Today we remember and give thanks for the extraordinary bravery, resourcefulness and tenacity demonstrated by those who fought in the Asia-Pacific Theatre of the Second World War. Together, they comprised a force whose courage was as remarkable as its diversity - hundreds of thousands of troops from India, Burma, China and across Asia, were joined by hundreds of thousands more from Europe, Africa, Australasia and North America. Together, they served with the greatest distinction. Without them, the war could not have been won.
On this day in 1945, the surrender of Imperial Japan and the cessation of fighting in the Asia-Pacific Region, brought an end to six bitter years of global conflict. Victory in Europe had been achieved that May, of course, but while millions in Europe rejoiced, in South East Asia and the Pacific our long-suffering service personnel, with their Commonwealth and Allied partners, continued the fight for three more months. It was their extraordinary endurance and fortitude which secured the end of the War, and which was later confirmed by the ratification of the Japanese surrender on 2nd September 1945, in Tokyo Bay, on board the U.S.S. Missouri, an event my father witnessed whilst serving with the British Pacific Fleet.
From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, it is hard for us to appreciate fully the suffering endured by those who fought, or were caught up in, this theatre of war. Drawing on his time as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command my great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, helped me begin to understand the quite atrocious conditions experienced by our forces throughout South East Asia. But those of us not there at the time really can only begin to understand… Lord Mountbatten told me about his experiences of that gruelling campaign in which our troops not only faced a determined opponent, but at the same time had to contend with an incredibly hostile jungle environment and the ever-present scourge of disease which claimed nearly a quarter of a million Allied casualties. At this point we should also reflect on those unfortunate prisoners of war, who suffered so dreadfully. Over a quarter of all Allied Prisoners of War lost their lives in captivity.
The courage and fortitude shown by all those who fought in the region was exemplary. Field Marshal Slim observed that victory was reliant “…upon their courage, their hardihood, their refusal to be beaten either by the cruel hazards of Nature or by the fierce strength of their human adversary”. No fewer than twenty-nine Victoria Crosses were awarded during the Burma Campaign – the highest tally of any theatre of war; another measure of its exceptional nature. It is also of the greatest importance to remember the courage of the many ethnic groups in Burma who fought so bravely in the most appalling circumstances. Their resolve, like that of all British, Commonwealth and Allied Forces, was unbreakable and, to this day, stands as an example to us all.
Of course, this was a war that affected not only those who fought, but had a devastating impact on the countless civilians who found themselves caught up in the conflict. Indeed, for many in Burma – those who lived through the war, as well as for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren - conflict, tragically, continues to blight their lives to this day.
And so, as we gather in this most fitting of settings in front of the Burma Star Memorial Grove, it seems to me to be vital that we remember all those who were so profoundly affected by this conflict: those who so gallantly served, a number of whom we are fortunate to have here amongst us; and those who gave and endured so much, in so many other ways. To all of you, we owe the greatest debt of gratitude, which can never be fully repaid.
Having such vivid and special memories of attending one of the many Burma Star Association Reunions with my Great Uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and meeting some of the thousands of veterans still alive over forty years ago, I felt most privileged to have been asked to take on the Patronage last year of the Burma Star Memorial Fund which, as of today, fully assumes the mantle of the Association, of which my father was Patron for over forty years. The Fund will uphold a lasting memorial to the Veterans of the Burma Campaign through a Scholarship Programme which fully reflects the multi-national nature of the Allied force which fought in the Far East. Scholarships are available to young people from any of the thirty nations which served on the Allied side in Burma. In doing so, it is hoped that we will keep alive the indefatigable spirit of those who took part in the Burma Campaign and, through education, share the most precious dividends of peace and freedom.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today, seventy-five years after that hard-won victory over tyranny, I am proud and humbled to be able to join you all in expressing my profound respect and admiration to the Veterans and survivors of that interminable and terrible campaign. Above all, however, let us remember all those who never returned, and would never grow old. We pray that their stories will be passed on to the generations of today and tomorrow so that we can learn from their example.
All too often, those who fought in the Far East have been labelled “The Forgotten Army” in the Forgotten War. Many of the soldiers, nurses and other personnel felt anger and disappointment at how they were treated when they finally returned home from a war which, from the public’s point of view, had ended on the 8th May 1945. Today, in this hallowed place, and in the presence of all those gathered here, or in their homes, or wherever they may be, let us affirm that they and the surviving veterans are not forgotten. Rather, you are respected, thanked and cherished with all our hearts, and for all time. We salute all those who remain among us, and offer our most heartfelt and undying gratitude for those who are gone before. Your service and your sacrifice will echo through the ages.