Scots VJ Day veterans honoured with commemorative coins

Scottish veterans who helped the Allies secure victory over Japan and bring World War II to an end are to be presented with special commemorative coins to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

Veteran Whitson Johnson said he will "never forget" the events of VJ Day. Picture: Mark Owens/Poppyscotland

The gold coloured coins are being given to any veteran involved in the Allied War effort during either VE Day or VJ Day, with around 125 set to be distributed to those who served their country.

The coin honour arranged by Legion Scotland, forms part of a series of commemorative events to mark the anniversary of VJ Day, which took place on 15 August 1945.

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Already, some surviving Scottish veterans have received the commemorative artefacts. They include Whitson Johnson, 96, from Portobello, who joined the RAF in the autumn of 1942.

He had hoped to fly as part of his service, and underwent rigorous training. However, the flying programme was later terminated, and he was reassigned to a new, crucial role.

He recalled: “After being told that I would not be flying, we were put on leave and told to report to London thereafter. Eventually, after sitting some tests, I was offered another job. That job was learning about top-secret codes and ciphers for the RAF.”

Mr Johnson signed the Official Secrets Act, and learned that he would be deployed to the Far East. “You just did what you were told,” he explained. He went on to support the Fourteenth Army, spending time in Bombay, Calcutta, Chittagong, Hmawbi, and Burma.

Decades on, he has vivid memories of VJ Day. It was, he said, a “great day,” and the moment a brutal war reached its end. He remains pragmatic about the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“By dropping those bombs, so many lost their lives, but so many others would have died had that not happened, as Japan would have fought to the last man,” he said. “A lot of lives were saved on both sides because the bombs were dropped.

“War is a terrible thing. I learned that lesson and I realise there is no point in war. I am glad that the war finished when it did, and the Allies were victorious.

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“I can hardly believe that it has been 75 years since that day. I have had a great life and a wonderful family, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have been very lucky.”

Mr Johnson was presented with his commemorative coin – from a safe distance – by Martyn Hawthorn, the national chairman of Legion Scotland.

Mr Hawthorn said: “It is vital that as we approach the 75th anniversary of VJ Day that the bravery and sacrifice of the men who fought in the Far East campaign is forgotten no more.

“The commemorative coin is our way of providing a symbol of their immense efforts during what was an arduous campaign.

“We would like to pay tribute to Whitson Johnson and the scores of others receiving this special coin for all that they did in service of our country.”

The Far East campaign began on 7th December 1941 when Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour. The British colony of Hong Kong was attacked the following day and, over the subsequent weeks, the British retreated to Singapore, where they were forced to surrender with more than 9,000 men killed or wounded. A further 130,000 were captured and became POWs, facing years of appalling conditions.

The Allied fightback began in 1944 and was led by the British Fourteenth Army, stated to be the largest all-volunteer army in history with 2,500,000 men and comprised mainly of units from India and East and West Africa, as well as Britain.

The forthcoming VJ Day commemorations will be marked by a series of virtual events organised by Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland, in partnership with the Scottish Government.

A series of programmes will be broadcast live via the charities’ social media channels to mark the milestone anniversary. A virtual service of remembrance will be shown on the morning of 15 August, and will be followed at midday by a virtual concert.

The following Monday, which will mark the first full week of the new school term, a live lesson will help to ensure that younger generations have an opportunity to learn more about the significance of VJ Day.

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