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.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

chloe dawn August 17, 2014 at 2:04 am

My name is Chloe Dawn.I was born in Burma in 1943.My mother’s maiden was Mary Lashley.She did not talk much about her father,Mr.Lashle.From what my uncle Charles Lashley told us about my grandfather (his father ) was that he was a Canadian soldier who came to Burma in the early ninties.He spoke Turkish fluntly The British Army brought many Turkish prisoners of war to Burma to a prison in Tha yet Myo in upper Burma.He met my grand mother there and married her.For doing so he was cut off from his family who lived in Canada and because my grandmother was not allowed to enter the British Clubs he became very angry and upset,and stayed to himself.My grandmother gave birth to six children fathered by my grandfather Mr.Lashley.He named them James.George.John,Mary,Charles and Robert,and Baptist by religion.He died in Rangoon before world war 11.All my uncles worked as chief wardens in Burma prisons in different parts of the country.To tell you the sad truth is I did not even knew my gnandfather’s first name.I live in America now and learnt to use the computer recently.If somebody can tell me more about my grandfather whom I never met and give me some idea to find some information about my grandfather I’ll be extremely grateful.

Tom McDonald August 10, 2014 at 11:48 am

Good morning to all ,
I’ve just found this site my father fought in Burma with no1 commando no 4troop he was wounded on hill 170 his best friend / buddy Andy pllu died not far from my fathers position he saw it happen and it haunted him until the day he died not being able to save his best mate. If any boby has any other information please get in touch

jackie raeside August 4, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Hi All I dont know if anyone can help, I dont seem to be able to get any info on my dad all I know is he was in the Cameronian Scottish Rifles and was listed at his marriage as a rifleman I aware that he was in Burma and was wounded im not sure how but think he stood on a mine he lost his leg and part of his face, His name was George Raeside and was born in scotland (Bellshill ) in 3 may 1914 , he was married on 18th December 1943 and was listed as Rifeman ,Cameronians. his address was 124 Hamilton road Bellshill but was now engaged in War Service.If anyone could help I would be so grateful , Thank you in advance

simon exley July 17, 2014 at 12:33 am

Hi my granddad fought in Burma in 1944 is name was Stanley Keable he trained at strensall York i have a photo of is battlion could have be taken in Burma they is a number on the back it reads 18638 can anyone help please

Mohamed Odowa July 10, 2014 at 12:21 pm

My grandfather fought in Purma and before purma and i would like to know more.

Min Khant Soe July 8, 2014 at 9:15 am

Dear Sir,
I am from Tigyaing, my hometown in Burma(Myanmar). It is great delight for me when I saw my hometown WW ll photo in your website. My father and grandfathers told me WWll stories in bedtime at the young age. Now they passed away and I miss them.
If you have any related photos to my hometown, please send me to email.
Thank you very much in advance.
Best regards,
Min Khant Soe

muhammad July 2, 2014 at 4:11 am

my grand fathers,mother father and fathers father both fought in Burma also their bother was on the same war zone in Burma, and also their father(my great grand father fought first warld war),and I still have original and real shape documents (pay slip , moving order ,their letters from war place to home and some medials) in our custody,we belong from marshal land, and present Pakistan biggest military award medal Nishane hadier ,majority from that land more then half people who got that biggest award nishane hadier fron belongs from that marshal land,

susan Terry June 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm

My father was also served in Burma for several years he would speak very little of what happened but did suffer 5 nervous breakdowns due to his experiences . We know the continued living or should i say surviving conditions were horrendous and i believe it was possible that some of those killed in Burma were killed by their own regiment when they could no longer stand the strain of the atrocities of the Japanese and although ill were silenced to save the rest of the troops.

Lesley Barsby June 18, 2014 at 12:56 am

Hi. My grandfather Bill Robinson fought in Burma but i was unfortunate not to have met him as he passed away before i was born. According to my grandma, he never spoke about it apart from he got shot in his left arm above the elbow. I was wondering if anyone whos relatives fought in the same war knew him and would be able to tell me more about him and what he did.

Lesley.

Daniel Ashmore June 6, 2014 at 10:35 am

My Grandad fought in Burma, he was drafted at 19 years old. I can not imagine what he went through, even though he has told me many of his stories from the war. He was part of the Burma Star Association in Skegness and Sheffield. Unfortunately he passed away 2 weeks ago. My dad has inherited all his memorabilia and I have his medals from the campaign. Be sure that I will never forget him and also the people he fought with in Burma to me you are not the forgotten army and I will make sure that my nephews and children (when they arrive) won’t forget you either.

He was also a Chindit in Burma.

anthony daniels June 6, 2014 at 2:52 am

My father served in Burma/india as Gunner he bought back many photos -but I am trying to research more of this WW2 history as he was with 351 Medium Regiment RA/TA there is little information to be found .Can anyone enlighten me please.

omer adan aideed June 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Omer June 04, 2014

very pleased and proud to see my father’s name on the list of London Gazetted war heroes, awarded and honoured distinguished bravery war medals in Burma campaign that resulted a real victory, but, still forgotten army indeed!

Sue Sims June 2, 2014 at 7:04 pm

My father Harold Budd served in India and Burma, I am trying to trace his army records. I wish I had asked him more about his time out there but I don’t think he would have told me anything, Mum said that he was reported missing presumed dead and his army trunk was sent home,( I kept it until it fell apart ) but he just turned up somewhere, from the wedding picture that I have to a picture with me when I was two he looks as though he had lost about 6 stone in weight, he was mentioned in despatch and his last title was Acting warrant officer, I wish I could find out more about him but I am not having much luck

Sue Sims

Graham Barnard May 29, 2014 at 1:21 pm

My Dad, Lieut Eric Barnard, known as Barney, fought with the 27th field regiment in Burma. He was killed by Tree Burst on 23rd Nov 1944 when i was just 2. He had been due for repatriation but gave up the opportunity in order that another could get bak to sort out major problems at home. Strangely enough his repatriation papers came through just after he died. this told me by Stewart Guild who knew Dad in the battle and has told me all about that time and how he died. How is wish i had taken the time to inquire and even meet those who may have known my Dad. However we get so mixed up with our own lives that it isnt till we have time, retired, to sit and reflect what could have been. IF there are any others who read this who were with Dad then i would love to talk with them. I have been to Yangon and visited the war cemetery where dad is buried and cried at the place where he lies. What a waste of lives but so necessary to preserve world peace.
To all those who still survive, i hold you in admiration and gratitude.
God Bless

Menrihei Tainamkawng April 26, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Burma was sandwiched between Japanese and Allied Troops. My great uncle 2nd Lieutenant He Hlei from Allied Troops successfully attacked the Japs and destroyed their ammunition store in Gangaw Battle. He was awarded BGM. And also, he won the battle of Mt. Rung near Hakha, the Capital of Chinhills. But the war was over and Chin veterans including He Hlei who fought along with the Allied Troops got forgotten. Mrs. He Hlei is still alive but he passed away in 1990. He Hlei loved the Allied but the Allied forgot him and his service.

jonathan Kruger April 24, 2014 at 3:34 am

Greetings from Zambia. My name is Jonathan Kruger. I look after and support the last few Zambian WW2 veterans in this country. I know many of the African soldiers who fought in Burma and North Africa are the forgotten African soldiers of WW2. But we have a website to honour them all the Northern Rhodesia Regiment, The Kings African Rifles, Royal West African Frontier Force. If you are interested in supporting the last few African veterans please let me know. Our website is at http://www.medalofkar.com

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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