Chindits remember their fallen comrades

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The Independent Online
AS THEY marched past the Queen in the Mall yesterday Ernest Hardy and Frank Luxawere side by side, just as they had been half a century before.

The jungles of Burma bred a fierce comradeship, a need to be able to rely on one another in inhospitable terrain, fighting a ferocious, often unseen enemy.

That bond, that sense of being different from those who fought in other theatres in the Second World War was evident all around Buckingham Palace and the Mall yesterday.

Many other veterans were there but it was those wearing the bronze coloured Burma Star with its blue, red and orange ribbon symbolising the Navy, the Army and the sun, who were the centre of attention.

For so long the men of the 14th Army in Burma called themselves the "forgotten army". Far from home they got much less public attention than those fighting in Europe and always were last in the line for supplies.

But yesterday as 10,000 veterans marched down the Mall after a commemorative service outside Buckingham Palace and 15,000 more watched from the stands, they were forgotten no longer.

Walford Hughes, national secretary of the 18,000-strong Burma Star Association, said: "We never had a victory parade.For 50 years we have hung on like grim death hoping that somebody would let us have a royal salute. Today is that day. We are no longer forgotten."

Any resentment that the Burma veterans had once felt had gone as the ceremonies to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VJ Day brought back memories of their comrades who did not return.

Mr Hardy, 79, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, served as a private in 12 Platoon B Company 2nd Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment. He was later transferred to the Chindits and fought behind Japanese lines. He was mentioned in despatches for gallantry after he and four comrades reconnoitred a water-hole and were ambushed by the Japanese.

He said: "Suddenly there was shooting and there were two Japs behind the trees. Captain Boag of the Burma Rifles was killed. I shot the two who had ambushed us."

The retired railwayman talked about the incident as though it were yesterday: the name and face of the young officer who died as fresh as ever, the intensity and fear of the moment undimmed.

Mr Luxa, 80, from Streatham, south London, was Mr Hardy's platoon commander. "When we joined the Chindits he was put on recce patrols because he was a smart lad, but I was made animal transport officer looking after the mules," joked Mr Luxa.

Like many veterans, Mr Luxa, who later worked for the Port of London Authority, is modest about his part in the campaign. He won the MC for gallantry but insisted, rather unconvincingly, that he did not know what for.

In a two minute silence outside Buckingham Palace as a Lancaster bomber scattered thousands of poppies, he remembered Lieutenant Duncan, a fellow Chindit who was wounded and had to be left behind. When the British re- took the village they found he had been murdered by the Japanese.

John Richardson, 77, an ex-Chindit from Bournemouth, is now too frail to march. He sat proudly in the stand wearing the battered khaki slouch hat he wore in the jungle. "Why am I here?" he said. "Because we are all mates."

Indian troops who made up 65 per cent of the 14th Army and whose contribution has often been ignored also felt that yesterday was the final recognition for the part that they played.

Rahim Uddin, 69, who served in the Indian Artillery and now lives in the East End of London, said: "People sometimes forget what we did but today has put that right at last."

In the Mall huge Union flags hung from the lamp-posts and early arrivals settled in for a long day. Dorothy Hewson and her friends Eric and Audrey Rawlins from north London got there seven hours before the commemoration service started.

She said: "I feel that we have to come and do this for the veterans, that is the most important thing this weekend. They didn't have a parade 50 years ago and so they should have a great day today."

Outside the veteran centre opposite Westminster Abbey some Japanese tourists looked puzzled by the arrival of so many bemedalled old men.

When what was happening was explained to one he looked embarrassed and moved away - but still took a photograph before doing so.

The veterans ignored them.