THE BURMA CAMPAIGN Photographic project: ‘Burma Veterans: Unforgettable’

Gallery Curator: Kate Coe
Exhibition Curator: Wendy Aldiss

Artist Talk: 6th September

In January 1942 Japanese forces invaded Burma, forcing British and Empire troops to retreat to India in what became the longest fighting withdrawal in the British Army’s history. Over the following three years the campaign to reclaim Burma saw some of the most brutal fighting of the Second World War, involving every branch of the Allied armed services.
Allied offensives in the Arakan (Sept. 1942 – March 1943) failed but Operation Longcloth (Feb. – April 1943) – the Chindits’ guerilla-style attacks, dispelled the myth of Japanese superiority at jungle warfare. The epic and prolonged struggles in the Imphal Plain and at Kohima would prove to be the turning points of the Campaign. Vicious fighting continued until the Japanese withdrew with heavy casualties due to injury, lack of supplies and sickness.

The 14th Army that served in Burma numbered over half a million men at its peak, and was multi-cultural and multi-racial. In addition to bombing raids and photo-reconnaissance, the Royal Air Force with US forces airlifted c615,000 tons of supplies and 315,000 reinforcements to the front line, while no fewer than 210,000 casualties were evacuated.
Fighting continued throughout the monsoons. Despite Allied victories at Imphal, Kohima, Kennedy Peak, Mandalay and Meiktilla, the combination of infection, malnutrition, the extreme climate and forbidding terrain, presented as great a threat as the Japanese.

The enemy’s fanaticism and barbarous disregard for prisoners of war and non-combatants meant that hostilities were to continue until the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945 and Japan’s unconditional surrender.

Photographer Wendy Aldiss has located and taken portraits of Burma Veterans across the United Kingdom.
Her father was part of 2nd Division in Burma in WWII and she feels keenly the importance of remembering all the Allies who fought there.

2020 is the 75th anniversary year of VJ Day. For the 70th anniversary Aldiss photographed over 200 allied Burma Veterans in the UK. The body of work she produced is a permanent tribute to an important theatre of war which still remains largely overlooked in the public memory.

Aldiss created an informal portrait of each veteran and, when appropriate, a more formal portrait with them wearing jacket, medals, squadron/regimental tie and beret or bush hat. She also photographed treasured memorabilia kept since the Burma days. Aldiss has chosen a representative sample for this exhibition.

“It has been a huge privilege to have spent time with these people from such diverse backgrounds but with a common bond. They welcomed me into their homes and were patient with me while I created their portraits. The years they each spent in and near Burma during WW2 were their most formative ones and for many the memories of those times grow stronger as they reach the end of their lives”.

The Veterans belonged to all regiments, squadrons, columns, units and fleets out in that region, some of which have long been disbanded.

About Wendy Aldiss:
Photographer Wendy Aldiss is interested in people and the human condition/experience. Her work is influenced by the people around her and key stages in life. Her images include the portrayal of people themselves in environmental portraits or through the exploration and depiction of their emotions and experiences. Her work has been widely exhibited in the UK and mainland Europe.

In 2018 Wendy documented her late father’s possessions in their entirety.

In 2015 Wendy commemorated allied Veterans of the Burma Campaigns in the Second World War by creating portraits of as many Veterans as she could find (200 plus) in the UK and some in Myanmar itself. The portraits formed an extensive solo exhibition, ‘Burma Veterans:Unforgettable’ in London in 2016 with further exhibitions in 2017, including at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Other bodies of work include ‘Dementia’, ‘Memories as Seen Through Time’ and ‘Left on the Ledge’.
Wendy’s work spans fine art, portraiture and social documentary. Wendy studied photography in Nottingham. She works in film as well as digital.

Wendy is based in Oxford. She was nominated for the RPS 100 Heroines in 2018.

Photo by Laurence Lodge