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One Man's War 22 August 2005

    An exhibition of paintings and drawings by James Fenton produced whilst on active service with the British Army in India and Burma between 1942 -1945. The display is held at the Manx Museum from 20th August to 31st December 2005.

    One Man's WarOn the afternoon of Saturday 20th August members of the Isle of Man Branch of the Burma Star Association and invited guests attended the Manx Museum for a viewing of paintings and drawings by James Fenton of Port Erin. The exhibition is being staged by Manx National Heritage to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the War against Imperial Japan in August 1945. All of the works exhibited were produced by Mr Fenton whilst on active service against the Japanese forces in India and Burma between 1942 and 1945.

    The display is dedicated to the Burma Star Association, the members of which turned out in force for the viewing. Present also was Association Chairman Fred Seaby who “was delighted to see so many of James’s delightful sketches and drawings exhibited for public viewing to commemorate the end of one of the bitterest campaigns ever in the history modern warfare”.

    Mr Seaby added:

    “Having experienced the privations of the campaigns to destroy the Japanese armies in Burma it was a remarkable feat by James to have produced such dramatic drawings whilst in action; they are graphic and will bring back so many personal memories and recollections to many of us here today, my self included”.

    War in Burma began when the Japanese invaded the country in 1942. Over the next three years Allied forces fought through the mass of mountain and jungle, plains and paddy-fields and the long monsoons and systematically destroyed the élite Japanese 15 and 28 Armies of Occupation. By so doing, they not only freed the Burmese, but averted a planned invasion of British India by the Japanese.

    James Fenton served as a field gunner with the 36th Division and took part in large scale campaigns in central Burma. Throughout the fighting as well as during periods of inactivity James painted and sketched as a distraction from the brutality of warfare and produced a remarkable portfolio of work, some of which make up the exhibition.

    Following the surrender of the Japanese armed forces James returned to India where he was awarded a commendation for a fine pencil portrait of a Sikh soldier in uniform, which he entered in an exhibition at the prestigious Wadia College in Poona. He next served in Singapore and Malaya where he won first prize in a Special Forces art exhibition.

    Following his transfer back to the UK James was made ‘Instructor in Art’ to soldiers awaiting demobilisation at the Royal Artillery Depot at Woolwich. His own release from the colours came in 1946. After leaving the army James worked as an artist in commercial and graphic design with various London studios, and later as a free-lance commercial designer. He retired to the Isle of Man in 1979.

    Commenting on the exhibition Mr Fenton said:

    “After leaving school I studied at Accrington School of Art, but in 1942 I had to join the army and, after initial training with the Royal Artillery, was sent to India for service in Burma. Because drawing and painting were my passion I took with me the ‘tools of my trade’ which were an enormous comfort to me, especially when the going got tough. I am only too pleased that the sketches and water colours I produced all those years ago are of so much interest to people today and I thank Manx National Heritage for exhibiting a selection of them”.

    Roger Sims, Manx National Heritage Librarian Archivist, who co-ordinated the exhibition added:

    “Manx National Heritage is delighted to mark the 60th anniversary of the ending of the war against Japan by staging an exhibition of these remarkable drawings and paintings produced in a distant part of the world, often during difficult circumstances. Because of the debt we owe to those who fought in the Burma campaign, Manx National Heritage has dedicated the exhibition to the Isle of Man Branch of the Burma Star Association and to the memory of Manx servicemen who fell in the Far East or who suffered as prisoners at the hands of their Japanese captors”.

    The exhibition is open to the public in the reception area of the Manx Museum from 10am to 5pm daily, between 20th August and 31st December 2005. Film of the Burma campaign from the Imperial War Museum accompanies the exhibition as does a small display of military memorabilia which includes a Japanese ‘prayer flag’.

    The Manx Museum is part of the award-winning Story of Mann and is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free of charge.

    22nd August 2005

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