THE thinning ranks of British veterans and former prisoners of war yesterday donned their medals to join the Queen and Prime Minister David Cameron in marking the 70th anniversary of VJ Day.
As ceremonies were held across Britain to remember those who fought and died to defeat Japan in the Second World War, the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh took part in a poignant remembrance service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London.
In Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon paid tribute to those who had served in the Far East, joining veterans at a commemorative service hosted by the Royal British Legion Scotland at the Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile.
“The war in the Far East saw countless acts of selfless courage, many of which will never be known or told,” Sturgeon said. “Today’s events are a chance to pay tribute to all those who served.”
At St-Martin-in-the-Fields, the Reverend Dr Sam Wells, the church’s vicar, said the gathering recognised those who made the “supreme sacrifice” and “lost life, limb, liberty” so that “we might know peace”.
Former prisoner of war Maurice Naylor also spoke at the service, saying it was an honour to be joined by the Queen – “a veteran herself” – and members of her family. The 94-year-old, who helped build the bridge over the River Kwai, said: “How do I feel now? I feel lucky to have survived so long and still be able to address you. I feel sad for the families of those who died as a result of their captivity.”
The service featured various hymns and the reading of passages such as We Will Remember Them, The Kohima Epitaph and the FEPOW (Far East Prisoners of War) prayer, before a wreath was dedicated at the altar in memory of those who died. The service ended with the national anthem.
Afterwards, hundreds of veterans and their relatives gathered on Horse Guards Parade for a Drumhead commemoration to celebrate the day Japan surrendered. 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 frontline.
Crowds applauded as a Dakota, Hurricane and a current RAF Typhoon fighter jet flew past in tribute to the sacrifice made by thousands of Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Second World War. Veterans, their families and serving members of the armed forces 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.
Cameron, Prince Charles and John Giddings, the chairman of the Burma Star Association, were among those to lay wreaths by the Drumhead
Speaking before the services, 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.”
Akihito’s ‘remorse’ over wartime actions
EMPEROR Akihito expressed rare “deep remorse” over his country’s wartime actions in an address yesterday marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s Second World War surrender, a day after the prime minister fell short of apologising in his own words to the victims of Japanese aggression.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe, meanwhile, stayed away from a Yasukuni shrine that honours war criminals among other war dead. He instead prayed and laid flowers at a nearby national cemetery for unnamed fallen soldiers ahead of the annual ceremony at Tokyo’s Budokan hall.
That ceremony started with a moment of silence to mark the radio announcement by Emperor Hirohito, Akihito’s father, of Japan’s surrender on 15 August, 1945.
“I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” Akihito said.