Britain marks the 70th anniversary of VJ Day

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London.
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The Queen and David Cameron are leading the nation in marking the “poignant” and “emotional” 70th anniversary of VJ Day.

The sacrifices of British Second World War forces who fought and died defeating Japan have been commemorated in a service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in central London – the first in a series of remembrance events.

Police are encouraging people to continue with their plans to attend or take part in events as normal following media reports that extremists aim to explode a bomb during the commemorations.

Buckingham Palace has refused to discuss the reported threat, with a spokeswoman saying they do not comment on security matters.

There was a visible police presence and tight security around St Martin-in-the-Fields, which is situated in Trafalgar Square, as tourists and onlookers stood behind barriers.

The Queen, dressed in a dusty pink outfit and hat, was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

Dr Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin-in-the-fields, said: “We are gathered together in the presence of Almighty God to remember, with gratitude, those who gave their lives for the cause which we have believed to be right, and especially to remember our comrades who, in prison camps, or in the seas of the Far East, made the supreme sacrifice, and also to remember those who have died, since their return, as a result of their suffering.

“That their sacrifice be not in vain, we meet to dedicate ourselves anew to his service, and to ask his guidance in all that lies ahead of us.”

During the service, Maurice Naylor told the congregation he joined the Royal Artillery at the age of 19.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, he recalled being told how “easy” it would be to deal with the Japanese.

“At that time we did not know much about the Japanese. How ignorant and complacent we were. We didn’t deal with them. We were defeated by the Japanese,” he said.

He recalled being forced to surrender in 1942 and becoming a prisoner of war, and referred to the “brutality” that was suffered.

He said now he feels lucky to have survived and sad for the families of those who died.

The service also featured various hymns, as well as the reading of passages such as We Will Remember Them, The Kohima Epitaph and the FEPOW Prayer.

A wreath was dedicated at the altar in memory of those who died in the fight against the Japanese and of those who died as a result of captivity in Japanese prison camps. The service ended with the national anthem.

Veterans in London today included John Dean, 95, who was one of the first ever men to be trained in radar and often met the Duke of Edinburgh when his ship needed radar repairs.

Mr Dean, from Haslemere in Surrey, said he remembers VJ Day “vividly”.

He chatted with the Queen and the Duke outside the church and when asked what he said to the monarch, replied: “I told her that I’d met the Duke of Edinburgh when I was on the ship.”

Asked what the Duke was like during the war, Mr Dean joked: “Like the rest of us.”

Hundreds of veterans also gathered on Horse Guards Parade for a Drumhead commemoration.

Royal Marine buglers and percussionists from Portsmouth piled up their drums to form a ceremonial altar at the centre of the parade, replicating the practice used by troops on the front line.

Crowds applauded as a Dakota, Hurricane and a current RAF Typhoon fighter jet flew past.

The Right Reverend Nigel Stock, bishop to HM Armed Forces, led the service and paid particular tribute to those who served in the Far East and played a pivotal role in Japan’s defeat.

Viscount Slim, the son of Field Marshal Slim, read a passage from his father’s memoir Defeat Into Victory.

He read: “To the soldiers of many races who, in the comradeship of the 14th Army, did go on, and to the airmen who flew with them and fought with them and fought over them, belongs the true of achievement.

“It was they who turned defeat into victory.”

The veterans and their families, with current forces members, sang the hymns Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Abide with Me and Guide Me O’Thou Great Redeemer with the Gwalia Male Voice Choir and the London Welsh Male Voice Choir.

Actor Charles Dance read Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Mandalay’ – a favourite marching tune for many in the 14th Army in Burma, commanded by Field Marshal Lord Slim during the campaign.

It tells the story of a British soldier who was discharged from Burma, who recalls: “An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells: ‘If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else’.”

Allied forces fought a fierce 12-day battle in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, but managed to re-take the city on March 20 1945. The conquest ended Japanese hopes of holding Burma, and the 14th Army continued on to Rangoon, reoccupying it on May 3.

Prince Charles and David Cameron laid wreaths by the Drumhead while a message from Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma – daughter of Earl Mountbatten – was read in which she sent her “warmest wishes” to the veterans gathered.

Lance Corporal Amar Pun from the 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles performed Flowers of the Forest as the Lone Piper.

The veterans from the Far East Campaign, their families and descendants, along with current personnel, were also due to parade down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey – passing the statue of Field Marshal Slim – led by pipes and drums.

Pauline Simpson, an organiser of the events from the National FEPOW Fellowship Welfare Remembrance Association, said of the day: “I think it’s very important to the veterans because they feel that they’ve been treated as the forgotten army.

“Their comrades that fought in Europe came home in May 1945 and they came back to a huge welcome and celebration.

“And for many people in the nation it was the end of the war, but in actual fact for all of the men still in the Far East in captivity, many of them didn’t even know that the war had ended and they didn’t start returning home until three or four months later.”

She said many did not return home until October.

“I think it will be a very emotional day because I know that at the very heart of those attending today will be the memory of those that didn’t return,” she said.

Ms Simpson said veterans will be thinking of their comrades, adding that it will be “a very poignant day” for families whose loved ones did not return.

Veteran Vic Knibb, 90, from Guildford, is vice chairman of the Burma Star Association.

He joined the Army in March 1943 at the age of 18 and sailed from Liverpool in 1944 heading for India. He was among the first recruits after the Battle of Kohima and was in the 4th Battalion the Royal West Kent.

Speaking about today, he said it was all about “the memory of all those that didn’t come back”.

He added: “That’s the important thing. That’s what this service is about. And this afternoon, it will be a celebration because we’re still here.”

Mr Knibb said today marked a last hurrah as the number of veterans is falling.

He added that the message is to “remember all those that give their lives for so much”.

“If it wasn’t for what they did in Europe, and here and in the Far East, you all wouldn’t be here.”

Mr Knibb said he was glad he was never a prisoner of war and, asked if he stayed in the Army after the war, he laughed and said: “I got out as soon as possible.”

He got back to Britain in the middle of 1946 and became a labourer.

Mr Knibb said he was “extremely grateful for the National Health Service” and said he was waiting for a heart operation.

He said he has been “lucky” to have been well looked after for so long.

“I can’t walk, I’m going to be wheelchaired today. I’m surviving on Scotch at the moment,” he joked.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Cameron said: “I think it’s really important to mark this date and to honour the memory of those that died, the thousands that died, serving our country, preserving our freedoms.

“I think it’s also particularly important perhaps, this anniversary, where so many of the participants are now such a great age. I’m going to be laying a wreath with a 97-year-old hero from those times. I think it’s very poignant and right that we’re doing this.”

Mr Cameron said many veterans “suffered appalling injuries and torture” during the conflict “for our freedoms”.

He said: “I feel my generation hasn’t had to suffer anything like what these incredibly brave people went through.

“As I go and lay a wreath today with a 97-year-old man and think of what they did, 70 and more years ago, it is completely humbling to think how these people suffered, to think how many people died, to think how brave they were and what they went through for our freedoms in this titanic struggle, it is truly humbling.”