The U.K. marked Saturday the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Japan during the Second World War, with Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip leading tributes to those who fought during the six-year campaign.
In a special message on Victory over Japan Day, the Queen and Philip offered their “grateful thanks” to those involved in a campaign that has been widely overlooked in the decades since.
The war cost the lives of some 50,000 British and Commonwealth troops, nearly half of whom perished in brutal prison camps.
“Those of us who remember the conclusion of the Far East campaign, whether on active service overseas, or waiting for news at home, will never forget the jubilant scenes and overwhelming sense of relief,” said the 94-year-old Queen, who remains in quarantine at her residence in Windsor Castle because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Amongst the joy at the end of the conflict, we also remembered, as we do today, the terrible devastation that it brought, and the cost borne by so many,” she added.
Following the surrender of the Nazis on May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe Day, Allied troops carried on fighting the Japanese until an armistice was declared on Aug. 15, 1945 in the wake of the U.S.’s dropping of two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Japan formally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, but many Pacific War veterans felt their efforts were not fully recognized and forgotten in the fog of the mushroom clouds. They dubbed themselves the “forgotten army.”
They were being remembered Saturday across the U.K., firstly with a commemoration at the National Memorial Arboretum in central England and a two-minute silence. The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. They all spoke with some of the around 40 veterans present, carefully observing social distancing guidelines to remain at least 2 metres apart. And all those present looked skyward in wonder after the official ceremony to see a special Battle of Britain flypast.
Richard Day, 93, who was involved in the decisive 1944 Battle of Kohima in north-east India, remembered the harsh conditions everyone had to contend with, and of how he contracted malaria and dysentery at the same time, while fighting a highly determined enemy.
“I think the worse part was crossing rivers at night, it was cold at night, then all night in wet clothes and wet equipment, still having to move about,” he said. “It was a glory for them (the Japanese troops) to die for their emperor. They didn’t appear to have any fear at all.”
In a first since the London 2012 Olympic Games In London, the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows scheduled a U.K.-wide tour with flypasts over the four nation’s capital cities. However, due to poor weather the flypast over the Scottish capital of Edinburgh was cancelled and the Red Arrows flew over Glasgow Prestwick Airport instead. The pilots landed there to greet three veterans.
In an open VJ-Day anniversary letter addressed to “Veterans of the Far East Campaign,” Johnson hailed the courage of those who fought in Asia and the Pacific.
“You were the last to come home but your achievements are written in the lights of the glittering capitals of the dynamic region we see today,” he said.
Johnson acknowledged their war-time experiences had been “overshadowed in popular imagination by the conflict in Europe,” but he stressed that their service had brought the Second World War to an end and inaugurated a period of peace and prosperity across southeast Asia that remains intact to this day.
Britain, which had been a colonial power across much of the region, suffered arguably its biggest military defeat to Japanese forces in the early years of the war. Overwhelmed troops had to retreat from Malaysia, Singapore and Burma in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable.
“These blows were so heavy that many feared they would break your will to fight on,” Johnson said in his tribute letter. “But you survived the longest retreat in British history, marching almost 1,000 miles from Burma to India, and then you regrouped and reformed.”
The prime minister also highlighted the creation of the “formidable” 14th Army, a fighting force that was made up of nearly a million soldiers, including from India and Africa, and which helped “turn defeat into victory.”
VJ Day ended one of the worst episodes in British military history, during which tens of thousands of servicemen were forced to endure the brutalities of prisoner-of-war camps, where disease was rife and there was a lack of food and water.
For thousands of British civilians captured when British and Dutch Far East colonial territories were overrun, VJ Day was the end of illness, starvation rations and an uncertain future in the Japanese camps.
It is estimated that there were 71,000 British and Commonwealth casualties of the war against Japan, including more than 12,000 prisoners of war who died in Japanese captivity.
More than 2.5 million Japanese military personnel and civilians are believed to have died over the course of the conflict.
‘The war is over. Japan has surrendered’
Jenny Martin, 78, was born in the Changi Prison Camp, in eastern Singapore, and spent the first three years of her life there with her mother, aunt and cousin.
She told BBC Scotland she could recall the moment she knew freedom would come and that she would never forget that day. She was only three years old.
“Unknown to us, a bomb fell on Hiroshima and then another on Nagasaki,” Jenny said.
“One day, the guards all disappeared and then a plane flew overhead and dropped from its undercarriage thousands of leaflets, which fluttered to the ground like snow.
“Around me everyone was saying: ‘Thank god, thank god!’ and the leaflet read: ‘The war is over. Japan has surrendered. We are coming for you very soon.’
A few days later, British soldiers arrived in trucks and they were taken to be given medical attention.
Jenny said she remembered sitting in a garden after she was free, fascinated by the plants, flowers and grass.
Along with her mother, she was reunited with her father. She was on the first ship to leave Singapore to return to the UK. She later studied in Edinburgh.
How is the anniversary being commemorated this year?
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the events taking place in Scotland are different from those in previous years.
The Red Arrows will perform a flypast of Edinburgh in one of the only physical events marking the day.
An online concert and service of remembrance will lead the commemoration.
The Royal Scots will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at Laurieston Castle, Edinburgh to remember their 496 serviceman who died in prisoner of war camps.
In Dumfries, a virtual service will go online and a video will be promoted across the council’s social media channels to mark the day.
As Australia commemorates 75 years since victory over Japan in World War II, descendants of Italian-Australians who were interned during the war recall the dark days when suspicion fell over their community.
About 5,000 Italians were interned during the WWII, making up the largest group of men interned
Some had arrived in Australia as children and were British subjects
No compensation was ever offered by the Australian Government, despite significant financial losses
About 5,000 Italian men were interned in Australian including 1,500 who were British subjects, many who came to Australia as children.
The impact of internment hit Queensland’s sugar communities especially hard, with hundreds of men in the farming town of Ingham rounded up when Japanese forces threatened Australian defences during 1942.
Ingham local David Robino was just four years old when his Italian-born father Solotore Robino, who had been naturalised as a British subject for 24 years, was arrested at dawn and taken south to be interned.
“Dad was as Australian as they come; he was naturalised in 1917, he played football, he represented North Queensland in football, he was in the rifle club and the Volunteer Defence Corps.”
Sent by guarded train to Cowra, multiple letters from respected locals were furnished to authorities pleading for his release, which was eventually granted in early 1943.
Different allies, different treatment
Solotore Robino’s younger brother served in the Australian Army, which was typical for many internees who also had sons and brothers who enlisted for service.
As Australia readied for possible invasion, many of the United States servicemen who arrived in 1942 were shocked by Australia’s treatment of its Italian community.
“I remember Dad saying, ‘We passed a troop train on the way to Cowra’, and a troop train coming north full of American soldiers heard them speaking Italian,” David Robino said.
“They said, ‘What are you blokes doing here?’. The Australians said, ‘They’re locking us up’ and the Americans said, ‘We’re coming up here to fight your war and they’re locking you up?’
Solotore Robino was released on the condition that his younger brother Peter remained interned, where he worked during the war on road construction near Alice Springs.
Deakin University researcher Mia Spizzica completed a PhD on the impact of internment on Italians living in Australian during the war, and said Italy was not seen as a threat during the 1930s, with former prime minister Joseph Lyons even photographed with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
“During World War I, Italy was [allied to] the British,” she said.
There was really no discussion about this amongst the families I interviewed: they thought they were on the side of the British.”
But when Italy entered World War II on the side of Nazi Germany sentiment turned against Italians.
But when Japan’s army swept through the southern Pacific and took Singapore and modern-day Indonesia, a decision was made to expand the scope of internment.
Professionals and businessmen who were considered community leaders were among the first to be interned, followed by young men of military age.
“My grandfather was among those group of men,” Dr Spizzica said.
“He was of military age and had done his national service, his wife and child were in Italy and he was interned.”
David Robino said two or three local men were considered committed fascists by the Herbert River Italian community around Ingham.
“They were sort of despised by the others, because that’s what they wanted to get away from when they left Italy — the fascism over there,” he said.
Food production suffered
Like many of his fellow internees, Solotore Robino was involved in farming and owned the largest sugarcane farm in the Herbert River district.
“It’s a cane-cutting area here,” Mr Robino said.
“Production on our farm dropped from 3,700 tonnes to 700 tonnes of sugarcane.
“There would have been a hell of a lot more production for the war effort if people had been left on their farms up here.”
In addition to the 5,000 interned in prison camps, Dr Spizzica said another 10,000 to 15,000 Italian men were put to work in remote bush camps to build roads, rail and work in mines.
Reparations never paid
David Robino estimates the cost of both internment and the confiscation of tractors, trucks and other farm machinery put his family back a decade financially.
Some machinery was returned in poor condition but a Chevrolet truck was never seen again.
Mr Robino said compensation for internment and the seizure of property was never mentioned after the war.
“They actually got reparations after the war, these Japanese in America, but our people got nothing,” he said.
While requests were made for reparations in the 1990s, Dr Spizzica said both major political parties refused to entertain the prospect.
“This request has always fallen on deaf ears and now the last detainee, Peter Delsignore, has passed away in Townsville I don’t think there will be any more talk of it,” she said.
Dr Spizzica said her research found most internees resented the years wasted behind barbed wire when they could have been growing food for Australia’s war effort.
“They just felt like all that manpower was wasted,” she said.
“It was an interesting feeling: they loved their country of birth but this was their country of adoption.
The “last of a great generation” and Australians across the country have paid their respects on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Veterans and dignitaries, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, commemorated Victory in the Pacific Day in a closed, socially distanced ceremony at the Australian War Memorial on Saturday morning.
It was 75 years earlier, on August 15 of 1945, that Emperor Hirohito publicly announced Japan’s acceptance of the Allies’ terms and his country’s surrender.
Three months prior, Nazi Germany had surrendered to the Allies.
The date became the marker for the end of the six-year-long second world war.
One million Australians donned the nation’s uniform throughout that time, including many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Paying respect to indigenous veterans during her welcome to country, proud Ngambri woman Dr Matilda Howes and her great-grandson Michael thanked the men and women who gave their lives for Australia.
“In the Australian defence forces they were equals, not so when they returned,” she said.
“We will always continue to protect our land and our country.”
Mr Morrison addressed the small crowd in Aircraft Hall and the millions of Australians watching at home, thanking the veterans for their sacrifice and honouring them as the generation that saved the world.
Mr Morrison drew comparison between their global fight against tyranny with the global fight against COVID-19.
“All understood if tyranny was not confronted together, it would be confronted alone. It was true then, and it’s true today,” he said.
“One million Australians wore our uniform and made the silent promise to give their lives for our country if need be.
“They promised their tomorrows for our today.”
Speaking directly to three veterans in the front row, Mr Morrison said “you didn’t give it a second thought”.
“You were boys who helped free a world and became great men,” he said.
“You did all this with your nation behind you and always on your mind.
“In your sunset we honour you, we honour your generation. In my mind, you are Australia’s greatest generation.
“We thank you. You won a war, secured peace, and saved civilisation. Your deeds will never be forgotten.
“We pledge to always be a good country. To always be as courageous as you.”
Mr Morrison said the city of Darwin was on his mind, as he reflected on the long road to forgiveness in the Australian city that was most impacted by the war.
“The entire country answered that call back then,” he said.
“Today, we remember and honour them.”
Australian forces had been on campaigns across the Pacific – in New Guinea, Bougainville, New Britain, Borneo and the Philippines – and Australian prisoners of the Japanese were scattered throughout Asia.
The Australian War Memorial recognises that while there were “many contributors to Japan’s defeat, the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, brought the conflict to a sudden end”.
The Countess of Wessex joked with a second world war airman about his hangover after VE Day celebrations when they met for a virtual chat.
Members of the royal family have been talking to wartime veterans and civilians this week to hear their stories and mark the 75th anniversary of the war ending in Europe.
Louis Goodwin, 94, from Salisbury, told the countess he had joined the RAF in 1943 as an 18-year-old and opted to train as a gunner rather than pilot or navigator because the instruction course was shorter.
Speaking on the Royal British Legion’s special online show, screened on its Facebook page, the former airman said:
When I joined, I thought the war’s not going to last that long and I’ll never get flying, because the training for a pilot was a good year, so I elected to go for a quicker course on air gunnery.
The countess asked about his safety flying in Lancaster bombers, adding: “Quite an exposed position you were in because you were right down in the tail.”
Goodwin joked: “I wasn’t quite as fat as I am now, with flying gear on it was a job to get in anyway – a little bit tight sitting behind four machine guns.”
When he said that he had left the VE Day party at 11pm, the countess said that was “quite civilised, not too bad.” He replied: “We had a few drinks.”
“You remember the headache the next morning?” she asked.
“Yes, yes and wondering what we were going to do next,” Goodwin replied.
During the Royal British Legion’s online show, Dame Joan Collins described how her London home was destroyed in an air raid when she was a child, and the tenor Alfie Boe sang.
Collins said: “We got bombed out and I remember going to our home in Maida Vale and seeing that the whole flat was gone.
“‘Oh, where’s my toys?’ I said to my mother. ‘Well, we’ll have to buy you some more,’ said my father toughly.”
The Princess Royal chatted to Dorothy Pettican Runnicles, 95, from Gloucester, who served with the Women’s Royal Naval Service as a petty officer and air radio mechanic.
She said she had “volunteered for the services because it was the thing to do, we had to get this war finished”.
Dorothy was 19 when she lost her boyfriend in an air crash while she was working in the Fleet Air Arm.
She said about her service: “It challenged me, it stretched me. I learned about death.”
The princess asked how she was coping with the coronavirus lockdown.
“I’m not good in my mobility and I worry [about] not getting out of the flat, but I’ve got instructions from my grandchildren, I’ve got to stamp about the flat from each room and pretend I’m doing physical work,” she said.
The UK is marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day, with the Royal Family leading tributes as the country remains in lockdown due to the coronavirus.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will lead a two-minute silence at 11:00 BST to honour servicemen and women during World War Two, and the Queen will address the nation later.
The PM thanked the VE Day generation, saying “our gratitude will be eternal”.
Events are taking place all day, but public gatherings have been cancelled.
Victory in Europe Day marks the day in 1945 when then-prime minister Sir Winston Churchill announced that the war in Europe had come to an end, after Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered.
This year’s celebration will be limited as the lockdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic means there will be no large-scale street parties or parades.
However, the BBC is airing a series of special programmes to mark the milestone occasion, including a re-broadcast of parts of Sir Winston’s speech.
A pre-recorded message from the Queen will be broadcast on BBC One at 21:00 – the exact moment her father, King George VI, gave a radio address 75 years ago.
‘One supreme effort’
In a message, Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to the virus outbreak, saying it “demands the same spirit of national endeavour” as shown during wartime.
“We can’t hold the parades and street celebrations we enjoyed in the past, but all of us who were born since 1945 are acutely conscious that we owe everything we most value to the generation who won the Second World War,” he said.
How VE Day is being commemorated
10:50 BST: A service in Westminster will see Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle lay a wreath on behalf of the House of Commons. Lord West will lay a wreath on behalf of the Lords
11:00: A national moment of remembrance and a two-minute silence
14:45: In a special programme on BBC One, extracts from Churchill’s victory speech to the nation announcing the end of the war in Europe will be broadcast
14:55: Solo buglers, trumpeters and cornet players will be invited to play the Last Post from their homes
15:00: As Churchill’s speech is broadcast, people will be invited to stand up and raise a glass in a national toast, saying: “To those who gave so much, we thank you”
20:00: Another BBC One special will feature Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins, actor Adrian Lester and singer Beverley Knight, who will be performing some well-known songs from the 1930s and 40s. The programme will culminate in the nation being invited to sing along to a rendition of wartime classic We’ll Meet Again
21:30: Spotlights will light up the sky in Portsmouth to recall the experience of blackouts during the war. The local council says the lights are also to remind people “that lighter times will come again”
Mr Johnson – who is due to have a video call with a veteran later – said: “We survived and eventually triumphed thanks to the heroism of countless ordinary people, who may be elderly today, but who once carried the fate of freedom itself on their shoulders.
“Across the world, our soldiers, sailors and airmen fought the Nazis with courage, ingenuity and stubborn endurance.
“On the home front, women defended our cities against air raids, worked the factories, ran the hospitals and broke enemy codes. People of every age, race and background came together in one supreme effort.”
Mr Johnson also wrote to surviving veterans and told them, despite the ongoing lockdown due to coronavirus, their efforts to topple a “ruthless enemy” would “always be remembered”.
What is VE Day?
Victory in Europe (VE) Day on 8 May 1945 saw Britain and its Allies formally accept Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender after almost six years of war.
At 15:00, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced on the radio that the war in Europe had come to an end, following Germany’s surrender the day before.
Spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country and the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret, ventured out with a group of friends to experience the excitement in London.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said although people cannot be together this VE Day, “we can still remember together”.
He also referred to the virus outbreak, saying: “We owe so much to the generation of VE Day. We must do everything we can to care for and support them through the current crisis.”
He added: “The crisis in our care homes has gone on for too long and we must do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable, many of whom protected our country in its darkest hour.”
In a video message, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said reconciliation and hope were the “two great tributes we can pay to the 1945 generation”.
‘That’s your father’
Victory in Europe marked the point where some families could be reunited after a long separation. Born in December 1939, Peter Stevens had no memory of his father, who had been fighting in North Africa and Italy for most of Peter’s life.
Peter told BBC Radio 5 Live about meeting his father for the first time, aged five: “A face came at the back window, I looked up and my grandparents said, ‘That’s your father.’ That’s remained with me all my life, that moment.”
He recalls walking with his father through the fields near High Wycombe, meeting his mother where she was working and walking back together, a family for the first time in five years.
The BBC’s special evening programme will feature Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins, actor Adrian Lester and singer Beverley Knight, who will be performing some well-known songs from the 1930s and 40s.
It will culminate in a public sing along of Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, a song synonymous with World War Two.