and there he witnessed his first fighting of the war.

As Moulmein was evacuated Jack received instructions to continue his timber classification work in northern Burma. The first thing he did as he headed north was to stop in Maymyo with the intention of getting his family safely evacuated to India. The plan was to drive to Mandalay where they could get a plane to India. However the Mandalay airfield had been heavily bombed so he put them on a train to Myitkyina where they could catch an evacuation plane for women, children and old people to India. On May 6, 1942 while waiting for a plane the Myitkyina airfield was attacked by a Japanese fighter plane. Many people on the ground were killed including Jack Girsham's then mother-in-law and sister-in-law. His wife, son and a surviving sister-in-law became refugees and attempted to hike eighty-five miles north to Sumprabum and from there on to India. His wife, son and many of the refugees did not survive the journey.

The rapid Japanese advance into Burma caused Burma to break up and Jack's job classifying timber for Burmese army use to end. He became a refugee himself and attempted to escape from Maymyo to India along with several of his relatives including a brother-in-law, a niece, her sister and three children. At Monywa most of the group boarded a boat skippered by an old roommate of Jack's headed north on the Chindwin River to a road that led to Manipur, India and safety. Due to limited space Jack did not get on the boat and continued on with other refugees eventually making it to the Indian border and on to Calcutta(Kolkata).

While a refugee in Calcutta Jack was solicited to join the British Army Northern Kachin Levies as a second lieutenant to recruit, train and fight with volunteer Kachin people from northern Burma for hit-and-run operations against the Japanese army in Burma. He was later promoted to Captain and picked up the nickname "Captain Jack". While operating in Burma Jack was injured on a pangee 4, a bamboo stick sharpened into a spike and placed in the ground at an angle to impale whatever comes into contact with it. The injury was serious enough to require treatment back in Calcutta. While getting treatment for his leg Jack fractured his right knee in a football(soccer) game. This injury was more severe and required treatment at St. Luke's Hospital in Chabua, India and a five-month recovery spent at the military rest area in Shillong, India.

While at St. Luke's Hospital Jack was recruited to join an American volunteer fighting force of approximately 3,000 men named the "5307th Composite Unit(Provisional)", which became known as "Merrill's Marauders", operational in Burma from February to August 1944 under the command of brigadier general Frank Merrill. Jack operated as a jungle guide and lead scout with a group of Burmese Kachins for the Marauders.

While serving with the Marauders, Jack met Ken Stager, a trained ornithologist, who was also serving with the Marauders. Not long after their meeting Colonel Thomas T. Mackie offered Ken Stager an ornithologist position to research typhus, which was carried by birds and animals and that was killing many soldiers in the jungles. Ken recommended Jack join him as an expert in trapping and hunting birds and animals in the upper Burma region and Jack was able to obtain a transfer. Jack worked with Ken Stager for the remainder of World War II doing typhus research for the American Typhus Commission.

After World War II Jack Girsham joined the Burmese army stationed mostly in Pyin U Lwin(Maymyo), his hometown since 1903, and remained in their service until 1949.

Burma achieved independence from British rule on January 4, 1948 and Jack decided it was time to move on from his lifelong home of Burma. He wanted to remain in the hunting business and ended up accepting a hunting license in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, which is near the Burma/Myanmar border. He worked as an independent contractor for local officials and tea plantation owners hunting tigers that were attacking people, usually older or injured tigers that could no longer successfully hunt on their own and occasional rogue elephants that were damaging crops. He also took people who had come to Assam to hunt big game animals on safari hunts and did other miscellaneous assignments.

In the late 1940's Jack became engaged to his second wife, Charmaine, who was living in Kolkata(Calcutta), India. After Jack received his hunting license in Assam he and Charmaine were married. Charmaine continued to live in Kolkata, where she had a job and Jack would fly down to spend time with her during the hunting off season which typically ran from April to September.

In 1958 Lowell Thomas met Jack Girsham when he came to India to film a "High Adventure" television program about the wonders of India. Lowell was in Assam in northeastern India to film the tea plantations in the prime tea growing Sonitpur District when a tea planter entered the "High Adventure" camp inquiring if he could borrow an elephant for a Tiger hunt. A Tiger had been attacking tea plantation workers in the area and Jack Girsham had been hired to track down and kill this man-eating Tiger. The Lowell Thomas High Adventure group supplied the elephant and asked if Jack would agree to have the Tiger hunt filmed for the High Adventure program. Jack agreed and appears in the High Adventure India program that originally aired April 19, 1958 on CBS.

In August 1967 Jack Girsham and his wife Charmaine decided to move from Kolkata, India to New Barnet, England just outside London and lived there until he passed away in the mid 1980's. The primary source for this biography was the auto biographical book Jack Girsham wrote titled Burma Jack published in the United States in 1971 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Book List

Burma Jack - 1971, autobiography. With Lowell Thomas.
(A True Story of Jungle Heroism and Adventure in War and Peace)

Television Appearance

High Adventure with Lowell Thomas - CBS - Appeared as guide in India on Tiger hunt with Lowell Thomas. Original Broadcast Date: April 19, 1958

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The Trip from Houston to Burma - Jack Girsham interview by Carl Hunt - circa mid to late 1970's - Badge and Gun (Houston Police Officer's Union Publication).
Ken Stager, 1915-2009 - Blog post about Ken Stager mentions his involvement with Jack Girsham during World War II typhus research - Camera Trap Codger.

Northern Kachin Levies
Kachin Levies - Wikipedia.
Fort Hertz - Northern Kachin Levies Base Camp - Wikipedia.

USA Kachin Rangers
USA Kachin Rangers - OSS - 101 Association, Inc.

Merrill's Marauders (Official unit title "5307th Composite Unit (Provisional)", operational Feb-Aug 1944)
Galahad: Intelligence Aspects - Article mentions Jack Girsham's activity with Galahad during World War II (Galahad was codename for US volunteer force, otherwise known as Merrill's Marauders) - Central Intelligence Agency.
Ch. 5 Special Operations in the China-Burma-India Theater - Article about United States activity in area during World War II - U.S. Army Special Operations in World War II by David W. Hogan, Jr. at U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Merrill's Marauders - 25:44 min - Actual Film of Merrill's Marauders in action in Burma from 1944 - YouTube.
Merrill's Magnificent Marauders - Part 1/5 10:23 min, Part 2/5 10:23 min, Part 3/5 10:23 min, Part 4/5 10:23 min, Part 5/5 10:21 min - Color and B&W documentary about Merrill's Marauders action in Burma during 1944 with pre-World War II background information. - Most Secret program - BBC Worldwide, Ltd. - 1998
Merrill's Marauders - Film Clip 1/2 6:38 min, Film Clip 2/2 3:10 min - Movie starring Jeff Chandler, Ty Hardin and Claude Akins, Warner Bros. 1962 (IMDb Entry).
Merrill's Marauders - National World War II Museum.
Merrill's Marauders - Wikipedia.
Merrill's Marauders Association - Website maintained by descendants, relatives and friends of the unit (Excellent Photo Archive).

Jack's Service Recommendation Letters
Col. Hunter Recommendation Letter for Girsham 26 July 1944.
Col. Easterbrook Recommendation Letter for Girsham 11 Nov 1944.
Col. Easterbrook Recommendation Letter for Girsham(2)10 Dec 1944.
Col. Osborne Commendation Letter of Girsham 21 Mar 1945.

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WebPost Footnotes:
1 - The Burma Jack book, the main source for this site, was published in 1971 prior to the passage of the Adaptation of Expressions Law in Burma on June 18, 1989, which changed many place names in the country including the national name to Myanmar. For reference both names have been included where available. Back
2 - Name changed June 18, 1989 with passage of Adaptation of Expressions Law in Burma/Myanmar. Back
3 - p.18 Burma Jack. Back
4 - p.137 Burma Jack. Back

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Version 1.0 W.A. Haugen
Last Modified: December 17, 2012.
Origination date of page July 25, 2011.
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