Houston McKelvey and J. McCoy Tweedie with the Burma Star Standard
Address given by Dean Houston
McKelvey at service on Sunday 3rd, 2010, at the laying up of the standard of the Northern Ireland Branch of the
Burma Star Association.
This service is an Act of Remembrance
for those who fell
It is also an Act of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for those who founded
the Belfast Branch of the Burma Star Association and who over the years
since have kept faith with those who fell through providing a fellowship
of understanding and support based upon shared experiences; through
providing widows, dependants and children with a community of care
and a rich social life.
It is right and fitting that whilst there are enough of the Old and Bold
to muster these achievements should be marked in a significant way
before God and man and the contributions of the members of the Burma
Star Association in this city and province be recognised once more.
This service cannot first of all be other than an Act of Remembrance for
those who fell.
The statistics on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission make for stark
reading in places with strange names like Kohima and Imphal.
In particular within this community we recognise the high price paid by
the First Battalion of the Inniskillings in the first battle of the
Arakan peninsula when within a matter of days the battalion was so
depleted it was not committed to the line again during the war. The
going is tough indeed when you lose three commanding officers within two
The cost was high in Burma, and it was often in the most difficult of
circumstances. The bravery of those who died alone, suffering
immense pain, but refusing to cry out lest they give away the presence
of their comrades to the enemy. The courage of those who perforce had to
be left behind and if they survived it was in the hands of a fairly
callous and cruel enemy.
I was privileged on a few occasions to be taken into the confidences of
a few of those who survived. It impacts on your life when someone of the
caliber of the late Colonel Jack Baillie confides in you his
recollection of being made to watch the beheading of one of his closest
friends in the POW camp.
Or the memory of having preached at Colonel O’Hara Logan’s funeral
and standing afterwards at the church door shaking hands with a man who
had tears in his eyes, and who said simply and profoundly, “It was
O’Hara’s squadron which brought us back from the camps”.
The life stories of former parishioners who had been in those camps, and
their extreme, understandable reluctance to revisit the memories of days
which still impacted on them. But through their membership of the
association, they were amongst others who understood them better than
any other part of society.
But this Act of remembrance surrounded as it is by death and suffering,
indeed of immeasurable pain, is rightly surrounded by pride. In these
circumstances pride is not sin, it is a prerequisite.
“When you go home tell them of us and say...”
And you will have to forgive a former chaplain to TA Gunners that
I am not alone in appreciating and respecting those photographs taken at
their homecoming of the 8th City of Belfast Regiment parading through
the streets of this city in their distinctive Slim type headwear and
uniform under the command of Colonel Cunningham. I am delighted that his
sons and family are with us today.
But no matter what the service or the cap badge, in the Burma Star
Association this record of service continued.
It was not insignificant that the Association came to this cathedral on
Sunday 12th April, 1953, for the dedication of their standard. These
were men and women who served God, King and Country... and the order is
significant. God, King and Country.
All the father figures that I knew in the Burma Star Association were
church men. And indeed it is highly likely that this cathedral would not
be as it is today without the contribution of the former adjutant of the
8th, Sir Robin Kinahan, church warden, confidant of deans, Mayor of this
city, enabler of the Samaritans, networker for good supreme.
At the service in 1953, the Standard was dedicated by Dean Cyril
Elliott, a former First War chaplain, and later Bishop of Connor, and by
whom I was privileged to be ordained in this cathedral.
The sermon was given by a former Vicar choral of the cathedral, Canon
Graham Craig who had served as a chaplain in Burma. Last week his son
David phoned from Scotland to apologise that events were preventing him
from attending today.
The hymns and the lessons used at that service are those we are using
today. At the dedication the lessons were read by Major, the Right
Honourable Ivan Neill, the then Minister for Labour at Stormont, and
Major General Hawthorn, the Chairman of Council of the Burma Star
I am no stranger to ex-service affairs having been for over 20 years
area chaplain to the Royal British Legion, and for a period chaplain to
the Association following the late Morwood Meldrum, but I have been
taken aback and delighted at the memories which some of you have shared
with me in the weeks leading into this service. In the ten years I have
been here we have organised well over 100 civic services including
several with Royal visitors, but none have come within miles of the
nature of the response to this one.
The Forgotten Army they may have been labelled, but due to the Burma
Star Association and the contribution of service made to this city and
province by those who returned, and their families, that is not the case
I would like to share with you some of the feedback this service evoked.
A son writes:
“Dad came home with some of the long-term problems suffered by
many who were involved in the conflict and although he would often talk
quite freely of his experiences he had no real desire to become involved
in reunions. In view of his war time experiences he refused to fly until
he was into his 60's when mother was able to twist his arm.
“Dad had a successful career in insurance which absorbed much of
his time. Later in his career he was staying overnight at Claridges
during a business trip and at one of the nearby tables in the
restaurant was Sir Robin Kinahan, then Lord Mayor of Belfast, who was in
London to attend a meeting to discuss the troubles. They recognised one
another and had a real good chat about the 'old days'. Dad's wartime
diary covering his years in India is now on the 8th Belfast web site in
full. It doesn't deal with much of the operational activities but is
quite a good piece of social history.”
Heather, a daughter who travelled from England to be here, wrote to me
in a letter - “Although it will be a very emotional and very sad day
for me - and I am sure many others, it will be an event I could not
“My dad Harry is one of the surviving Burma Star members. Throughout
my life the Burma Star has been a very strong presence and my heart is
filled with many happy memories.
“The Burma Star Association was like a family. everyone was involved.
Daddy tells me it was 43 years ago he was president and I can hardly
believe it. This service will be the end of an era and I am heart broken
at the thought of what this really means.
“However memories have a wonderful way of eliminating sadness. V. J.
Day parades, Lord Mountbatten at The City Hall having his photo taken
with ‘the boys’, autographs of prominent people on ‘Burma Star
Dinner menus (which I still have), the little boxes of chocolates the
Ladies got, and which Mummy always shared, the bow ties and beautiful
ball gowns worn by my dad and mum on the formal occasions, photos in the
paper especially the one taken with my mum and dad and Lord and Lady
Kinahan, meetings in the International Hotel (which is no more) where I
thought I was so grown up when at the age of 10, I had my first Coke
with “Lemon and Ice” wow!
“Christmas would not have been Christmas without the Burma Star
Ballot. (Sorry!). In 1963 or 4, I won the £25 first prize. We bought a
Dansette record player. I was allowed one record and bought the Beatles
‘She Loves You’ and my sister Gillian bought Petula Clark ‘Down
Town’. What a thrill!
“My proudest moment was in 1995 when I spent the weekend in London
with Daddy. We attended the last Burma Star Reunion at the Albert Hall.
Bob, Tom, many others had also travelled from Belfast and to be part of
their celebrations was wonderful. I could go on and on the memories keep
“Many of the faces I see in my heart are no longer with us (including
my Mum) but they are as clear as day to me. The pride I feel about these
men goes beyond words. My life is richer for the association with them.
The traditions and respect are being carried on by my children who are
immensely proud of their Grand-da.
“This service is the laying up of the standard it is not the laying up
of the gratitude, thanks, respect and pride for what these ‘boys’
did for us. they are all heroes and for me the biggest hero is my
To those who served in Burma and who are with us today:
Thank you for being here, you bear witness. Thank you for what you did
then, and since. And I hope and pray that it is still a long road
winding before you, and that you will continue to meet it with the same
pawky, self-deprecating humour which I think was nurtured in theatre,
and is something I particularly associate with the members of the
It is apt and good that the standard rests upon the altar. Both
represent Suffering, Sacrifice and Service.
The Christ who suffered pain on the cross... witnessing to the love of
God for us.
The Christ who was sacrificed on the Cross so that we could enjoy the
freedom of being children of God.
The Servant Christ - who humbly washed the feet of his followers.
You, the members of the Burma Star Association and your comrades from
the Association who have gone before... You have kept the faith with
those who fell in action, with those who died in captivity, with those
who later suffered for their service.
So, please do not leave this place feeling depressed or down hearted by
the inevitable passage of time. Rather, shoulders back, heads up - You
have kept faith with your comrades, and before God and man, I say -
“Well done. Mission accomplished in war and peace. Thank you. God