Photos courtesy of Alma and Richard Maile - Burma Star awarded to Les Maile
August 2018 Group Meeting report
Having an Uncle who was second-in-command of 4th Battalion, The Royal West Kent Regiment during the Burma Campaign inspired our speaker, William Franklin, to study Military History and in doing so he acquired a great admiration for Field Marshal The Viscount Slim, commander of the 14th Army in Burma between 1943 and 1945.
William Slim was born on 6 August 1891 in Bristol where his father was a wholesale ironmonger. Later the family moved to Birmingham where he became a pupil-teacher in a very deprived area. Recognising that his challenging students responded to firmness and kindness was to prove valuable in his future success as a leader in the field of battle.
Attaining officer rank was a major obstacle for anyone coming from an ordinary background so his distinguished military career is a testament to his outstanding leadership qualities. Close to his troops, he was regarded as ‘A Soldiers’ Soldier’ with ‘the head of a general and heart of a general soldier’. He upheld three requirements for success in battle - Spiritual (strong morale and support), Intellectual (expert training i.e. jungle-craft). Material (having the best weapons and equipment for the task). He recognised the strengths of others, appointing excellent subordinates and divisional commanders and was instrumental in setting up battle medical treatment centres and acquiring drugs to fight malaria.
In World War 1 he was wounded at Gallipoli and fought for the capture of Bagdad. In the inter-war years he married Aileen Robertson, lectured at the Staff College in Quetta and wrote books about life in India under the pseudonym of Anthony Mills. He returned to active service when World War 2 was declared, being wounded again in Sudan and fought during the British invasion of Vichy French Syria and Lebanon in 1941.
On 7 Dec 41 the Japanese declared war on the Allied Forces, attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbour and invaded European colonies across South East Asia. The Burma Corp, weakened by disease, poor food, and monsoon conditions, were unable to hold the strategic port of Rangoon. Under the command of Lieutenant General William Slim, they endured the 1000 mile retreat to North East India. Although he faced criticism from some, Slim was appointed commander of South East Asia Command under Supreme Commander Louis Mountbatten. In his later memoirs Slim described this episode as ‘Retreat into Victory’.
Victory only came after many campaigns all over Burma, described in detail by our speaker. The decisive battle from March to July 1944 was on the North Western Frontier between India and Burma at Imphal and Kohima. The Fourteenth Army, commanded by Slim, were almost surrounded by 15,000 Japanese troops. This was a fierce battle with close-quarter fighting but they held firm until reinforcements arrived and the Japanese were defeated.
When World War 2 ended Field Marshal The Viscount Slim became Deputy Chairman of British Rail, Governor General of Australia from 1952 to 1960, a Knight of The Garter and Constable of Windsor Castle. He died on 14 December 1970.
The Burma Star is a military medal awarded to British Commonwealth personnel who served in the Burma Campaign from 1941 to 1944 We were delighted that two of these precious medals were brought to our meeting by relatives of the recipients. Christina Tyler, Programme Organiser