13th August 2020
VJ 75th Anniversary 15th August 2020
I am very much looking forward to taking part in the Cathedral Eucharist with a Commemoration of VJ Day Service at Guildford Cathedral on Sunday 16th August as part of the commemoration for the 75th Anniversary of VJ Day.
Your local Regiment, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, has a huge depth of heritage from recent conflicts and from the forebear regiments of the South East of England. These came from from the counties of Surrey, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Middlesex. They formed seven forebear regiments in the Second World War and served throughout the World, including against Japan. Huge sacrifices were made by those men and their families at home in order to keep this country free, but the war in the Far East is sometimes forgotten. Indeed, British General Bill Slim’s 14th Army, formed in 1943, is still called ‘The Forgotten Army’.
As thousands of servicemen and women and civilians celebrated Victory in Europe Day in May 1945, there was still the prospect of horrific fighting in the Far East in order to beat the Japanese. This was often overlooked by the Press and, without today’s instant worldwide communications, simply forgotten. The enemy was not only the Japanese, it was also the heat and monsoons, the various unpleasant poisonous creatures of the jungle and disease, such as malaria, dysentery, cholera and beri-beri. These conditions were far worse than those endured on other fronts.
The first of your local regiment’s encounter with the enemy quickly followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in December 1941. 2nd Battalion The East Surrey Regiment, whose training depot was in Kingston upon Thames, was part of the allied forces defending Malaya. Casualties were so high that the Surreys had to amalgamate with the depleted Leicesters battalion to form what was called ‘The British Battalion’. They successfully defended a place called Kampar, but had no choice but to surrender at the fall of Singapore in February 1942; 130,000 people capitulated. This was, arguably, the worst British military disaster in history. What was the outcome for the remaining officers and soldiers? Three and a half years of horrendous cruel conditions, treated as slaves, working for the Japanese. They were part of 50,000 British POWs in Japanese hands. 25% would die in captivity overall, with one in three dying as they worked on the infamous Siam-Burma 250 mile railway.
Both of the regular battalions, the 1st and 2nd of The Queen’s Royal West Surreys, whose home was Guildford, fought against the Japanese. The 2nd Battalion was a Chindit special operations battalion, fighting in extremely difficult jungle conditions, isolated way behind enemy lines in Burma, in long range penetration patrols during 1944. Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion received professional jungle training at the end of 1942 and acquitted itself well against the enemy, including around Kohima, Burma, after its famous defence against the enemy, including the famous campaign around Kohima to drive the Japanese army out of north-east India
It would take another year, with bitter fighting on land and sea, massive American bombing raids and, finally, the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki before Japan surrendered, bringing WWII to an end in September 1945. Click here for a map which shows where your local Regiment, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment’s forebears, were on VJ Day. It also highlights a few stories.
Let us remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice with the Kohima Epitaph:
When you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow we gave our today.
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