Forgotten no more, world honours ‘freedom fighters’ of the Far East 75 years on

They considered themselves the “forgotten army” as they battled on in the Far East, months after the peace in Europe had been won. But as the nation falls silent today in their honour, world leaders will put on a united front in remembering their sacrifice.

Allied prisoners of war celebrating their liberation from Changi Jail, Singapore.

Boris Johnson will be joined on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Japan Day by his Australian and Canadian counterparts, Scott Morrison and Justin Trudeau, by President Trump and the presidents of Malawi and Nigeria amongst others, in a video message to the service personnel who finally brought the Second World War to a close.

In a letter to be published this morning and addressed, “Dear veterans of the Far East campaign”, Mr Johnson singles them out for “particular recognition”.

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Acknowledging that many of them had felt their experiences were “overshadowed in popular imagination by the conflict in Europe”, the Prime Minister writes: “When your compatriots celebrated Victory in Europe on 8 May 1945, you were still in action against Japan, deployed thousands of miles away in the rainforests of Burma, the islands of the Pacific and the mountains of Borneo. Across a vast region – you fought on until the final day of the Second World War.”

Paying tribute to those who endured the “brutal prison camps” in which thousands died, Mr Johnson says South East Asia owes its modern-day prosperity to their sacrifices. “This transformation would never have been possible if they had stayed under the occupation of Japan, imposed through the defeat of British and Commonwealth forces in Malaysia, Singapore and Burma,” he writes. “These blows were so heavy that many feared they would break your will to fight on.

“But you survived the longest retreat in British history, marching almost 1,000 miles from Burma to India, and then you regrouped and reformed.”

He concludes his letter: “You fought for freedom, brought the Second World War to its end, and restored peace and prosperity to the world. All of us who were born after you have benefited from your courage in adversity.”

The final troops arrived home to find a general election had been held in their absence and Winston Churchill replaced as Prime Minister by Labour’s Clement Attlee.

Referring to the changes, Mr Johnson says in today’s video address: “Unable to celebrate the victory in Europe, and among the last to return home, we recognise the bravery and ingenuity of those who, in the face of adversity, restored peace and prosperity to the world.

“Their immeasurable sacrifice changed the course of history and at today’s commemorations, we take the opportunity to say what should be said every day – thank you.”