Burnley Civic Trust Heritage Image Collection

A Wartime Souvenir

The Burnley Express Cuttings Library

When the Burnley Express (Johnston Press) gifted their archive to the Burnley Civic Trust, it included the newspaper's cuttings library. This consisted of hundreds of A5 size brown envelopes, approximately dating from the early 1900s to the 1960s - a data bank of historical local news. Archive volunteers have been logging these cuttings, and putting some of the really interesting ones on the website.

This is the story of a very special find.

Hidden away for 75 years

On 27th November 1944 a soldier from Burnley, Corporal J. Barker, somewhere in Burma or perhaps India, took a scrap of brown paper, and in a beautifully neat hand, wrote a note to the Editor of the Burnley Express:

He attached the note to a copy of "SEAC Souvenir", the Services' newspaper of South East Asia Command (price one anna), a 16 page fully illustrated special edition, which told the story of the 1944 Burma Campaign against the Japanese in World War 2.

We have been unable to find any evidence that the Editor put anything in the paper about this. Someone at the Burnley Express folded the newspaper up, put it in one of the brown envelopes, numbered the envelope 6594, marked it:"South East Asia Command, Souvenir (Copy of Newspaper)" and put it in the cuttings library. Where it stayed, despite all the upheaval of relocation, until January 2020, when a volunteer came to log it and the newspaper was unfolded for the first time in 75 years. Original copies of the souvenir printed in India are probably quite rare. It was in remarkable condition, and once the creases had been smoothed out, it was scanned, so that it can be shared and put on public display, co-incidentally just in time for the 75th Anniversary of VJ (Victory in Japan) Day and the end of the war.

John Barker wasn't the only soldier to send the Souvenir home to their local newspaper so perhaps the Army encouraged them to do so, in order to raise public awareness of what the S.E.A.C. campaign had achieved in Burma.

The Driffield Times on 25th January 1945, reported that one of their local soldiers had sent them the Souvenir, and they encouraged their readers to try and get hold of a copy and read it. They went on to describe the contents of the Souvenir in detail, thus creating a handy guide to the 16 page souvenir, as we only have space here to give some extracts.

The Driffield Times also reported that the Army was intending to re-print the souvenir in England, and they did in fact do this, going to the trouble of sending the original printing plates back to the U.K.

(Source British Newspaper Archive)

A good copy of the whole Souvenir can be seen on an American website dedicated to the China, Burma and India conflict : http://cbi-theater.com/seac/seac_souvenir.html


At this point it may be helpful to have some background information on the campaign, which has been much in the news recently during the Covid-19 Lock-down, in connection with Captain Tom Moore who also served in Burma and India. This is from the website of the Burma Star Association https://www.burmastar.org.uk/burma-campaign/

The Burma Campaign

The Circumstances of the War in Burma

The war in the Far East started in December 1941, simultaneously with the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The Japanese captured Hong Kong on Christmas Day and moved into the Malaysian Peninsula, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. Malaya was overrun and Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. The Japanese army advanced into Burma, involving the defending British and Indian troops in a long and demoralising fighting retreat through thick jungle terrain over a distance equivalent to that from Istanbul to London. Rangoon fell on 8 March 1942 and by mid-June the Japanese advance had reached the hills on the North East frontier of India.

In December 1942, British and Indian troops mounted their first offensive in the malaria ridden coastal Arakan region. It was unsuccessful, although much was learned. During 1943, Chindit columns under Brigadier Orde Wingate, supported by the Royal Air Force, penetrated deep behind the Japanese lines in central Burma. In March 1943, a further determined attempt to invade India was repulsed after fierce fighting. In August 1943 the South East Asia Command was formed under Lord Louis Mountbatten and in October that year General William Slim was appointed as Commander of the Fourteenth Army.

In March 1944, the Japanese launched an offensive across the Chindwin River, cutting the Imphal-Kohima Road. There followed the ferocious battles of the Admin Box, Kohima (with its famous tennis court) and Imphal, at the end of which the defeated Japanese withdrew. Further Chindit columns operated deep behind enemy lines during 1944 and at the beginning of 1945 the Fourteenth Army launched a successful offensive down the Arakan Coast, followed by a major advance deep into central Burma. Mandalay was retaken on 20 March after a twelve day battle, and the Fourteenth Army continued on to Rangoon which was reoccupied in an amphibious operation on 3 May.

The Fourteenth Army, known to many as The Forgotten Army, numbered over one million men under arms, the largest Commonwealth army ever assembled. Air lines of communication were crucial: some 615,000 tons of supplies and 315,000 reinforcements were airlifted to and from the front line, frequently by parachuted air drops, and 210,000 casualties were evacuated. The Royal Air Force and the Indian Air Force, supported by carrier-borne Fleet Air Arm aircraft, provided constant offensive bombing sorties, together with fighter cover and essential photo-reconnaissance in support of the Army. Towards the end of the War, RAF Liberator aircraft carried out some of the longest operations ever flown to drop mines into the Pacific. At sea, the Royal Navy and the Royal Indian Navy provided the landing craft, the minesweeping operations and the combined operations necessary for the coastal offensive in the Arakan, as well as providing gunfire support from seaward. The Royal Marine Commando, as well as Royal Marines from the units of the Fleet, took part in the Arakan operations.
The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945, now known as VJ Day.


Some extracts from the Souvenir which Corporal John Barker sent home.

Mountbatten became "First Earl of Burma" in 1947. He was Prince Philip's Uncle and a second cousin to the Queen.

Troops from China, India and West Africa alongside British forces.


Sergeant Barker

Having found his note and the Souvenir, we started searching the Burnley Express archive for any information we could find on Corporal Barker.

In May 1944 the Burnley Express reported:

" Lance Corporal J. Barker, whose home address is 13 Paper Street Burnley has been in the Royal Corps of Signals for three and a half years. He has been abroad three years and is now in India having fought in the Burma Campaign. In peacetime he worked as a coal drawer in Reedley Colliery and was a member of the colliery swimming team."

A small, rather blurred image accompanied the report.

Two years earlier on 3rd October 1942, his loving family had placed a 21st Birthday notice in the Express:

Coming of Age
Congratulations and best wishes to
Signalman John Barker, serving in India with the Royal Corps of Signals
on his 21st birthday, Oct. 7th 1942.
From Mother and Dad and Robert,
Brother and Sister, Harry, Becca and Family, 2 Princess St.,
Brother and Sister, Arthur and Ivy, 1 Paper St

From this information and from the announcement of his death, on November 13th 1999 we were able to trace John Barker's family and with their help and permission, we are able to introduce you to Corporal Barker, as he then was, Sergeant as he became, and to tell you a little about his exemplary war record, and his life afterwards. A personal tribute from the family appears later in this article, together with memorabilia, which they have kindly shared with us.

He joined up in December 1941. His service record shows that he served in Burma/SEAC with the Royal Corps of Signals from January 1942 arriving back in England, on 8th May 1945. He was then based in the U.K. until he left the Regular Army on 29th April 1948. He may have been stationed at Catterick between 23.10.45 and 18.12.47, as he and Marie got married in 1946.

They had two sons, Lynton and Ian.

John did not talk about his wartime experiences, but no doubt they would be similar to those of other soldiers who served with SEAC, whose stories are told on the Burma Star Association website, and also on the BBC WW2 history pages www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/

When John died in 1999, his family described him in the obituary as "Gardener, Photographer and all round decent human being."

Marie, John's wife and inspiration died in 2015.


A personal tribute from the Barker family

Our Father rarely spoke openly about his war service, indeed when asked he would close down conversation and say it was a matter in the past and not for discussion, a sentiment the family respected.

I have accessed his service record book, medals and two photographs taken in the far East (likely India or Burma). Images of these are attached. You will see he enlisted with the Border Regiment but soon transferred to the Royal Signals. His stint in Burma was part of the UK Special Forces group known as The Chindits. His rank on leaving the Army in 1948 was Sergeant. His service was exemplary.

He was awarded the Burma Campaign Medal and The Burma Star (Highest military medal for any period of operational service during WW2) and the other two are WW2 Campaign Medals.

On leaving the Army he worked for the Burnley Textile Loom manufacturers Butterworth and Dickinson and then in 1970 joined the Burnley Express, where he worked as a driver and general maintenance man.

His great passion in life was horticulture/gardening, first pursued on an allotment and then in his own domestic garden. I have attached an image of a winners certificate he valued more than any other horticultural prize he won, " Best Garden attached to a house in Burnley."

Irrespective of there being a relatively small amount of new information for you the exercise has unlocked many happy memories for my brother Ian and I.

Lynton Barker


Treasured Family Memories

John Barker left, possibly with his WW2 pal Lynton Green, for whom his eldest son was named

a photo he sent to his Mother.


John Barker's Service Records:


Transcription of assessment on leaving the Colours:
"Conduct : Exemplary;
An excellent army tradesman, and a First Class Senior N.C.O. A really good type of Regular Soldier, who can be trusted at all times, and who is not afraid to accept responsibility. Tactful with a strong personality. Always clean and smart in his personal appearance".



Sergeant Barker's Medals :
The Burma Campaign Medal, the Burma Star, and two WW2 Campaign Medals.

And in peacetime, his pride and joy - awards for his garden


Coming full Circle

Sergeant Barker went from a coal mine in Burnley, to the jungles of Burma, served his country well for more than 7 years, and then came home and just quietly carried on with his life.

Our story started with John writing to the Burnley Express, and in a nice co-incidence, he ended up working for them.

His note of November 1944 asked that the document he was sending should be made public, to help "put the Forgotten Army back on the map."

We hope in some small way to have finally done what he asked, albeit some 75 years later.

It has been our privilege.

With sincere thanks to the family of John, and Marie, Barker.