Major Hugh Seagrim is a western name known by many in the jungles of Burma. He was a British officer in the army during WWII and became a hero among the Karen people back then and remains one today. They called him “Grandfather Longlegs” when he fought alongside them, due to his tall, lanky stature (he was around 6’4″) — and also to contrast him from the “shortlegs,” a slur the Karen used for the Japanese occupiers.

Maj. Hugh Seagrim

He was assigned to the 20th Burma Rifles, mainly because he knew the languages spoken throughout the jungles there. Seagrim was a deeply Christian man, though somewhat of a mystic as well — another officer that knew him said that he was always “a man who was groping for the answers to things.” Despite his love for Christianity, he was not a fan of the church or other traditional means of religion.

Seagrim was a born leader, known for his preference to be out in the front lines with his men instead of back in the safety and quiet of the rear. The book “Grandfather Longlegs” by Ian Morrison describes him: “Although a highly unconventional person, he did not set out deliberately to be unconventional. It was rather that he took nothing for granted and he cared little what other people thought.”

And with this mindset of thinking unconventionally, he fought guerrilla missions against the Japanese in Burma in all sorts of ways. In one instance, they had an objective inside a city that was heavily defended on the outside. He noticed that interior defenses were lacking, and that when Karen women rode the bus into town, the Japanese didn’t make them stand up. He and his Karen fighters hid under their dresses as the bus passed through all enemy defenses — a sort of Trojan Horse. It worked well, and he began to create a name for himself as the guy who fought alongside the Karen and began to make some serious waves in the fight against the Japanese.

His story, documented in Morrison’s “Grandfather Longlegs,” is quite impressive. He would be joined by a few other British soldiers, one of which was a reconnaissance soldier who had escaped captivity. Many of them and his Karen friends would be captured and/or killed. His guerrilla tactics and creative problem solving inspired the Karen resistance against the Japanese, and he fought as one of them.

Major Seagrim’s actions worked so well, that the Japanese eventually developed a hunter-killer team specifically designed to root out Seagrim and his Karen fighters. Many of his men were killed by this group, and many more were tortured. He knew they specifically wanted him, and so he turned himself in prevent the further torture and deaths of the people he had come to love. He knew what fate awaited him.

He once said that, “Christ sacrificed for the world. I will sacrifice for the Karens.” One of his Karen fighters said that, “The Karens loved him. Of course. They knew that he came to save them. If it had not been for him we should all have been killed.”

Of his execution in the fall of 1944, Morrison says: