Burma veteran keeps the faith, spreads the word

Robert H. Farquharson, an air force veteran of the Second World War, feels that more Canadians need to know about the Burma Campaign.

“Every chance I get I talk about the Burma Campaign, just so it becomes better known and it’s realized that seven or eight thousand Canadians flew out there and 500 more . . . are still out there,” he said.

Those 500 Canadians gave their lives in far-off Burma and Farquharson, 88, believes new generations should feel pride in knowing about that sacrifice in the line of duty.

“Burma is a campaign so unknown in the world today. It’s too bad because Burma was really the prime of the campaign for the Japanese,” he said.

Japanese forces launched an invasion of Burma in December of 1941. They wanted oil, rubber and rice from Southeast Asia, Farquharson said.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) in Britain wanted to send Canadian air crews to Burma. They needed Canadians to fly supply missions and wanted Canadian fighter planes to help conquer Japanese forces.

Farquharson said the Canadian military cooperated with the RAF and agreed to send two transport squadrons to Burma.

In 1941, at the age of 18, Farquharson went to Britain with the Canadian Army. He then transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and became a pilot for a transport squadron in Burma.

“Almost all of the radar technicians in Burma were Canadians and one third of the air force fighter pilots were Canadians and one half of the bomber crews in Burma were Canadians,” Farquharson said.

When the Canadian government discovered that the military had sent two Canadian squadrons to Burma to fight for the British Empire, Prime Minister Mackenzie King wanted to bring them back to Canada.

“It was too late,” Farquharson said. “We were out there and we were desperately needed, so we stayed.”

Farquharson stayed in Burma because the British told Canadian air crews that if they recalled the squadrons, the war in Burma would collapse and the Japanese would win. He continued to help war efforts and dropped supplies for the Allies including food, ammunition, aid and even farm animals.

In June of 1945, the Allied forces, many of them from India, defeated the Japanese in Burma.

Farquharson, who now lives in Toronto, wrote a book, published in 2004, to commemorate the Canadians who fought and died there; he titled it For Your Tomorrow: Canadians and the Burma Campaign, 1941-1945.

“(Canadians) played a pivotal role in that campaign,” Farquharson said. “And yet you don’t know about them because they lived long ago and far away and were fighting for a cause that was not prominent in the Canadian mind.”