Publishing the Burma Star Memorial Fund; Remembering ‘The Forgotten Army’

 

The Story of the Burma Campaign 

It was one of the most magnificent – and arduous – feats of arms in military history. A million men, from more than 20 nations, fighting a powerful and implacable foe through thousands of miles of intractable, malaria-ridden jungle, doggedly ploughing on, despite suffering a series of shattering early reverses.” 

Discover more about the Burma Campaign’s history here.

The Vision

The vision for this project was ultimately to keep the memory of the Burma Campaign alive; paying tribute to the past whilst also looking at the exciting developments for the future, such as the creation of fourteen Burma Star scholarships. The move from physical to digital would mean, for the first time, this extensive historically precious material would be protected and made ready for publishing and online access through a bespoke website. This would be the central hub for all of the Burma Star Memorial Fund’s content, records and related news. TownsWeb Archiving were honoured to be a part of this very important collaboration process, thanks to the bespoke capabilities of PastView


The key considerations were: 

  • To remember and pay tribute to those who served in the Burma Campaign
  • To establish a digital platform for the work of the Burma Star Memorial Fund
  • To maintain the Memorial Fund’s brand identity
  • To enable the records of the Burma Star Association members to be available to view online and to allow information and images to be added to each individual record
  • To create a digital archive of all of the back copies of Dekho!, the organisation’s magazine

The above key considerations were given a great deal of contemplation as to the best means and methods for each. What follows is an insight into how this translated to the final published website.

“Early in 2019, the Trustees of the Burma Star Memorial Fund commissioned TownsWeb Archiving (TWA) to develop a bespoke website with a fully-digitised archive collection. Our project was very ambitious because, at that time, the Memorial Fund did not have a website. Our over-arching goal was to provide online access to 56,000 Burma Star Association (the Association) records and the back copies of Dekho!, the Association’s magazine, supplemented by searchable functionality for the personal testimonies and original documents that are such a vital part of the Burma Campaign’s history.”

Jeremy Archer, Trustee, Burma Star Memorial Fund


Remembering and paying tribute to the Burma Campaign 

The purpose of the Burma Star Memorial Fund’s website was to respectfully perpetuate the memory of the 14th Army and the Burma Campaign. This was facilitated through CMS pages such as ‘About’ and ‘History’ where details around important dates and periods, as well as information around medals, could be found. A historical timeline was also used to document the chronology of events and the story behind the campaign. All of this, together with the reiteration of the Kohima Epitaph at the bottom of each page: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today,” the Burma Star Memorial Fund’s website now successfully stands as a permanent tribute to the many thousands of sacrifices that were made. 

 

The Burma Memorial Fund - Moving Forward

To illustrate the move into the present day and beyond, it was decided that black and white images of soldiers at war should appear alongside modern colourful images of UCL students, created in the collective spirit of the 14th Army and their valiant efforts to help make the world ‘a better place’. These scholars will come from around the world to study at UCL ‘in fields related to the campaign,’ and they will be active in ‘tackling the issues which we all face in the future’. This is an academic investment in recognition of the past and in pursuit of an improved future, all made possible thanks to the Burma Star Memorial Fund. 

Modern technology meant that the Burma Star Memorial Fund’s historically significant material had already taken that first important step towards preservation and accessibility, through a process of digitisation. TownsWebArchiving were then handed these digital images ready for publishing. 

 


Maintaining Brand Identity 

The Burma Star Memorial Fund’s newly designed logo was key to the creative development of the website, and consultations centered around a clear graphic design brief. TownsWeb Archiving’s commitment was to stay true to this very important brand identity, taking that brief and translating it precisely to the finished published website. 

The bookends featured within the logo were a visual representation of the academic nature of the 14 scholarships, and the bold colours were inspired by the colours from the Burma Star medal. This was replicated wherever possible across the design brief to maintain that respectful look and feel. The symbolic image within the logo was mirrored in the tall block feature for the ‘big idea’ and each of the ‘five steps’ on the homepage. The star was echoed throughout, existing as a feature in its own right and as bullet points to mark specific information and detail. Across all pages and features, the look and feel is entirely in keeping with the stunning brief provided by The Burma Star Memorial Fund and offers an on-screen experience that is every bit as wonderful as the vision behind it. 

 

Online Accessibility 

 

Thanks to the move from physical to digital, 56,000 members records are now searchable via the website. Furthermore, these can be supplemented by family members who are welcome to add photos or copies of medals, for example, held in their proud possession, thereby ensuring records are as complete and accurate as possible. 

The website also allows valuable space for personal stories, as well as providing online access to the Burma Star Association’s magazine, DEHKO! These magazines were once only available in their physical format, some of which dated right back to 1951, but are now readily available as an online resource. Prior to this, anyone wishing to locate early editions would have had to search back through the physical archive, which was a much more time consuming, manual process. Thankfully a  process that is now a thing of the past. 

“We were very keen that our website was as dynamic as possible. The News section of the site has allowed this and we are able to update visitors on our work and new developments at the Memorial Fund in a timely and efficient manner. In conclusion, the site has been a vital tool in raising our profile during the 75th anniversary year of VJ-Day.”

Jeremy Archer, Trustee, Burma Star Memorial Fund



Finding issue #09 

There was a gap in the archive - missing issue #09. Having an online collection, an online presence and a loyal audience means that the search is now very much on to locate and obtain this missing valuable item. People are being asked to check their personal records to see if they have a copy in their possession, so that the collection can finally be full and complete. TownsWeb Archiving are keeping everything crossed for the safe discovery of #09.  

The use of publishing features such as Book Explorer meant that the glossy look and feel of the DEKHO! magazine could be retained as far as possible, together with the benefit afforded by 3D page turning technology. This feature is perfect for enhancing the reader experience through a high resolution zoom function that can pick out the smallest of detail. This has made the material not only more accessible, but has provided the opportunity for a deeper level of exploration. Optical Character Recognition means that visitors can now search for specific text and this will be matched against all typed text stored against the images, taking them straight to the document and highlighting where this text appears. This will greatly benefit anyone searching the vast digital collection.  

With all of The Burma Star Memorial Fund’s content brought together, it was vital that searches be quick, easy and responsive. This was made possible through the careful allocation of attributes (item metadata) to each and every image and the recording of entities, so that members could be found and connected across the collections, no matter where they might appear or feature. Applying tags (connections) has also meant that searches are able to return other ‘related items’, promoting extended engagement with the material and a far more comprehensive digital journey. 

Bringing the content together in this way meant that, through the website, it was now possible to link people through objects (such as events or periods). Now two otherwise unconnected people might be linked through the ‘Battle History’, for example. 

Casper Smithson, our online digitisation consultant explains: 

“Burma Star Memorial Fund had a clear vision of exactly what they wanted to achieve and this meant that PastView was able to find creative solutions to make that vision a digital reality, paving the way for a future with unlimited accessibility. 

Working on the Burma Star Memorial Fund website was an absolute pleasure. It was fundamental that the data imported into the system could be searched across the whole collection and that individual elements could be linked together to tell personal stories and make connections between associated people. The following diagram provides a working example.

Person ‘A’ has been connected toPerson ‘B’ through an encounter within the ‘Battle History’. Now we know much more: the connection between the two people and how this has come about.

 

 

All of this means that visitors can enjoy greater exposure to the digital collection, a deeper exploration and a broader insight into the Burma Campaign and all those who served within it.      

A final word from Jeremy Archer

“TWA has successfully achieved our objectives. Visitors to the website will find a comprehensive archive which paints a detailed picture of the complexities of the Burma Campaign. We are delighted that every element of the archive can be searched in an accurate, responsive and simple manner. As we had requested, the website also incorporates the facility for veterans’ families to add individual records, stories, valuable diaries and photographs.”

Jeremy Archer, Trustee, Burma Star Memorial Fund

 

And a final word from TownsWeb Archiving

This was a beautiful and hugely significant project, respectfully accomplished on many levels, and we wish The Burma Star Memorial Fund every success with their 14 new scholarships. Having the opportunity to be a part of this reverent process, and to put our PastView name to such a wonderfully commemorative website, has made us very proud. Very proud indeed.