VJ Day: The Forgotten War Remembered

By Richard Moss | 10 August 2005
shows a photograph of two jubilent uniformed men sat on top of a traffic light.

VJ celebrations in London, August 1945. Sergeant Franklin G Talley assisted by an RAF airman, holds up a copy of the Evening News while seated on traffic lights in Oxford Circus, London. The headline reads ‘Japan Surrenders’. © IWM.

To the many veterans who fought in it and for those who survived the brutal conditions in the prisoner of war and labour camps, the war against the Japanese in the Far East will always be the forgotten war.

When Victory in Europe (VE) Day arrived in May 1945 it signalled the end of the war in Europe, but as thousands of people took to the streets in celebration, many servicemen and their families were preparing themselves for what turned out to be three long months of continued suffering.

The Burma campaign was of the utmost importance in the fight to contain the Japanese in South East Asia. The Burma front, at 700 miles was second only in length to the Russian Front and provided a buffer that protected the Japanese invasions in China and lndo-China.

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The infamous Bridge over the River Kwai was originally built by the forced labour of Allied prisoners to help Japanese supply lines through Thailand and Burma. © Caroline Lewis/24 Hour Museum.

It was Japan’s land route to India and, more importantly, the Allies' land route to China. In every sense Burma was vital to both the Allied and the Japanese war in the east.

Yet by the time Victory over Japan (VJ) Day was declared on August 15 1945 the surviving veterans of the British and Commonwealth 14th Army had long regarded themselves as overlooked by the press and the people back home.

A quote attributed to General Slim, the Army’s commander confirms this status: “When you go home don't worry about what to tell your loved ones and friends about service in Asia. No one will know where you were, or where it is if you do. You are, and will remain ‘The Forgotten Army’.”

shows a photograph of a devastated landscape - a shattered building sits by a river in the distance.

Hiroshima following the dropping of the atomic bomb on 6 August 1945. The prominent building in the foreground was the Industry Promotional Hall, retained in its ruined state as a peace memorial. © IWM.

For the Burma Star Association, one of the veterans' organisations that represent the interests of the ex-service men and women from the Far Eastern campaigns, it’s been a long struggle to gain recognition.

However, with the 60th anniversary of this vast and brutal war fast approaching, a wider recognition of their role is slowly and finally being achieved. The Heroes Return scheme has allowed many veterans to revisit old battlefields and members of the association made the journey to Hill 170 in the North West Burmese State of Arakan in 2005. You can read the account of their trip on the Burma Star Association website.

Closer to home the association will also be at the unveiling of a new Far East Prisoners of War memorial building at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire on VJ Day 60 - August 15, 2005.

shows a photograph of two soldiers stood before a grave, They both have their heads bowed and their bush hats in their hands.

Two soldiers visit the Military Cemetery in Kohima to see the grave of their former comrade Lance Corporal John Harman VC, who was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for gallantry at Kohima during 8-9 April 1944. © IWM.

This will be followed at 12.00 on Sunday August 21 by a national commemorative event to mark the 60th anniversary at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall.

Veterans carrying banners and standards will march past the Cenotaph accompanied by the Gurkha Regiment Band, to remember the cost of victory over Japan. Senior members of the royal family and the government will also lay wreaths.

You can find out more about the official ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of VJ Day on the Veteran's Agency Website at www.veteransagency.mod.uk/calendar/index.htm

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Reverand Ray Rossiter - one of the men whose story is featured in the 'Not Forgotten' Exhibition at Imperial War Museum North. Picture Nathan Cox © IWM

In the museum sector Imperial War Museum is taking the lead by commemorating the end of hostilities against the Japanese in three of its sites with a mixture of exhibitions, talks, screening and other special events.

At Imperial War Museum North a small exhibition opens on Saturday August 13 that recognises the experiences of some of the local men caught up in the war against Japan.

Not Forgotten is a simple but moving display in the Museum’s Waterway Gallery comprising photographs and harrowing testimony from a handful of local veterans who were prisoners of the Japanese.

shows a photographic portrait of an older man sat in an armchair, he wears galsses and a shirt and tie.

Frank Davies - you can find out about his experiences of the Far East campaign at the 'Not Forgotten' exhibition at Imperial War Museum North. Photo, Nathan Cox © IWM.

In the Far East, over 190,000 British, Commonwealth, Dutch and American servicemen became Far Eastern Prisoners of War (FEPOWs). Many of these FEPOWs were from northern regiments.

The Japanese - whose military code at that time did not regard the surrender of fighting men to the enemy as an acceptable option - decided to use the Allied prisoners of war as a labour force in support of their war effort. Most notoriously, many were made to work on the construction and maintenance of the Burma-Siam railway.

Thousands of them perished as a direct result of the conditions they endured in Changi (the main prison camp in Singapore) and other camps. For the survivors the struggle to come to terms with their experiences was a difficult one and many suffered years of illness and disease.

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Changi Prisoners: Allied prisoners of war celebrating their liberation from Changi Jail, © Imperial War Museum.

The exhibition has been put together with the help of the Manchester and Merseyside branches of the National Federation of FEPOW Clubs and Associations and is accompanied by a week-long programme of activities. To find out more, ring 0161 836 4000, or visit www.iwm.org.uk

The lot of the FEPOW also looms large over the current art exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Approximately 300,000 soldiers became prisoners in Far East of which only 200,000 survived. The Captive exhibition, which runs until March 2006 brings together images made by some of these men together with works by official war artists.

shows a drawing of a group of soldiers pulling a cart upon which is standing a Japanese soldier.

Prisoners hauling logs to gaol, Changi prison © Ronald Searle 1944, by permission of the artist and The Sayle Literary Agency.

The work of Ronald Searle and fellow FEPOW artists Philip Meninsky, Stanley Gimson, Jack Chalker, Charles Thrale and Leo Rawlings can be viewed alongside the work of Anthony Gross who travelled to Burma in 1943 to draw Allied troops in the Arakan and in the Chin Hills.

Leonard Rosoman, who witnessed the devastation in Hong Kong after the surrender of Japan and Thomas Hennell who witnessed the Allied victory parade in Rangoon are also represented together with Leslie Cole who captured the conditions in the liberated camps in Singapore as released prisoners awaited repatriation.

The work of FEPOW Leo Rawlings (some of which can be seen in the exhibition at IWM London) is also to be featured in an exhibition opening in at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool in September.

shows a drawing of three liberated prisoners sat on their beds in an outdoor hsopital ward.

British Prisoners-of-War after Rescue from Kutching, Borneo, Tony Rafty. © IWM

A member of the 137th Field Regiment (The Blackpool Regiment) Rawlings was captured along with thousands of other British and Commonwealth servicemen after the tragic fall of Singapore.

His paintings are a record of his and his fellow POW’s experiences in the prison camps of the Burma Railway and at Changi, Singapore. They will be on show at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool from September 5 until October 15 together with a programme of associated talks and events.

The lot of the FEPOW is also taken up by Museum of Lancashire, which is currently hosting Nor Iron Bars, an exhibition of artwork that features over 100 paintings and sketches produced by Lancashire FEPOWs.

shows a drawing of men carrying a large log whilst up to their waists in water below a bridge.

Bridge over the River Kwai, Leo Rawlings, wash on paper. © artist's estate.

At Imperial War Museum, Duxford on August 17 a day of activities will be marking the 60th anniversary. Again organised in association with the Burma Star Association the day will see veterans of the Second World War in the Far East gather to tell Duxford’s visitors of their experiences.

There will be a veteran’s march past at 3pm and historic aircraft including a Typhoon and Hurricane will take to the air in the afternoon in their honour.

Duxford also boasts one of the few permanent exhibitions in the UK to deal with the Second World War in the Far East. The Forgotten War consists of artefacts, photographs and realistic tableaux, including a jungle scene that visitors can walk through.

shows a group of older veterans lining up before an airplane in a hanger.

Former Fleet Air Arm Corsair pilots line up infront of the KD431 Corsair to mark the completion of a four year long project and the official opening of the aircraft on permanent display at Fleet Air Arm Museum. © Fleet Air Arm Museum.

The Fleet Air Arm Museum is currently holding daily afternoon lectures given by the Museum's Curator and Director that examine the events of each day of the last week of the war culminating with VJ Day on August 15.

On the day itself, thanks to generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum will also be open for free to visitors and the BBC’s People’s War team will be on hand to record veteran memories. For full details of events at the museum in the run up to VE Day visit the events page of its website

A new temporary exhibition that outlines both the British military and civilian involvement in the war in Asia will be officially opened at the on Sunday August 14.

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Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota, taken at the Yorkshire Air Museum earlier in the year. © Yorkshire Air Museum.

It features an account of the experiences of a young British girl, Jane Reid, who, along with her family, was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the fall of Malaya and Singapore and interned. Her experiences formed the basis of the book Women Beyond the Wire and the television series TENKO.

Jane's brother, Dirk Reid, has given permission for the museum to include copies of his unique hand drawings of the camps in the display. A Service of Commemoration in the museum's Station Chapel at 2pm will be preceded by a spectacular flypast by the Douglas Dakota of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

It will be a busy weekend for the Dakota as the same aircraft will be making a flypast at just down the road on Saturday August 13 at approximately 2.15pm. The flypast is part of a weekend of celebrations and events at the museum to mark the anniversary of VJ Day.

shows a museum mannequin dressed as a world war two british soldier hacking through a thick jungle.

The Forgotten War exhibition at Duxford - one of the few permanent exhbitions dealing with the war in the Far East. © IWM.

There will also be a flypast of three Spitfires and a Hurricane at the English Heritage Festival of History, which takes place at in Northamptonshire on the weekend of August 13 and 14. Amidst this vast gathering of living history re-enactors will be a WWII living history camp and veterans from the war will be special guests at the weekend.

The notion that the war in the Far East had an identifiable end is taken up by an engaging exhibition at the National War Museum of Scotland at Edinburgh Castle. No Easy End in Sight - South East Asia 1945 charts both the bloody war against the Japanese and its protracted aftermath.

Looking at how, after VJ Day, the British forces were caught up in conflict as nationalist and communist movements vied for power in the Far East, the exhibition examines how during the next 30 years the region saw conflict and warfare as European empires in the region disintegrated.

shows a japanese officer being escorted at gunpoint bu Royal Marines past a crowd of soldiers.

Royal Marines from HMS Vengeance escort a Japanese Officer to surrender negotiations, 1945. © National War Museum Scotland.

Among the many exhibits and personal testimonies are the bonnet, bush shirt and medals of Lieutenant GIW Grier, sent home to his family after he was killed in action in Burma on November 3 1944. Grier's death was witnessed by a young Japanese officer who, nearly 50 years later, traced his family to tell them how bravely Grier had died.

Other museums that include exhibits about the war against Japan in South East Asia include the Gurkha Museum in Winchester. Nearly 30 different nationalities fought on the Allied side, against the Japanese and the Gurkhas were at the forefront of much of the fighting in Burma.

Three VCs were awarded to Gurkha soldiers for actions in Burma – two of them can be seen at the Museum. The Imperial War Museum also has a permanent gallery dedicated to Jungle Warfare in the galleries covering World war Two in its basement whilst the sizeable reserve collection includes items such as the VC awarded to Lieutenant John Niel Randle.

shows a group of Indian sailors wearing tine helmets stood in front of ship's gun with a white officer.

Lieutenant M H Jerram RINVR with the gun crew of the Indian sloop NARBADA at Myebon, Burma. The gun barrels were blistered during the bombardment of the Arakan coast. © IWM.

During the heavy fighting for Kohima on the Indian/Burmese border Randle not only took over a company whilst wounded and led them towards its objective but also sacrificed his own life to take a Japanese machine gun bunker.

Such stories are commonplace in a war that, for the dwindling bunch of survivors, will always be the forgotten war.

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