Visualising History: Remembering The Forgotten Army

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Visualising History: Remembering the Forgotten Army is a new exhibition by illustrator and researcher Kremena Dimitrova.

The exhibition tells the story of the Fourteenth Army in the Burma Campaign and investigates the lasting legacy of the multicultural army.

When You Go Home Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today. 

Kohima Epitaph

This is the story of the Burma Campaign, a series of battles fought in the British colony of Burma (now Myanmar) between December 1941 and September 1945. The Burma Campaign was part of the South-East Asian theatre of the Second World War when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Burma on their way to India. This is the story of those who resisted them – forces of the Allies, the British Empire and the Republic of China with support from the United States.
VJ Day Exhibition Tile 1
This is the story of the 14th Army, the largest Commonwealth army which was assembled in November 1943. More than a million people served in the 14th Army who came from Britain, West Africa, India and many other Commonwealth regions. By rights, it should be one of the most celebrated stories of that cataclysmic global conflict. Yet the 14th Army is known as the ‘Forgotten Army’
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The 14th Army was marshalled together by one man, General Sir William Slim who was loved by his men for humanity and admired for his shrewd military skill. A combination of his leadership and the breathtaking bravery of those under his command ultimately led to a victory on the 15th August 1945 known as VJ-Day (Victory over Japan Day).
VJ Day Exhibition Tile 3
Dame Vera Lynn was one of the few people brave enough to visit and perform for the troops in Burma while the Second World War was raging. Her music was an inspiration to millions at home and at the front. In 1985, in recognition of her wartime service she was awarded the Burma Star – a military campaign medal instituted by the UK in May 1945 for award to forces who served in the Burma Campaign.

The 14th Army was also supported by the Women’s Auxiliary Service WAS(B)s. They sustained the army from front-line canteens and moved down through the country with them. Grateful soldiers wrote poems about the 250 WAS(B)s who in their green uniforms, or sometimes in make-up and pretty frocks offered tea, sausage rolls, bacon sandwiches, tinned peaches and pears and condensed milk fudge.
VJ Day Exhibition tile 4

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.

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In May 1945, VE-Day was celebrated. In Europe, the war was over. Soldiers from the Burma Campaign were given no reception on return to their home countries. The bands stopped playing after the European war had ended…

The Burma Star continues to support the veterans, so they can retain their special relationship and morale and their unique spirit of comradeship. There are many memorials to the Burma Campaign around the world with some of the major ones being the Rangoon Memorial, the National Memorial Arboretum and Kohima Museum. The Kohima Cemetery reflects the diversity of the 14th Army. Christians, Jews and Muslims who fell at Kohima are buried alongside one another. The Hindus and Sikhs were cremated and all their names are written together on the Kohima Cremation Memorial.
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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.

VJ Day Exhibition Tile 7

The 14th Army’s Legacy

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.

How Was The Exhibition Produced?

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 

Download our VJ Day Learning Packs to discover more

VJ Day Activity Pack

VJ Day Child Activity Pack

VJ Day Quiz Pack