'˜They were the forgotten army'
The sacrifices made by Second World War veterans in the Far East will be forever remembered in Blackpool, thanks to a memorial garden which has now been officially unveiled.
Dignitaries including the Mayor and Mayoress of Blackpool, Coun Peter Callow and Coun Maxine Callow, joined former servicemen and women at a dedication service for the Burma Star Garden at the Fylde Arboretum.
Volunteers have worked tirelessly to create the memorial which includes a stone monument bearing the words of the Kohima Epitaph, and a piece of railway symbolic of the infamous Burma Railway.
Liz Clayton, of the Blackpool branch of the Burma Star Association, said: “It was a fantastic service and the garden looked wonderful.
“We had a lot of Burma Star holders there, including some who weren’t members of our branch but wanted to be there, as well as relatives of those who have sadly passed away.
“The garden means a lot because these people came back from the war and there were no victory parades for them.
“They are the forgotten army and very few would speak about what they went through.”
The Burma Campaign took place between December 1941 and September 1945, during which time Japanese forces invaded Burma and drove British forces back to the Indian border.
Prisoners of War were forced by their Japanese captors to work on gruelling projects such as railway construction, later famously depicted in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Many suffered terribly, and approximately 13,000 British soldiers and 2,000 civilians died in Japanese prisoner camps.
The Burma Star was awarded to those who had served in operations in the Burma Campaign in recognition of the sacrifices they made.
The Burma Star Association has a long history in Blackpool, having held reunion weekends in the resort for 22 years until 2008.
But dwindling numbers, as many of the veterans have now passed away or are aged in their early 90s, has forced the forthcoming closure of the branch.
However, it was decided there should be a lasting memorial which is why the garden has been created at the arboretum in Moor Park Avenue, Bispham.
The association paid £5,000 out of its funds for the inscribed stone.
Ms Clayton added: “We are sad the branch has to close but the garden means the Burma Star Association will always be in Blackpool.
“People have booked to have plaques put in and trees planted in memory of their family members.
“This what the arboretum is about. We want people to go and see it and know it is there.”
The dedication ceremony was followed by a reception at Moor Park Primary School, where refreshments were provided by Laila’s Fine Foods, also based on Moor Park Avenue.
It is hoped eventually to add a scale replica of the Changi Gate, which was built by men from the 18th Division in Changi prison, Singapore, to the garden which also includes a memorial to those who died in the First World War.
Last year also saw the War Memorial from the former Co-op Social Club on Preston New Road in Marton relocated to the arboretum which is the only one in the country apart from the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
There are three glades - the main one is filled with plaques representing different service associations, while the Millennium Glade remembers those soldiers who have died since 2000.
The Jim Houldsworth Bower honours the former Blackpool councillor who was instrumental in founding the arboretum before his death in 2012.
Future plans also include a Northern Ireland memorial stone.