Taiwan honours 56,000 WWII soldiers killed in Myanmar

A honor guard (centre) holds a soldiers' tablet during a ceremony to honor the dead soldiers of Taiwan killed in Myanmar during World War II, at the Martyr's Shrine in Taipei on Aug 27, 2014. Taiwan on Wednesday honoured tens of thousands of Kuo
A honor guard (centre) holds a soldiers' tablet during a ceremony to honor the dead soldiers of Taiwan killed in Myanmar during World War II, at the Martyr's Shrine in Taipei on Aug 27, 2014. Taiwan on Wednesday honoured tens of thousands of Kuomintang (KMT) soldiers killed in World War II in Myanmar, many of whom came to the rescue of British troops. -- PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan on Wednesday honoured tens of thousands of Kuomintang (KMT) soldiers killed in World War II in Myanmar, many of whom came to the rescue of British troops.

A wooden plaque inscribed with Chinese characters reading "The spirits of the Republic of China officers and soldiers killed" was brought to the Martyrs' Shrine in Taipei as a military band played solemn music.

It symbolises the souls of more than 56,000 soldiers who died in a series of bloody battles against Japan in Myanmar, according to the defence ministry.

"This is a special touching moment as we observe the 77th anniversary of war against Japan," said Mr Chen Chen-hsaing, a general-turned-legislator who had been pressing for the belated memorial event.

"We've never forgot them even though this should have been done a long time ago and (was) postponed by the civil war," he said.

The KMT government ruling China was defeated by the communists in the civil war which ended in 1949, and fled to Taiwan.

"Now they come home after so many years," said Mr Chen, in part blaming a lack of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Myanmar for the delay.

While more than 400,000 fallen soldiers from various wars have been enshrined in Taiwan, the ceremony was the first to mark those killed in Myanmar since the end of the WWII in 1945.

At that time China was still ruled by the KMT led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Their war with Japan began in 1937 and ended with the Japanese WWII surrender in 1945.

A number of the soldiers memorialised Wednesday lost their lives in a 1942 battle in Yenangyaung, when General Sun Li-jen and his unit came to the rescue of around 7,000 British troops surrounded by the Japanese army.

Gen Sun was later made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

A former British veteran who survived the battle recalled the fighting during his trip to Taiwan in June.

Mr Gerald Fitzpatrick, 95, a retired British army captain, flew all the way to Taipei to join an event held by the Taiwanese military to show gratitude to the KMT troops decades ago.