Celebrating VJ Day, 75 years on

The article below was written by Damian and published in the Herald group of papers on 20th August:

"Last weekend saw the 75th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II.  VJ Day has and will always be an important part of our Remembrance for the Second World War.  But the war in the Far East has not been as widely known as events closer to home in Europe.

And with the Fourteenth Army, the largest fighting force within the South East Asia Command (SEAC), becoming known as the ‘Forgotten Army’, it is easy to see why the men and women who fought against the Japanese felt side-lined; particularly as the war in the Far East was the longest campaign fought by the British and Commonwealth armies during the war.

The immediate threat from Germany was felt and understood by everyone across Britain, with the Blitz inflicting death and damage across many parts of the country. Happening thousands of miles away from our shores, events in the Far East were not as visible, with limited coverage from war correspondents. And a series of early defeats at the hands of the Japanese made report at home less helpful to the war effort.   

SEAC was in fact the largest army group ever assembled by the British Commonwealth and its Allies, with 1.3 million service personnel. And within that force the Fourteenth Army was truly diverse, with more than 40 languages spoken, and all the world’s major religions represented.

A significant majority of troops were from pre-partition India, and it is said that victory in the Far East could not have been achieved without these soldiers, who won 22 or the 34 Victoria and George Crosses awarded during the campaign.

Although not part of the Commonwealth, Nepal also provided the invaluable services of the Gurkhas and thousands of other personnel. And forces came from across Africa, including The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Somalia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. And almost 20,000 Burmese, many from the hill regions, also fought alongside the British and Commonwealth forces.

The scale, ferocity and terrible fighting conditions of ‘the Burma Campaign’ are well documented but no less shocking. Sickness in terms of malaria and dysentery was considered as dangerous as fighting in combat; it is said that in 1942, for every soldier evacuated with wounds, 120 were evacuated through disease. The fierce and dogged opposition of the Japanese was witnessed by thousands of Allied forces, including in their prisoner of war camps, with jungle warfare and conditions particularly difficult to endure.

The extraordinary fund-raising efforts of Captain Sir Tom Moore has given him the opportunity to speak about his own experience fighting in the Far East, helping to raise awareness of the hardships faced by thousands of Allied forces during the conflict.

He has spoken about being home in time to see the wild celebrations for VE Day, knowing that friends and fellow soldiers were still fighting half-way across the world. And it would be three months before the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.

Descendants of many of the Commonwealth veterans of that ‘Forgotten Army’ are now living here in communities right across the UK, and it is absolutely right that we honour the contribution and extraordinary bravery of the men and women who served in the Far East, and of course elsewhere, and helped to bring the Second World War to an end."