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Remembering bravery of fallen in far-off Burma

BY Eddie McIlwaine

An order of service from the past provides vital information today of the way 8th Belfast Heavy Anti-aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery commemorated its Second World War dead far from home in Burma.

The fighting over there had just come to an end in 1945 when officers and men of the regiment paraded to a memorial service in the war-battered St Mark's Church in Akyab to pray in memory of their comrades who had died in the Arakan campaigns in that country between 1942 and 1945.

I can count a total of 34 names which are in the order and which were read at the service by the Rev J Good, a padre who was serving at the time with the 15 Indian Corps.

The date of the memorial occasion was Saturday, March 31, which this clergyman said was a perfect time to remember the fallen because that year it was the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

He told the gathering of soldiers: "Our dead comrades paid with their lives in a foreign country in a great cause and far from home in a far distant land."

Among the fallen being remembered that poignant day were Gunner John Galway, Sgt Leonard Gregory, Gunner William McKay and Sgt James Vance who were all Ulstermen, losing their lives far from their homeland.

All the 34 names of the soldiers were on a memorial plaque unveiled in the church that afternoon.

What makes the recollection of the memorial service even more poignant for me personally is the fact that my late uncle Bob McIlwaine served in Burma and was taken prisoner by the Japanese and forced to work on the infamous Death Railway.

He survived the war but I never met him until he eventually returned home when I was 13.

The little St Mark's Church of Akyab was one of the first to be reclaimed from the enemy and was about to be refurbished at the time of the memorial service, after being central to the fighting going on all around and suffering a lot of damage.

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