The Forgotten Army and VJ Day
How the Burma campaign was different to others during the Second World War
August 15th is and always will be an important historical date. It is the day when the second world war finally came to an end. Japan surrendered after atom bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the USA, ending a war which had killed millions with the obliteration of thousands of innocent civilians.
The fighting in Asia was some of the most brutal fighting of the war, yet many of the men who fought there considered themselves to be forgotten about compared to those who fought in Europe.
The 14th British Army, or the ‘forgotten army’ was formed in east India in 1943 with the primary objective of fighting the Japanese forces. Throughout the campaign, soldiers were faced with the risk of being killed by the enemy, disease or being captured and imprisoned. The conditions in Japanese POW camps were horrendous, to the point where death was a much preferable option than to be captured. Many would die building the railways in Burma, and it is suffering which would, at the time, have been overlooked by many in Europe who would have considered their fighting days over.
The 14th would be heavily involved in firstly the retaking of India in 1944 and a year later the capturing of Burma. It was hostile fighting in difficult conditions, with British and commonwealth soldiers managing to capture Rangoon, the capital of Burma, in 1945. The Burma campaign was a long and drawn out affair which pushed soldiers to the brink.
Over 200,000 allied soldiers were casualties during the campaign, with another 200,000 axis soldiers being killed or wounded. These totals, on top of approximately one million civilian casualties, made for a significant loss of life during the campaign.
The fighting in east Asia is not what we come to associate with the Second World War. The campaign in India and Burma was brutal for all soldiers involved. Whilst the celebrations in Europe for the surrender of Nazi Germany were in full swing, thousands of troops were fighting in sweltering conditions thousands of miles from home.
Fighting in Asia was relatively new to western nations, and although in the coming decades it would become a more familiar concept, the Burma campaign would have a strong impact on thousands of soldiers.
The so called forgotten army of the Burma campaign played a vital role in ending the war. They fought through perhaps the toughest conditions of any army during the conflict, and risked being captured and placed into inhuman prison camps throughout Asia.
On the 75th anniversary of VJ day, it is this army which needs to be remembered most. The 14th army was made up of soldiers from across the Commonwealth, heeding the call to arms to defend the world from fascism. They didn’t drop from the skies over Arnhem or storm the beaches of France on D-day, but the troops of the Burma campaign fought an entirely different type of war and for longer than those in Europe.
The sacrifices they made against the odds will, despite what the soldiers thought at the time, will never be forgotten.