Dick Bailey remembers VJ Day
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Good afternoon, everybody. Well, here we are, sat in my garden with John Wardle, and I’d like to thank John very much indeed for going to all the trouble to put this together for the club. And I hope it works out OK for you. I apologise – I’m not wearing a tie. I always wear a tie for Rotary. But today is an exception. It’s really warm and one of the hottest days of the year.
And so, I thought I’d leave one off. And I’m sure you won’t mind that. Also, I apologize for not having Zoom, and this is one of the reasons why John is here, actually, is because I’m a bit of a Luddite as far as that sort of thing is concerned. And so he’s doing all the technical stuff for me. It’s the first for me – giving a presentation in my own back garden, and I just hope it’s not habit forming because I really do miss the camaraderie of the Buckatree and I look forward very much to when we can get back there.
All right, we’re here today to talk about VJ Day. And for me, unlike VE Day, which I have no recollection, I do remember VJ Day. Why that should be, I’m not sure. Maybe it was because on the day there was no great celebration going on around me, or at least none that I can recall, whereas on VJ Day, I was out on the town. I may have mentioned at some time in the past that we had a number of American visitors at home towards the end of World War Two, they were recovering from wounds received during the war in Europe, and had been treated in the American military hospital near Malvern. They had met my mother on an ambulance train at Shrub Hill station in Worcester on their way to the hospital. She was in the women’s voluntary service and had met them on the train while giving them a cup of tea or coffee as they waited to be called forward to be offloaded for the move by ambulance to the hospital. She gave some of them our telephone number so that when they were back on their feet, they could give her a call while waiting for a passage back to the states.
To me, those who turned up seemed the most affable bunch of individuals, no doubt because of their imminent departure back home. The house was full of laughter when they were around and all sorts of things appeared in the house after a trip into town in the way of black-market food and nylons, none of which I had ever seen before. So when VJ Day arrived, it was really a time for celebration and my mother had gone off with some of her friends and left a couple of Americans to look after me.
There was no way that they were going to stay at home babysitting. So off we went into town to join the throngs of people out on the streets. At four foot something I couldn’t see a lot, so I was hoisted up onto a strong shoulder from where I could take in the spectacle of the sea of happy men and women. And I had a bottle of coke in one hand and a ring doughnut in the other. Absolute bliss. On reflection, it’s amazing how quickly these Coke bars had sprung up on the streets for our guests from across the Atlantic.
At some point, we were down by the River Severn, and I clearly recall seeing the power station situated between the road and the rail bridges in Worcester with its chimneys portraying an illuminated V sign. So much of my personal recollections. While VE day had marked the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, many thousands of allied armed forces 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 the 15th of August 1945, which in effect, ended the Second World War. Fighting in the Asia-Pacific took place from Hawaii to northeast India. Britain and the Commonwealth principal fighting force, the 14th Army was one of the most diverse in history, where over 40 languages was spoken and all the world’s major religions were represented. The descendants of many of the commonwealth veterans of that army are today part of the multicultural communities that exist up and down our country, a lasting legacy to the success and comradeship those who fought in the Asia Pacific.
Thus, we remember the contribution of all Commonwealth and allied forces without whose victory, the freedoms and way of life we enjoy today would not have been possible. After days of rumours about it, United States President Harry S. Truman broke the news at a press conference at the White House at 7pm on the 14th of August. Later at midnight in the U.K., Britain’s new prime minister, Clement Attlee, confirmed it, saying the last of our enemies is laid low.
Following day, Japanese Emperor Hirohito was heard on the radio for the first time ever when he announced the surrender. So 15th of August, 1945 was officially named as Victory in Japan Day and World War Two was finally over. An estimated 71,000 servicemen from Britain and the Commonwealth died in the war against Japan, including more than 12,000 prisoners of war who died in Japanese captivity. As I’m sure you know, Japan treated prisoners very badly, including British and American servicemen who had surrendered.
Following the end of the fighting in Europe, the allies had told Japan to surrender on the 28th of July 1945. But the deadline passed without them doing this, so the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, which had hoped would put a stop to the conflict once and for all. The city of Hiroshima was bombed on the 6th of August 1945 and the city of Nagasaki three days later, on the 9th of August, around 214,000 people were killed in the blasts and Japan was forced to admit defeat.
Japan’s Emperor Hirohito described the atomic bombs as a new and most cruel bomb. Two days of national holiday were announced by Clement Attlee on the 15th and 16th of August. Millions of people from the allied countries took part in parades and street parties to one of which I was able to bear witness. I certainly have never seen so many people and in such a joyous mood. The official surrender documents were not signed until the 2nd of September 1945 aboard United States ship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Some people celebrate this as VJ Day. As a footnote, it’s worth mentioning the fact that when the subject of VJ Day comes up, I find myself involuntarily trying to imagine what it must have been like in those Japanese cities at the time of the bomb attacks. I find it impossible to do so, even though I’ve witnessed a number of nuclear and thermonuclear explosions. They were carried out in a comparatively barren, remote area of the world on a desert island, and we were fully prepared,
with stringent safety measures. The only comparative insight I have is the destruction of what little infrastructure we had above ground close to Ground Zero and the fact that we sent soldiers out into the bush afterwards in an attempt to put all the seabirds that had been set to close out of their misery. Those that were not dead were either burned or blinded, black feathered ones, incidentally, suffered more than those with white feathers. So how can one compare this with a bustling city full of people going about their daily business?
So ended the Second World War, a cause for celebration, certainly, and a time for reflection also, I think. The fact that these weapons exist and have been used in anger have so far without that prevented a major conflict breaking out between those countries that do have them. Perhaps India and Pakistan have come closest. Neither, it seems, as any country threatened to use them against a country that doesn’t have them, presumably for fear of drawing in another country that has. VJ Day, therefore, is significant and well worth celebrating for who knows what might have transpired during the past 75 years had World War Two not been ended in the way it was.