The History of Help for Forgotten Allies

Saw Joshua who was the inspiration for the founding of Help 4 forgotten alliesHelp 4 Forgotten Allies (H4FA) is a United Kingdom Registered Charity, Registration Number 1139273.

You can view the charity’s accounts and reports by following this link to the UK Charity Commission page.

Help 4 Forgotten Allies provides grants and support to native veterans of the armed forces who loyally and selflessly supported the British during the war in Burma from 1942-45.
Burma, since renamed Myanmar, has not been at peace since World War II ended. The country’s ethnic minorities, who make up around 40 per cent of the population, have for decades been fighting for independence or greater autonomy. Among them are the Karen, who fought a long and bloody conflict from Burma’s independence in 1949 until a ceasefire was signed in 2012 - the world’s longest-running civil war.  The Kayah (Karenni) people signed a ceasefire the same year, while in the north of the country the Kachin people remain locked in conflict with the Burmese army despite negotiations for a national ceasefire in the run-up to the 2015 elections.

During World War II, many men from these ethnic groups fought alongside the British, during their long retreat into India, in their subsequent southwards advance, and as guerillas behind Japanese lines. Many were subsequently caught up in the conflicts that racked independent Burma, and have been driven out with their families to live in poverty in one of the nine refugee camps situated just inside the Thai border. Others remain scattered throughout Burma, some in towns and cities and some deep in their jungle villages. In all cases, being ethnically separate from the majority Burmese, they have been regarded with contempt by the government and in areas of conflict have witnessed the appalling treatment of their people, with torture, rape and forced labour commonplace.

Despite their invaluable help, loyalty, sacrifice and contribution to the defeat of the Japanese in Burma, these veterans have not received a penny of official British government aid in the 60 years since the end of World War II. The situation remains dire for many of them.

The establishment of H4FA began with a chance meeting. In 1998, Projects to Support Refugees from Burma founder Sally Steen was visiting a hospital in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province, near the site of the notorious Death Railway, when she met an elderly Karen veteran.

"Living among the dying and demented at the hospital - a rather grand term for what is little more than a large hut - was Saw Yoshoo (Joshua), an old soldier who turned out to have been a pupil of my grandfather, headmaster of Government High School, Maymyo, Burma, who had to flee the Japanese advance,” Sally wrote in her trip report.
“Aged 87, Saw Yoshoo was recruited into the Burma Rifles in 1934. Still perfectly lucid, he reeled off his name, rank, number and the name of his commanding officer. When I asked him what he would like me to do for him, he replied that I should 'inform [his] officers'. His own poverty - one pair of trousers, no medication for his asthma - was clearly secondary."

Sally wrote at the time, and the trustees still feel, that we have a particular moral obligation to these old soldiers. Many Karen have confirmed the promises made by senior British army officers to their Karen allies that their independence would be restored after the Japanese defeat, and that the British would come back to help them. It never happened.

The “displaced persons” in the refugee camps in Thailand are completely dependent on a consortium of 10 NGOs. Many have been in the camps for more than 20 years.

The Border Consortium, or TBC, as it is known, provides food, supplies and shelter, with a budget averaging just 30p per person per day. The TBC is well-run and energetic, but its efforts have been hit by the vagaries of the world economy, by donor fatigue and by political pressure to discourage more refugees. This year (2015?) has seen cuts of more than 20 per cent in provisions to the camp inmates.

Sally Thompson, director of TBC, wrote this to us about the veterans: “I remember the pride with which the soldiers used to greet me, putting on their berets, pinning on their medals, and saluting as they entered the simple camp office. They were not looking for a handout. It was rather the sense of honour about what they did over 60 years ago... It is never too late to acknowledge this. Most of them have very few years left to go now. They fought for our freedom and yet here they are confined to a camp, cut off from their homeland.”

Support for the veterans and their widows continues within the refugee camps, although their numbers are dwindling fast. H4FA has also been active within Burma itself, although this was extremely difficult for many years due to the political situation and restrictions on travel. We have several extremely good and loyal helpers within the country who do their best to distribute the aid in difficult circumstances. The veterans still hold the British in great affection, which is very humbling given that we withdrew more than 60 years ago and have never returned.

Sally Mae La camp

A group of Levies along with their medals

Thanks to the enthusiasm and kindness of our donors we were able last year to increase the grants to £120. The Special Forces Benevolent Fund has been particularly generous. Churches, including St Mary's in Whissonsett, Norfolk (where Major Hugh Seagrim’s father was once rector), St Mary's Holy Island, St Mary's Potton, and St Columba's Cambridge have generously supported us. So too have Peter Mitchell and friends, as well as Norwich School and many individuals, some with direct family links to the Burma campaign. Last year over £28,000 was donated. This year we have pledges so far of over £17,000 for grants, but would need £47,000 to give £120 each to 390 individuals. Please help us to meet this target.
Our patron is the wartime ‘forces’ sweetheart’ Dame Vera Lynn, who sang for Allied troops in Burma and came to know first-hand the ferocity of the Forgotten War.
H4FA has no staff, nor any ambition to compete with other, larger charities. Our engagement is simple and practical, and based on face-to-face meetings with those in need. The office is a laptop, and all travel and other costs are covered privately. Our spending is meticulously documented, with accounts overseen by a board of trustees. H4FA is grateful for support and help from many individuals and organisations.
Help 4 Forgotten Allies (H4FA) is a component of the United Kingdom registered charity Projects to Support Refugees From Burma (PSRB), registration number 1139273.

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