VJ Day

Burma Campaign Veterans Say Goodbye To Star Association

The Burma Star Association's youngest members are now in their late 90s and its doors will close on VJ Day's 75th anniversary on 15 August.

An organisation which provides support to British veterans of the Burma campaign in the Second World War is to close on Saturday - the 75th anniversary of  VJ Day.

The Burma Star Association has been running for 69 years. 

Some of its long-standing members have spoken to Forces News about what it has meant to them.

The Burma campaign

Japanese forces invaded Burma in January 1942.

Allied soldiers endured more than three years of brutal fighting in the jungles and hostile terrain.

Veteran Basil Lambert told Forces News: “Our war, against the Japanese, was not similar to the European war. It was completely different.

“In the European war, people knew really what they were doing because they had every equipment, they had everything to help them.

"As far as we were concerned in the Far East, we were second best. And we only got supplies as and when the War Office decided that they didn’t need them for Europe.

"[The] War was not a war, it was more like a skirmish in the jungle."

Basil Lambert fought in the Burma campaign of WWII (Picture: Basil and Madge Lambert).

In Burma, Mr Lambert met his wife Madge, who was working as a nurse in a Burmese hospital. For six weeks at a time, she would be sent to deal with the injured from the frontlines.

She said: “All you did there, was work and sleep. You never went or got out of the thing. You were under canvas then.

“You were taking boys off the lines who were whatever, who’s lost an arm, lost a leg or whatever.”

The Lamberts are amongst the dwindling number of Burma veterans still alive to recall the history from their own experiences.

Veteran Roy Miller was on board Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable during the campaign, fighting off the Japanese pilots’ suicidal tactics.

He said: "Frightful experience, these Kamikaze boys, because they were out to get you. There’s no question they were going to die, they were already dead as far as they were concerned.

"Their main concern was to land on [the ships], do as much damage as they can, and my word they did."

Madge Lambert served as a nurse in Burma during WWII (Picture: Basil and Madge Lambert).

The three veterans belong to the Burma Star Association, which was founded in 1951.

Its chairman is Viscount Mark Slim whose grandfather was Field Marshal Viscount William Slim, Commander of the 14th Army in Burma, and the first president of the association. 

He said: "The intention was that it would be a place where old comrades could meet and keep in touch. The other purpose of it was to make sure that we had some money to help people who needed help."

At its peak, 24,000 people were members of the association.

Viscount Slim added: "The Burma Star veterans are very proud people - they don’t tend to ask for help.

"But as they get older, they need help and we do help people with wheelchairs and Stannah stairlifts and all the sorts of things we can do to try and make their life a bit more comfortable."

Mr Miller has been deeply involved with the association for more than a quarter of a century. He recalled when the opportunity "came in the local paper".

"'Anybody who holds the Burma Star interested in forming a branch?’ - and I replied to this and I became a founding member of the Epsom branch of the Burma Star Association and I thought that was one of the nicest things I’ve ever done in my life.

Burma veteran Roy Miller shows his medals.

“We had 26 years of lovely times together,” he said.

Mr Lambert said he and his wife were among the first to join.

He told Forces News: "We wanted to stay together. The units that we knew, the people that had come back with us, there weren’t a lot we knew, but the idea was to go and meet people."

Thousands of others enjoyed the camaraderie offered by the organisation.

“It was a very major part of their lives, and not an easy part of their lives," Viscount Slim said.

"It was a very difficult campaign; they lived in extremely harsh conditions and fought a very brutal enemy.

"There were some that wanted to forget about it, never wanted to think about it again, never discussed it, blanked it from their minds, and they probably didn’t join the Burma Star.

"And there were those that found great comfort in being part of the Burma Star, and got a lot of solace from the companionship that it gave them with people who actually understood what it was like to be in Burma."

Dense jungle was part of the hostile terrain in Burma (Picture: US National Archives).

On the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, the organisation will close its doors, and Viscount Slim said: "Our youngest veterans are in their late 90s, we can’t just keep going.”

The Lamberts described the closure as “sad”.

Mrs Lambert said: “You can understand it. I’m sure that we’re the probably oldest couple still, of Burma Star people.”

The association has been merged with the Burma Star Memorial Fund, which will assume duties including benevolence, Viscount Slim explained.

He said new challenges will be taken on, to fund scholarships at University College London for courses in global health and engineering – subjects that he said are "so relevant" to the Burma campaign.

Mr Miller said: "Life has to go on and I’m sure it’ll do its job. It’ll keep the memory of all the boys who’ve served out there.

"And I’m sure that the trustees who are now looking after the Memorial Fund will make sure that happens."

The Burma Star Memorial Fund has promised to remind future generations of what the Burma Star generation endured.

Commemorations will be held across the UK on 15 August to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day which effectively brought an end to the Second World War.