War  |  Memory  |  Gratitude

Burma Rifles: The Unknown Army

Burma Rifles: The Unknown Army


The Kohima Educational Trust is delighted to welcome guest speaker, historian Steve Rothwell who, in conversation with Dr Robert Lyman, talks to us about the Burma Rifles.

In the context of the war in Burma, many people will have heard of the Burma Rifles.  But who were these men?  Were they the only Burmese soldiers who fought against the Japanese?  Were they all Burmese?  What was Burma’s contribution to its own defence and eventual re-conquest?

Perhaps known only to a few, there was a Burma Army quite separate from that of the British and Indian Armies but which fought with both.  Soldiers of the Burma Army contributed their unique knowledge of the land, its peoples and its languages and gave great assistance to all Allied troops. 

Soldiers of the Burma Army fought on the Indian frontier; they were present at Kohima; they operated behind Japanese lines with the Chindits; they took part in the Chinese-American struggle for Myitkyina; they supported every Anglo-Indian formation during the reconquest of Burma.

The presentation covers:
 - the pre-war period following the separation of Burma from India;
 - the expansion of the Burma Army and its role in the 1942 campaign;
 - the reorganisation of the Burma Army after the retreat to India;
 - the 2nd Burma Rifles and the Chindits;
 - The Burma Intelligence Corps;
 - The Burma Regiment at Kohima and in North Burma;
 - rebuilding the Burma Army for the post-war period.


As mentioned during the talk, the link to Steve Rothwell's website is below:

The Burma Campaign website


The recording of the talk is now available to view:




Dr Robert Lyman - Military Historian, Author and Trustee of KET  Born in New Zealand in January 1963 and educated in Australia, Robert Lyman was, for twenty years, an officer in the British Army. Educated at Scotch College, Melbourne he was commissioned into the Light Infantry from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in April 1982. In addition to a business career he is an author and military historian, publishing books in particular on the war in the Far East. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Robert is married to Hannah, has two sons, and lives in Berkshire. For information about Robert's publications please visit his website: robertlyman.com


Steve Rothwell - Historian Steve’s main interest is the war in Burma. This arose in part from having an uncle who had served in India and Burma as an infantryman.  Amongst his family, little was known of his uncle’s experiences as he had never really spoken about what he had endured.  Steve was curious to find out more.

Coming across the Burma Rifles for the first time, Steve found there was little published information available. He also found that there were huge gaps in the archives – nearly everything had been lost during the retreat in 1942 and so he set out to reconstruct the history of these and other units.

Today, Steve has a website which documents the Burma Army and related subjects, such as the Battle for Mandalay in 1945 and the civil wars in Burma after independence in 1947. 

Steve’s ‘fifteen seconds of fame’ came as a back-room researcher for the Channel 4 documentary ‘Calling Blighty’, for which he received an honourable mention in the credits.  At a presentation to the families of veterans who were featured in the film, Steve says he was fortunate to meet Robert Lyman who had worked closely with the families and who appears in the film itself.


Sylvia May - CEO of The Kohima Educational Trust Sylvia May was born in New Jersey, USA in 1957. Her parents moved to England in 1963. Educated at High Wycombe School for Girls, she decided to pursue a career in the world of books. Sylvia worked for HarperCollins for 37 years, the last eleven of which she headed up their UK-based International Sales team. Sylvia May is the daughter of the late Gordon Graham, Founder and President of the Kohima Educational Trust. She is proud that her father has inspired many people to share his vision to commemorate those who fought and died in Kohima, and the wonderful Naga people who have done so much for the British in the past. She first visited India in 1994 with her husband Robert, and has returned on numerous occasions, staying in Kohima several times. In 2000, they followed the WWII route of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, her father’s regiment. The regiment’s first main engagement in this theatre of war was at Zubza shortly before the Battle of Kohima.

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