Proud veterans fighting losing battle

PUBLISHED: 13:25 27 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:54 03 March 2010

THEY fought in one of the most unforgiving theatres of war – but today these proud old soldiers are fighting a battle not even the bravest could ever win.

THEY fought in one of the most unforgiving theatres of war – but today these proud old soldiers are fighting a battle not even the bravest could ever win.

Their numbers dwindling as the years pass by, the old comrades' association for veterans of the war against Japan has taken the sad decision to close down.

Today one war veteran spoke of his deep regret that the Ipswich branch of the Burma Star Association was winding down.

Association treasurer Malcolm Hood said that the organisation was set up to remember the experiences of the service men and women who fought in the Burma campaign of the Second World War and had meant a great to deal to many people.

"We are all very sad about it but we really don't have any alternative," said Mr Hood, 85, a former member of the Royal Norfolk and Green Howard Regiments.

"We are all in our 80s and we are simply declining in numbers and we have to close."

The Ipswich Association, who met once a month at the Territorial Army Centre in town, had seen membership drop from 80 to 30 in recent years.

"There was a time when I was going to a funeral a week, which is very sad but a fact of life," added Mr Hood, of Knightsdale Road, Ipswich.

Troops who served in the jungles of Burma were known as the "Forgotten Army" because the eyes of the world were focused on the war in Europe while the 14th Army faced terrible hardships fighting the Japanese in the Far East.

It was one of the largest forces of soldiers, airmen and seamen from across the Commonwealth ever assembled – but they did not only have to contend with the fanatical fighting forces of the Japanese.

Marching through monsoon downpours in atrocious conditions, where diseases such as malaria and dysentery were rife, compounded their troubles

To become a full member of the association ex-servicemen, women or nurses from the three branches of the Armed forces must have been awarded the Burma Campaign Star – conferred after six months active service – or the Pacific Star with Burma Clasp.

Mr Hood added: "The association was all about comradeship and esprit de corps. You met a lot of friends there. At one time there were 14,000 members all over the country.

"Each branch would do its own thing. We would meet once a month, have a bring and buy sale and arrange social events and outings."

Though in their 70s and 80s, the close bonds forged under fire more than a half a century ago shone through as the committee bantered about their experiences.

Suffolk Regiment veteran Lionel Ruffles, 80, pointed to 77-year-old Fred Miller, who served in the RAF's 110th Hyderabad Squadron.

"He was one of the Brylcreem Boys," he joked, referring to the Army's nickname for their comrades in the air. Mr Miller smiled and pointed to his bald head.

Yet on a sombre note branch organisations across the country have been closing down at a rate of nearly one a month as members become more frail and die.

Sadly age does weary these old soldiers, to recall lines on war memorials across the country. Their hard-won legacy lives on, however. As the famous memorial at Kohima - the scene of one of the campaign's fiercest battles on the Burmese-Indian border - so movingly reads: "When you go home, tell them of us and say/ For their tomorrow, we gave our today."

The Ipswich branch will be holding a laying-up ceremony at St Matthews Church in Ipswich at 3pm on Sunday. Members past and present are invited to attend this service and car parking has been arranged at the school nearby.


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