Veterans of ‘forgotten army’ lay down banner for last time as numbers dwindle

World War Two veterans laid down their standard for the last time, on Sunday, ending sixty years of camaraderie that started in the jungles of South East Asia.

The South West Essex Burma Star Association, which includes survivors from Havering, held the parade at St Edward the confessor Church, Market Place, Romford and was to honour all the members past and present in the presence of the Mayor of Havering, their families and other dignitaries.

The Burma Star was awarded to those who had fought in the conflict in the Pacific between 1941 to 1945 and the association was set up after a reunion of the soldiers at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1951. The South West Essex branch was one of the first branches in the association and had members from all over Essex and East London.

Honorary secretary of the South West Essex Branch of the Burma Star Association Peter Newman said “Sadly due to age and sickness it has been decided that the time has come to lay up our standard. When I joined there must have been 200 members now there is only 20 the youngest member being 85 the oldest, 94”

The soldiers were in a conflict halfway across the world fighting Japanese troops and facing terrible tropical diseases like malaria and dysentery.

Often referred to as the ‘forgotten army’ because they were ignored by the press of the time the captured soldiers had to endure life in the prisoner of war camps which was made worse by the brutality of inhospitable Japanese soldiers.

The terrible hardships and experiences faced by the soldiers formed a relationship that would transcend into civilian life. Peter said: “There is a special bond between us, everyone that served there”

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He added “I was hanging on the railings of my boat taking me home and I just realised that these were the men I’d fought with. Id stood beside these men, and they would never let me down.”

The Burma Star association has provided stair lifts, wheelchairs and scooters to its members and would attend hospitals and in the home to provide support for those who are suffering from illness.

Although the South West Essex branch has laid up their standard the Burma Star veterans’ commitments are as strong to each other now as they did in the prisoner of war camps of South East Asia. Peter said: “If you had malaria there was always someone to wipe your brow. If you were starving there would always be someone to give you a little of their food. We would never let another man be alone, or to die alone. This was the commitment we made then and remains now”