Ladies and Gentlemen, I would just like to say, if I may before you all rush home, what a great pleasure and enormous privilege it has been to welcome you all to Clarence House this evening, and also to meet such a remarkable group of Veterans, as well as all the committed supporters of the Burma Star Memorial Fund. As you are aware, the Fund has now assumed the mantle of the Burma Star Association and continues its hugely important work.
As the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of the war in South East Asia approaches, it is hard for us to appreciate fully the appalling suffering and privations endured by those who fought in Burma. My dear great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, used to tell me of the quite atrocious conditions experienced by those fighting in Burma and throughout South East Asia. And I can only say that, meeting many of the Veterans, with Lord Mountbatten, at the Burma Star Association Reunion at the Albert Hall back in 1978 remains one of my most vivid and special memories. And merely just reminds me of how old I am…
From his time as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command, he often told me about his experiences of that gruelling campaign in which our troops had to fight a ruthless and determined enemy, while at the same time contending with the power of Mother Nature in the form of a hostile jungle environment and of course the ever-present scourge of diseases such as malaria and dysentery, to name of course but two, which claimed nearly a quarter of a million Allied casualties.
Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I count myself incredibly fortunate to have also heard first-hand accounts from Field Marshal Slim himself - a true leader of men, heading a campaign which I regret to say was somewhat overshadowed in the public consciousness by events in Normandy and North Africa, and which continued to remain so for many years after the cessation of hostilities, despite the fact that no fewer than twenty-nine Victoria Crosses were awarded during the Burma Campaign – the highest tally of any theatre of war. So I have these fond memories of Lord Slim when he was a Constable at Windsor Castle. I used to sit next to him at dinner sometimes, when he told me amazing stories about the Battle of Gallipoli and things like that, which you can imagine, when I was quite young, was absolutely fascinating.
Clearly, achieving victory in such an appallingly difficult operational theatre could not have been achieved without the pivotal support of British and Allied pilots and aircrew who not only flew thousands of daring re-supply missions in the most abominable weather conditions imaginable, but also defeated a well-equipped and highly motivated Japanese Air Force. And, at sea, the Royal Navy fought with bravery and distinction alongside other Allied Navies to destroy the Japanese fleets and to gain control of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
It is so hard for us now, seventy-five years later, to appreciate fully the extent of what all our forces had to bear in terms of the sheer brutality of the Japanese, whether on the battlefield or in the horror of the prison camps. So let us never forget the Prisoners of War who suffered so dreadfully at the hands of a ruthless and cruel enemy. Over a quarter of all Allied Far East Prisoners of War lost their lives in captivity. The prisoners, including women and even children, endured severe malnutrition, slave labour, illness and disease, and horrendously inhuman treatment from their captors. Around 12,500 British Prisoners of War perished in those vile camps, but the resolve of the British and Allied Forces was unbreakable.
Now, as you are perhaps aware, my father was Patron of the Burma Star Association for some forty years, and so I was touched and delighted to be asked by the current Viscount Slim to become Patron of the Burma Star Memorial Fund at the end of last year. The Memorial Fund, as I’m sure you’ll know now, is looking to the future and has developed a compelling strategy for the creation of a lasting memorial to the Veterans of the Burma Campaign. The Burma Star Scholarship Programme – which fully reflects the multi-national nature of Field Marshal Slim’s Fourteenth Army – is now firmly established.
Scholarships are being made available to young people from any nation which served on the Allied side in Burma, in order that they can study subjects relevant to the many challenges overcome during the campaign. With your generous support, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is hoped that the Burma Star Scholars may eventually become a global network of authority and influence. In this way, intelligent and ambitious young men and women – for whom no challenge is too big – will keep the indefatigable spirit of the Burma Campaign alive, and will work together to overcome adversity and make the world a better place. As Field Marshal Slim himself said, “Victory came not from the work of any one man, or even of a few men, but from the sum of many men’s efforts.”
Seventy-five years later, I am proud and humbled to be able to pay my deepest respects to the Veterans and survivors of what must have seemed an interminable and terrible campaign. Above all, if I may say so, we remember all your friends and fellow servicemen and women who never returned and we pray your memories and stories will be passed onto the generations of today and tomorrow so that we can learn from the past. And all I can say is, we salute you with all our hearts.
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen.