Captain Tom heartbreak: Why WW2 veteran had to carry on fighting after VE Day

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Captain Sir Tom Moore, the World War 2 veteran who raised over £30million for the NHS amid the coronavirus pandemic, passed away after he was taken to Bedford Hospital when he developed COVID-19 symptoms. He inspired a nation following his heroics efforts walking 100 laps of his garden by his 100th birthday on Friday April 30 last year. Thanks to his efforts Captain Tom was given the official title of Colonel, and would later go on to earn a knighthood.

In a statement, Captain Tom’s daughters Mrs Ingram-Moore and Lucy Teixeira said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our dear father”, adding “he will stay alive in our hears forever”.

Millions of people became infactuated with Captain Tom’s story, and when he appeared on BBC Breakfast last year he discussed his life, including some of the heroic endurances of war he had faced.

His comments were made to mark VE Day, which commemorates the end of World War 2 in Europe.

Nazi Germany formally surrendered on Tuesday May 8, 1945, shortly after Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30.

While celebrations exploded across Europe and North America, battle and intense conflict continued elsewhere in the world.

In the Far East and the Pacific, World War 2 would not end for another three months.

The redeployment of British soldiers to the other side of the world came as a stark reality check for many.

Troops, ironically, changed the acronym for the British Liberation Army (BLA) – the designation for the force sent into action in north-west Europe – as “Burma Looms Ahead”.

And so the Burma Campaign was put under the spotlight.

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Beginning in December 1941, the campaign lasted until August 1945 and had one of the longest fighting withdrawals in British military history.

Captain Sir Tom was enlisted to India in 1941 shortly before the Burma Campaign got underway.

He had previously been stationed in Cornwall with the 8th Battalion of The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment to defend Britain from a looming German invasion.

The journey to Bombay, India – present-day Mumbai – took six weeks by sea.

He was instructed to start a motorcycle course for his regiment before moving onto Calcutta.

This epic journey would take Tom across the heartlands of India during the peak of monsoon season, and three weeks later he would arrive at the eastern city.

Following his time in Calcutta, Tom was told to travel to Burma where he would fight against Imperial Japan, a formidable Axis power.

The British soldiers fighting in Burma faced conditions they had never encountered, with disease rife.

In Volume 34 of the 1948 “The Journal of Parasitology”, researchers noted the prevalence of a disease called Tsutsugamushi, also known as scrub typhus.

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Figures gleaned from deaths during the Burma campaign show that in the record of the British 14th Army, the ratio of disease to battle casualties was 121 to one in 1943.

Things improved in 1943 when the ratio stood at 19 to one, and better again in 144, a low 3.4 to one.

The disease is caused by a parasite that bites the skin while feeding, depositing bacteria into the host that multiplies.

Days later eschars appear on the skin, a dry, dark scab.

This leads to the inflammation of the blood vessels, and can affect the arteries and veins, known as vasculitis.

Within a few days vasculitis extends to major organs like the liver, brain, kidney, meninges and lymphadenopathy.

The disease is brutal and fast-acting, with severe cases, or those not properly treated, having a mortality rate as high as 30-70 percent.

The journal notes how the advent of disease and subsequent deaths during the Burma Campaign were an “unavoidable disaster”.


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Meanwhile, in a series of archived recordings from the Imperial War Museum, first-hand accounts from soldiers who fought during the campaign provide a glimpse into the horrors of the conflict that Tom would be no stranger to.

Neville Hogan was serving with the Burma Auxiliary Force when the Japanese invaded the country in early 1942.

He described the terrifying moment his battalion came under infiltration by the Japanese, having to dive into the River Sittang after the destruction of a bridge left him stranded.

He said: “There were parties of about 30 or 40, we’re organised to swim this river.

“I was in one of these parties, and coming down you see this swift flowing river, it’s frightening.

“You look at water and it’s so beautiful, but once you get there, underneath, oh it’s frightening.

“Boots round my neck, four, five pistols around my neck with their big web belts choking you, a tin hat, which I had lost immediately when I got into the water, a pair of shorts, and that’s it.

“Halfway, three quarters of the way across, I had a thud in my thigh, I thought: ’God, there goes another poor Gurkha drowning’, but it turned out that I was hit by shrapnel in my thigh.

“I got to the north bank about 300 yards from the bridge, and I climbed up, and out of our party of about 30 or 40, there must have only been around ten of us left.

“We made for the railway line which takes us to Pegu.

“We got to Pegu which was about a 42-mile walk, we did that in two days, and there was a hospital train where I had my shrapnel removed, just by being pulled out, it left a few bits inside.”

After being stationed in Arakan, Tom moved south with his troops to Rangoon, where the Japanese eventually surrendered in 1945, and the campaign was won.

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