The Forgotten Army - a commemoration to mark VJ Day on August 15
- Credit: Archant
While VE Day marked the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, many thousands of armed forces personnel were still involved in bitter fighting in the Far East.
Victory over Japan would come at a heavy price, and Victory over Japan Day (VJ Day) marks the day Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, which in effect ended the Second World War. The Hunts Post asked readers to provide family history and photos of family members involved in the conflict. Here are some of the stories.
Jane Wool, of St Ives, wrote to tell us the story of her father Ken Bailey who was one of those taken prisoner when Singapore was invaded by the Japanese army on February 15 1942.
He served with the 5th Suffolk regiment and was one of many who built the Burma/Thai railway.
“Not one of us can imagine how the men travelled through dense, hot and humid jungle, watching friends die in horrendous pain and conditions, having very little food, no medicines and suffering severe and inhumane punishments by their captors,” said Jane.
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“They were known as the “Forgotten Army”, they were instructed not to talk of their horrendous captivity on their return to Blighty. There was no welcome for them when they arrived home and no celebrations held that the war in the Far East was over.”
Ken Bailey was aged just 21 when he was taken prisoner in Singapore in 1942. He and others were moved from camp to camp, often travelling by cattle truck, and in the most appalling conditions.
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There were no toilets and the men, women and children in the camps were infested with lice and had very little food.
The Red Cross in the UK sent food parcels, but these were incepted by the Japanese who kept them for themselves.
Prisoners were forced to work on the Burma Railway and it is estimated that one man died for every sleeper laid.
Ken passed away in January 2016. He was a very well respected and popular police sergeant in Chatteris. The Royal British Legion raised the flag at the cenotaph for him and displayed information about him.”
Jane also said her dad wrote a diary that he managed to hide away from the Japanese guards.
“I still have it, entries only go to August 1943. I have no idea where he did hide it, I wish that I had asked him when he was with us. My dad’s book about his capture was published for his 90th birthday by our son Andrew, entitled Face of Adversity. At the back of that is the typed version. When I proof read the book I did suggest that dad put in more graphic detail of the cruelty they faced every day. He said he couldn’t as he didn’t want relatives of those who died to know how the men had suffered at the hands of the Japanese and Korean guards.”
My father Jimmy Nicholls was 11 when he and his family were captured in Burma as Japanese soldiers were taking over the country in 1942.
He was interned in a camp for the rest of the war and was an office boy for Japanese soldiers. He was in the camp with his sister Theresa Coverdale. They were liberated by American soldiers in 1945 and dad can recall them giving him chewing gum.
Dad died last year aged 88, but his sister Theresa is still alive living in St Ives and is 100 years old in September.
Those members of the family old enough in the camp were made to work. Dad became an office boy for the Japanese soldiers.
He is pictured wearing a Japanese soldier’s hat they gave him, a T-shirt and shorts. The amazing thing about this photo was we never knew it existed until the great-granddaughter of another older sister of dad’s found it amongst family photos in Canada a few years ago. My aunt Catherine (Babs) was not with the family as she had escaped to India and this photo must have been taken by someone and sent to her. It is a treasured possession especially as it depicts dad just as he had described himself to me.
During his time in the camp one soldier was unkind to dad and hit him badly when my cheeky father put a fly down the neck of his shirt. Another called Captain Tomamoto was very kind and taught him Japanese folk songs and a hymn. They were among the last songs dad could remember as dementia ravaged his mind.
We printed the words of the hymn in Japanese at his funeral. I recorded dad singing the folk song and wanted to find out if it was accurate. My brothers and I had grown up hearing these songs. A friend of a friend teaching in Japan played the song to his students and they said it was word and note perfect. The Japanese captain called him Taro which he said meant brave boy.
Dad was with his parents, sister Theresa and nieces who were only a few years younger than him Marie (Diddy), Ann, Collette and Clare. My grandfather and the youngest niece Clare who was just a baby died in the camp. My grandmother, her frail body ravaged, died not long after they were liberated. They were tough times for my dad and his family. But the rest made it safely back to the UK and in 1950 my dad joined the RAF. He later became an airframe fitter working for BOAC before moving on to motor vehicles and working for Arch Motors on Lola racing cars In Huntingdon. In 2003 myself and some members of my family travelled back to Burma with him and amazingly amid overgrown grass and weeds in the countryside a few miles outside the small town of Maymyo we found the very barracks they were kept in. Dad and his niece Diddy showed us the corner of the barracks occupied by their family and where they would cook their meagre rations and the large concrete bath structure where they would bathe.
Just a few years ago a contact sent us a copy of an American military newspaper from the time with a centre page spread showing young people acting out what life was like living in the camp imprisoned by Japanese soldiers. And there amongst them is a 15 year old Jimmy Nicholls among the youthful actors.
Jenny Longhurst sent this photograph of her late father-in-law Harold Knowles.
Harold served in the Royal Corps of Signals. By 1942 he was a sgt in the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade when he was sent with his brigade to reinforce Singapore. The brigade were forced to surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army and Harold and his garrison were taken prisoner.
He became one of 60,000 allied prisoners who were used by the Japanese to build the 258-mile-long Burma railway, also known as the death railway.
Construction of the railway continued until October 1943.
Conditions were appalling and 106,000 men died during the construction.
Harold developed Cholera at the camp and was sometimes so hungry he would eat insects.
Harold wrote an account of his time as a POW, which is on display at the Imperial War Museum.
My father, Leonard Raymond George, a St Ives man, who was born and grew up in Godmanchester, was taken as prisoner, and worked on the Burma Railway.
He served with the 4th Suffolk Regiment, and as with all the young men, suffered badly.
He suffered for the rest of his life, we now know from PTSD, as we are sure did all his comrades.
Dad survived his imprisonment, but sadly died aged 75 of pancreatic cancer, after having survived two heart attacks previously. They had very strong wills to survive.
Dad was mentioned in Despatches for gallant and distinguished service while a prisoner-of-war, which was published in The London Gazette.
The Hunts Post mentioned this in the newspaper on January 16th, 1947.
He would also have been proud we are remembering all his comrades.
All Saints Green