VJ Day – 15 August 1945
Whilst VE Day in May 1945 marked the end of the war in Europe, many thousands of Armed Forces personnel were still engaged in bitter fighting in the Far East. Fighting in the Asia-Pacific took place from Hawaii to North East India. Victory over Japan Day (VJ Day) marks the day Japan surrendered, on the 15 August 1945.
On that day, US President, Harry Truman announced that the Japanese government had accepted unconditional surrender. Bringing the war in the Far East to an end, also signalling the end of WW2.
The actual formal surrender was signed by representatives of the Japanese government on the USS Missouri in Tokyo harbour on 2 September.
Two days of holiday were declared in the USA, which had borne the brunt of the ‘island hopping’ fighting, although this did not diminish the significant contribution played by the forces of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India and China in the fighting in the jungles of Burma and Indo China.
In the UK that evening, the new British Prime Minister Clement Attlee who, having won the election on 5 July, succeeded Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, also announced a two-day holiday saying, “The last of our enemies is laid low.”
It was ironic but said much for democracy, that both Winston Churchill and the US President Theodore Roosevelt, who had died earlier in the year and who were both were seen as having led the free world against fascism, no longer had a seat at the table of the ‘big three’, the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, being the only one of the original leaders still in office.
The following evening King George VI once again addressed the nation and Empire in a broadcast from his study at Buckingham Palace.
“Our hearts are full to overflowing, as are your own. Yet there is not one of us who has experienced this terrible war who does not realise that we shall feel its inevitable consequences long after we have all forgotten our rejoicings today.”
In Japan, the Emperor Hirohito, who was revered by his people made his first ever broadcast to his nation referring to the use of “ a new and cruel bomb” and went on to say “Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation but would lead also to the total extinction of human civilisation.”
However, despite the dropping of the two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was by no means certain that the country would surrender, as there was still a significant element within both Government and the military who wanted to continue to fight. Indeed, the request to the Japanese government to surrender had first been delivered on 28th July but had been ignored, the opposition to surrender only being thwarted by the unprecedented intervention of the Emperor, who realised the consequences that further fighting would have on the nation and its people.
There has always been much controversy about the use of the bombs but at the time and having experienced the fanaticism of the Japanese armed forces, who were renowned to fight to the death, there was a real and genuine fear that if the Japanese mainland were to be invaded allied losses would be significant and Allied leadership were keen to avoid sacrificing more of their service personnel.
Nevertheless, at home VJ Day was a bit of an anti-climax to VE Day, which had seen the immediate threat to the British Isles from Germany eliminated.
The blackout was no longer in force and although there was still rationing there had been some return to normality.
The war in the Far East had also always seemed a long way off and it’s no coincidence that the 14th Army, which bore the brunt of the fighting on the Indian border and in Burma, was known as the ‘Forgotten Army’.
In addition, unlike VE Day, there weren’t lots of POWs returning to be welcomed home. Many of the POWs taken prisoner by the Japanese, were still to be freed and having spent many years as virtual slaves, were in no physical condition to immediately return home. There was no fanfare or parades when they came home in dribs and drabs, mostly by train, stopping off at stations in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
Many of those prisoners were from the local area, with three Battalions of the Norfolk Regiment, 4th 5th and 6th who were sent to Singapore as reinforcements at the start of the war against Japan, only to be taken prisoner by the Japanese shortly after arrival.
The Battalions, which comprised approximately of 2,000 men, were to see over 600 die working on the infamous ‘Burma Railway’ known to those who were there as the ‘Death Railway’.
Furthermore, many of those who did return home had serious health problems and were to suffer years of illness before finally succumbing to disease and injury suffered while prisoners.
So, the Second World War ended without the euphoria that had accompanied the end of the war in Europe. Although people were getting used to being at peace there was still much to worry about. The General Election had seen a shock defeat for Winston Churchill and the Conservative Party and Clement Atlee, the new Prime Minister, had his hands full in managing a country that was effectively bankrupt. It is only in recent years that we finished paying off the war debt that we owed to the United States.
There was much uncertainty amongst the population about the future and how lives would improve.
West Norfolk will commemorate the event that marked the end of the Second World War by not only remembering, but reflecting on more recent events that have temporarily taken away some of the freedoms that we may have taken for granted recently, that were fought so hard for seventy-five years ago.