PAST IS PROLOGUE

The Most Magical Father I Never Met

An accidental correspondence revealed how one doting father’s life ended in a tragic crime that took decades to uncover

Aimee Liu
Human Parts
Published in
10 min readJun 17, 2021

--

Photo: John Jennings/Unsplash

In my experience, fathers tend to fall into two general camps. There are the dads so preoccupied with their own interests and careers and financially supporting their families that they rarely interact with their kids. Then there are the dads who strive for an active role in their children’s lives: They change their diapers and teach them sports, counsel them as they grow up, and worry about their futures.

But then again, imagine a father who would write an operetta for his children, with parts for each to sing to fend off homesickness when they’re far from home. In the 1930s, British civilian officer Alfred G. Bird was just such an extraordinary dad. Tragically, as I learned through an accidental pen pal, this creative and doting father’s life ended in a wartime crime that took decades to uncover.

First, the tragedy of Maj. Alfred G. Bird

Photo of Alfred G. Bird. Image courtesy of Chris Pratt-Johnson

I was researching India’s remote Andaman Islands for my novel Glorious Boy when I first encountered Maj. Alfred G. Bird’s name. A civilian officer who served as an aide to the British colonial commissioner, he at first seemed little more than a bureaucratic footnote in this strange outpost’s history.

Port Blair, the Andaman Islands’ only town, was founded by the British in the late 1880s as a penal colony for Indian independence fighters. Carved out of dense primeval forest, with more than 400 miles of ocean to the coast of Burma and nothing but trees, swamp, and hostile tribes in the rest of the archipelago, the colony more than earned its nickname “Black Water.”

Bird was posted to this grim place as a supply officer in the 1920s, and he lived there for more than 20 years. The only reason he caught my attention was that the Japanese, who occupied Port Blair in World War II, executed him.

--

--

Aimee Liu
Human Parts

Author, Asian-American novels (Glorious Boy), nonfiction on eating disorders (Gaining), writing, wellness. Published @Hachette. MFA & more@ aimeeliu.net