The Start of the Second World War in Asia:

Against the background of the world economic depression of the 1930s and 1940s, Germany, Italy and Japan embarked on the fascist path to escape from the political and economic crisis.

In the Asian theatre, on 18 September 1931, Japan staged the 918 Incident and invaded north-eastern China. This incident broke the relatively stable world structure that had been formed after the First World War and is considered by some to be the true start of the Second World War.

On 7 July 1937, Japan provoked the LuGouQiao Incident and launched an all-out invasion of China, further aggravating tensions on the international stage.

In December 1941, Japan expanded the Pacific War under the pretext of establishing the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In just half a year, the Japanese army conquered Burma (called Myanmar today), Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies (called Indonesia today) and the Philippines.


The Battle of Imphal (1944)

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Japanese Hinomaru flag captured by Sergeant Hunter, 2nd Battalion – on display in the museum.

Imphal is a border city in eastern India on the border with Burma. The area is surrounded by the Manipur Mountains. On the outskirts of Imphal is a plain 40 miles long and 20 miles wide, dotted with military barracks, hospitals, arsenals, ammunition depots and munitions depots. Imphal was the last bulwark between Japanese forces and British India. In March 1944, the Japanese advanced to Bishenpur, south-west of Imphal, and Kohima further to the north. The road between Imphal and Kohima was cut off, and the garrison at Kohima was isolated. The whole of 4th Corps and other troops in the Imphal region had to be completely resupplied by air as Imphal was surrounded by the Japanese. After a brief success, the Japanese nightmare began.

In  April 1944, Burma’s rainy season came early, and the roads became muddy. In early June, General Slim gathered 150,000 troops outside Imphal to prepare for a counter offensive. His plan was to push the 33rd Corps from Kohima to Imphal, while the 7th Indian Division would hold the retreating enemies in Ukhrul, and the 4th Corps would break through the Imphal cordon and link up with the 33rd Corps.

A Chindit Force, in conjunction with the 20th Indian Division, was ordered to draw closer to Ukhrul. The Japanese were thus besieged on all sides. On 22 June the 33rd Corps and 4th Corps joined forces near the Kohima-Imphal Road, where the Japanese retreated to the east and were besieged by the 7th Indian Division, 33rd Corps and 4th Corps. On August 20, the Japanese army retreated to the edge of the Chindwin River. The river, after heavy rain and flash floods, had reached a width of more than 1500 metres, and the crossing points were exposed to Allied attack. Eventually, famine and disease, combined with a Chinese expeditionary counter offensive in Burma, ended the three-month siege of Imphal, leaving the Japanese unable to attack the Indian mainland.

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Lt Marshalls Platoon 4 Border at Imphal flag in collection.

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Mark II Bren Light Machine Gun – on display in the museum.

Battle of Central Burma (1944-1945):

In November 1944, the 5th Indian Division and the 11th East African Division established a bridgehead on the East side of the Chindwin river which linked up in kalemyo-Kalewa Area. The 2nd British Division moved along the Kabaw Valley into the East African Bridgehead opposite Kalewa.

They captured Schwebo on the railway north of Mandalay. The British advanced across the Irrawaddy River towards Meiktila and Mandalay respectively in mid-January and mid-February 1945, and captured Meiktila on 3 March. On the 20th, the Japanese abandoned Mandalay and fled south. The allied forces entered Rangoon on 2 May, bringing all large-scale operations in Burma to an end.

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9th Border Regiment in Meiktila shortly after its capture. Burma, 1945.

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Uniforms of a captain (left) and private (right) of the 9th Battalion. Between them is a Burmese dah, a type of machete and scabbard used by the Japanese – on display in the museum.


In the Burma campaign, the 4th Battalion Border Regiment retrained as “Chindits.” Major-General Wingate created Chindits as a form of special forces to fight the enemy in the jungles of Burma, infiltrating the rear lines of the Japanese Army. Their main task was to destroy enemy communication lines, bridges, railways and block supply routes. They were to confuse enemy forces and then disappear into the jungle.

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Corporal Cohen’s Chindits Badges, 4th Battalion.

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55th Column Chindit 1944 Burma.

Stories from the Border Regiment in India:

There were three battalions of the Border Regiment that served in this theatre of war, the 2nd, 4th and 9th. Only the 2nd started the war in India, the 4th participated in the Battle of France in 1940 and fought in the Middle East and North Africa before being sent to India. The 9th was formed after the fall of France and was originally to serve as a defensive unit in case the Germans invaded Great Britain. Between 1942 and 1944 all three battalions spent most of the time training for jungle warfare to take the fight to the Japanese.

The following is three stories from the 2nd, 4th, and 9th Battalions. Two of these stories take place around the same time as major events of the European war, such as D-Day and the surrender of Germany.

Solo Reconnaissance:

26 June 1944, Corporal Harold Proctor and 3 other soldiers of the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment were on their way to report on Japanese activity near the villages of Upper and Lower Thawai, India. Before they could reach their objective, they found the Thoubal river too deep, at over 2 metres.

Try as he could Harold could only get himself across the river and eventually told his comrades to leave him as he would carry out the mission alone. Harold would have to endure monsoon conditions throughout the patrol. After making it to the villages and seeing no Japanese forces he stayed the night and made his way back the next day. For these actions he was awarded a Bar to his Military Medal.

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Jungle Ambulance:

9 April 1945, Private Joseph Arnold would save many lives. Soldiers of the 9th Battalion Border Regiment fought with the Japanese near Pyawbwe. Joseph and others were stretcher bearers and brought back several wounded. However, there were two instances when the others could not help Joseph, and while the Japanese were still shooting at him, brought back two wounded soldiers. Joseph was responsible for helping 12 soldiers who were wounded get back to safety so they could be treated. For his efforts Private Joseph would be recommended to receive a Mention in Despatches.

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Medals of Acting Sergeant Tommy Jackson, 2nd Battalion – on display in the museum.

The Supply Chain:

The previous stories focused on acts of bravery while fighting the Japanese, but not all the soldiers served on the front lines. Some like Private Douglas Irving helped by ensuring the soldiers on the front lines had plenty of food, ammunition and other supplies. Douglas guided mules through the many mountain passes of Burma and India to soldiers who needed supplies. Without soldiers like Douglas the defeat of the Japanese in Burma and India would not have been possible. For  his part in the war Douglas Irving was recommended to receive the British Empire Medal.

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Private George Little with his mule, 4th Battalion.

Did you know?

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Crossing the Chindwin River, 1944.

The Size of a Battalion?

The average battalion size of the British Army is roughly between 500-1000 soldiers, though this could vary significantly if the battalion was in action due to availability of reinforcements.

The importance of mules?

Mules were so important to the British Army in India and Burma because of the terrain. Most of the fighting took place in high altitudes, dense jungle and frequent monsoon seasons. This meant that the use of trucks was very limited and the soldiers either had to use mules to get supplies, and in some cases, they carried up to 5 days of rations on them.

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Siesta after Crossing the Chindwin River.

The beginning of LuGouQiao Incident?

The Lugouqiao Incident, also known as the 77 Incident, took place on 7 July 1937. That night, without informing the local Chinese authorities, the Japanese garrison in Lugouqiao went ahead to hold so-called military exercises in the vicinity, and surreptitiously claimed that a Japanese soldier was missing, and asked to enter Wanping County, southwest of Peking (now Lugouqiao Town) to search, which was sternly refused by the Chinese troops, the Japanese then launched an attack on Wanping and Lugouqiao, thus opening the curtain on the Eastern Front.


This online exhibition has been produced by three students of the University of Leicester who worked from the UK to China to the US. This exhibition is a testament to their hard work and dedication to preserving the memory of those that served in the Border Regiment in the Far Eastern front during the Second World War

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