VJ Day 2020 in the UK

VJ Day 75 in the UK

On 15 August 2020 it will be 75 years since the Second World War came to an end with victory over Japan, commemorated as VJ75. Those who lived through that conflict, or died in it, deserve a special place in our hearts. Some fought at the front, others suffered as Prisoners of War, some nursed the wounded, grew food, were cruelly persecuted, were torn from their families as children, had their homes bombed or were forced to flee for their lives. They all experienced something that the rest of us can barely imagine.

The Forgotten War?

Perhaps the Far East war receives less attention in the UK because the veterans and their families are scattered around the world – Commonwealth forces made a major contribution to Allied efforts in the Far East. Our Chinese allies disappeared behind the ‘bamboo curtain’ with the Communist takeover in 1949, obscuring their contribution to the Allied victory. The Far East battlefields are distant and it is more expensive and difficult to visit Burma or Singapore than to visit the Normandy beaches or Montecassino. Or, perhaps, it is because Japan never attacked the UK, bringing the threat of destruction to our front door. Whatever the reason, it is time to bring remembrance of the Far East war to the foreground, to honour all those who fought and died there.

Researching Family History

Many of us have a one sentence legend about what our ancestors did in the war. Even that little snippet is at risk of being lost, so now is the time to investigate the legend and find out more about your family history. It has never been easier to do the research, but it helps if you have a starting point, such as a military service record or letters and diaries that the person left behind. Did you know that batteries, squadrons and other military units kept diaries, recording day to day events and troop movements? The service record will tell you which units your ancestor was attached to, and the unit diaries help you learn where your ancestor was and what they were doing.

The history of the Second World War will not be complete without these stories, which often uncover little known aspects of the war. We have much to learn from veterans’ experiences, especially in this Covid year, when our resilience, adaptability and capacity to work together for the common good are being tested in ways that they probably haven’t since 1945. You can now purchase a signed copy of my father’s story Stranger In My Heart from my website. I hope it will inspire you to research your own family history and give you some strength to cope with these difficult times.

Commemorations of VJ Day 2020 in the UK

I made this 5 minute film to recap my father’s story. BBC1 is showing a service from the National Memorial Arboretum on Saturday 15 August from 09.30 – 11.30am, which will include testimonies from veterans and families of those who served in the Far East. There is also a show on BBC1 at 8.30pm, commemorating VJ75. The Royal British Legion website has comprehensive coverage of the war in the Far East, particularly commemorating the role of forces from all over the commonwealth. They are featuring Dad’s story here. The Sun newspaper is offering a four-page pullout feature commemorating VJ Day. They interviewed me for it, so there may be coverage of Dad’s story there too. We will remember them.

Happy 2nd Birthday!

Stranger In My Heart was born on 9th June 2018, so it is the book’s 2nd birthday today (and Dad’s 106th)! I have learned a lot about book marketing over the last two and a half years, not least that it is time consuming and requires constant attention to Twitter, Facebook and the rest. I did my best and I really enjoyed the launch party and the various events that I spoke at. Thankyou to everyone who helped along the way, with support, encouragement, book buying, review writing, tea, cake and general loveliness. Sales naturally slow down after a while, especially when events that might have been useful in promoting the book have all been cancelled…

Birthday cake stranger in my heart

I was supposed to speak at a conference in June, commemorating the 75th anniversary of VJ day (VJ75). I was looking forward to talking about Dad’s efforts to liberate the PoWs he’d left behind in Hong Kong, and meeting veterans and their families. The conference is rescheduled for next year so I hope to speak then. VJ75 is a major milestone, conference or no, but it is very much the poor relation compared to the attention paid to VE day. Perhaps by August 15 we will be able to get together to mark VJ75, sort of in lieu of the celebrations that were supposed to be held on VE75. If so, that might raise awareness in the wider population of the war in the Far East. Every cloud…

I am thoroughly fed up with lockdown now. All my favourite events have been cancelled and everything that was in the diary between now and the year end has gradually been deleted. I have enjoyed the opportunity to get on with writing my book about my great aunt, and we are loving exploring Edinburgh, but I miss seeing people and going places and eating out and holidays. I know I am immensely privileged to have a happy home, good health, reliable internet and enough money to keep me going and I do count my blessings. But, well, you know. Stay safe and well and we’ll meet again…

VJ Day

It’s 74 years today since Victory against Japan was declared. The war in the Far East carries some shocking statistics: 36 million dead, of whom 18 million were Chinese civilians; 200,000 Allied PoWs; 32% mortality among Far East PoWs compared to 4% among PoWs in Europe; the fourth deadliest battle of WW2 was the Ichigo campaign in China 1944, with 1.3 million casualties. Do these numbers surprise you?

RFHG pic
Far East PoWs learn of Victory against Japan,
courtesy of RFHG

The Pacific War is not given the same level of attention as the war in Europe and yet it arguably presented a greater challenge. For example, the terrain and tropical climate supplied an additional enemy in terms of conducting a war, with its poor lines of sight, gruelling physical demands, attendant diseases and difficulties for managing wounds and infections. Land transport links were poor making battle supply, communication, management and support extremely difficult and hazardous. The theatre of battle was spread over a vast area, much of it only accessible by sea, requiring complex logistical planning and long range resource capability. The Japanese fought a lawless guerrilla war rather than a traditional war, so that the Allied forces had no safe rear area and no respite at night. Co-ordination between the air, land and sea forces was critical, quite unlike any other theatre and any previous war. The Japanese Imperial Army did not abide by international law on the treatment of PoWs or civilians. The local languages and peoples did not allow for easy disguise and, along with the inhospitable terrain, made escape more or less impossible.

Let us celebrate the extraordinary endurance of both the Allied Forces and the civilian populations, and honour the dead on both sides. The silence of the combatants, the bamboo curtain raised by the Chinese Communists and our post-war trading and political alliances with Japan have all succeeded in allowing the Pacific War to become unjustly forgotten. Let us rescue the stories of the Pacific War before they are lost forever and commemorate this extraordinary chapter in our history.