Veterans and the families of those who served in the Burma campaigns of World War II will attend a service in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, on Sunday October 3.
During the service the Standard of the Belfast Branch of the Burma Star Association will be received by the Dean, the Very Rev Dr Houston McKelvey, and laid up for safekeeping.
Dean McKelvey said: "We have been greatly surprised at the response to this occasion. People are travelling from several parts of England and the Republic to attend.
“Whilst the three armed services each played a full role in this theatre and will be represented at the service, there were two local regiments which played key roles in the land battles.
"In the first battle of the Arakan Peninsula, the 1st Battalion of the Inniskillings were almost wiped out with immense loss of life. The battalion lost three commanding officers in two days, such was the ferocity of the fighting and the impossible goals which they had been set.”
The Dean went on: "The 8th City of Belfast, Heavy Air Defence Regiment of the Royal Artillery, which had fought the retreat to Dunkirk, was one of the few gunner regiments to bring their guns home, and later took part in the defence of Southern England during the Battle of Britain.
“The regiment was transported to Western India and then motored across the entire Indian sub-continent, driving up the Indus valley, down the Ganges valley and into Burma where in the second battle of the Arakan, the fighting was so ferocious that the guns were used in a ground to ground role, earning the regiment the nickname of the ‘Twelve Mile Snipers.’”
Several prominent Belfast businessmen were involved in the regiment. The Commanding Officer at the end of the war was Colonel Jimmy Cunningham whose family owned The Northern Whig newspaper and other interests, Sir Robin Kinahan later Lord Mayor of Belfast, was adjutant, and also serving were Harry Porter, Harry McKibbin, an Irish rugby international and Norman Brand.
Dean McKelvey said that family members have told him how important the Burma Star Association was in their lives as wives, widows, and children.
The Association Standard was dedicated at a service in St Anne’s by Dean Cyril Elliott who had served as a chaplain in the First World War, and the sermon was given by Canon Graham Craig who had served as a chaplain in Burma.
The service on Sunday starts at 3.30pm. The hymns and Bible readings will be the same as those which were included at the service of dedication. The lesson readers will be Danny Kinahan, MLA, son of Sir Robin, and Commander Martin Quinn, the Commanding Officer of HMS Hibernia, the naval reserve base which has succeeded HMS Caroline. HMS Caroline served as the Navy's recruitment base in the city during both world wars. Colonel Cunningham's son will also be present.
The Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor will be present and Col. John Steele, Deputy Lord Lieutenant, who commanded the successor TA regiment to 8th City of Belfast, will represent Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.