The exhibition tells the story of the Fourteenth Army in the Burma Campaign and investigates the lasting legacy of the multicultural army.
The operational area of the 14th Army was about 100,000 square miles, or rather larger than Great Britain. Half a million men lived and fought in the jungle. Every day it was necessary to bring in by rail, road air or water 1,800 tons of food to feed 500,000 soldiers plus 300,000 labourers. The treacherous mountain and jungle terrain was difficult to navigate, which is why apart from trucks, they used mules from India, Africa and USA, South-African donkeys, elephants and oxen to transport the supplies.
The 14th Army held the longest battle line of any army during the Second World War, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to the borders of China. It also fought in some of the most arduous countries in the world.
The 14th Army’s greatest victories were in the Arakan at Imphal, Kohima, Mandalay and Meiktilla, which led to the defeat of the Japanese Imperial Army, the liberation of Burma, and subsequently to the end of the Second World War. The ‘Forgotten Army’ should not be forgotten for its work in the most adversarial of conditions, it was always on the end of supplies and still triumphed and conquered all against all odds. Without the 14th Army’s endurance and sacrifices, victory and freedom and way of life we enjoy today would not have been possible.
21st Century Britain is a diverse and multicultural society partly as a result of the diverse forces who fought alongside each other during the Second World War. The food, drink, music, film, fashion and politics that shape our everyday life are all because of the war. The end of the Second World War on 2 September 1945 resulted in a mass migration of people as many thousands were demobilized. The symbolic starting point of this mass migration to Britain – the ‘mother country’ was the journey of the SS Empire Windrush from Kingston Jamaica to Tilbury, Essex in June 1948. On board were over 500 West Indians intent on starting new lives in Britain.
The UK had a severe labour shortage after the war, especially in the transport network and the newly created National Health Service. Immigrants worked mainly in areas of great labour shortage, such as on buses and in hospitals. As the UK economy boomed in the late 1950s and 1960s, migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, and many other Commonwealth countries came to work in the manufacturing, engineering, textile and service sectors, including a significant number at Heathrow Airport in West London. Catering also benefitted from migration and many Indian restaurants and takeaways were established. Tamils from Sri Lanka in the UK found employment in small businesses, including grocery shops and newsagents.
Kremena focussed her research on telling the story of the Fourteenth Army, also known as The Forgotten Army, and on mapping the enduring legacy of the most diverse armies in history.
Kremena approached the commission by planning and delivering online (hi)storytelling illustration workshops for young people and used the work produced during the workshops to create a series of digital illustrations. Kremena also researched and drew inspiration from various historical sources relating to the Second World War, VJ-Day, and the Burma Campaign, including The Burma Star Association, the Burma Star Memorial Fund, the Imperial War Museum and The National Archives.
To tell the Fourteenth Army’s story, Kremena’s illustrations include extracts from wartime songs, such as Dame Vera Lynn’s Wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye, and Down by Mandalay, a song inspired by the Burma Campaign. Kremena also incorporated oral histories and personal possessions of people who took part in the Burma Campaign, such as the Burma Star medal, a military campaign medal award to British and Commonwealth forces who served in the Burma Campaign. The hunting horn which was used by Captain J L Smyth to rally his 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Royal Regiment, also features in the illustrations.
Kremena created the illustrations so they interlink. They form a continuous graphic narrative and culminate with a multicultural map of the UK, revealing the lasting impact that the conflict with Japan and the Second World War have had on today’s culture and society.
To discover more about the Fourteenth Army and VJ Day, take a look at our activity packs and guided walks