Britain’s longest campaign of World War II – Burma

Japan invaded Burma in 1942, then part of the British Empire, beginning what was to become the longest continuous campaign fought by the British during the war. It was fought in some of the most challenging terrain in the world, in a tropical climate that claimed many men before they had a chance to fight. It was fought by a unique combination of American, Chinese and British Commonwealth troops. It involved some bitter fighting that prevented further Japanese advances into China and prevented a Japanese invasion of India – of huge strategic importance. Yet their struggle was little known, even at the time.

I understand you believe you’re the forgotten army. That’s not true … The truth is nobody’s ever bloody well heard of you!

Lord Louis Mountbatten, Far East Commander, addressing men in Burma in 1943.

This page highlights some of resources where you can discover more.

The Retreat into India: British troops destroy equipment and machinery at the Yenangyaung oilfields before retreating.

The Cambridge University story of Charles Mackerell, the ‘Elephant Man’ which provides a good picture of the desperate retreat through Burma in 1942:

Logistics: Chinese and American troops pick up supplies dropped by parachute in Northern Burma

An American mortar team bombard Japanese positions around Lashio, railhead of the old 'Burma Road'.

A mule column of the 2nd Punjabi Regiment carries supplies to the front line, Burma, 1944.

A lorry of 36th Infantry Division enters the town of Tigyiang during the advance down the Irrawaddy Valley towards Mandalay, 22 December 1944.

The Burma Story has a growing collection of material about the war in Burma.

Most recently ‘For Your Tomorrow’ has been released, a compelling video account of memories from Burma veterans:

Later fighting in 1944 were African troops – see comment from Mark below.

Troops of 11th East African Division on the road to Kalewa, Burma, during the Chindwin River crossing.

Troops of 11th East African Division on the road to Kalewa, Burma, during the Chindwin River crossing.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Hodan March 26, 2014 at 9:43 pm

My grandfather(rip) fought in Burma too he was from Somaliland.he used to tell us stories about the war i cant believe that they are so forgotten.i would love to know if i can find list of all troops under British command.any ideas!

Shampa Banerjee March 19, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Mark

My farther spent about a year in Burma and some time in Vietnam and Cambodia. I’m still hoping to get his memoirs published this year, which include the war years in some detail – end of the war in Europe, but a continuation in the Eastern front. I also found a British memoir on line by Phil Kaiserman who was posted to India with the RAF and later to Vietnam. There is some stuff on his war experiences in it – the same timeframe as my father’s. It’s called From Barber Shop to Paper Mill. These are more interesting than the official material.

Editor March 19, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Shampa

I am always looking for good sources about the Indian experiences in the war if you have any suggestions

Martin

Shampa Banerjee March 19, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Amazing that there is no mention of the Indian troops, part of the British forces, that took over from the East Africans. I am working on my father’s memoirs and he was following the Indian troops as a ‘British’ correspondent for the Eastern Front. I am trying to find out about an Indian trade union worker who lived among the Burmese in the villages near Yenangyaung and was executed by the Japanese as a British spy.

Barry February 11, 2014 at 9:20 am

I’m doing some serious research into the Burma campaigns as my father was there, now passed on, and what I need to know is, what allied forces were there apart from the British. There is a definite reason for asking.

Pamela Hamer November 2, 2013 at 8:50 pm

My dad was in Burma for most of the War – they certainly were the Forgotten Army. I have some diaries of his and they hold some interesting information i e when the Bismark was sunk, number of POW’s on particular ships, gun placements, firing co-ordinaries etc. he was in the artillery
and very proud of the Army in which he served. I also have a letter that he wrote in 1944 of his observations of India. He was very graphic in his writing and it makes very interesting reading. It explains the different cultures and religions, the Ganges, funeral pyres and life in general. His admiration of the Gurkhas that he fought along side with was second to none.
I would like to know a lot more about his life out there but it is difficult to find information. If anyone who may read this has any knowledge regarding the fighting in India, I would be very interested.

anne kelly cuthbert October 31, 2013 at 2:32 pm

My dad,Danny Cuthbert from Scotland, was also a Burma veteran. I have many pictures that he brought back with him. He was a radio operator.

I have written a 43 page narrative poem which can be viewed on the Burma Star website.
http://www.burmastar.org.uk/annespoem.htm

I am trying identify the shrines and temples in the pictures.

Anne

Editor October 28, 2013 at 8:32 am

Mark

Not completely forgotten – I managed to find one photograph. Be very interested to find an account from someone who fought with them.

Martin

Mark October 28, 2013 at 5:56 am

My grandfather fought in Burma, he is African – we are not mentioned anywhere so I guess we are the forgotten heroes

Andrina October 12, 2013 at 6:13 pm

My Dad fought in Burma, he was a British soldier and never spoke of what happened over there, some information was passed on from my uncle what dad went through with leeches and how they burned them off with a lit cigarette, another thing was that he seen his fellow troops/friends dying also that he was saved from a land mine as he was standing over one and his fellow troops managed to get him free for which he was grateful for.
I would love to know more about what took place what they went through and i would love to visit the Taj mahal one day as every time i see a picture of it i feel peaceful.

Rosemary Rhodes September 16, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Not forgorren by me
My father was a Chindit

Andrew Jordan July 28, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Would Burma have been different without American pressure to keep the Burma road open to China? Roosevelt had an irrational love of Chang ah Shek and pressured the British to keep the supplies going to them. The Chindits were a disaster but did they prove that air supported troops could work?
Burma itself had only been “conquered” by the British fifty years before, and the Burmese then and now, did not feel that warm and fuzzy feeling that the Indians had towards the Raj.In fact this article has some very interesting facts about Aung San (father of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi) and his anti colonial feelings.

http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp60.html

The British seem to have this nostalgic feeling about Burma, however our influence on that country stopped c.1966, when democracy ended and it became a closed corrupt Asian dictatorship.I really think we should take off our rose coloured glasses and evaluate the battles with cold reality.
My Dad wore his Burma Star for every reunion as did a lot of men of his generation, but do we really know what happened out there?

Jeffrey masters August 14, 2012 at 2:35 am

Fantastic!!!! The forgotten army indeed!

Matt February 10, 2012 at 12:43 am

I have finished Viscount Slim’s “Defeat Into Victory”, so this post is quite timely and interesting. Definitely a forgotten army.

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