Burma veterans mark end of era

SECOND World War veterans yesterday gathered for the final time for a poignant service of remembrance.

Up to 20 members of the Belfast branch of the Burma Star Association were joined by family, friends and dignitaries for a special ceremony at St Anne’s Cathedral in the city, as the standard of the organisation was officially laid up for safekeeping.

Like many of their counterparts in the rest of the UK before them, a decision was taken to bring the curtain down on a proud association, due to a combination of dwindling numbers and the increase in the average age of members.

The Burma Star Association was formed in 1952, bringing together local members of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force who fought in the Far East during the six-year conflict. At its inception, the association registered a total of 154 members.

Its standard was dedicated in St Anne’s in April the following year. Hymns and lessons used during that event formed yesterday’s order of service.

The service of remembrance and thanksgiving was officiated by Dean Houston McKelvey.

In his address, he paid tribute to the veterans in attendance as well as those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the battlefields of the Far East.

“You, the members of the Burma Star Association and your comrades from the association who have gone before... You have kept the faith with those who fell in action, with those who died in captivity, with those who later suffered for their service,” he said.

“So, please do not leave this place feeling depressed or downhearted by the inevitable passage of time.

“Rather, shoulders back, heads up - You have kept faith with your comrades, and before God and man, I say - ‘Well done. Mission accomplished in war and peace. Thank you. God speed.’”

Dignitaries at the special service included Belfast lord mayor, Pat Convery, alongside the respective mayors of Newtownabbey and Bangor. The Burma Star Association previously received the freedom of the latter two council areas.

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan, whose father Sir Robin served in Burma, read a lesson during the service.

Speaking prior to the service, Brian Rodgers, president of the NI branch of the Burma Star Association, revealed that people had travelled from as far away as Canada and the United States to be in attendance.

While emphasising the occasion would mark the “end of an era”, the former serviceman also maintained the event was memorable.

“I happen to be the youngest member and it is sad because I see the older members, with their disabilities and so forth, but their interest and allegiance to the association is remarkable,” he said.

In August, the last Burma Star Association commemoration parade took place in Belfast to mark the anniversary of Victory over Japan Day (VJ day).

Commenting on future events, Mr Rodgers said: “Those of us who can will still observe VJ Day and will lay a wreath, but there will be no parade.”