Research Resource: The Burma Campaign Memorial Library, SOAS University, London

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by PackRat, Oct 30, 2018.

  1. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Just returned from a visit to this superb archive which I've not seen mentioned on the forum. It's part of the library of the SOAS University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) in Bloomsbury, and is accessible (for free!) to private researchers. Here's a link to the catalogue:

    Burma campaign memorial library

    It contains a mass of fascinating books and documents relating to the China/India/Burma theatre, including unpublished manuscripts. WW2 Talk members might be most interested in section K (starts on p53 of the catalogue) which is unit histories.

    Can't recommend it highly enough. I was able to find and photograph my personal 'holy grail', History of the 130th Field Regiment and its Burma Campaigns, which I've been looking for in vain since I started my research - I think they may have the only copy which hasn't disappeared into private collections.

    Many of the items have been donated by Burma veterans with direct connections to the events. For example, here's the dedication plate at the front of the 130 Fld Regt book from a man who served with 1 RWF at Donbaik, First Arakan (130 Field were in support of 1 RWF at the time and played a critical role during the retreat):


    If you can get into central London on a weekday (closed Wednesdays) it's well worth a visit. You can order up to three items online in advance here:

    Requesting Material | SOAS University of London

    It's a way smaller operation than TNA, of course. More material can be ordered in person if you're there for a while, but only at specific times.

    You need to go to the main library membership desk with your ID when you turn up, and I found there was quite a queue to have a ticket issued. The archive was actually closed unexpectedly until 1pm due to staff sickness on the day I was there (I'd arrived at 10.30 eager to get started), but that turned out to be fine: your ticket gives you full reference access to the whole SOAS library, and I discovered a fair-sized overflow of books from the Burma Memorial collection up on level C of the main library to keep me occupied. Found a collection of cartoons from SEAC, for example, lots of obscure Chindit memoirs, a little book on the WAS (B) (in which I finally discovered exactly what CBID stands for - Canteen Bulk Issue Depots) and loads more I didn't have time to investigate.

    Overall well worth the trip! I'll post a few images below as I sort the photos out.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2018
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  2. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

  3. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

  4. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

  5. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Hi PackRat,

    Thanks for posting about your trip up to the SOAS Library. Been meaning to go there myself for a while now, just never got around to it. Glad to hear that they allow photographing of material. There are one of two Chindit items I should copy from the catalogue, although glancing through I have most of the Chindits archive already.
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  6. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Photography was no problem (with the permission of the duty archivist) although no camera stands meant that I was getting seriously wobbly hands after snap number 300 or so! The archive room in the basement is a small hear-a-pin-drop sort of place, much quieter than TNA, so you wouldn't want to be using one of those DSLRs with a noisy mechanical shutter though.

    I was genuinely surprised how welcoming they were to a scruffy general public bod who hasn't seen the inside of an academic institution in *ahem* years wandering into their university. The staff couldn't have been more friendly and helpful, only downside was the queue to get a reader's ticket as there were a lot of visiting students waiting for access.

    I would be surprised if there's much Chindit stuff you haven't got! Some interesting-looking odds and ends in other categories, like the ephemera and letters sections, such as propaganda leaflets, programmes from films and reunions, privately printed and unpublished manuscripts. Their ordering system might make it tricky to plough through lots of small files on the off-chance there's something useful though.

    The overflow bit up on level C is worth a quick look if you go, good selection of Chindit-related books on one of the shelves there but not sure if they're well-known titles. I couldn't work out if that section was all duplicates from the Burma Memorial Library or if there was other material mixed in there too. I think it was up the main stairs and turn right, a few hundred books starting with GB 959. Found it by chance, the place is huge and their main library catalogue computer-thing completely baffled me. Nearby is a shelf of pre-war gazetteers which could be useful for working out the population and other details of specific Burmese villages before the fighting started.
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  7. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Thanks PackRat. I've always thought that if I were to go under a bus, this might be a venue option for my Burma library. Better warn my better half. :D
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  8. Hebridean Chindit

    Hebridean Chindit Lost in review...

    Fascinating... IWM is not so user friendly, though that was then... 10-4, Mon to Fri, no cameras or laptops... presently too far for me to travel and my OCD would not help in such a place... and like me, me Old China, you still have that book to finish... or even start... ;)
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  9. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Better warn SOAS too, they'll need to start building a new wing on the library :D

    There's a little display case about the Burma Memorial Library outside the archive reading room that explains how the collection came to be. Many of the items are donations from veteran members of the Burma Campaign Fellowship Group, and it makes the point that those who couldn't bear to part with their books instead made bequests in their wills for them to be donated after their deaths.

    There's a couple of things I'd love to see and copy in the IWM archive but the impression I've got from the forum (maybe wrongly) is that they really don't want you to bother them.
  10. Shiny 9th

    Shiny 9th Member Patron

    Thanks for the "Laughs with SEAC" poems and cartoons PackRat, looks like you will be going back. Look forwards to your next post.
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  11. Matt Poole

    Matt Poole Member

    Another "gotta visit" note has been added to my travel wish list. Thanks, Pack Rat.
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  12. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    A few more good 'uns from the SEAC book

    Image00001.jpg Image00002.jpg Image00003.jpg
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  13. Hebridean Chindit

    Hebridean Chindit Lost in review...

    My feelings too... I may be wrong but they give you the feeling that unless you are a "pro"... ;)

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