In the 19th century, Burmese rulers, whose country had not previously been of particular interest to European traders, sought to maintain their traditional influence in the western areas of Assam (known for its tea and silk), Manipur (connecting India to Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Artic, and Polynesia), and Arakan (a leading rice importer). Pressing them, however, was the British East India Company, which was expanding its interest eastwards over the same territory. Over the next sixty years, diplomacy, raids, treaties, and (4) 1885 compromises, known collectively as the Anglo-Burmese Wars: (1) 1824-1826, (2) 1852-1853 and (3) continued until Britain proclaimed control over most of Burma. With the fall of Mandalay, all of Burma came under British rule, being annexed on January 1, 1886.

On April 1, 1937, Burma became a separately administered colony of Great Britain, and Ba Maw became the first Prime Minister and Premier of Burma. Ba Maw was an outspoken advocate for Burmese self-rule, and he opposed the participation of Great Britain, and by extension Burma's participation in World War II. He resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was arrested for sedition in 1940, before Japan formally entered the war. As a major battleground, Burma was devastated during World War. Within months after they entered the war, Japanese troops had advanced on Rangoon, and the British administration had collapsed. A Burmese Executive Administration, headed by Ba Maw, was established by the Japanese in August 1942. British Chindits (special forces) were formed into long-range reconnaissance groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines. A similar American unit, Merrill's Marauders, followed the Chindits into the Burmese jungle in 1943.

On January 4, 1948, the nation became an independent republic, and under the terms of the Burma Independence Act of 1947, the new country was named the Union of Burma. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, Burma did not become a member of the Commonwealth.

On March 2, 1962, the military led by General Ne Win staged a coup d'etate taking control of the country. Civil wars have been a constant feature of Myanmar's socio-political landscape since the attainment of independence in 1948. Two particularly rare and seldom awarded medals form the WW II period are the Order of Burma and the Burma Gallantry Medal.

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