Memories of Burma still vivid for WWII veterans

Six surviving Second World War veterans have taken part in a reunion to remember VJ Day

Their numbers are dwindling and their shiny military medals have faded with the passing decades.

But a special band of North East veterans are determined to continue fighting Father Time – and sharing their memories of wartime service in the Far East.

The Morpeth Burma Star Association was founded in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of VJ Day – when Japan surrendered, finally bringing the Second World War to an end.

The Association brought together about 18 local Burma veterans, who had served there with the Army, RAF or Royal Navy between 1939 and 1945, and its members have met up for an annual reunion ever since.

Numbers have gradually fallen over the last 18 years, and yesterday there were only six survivors who joined up again for lunch at Morpeth golf club.

The remaining members are Kit Miller, 88, from Ashington, John Hall, 94, from Morpeth, Jack Phillips, 93, of Rothbury, Dr Eric Ross, 93, from Morpeth, Arthur Laws, 90, from Newcastle and Harry Smith, 97, of Ashington.

 

The Association was set up by Mr Hall and the late Norman Proudlock, who were both members of Morpeth golf club, and brought together ex-servicemen who were awarded the Burma Star.

Every year the surviving members get together for lunch as close as possible to the anniversary of VJ Day, to reminisce and enjoy each other’s company.

Yesterday Mr Miller, who served as an airborne radio mechanic with the RAF in the Far East for almost three years, said he didn’t know for how much longer the reunions will continue.

“We are certainly getting thin on the ground now, and with only six of us left there’s always the chance that this could be the last time we get together. It’s down to the Grim Reaper, I suppose, but we are planning to hold the reunion again next year and for as long as we possibly can.

“Some of our members have died and others are now incapable of coming along because of their age or disability.

“When people are in their 90s we obviously can’t look forward to a long future, but we still enjoy meeting up once a year and celebrating the anniversary of VJ Day.”

Mr Miller’s role in Burma involved helping RAF air crews drop people behind enemy lines so that they could help set up resistance groups. The flights also delivered supplies to the Chindits, an Allied special forces group which operated behind enemy lines in Burma.

“My job was to help the air crews put these people down in the right place by locating radar beacons on the ground. The air crews were not au fait with radar systems so they asked for volunteers to help them.”

Dr Ross, a retired GP who worked in Cambois near Bedlington, served with the Royal Army Medical Corps and was in Burma for three months in 1945 with a gunnery regiment.

He said: “They ran out of shells and decided to fly us out to Burma to leave the guns behind which won the war. Every now and again the Japanese would shell us, and that was pretty frightening.

“We didn’t sustain many serious casualties, but I remember one incident when a water truck ran over a landmine and various people suffered injuries and fractures.

“I have been coming to these reunions since 1995, but it looks as though the Association could be in its final few years.”

 

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