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Both Harry Southern and Peter Whiteley were awarded Burma Stars (Pictures: Southern family and Whiteley family).
VJ Day

Burma campaign veterans recall Japanese surrender ahead of VJ Day anniversary

Both Royal Star & Garter residents fought in the Far East during the Second World War.

Harry-Southern-and-Peter-Whiteley-CREDIT-Southern-family-and-Whiteley-family.jpg
Both Harry Southern and Peter Whiteley were awarded Burma Stars (Pictures: Southern family and Whiteley family).

Two Second World War veterans who fought in the Burma campaign have been recalling memories of the day Japan surrendered ahead of the VJ Day anniversary. 

Harry Southern and Peter Whiteley were both awarded Burma Stars for their bravery and have been sharing their wartime memories.

The conflict against Japan continued for three months beyond Victory in Europe (VE) Day, 8 May 1945. 

The brutal fighting in the Far East ended on 15 August 1945, when the Empire of Japan surrendered, bringing the bloody conflict to an end. 

Some veterans who returned from fighting in the Far East refer to themselves as the 'Forgotten Army' because the end of the war in Europe meant many at home had simply forgotten Britain was still fighting halfway around the world. 

A survey of 2,020 Britons aged over 16 by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, in 2020, discovered that almost half did not know what VJ (Victory over Japan) Day is. 

Of these, just 5% said they would celebrate it every year after discovering what the day marked. 

Allied soldiers fighting in Burma during WWII NO DATE CREDIT US National Archives
Allied soldiers in Burma during the Second World War (Picture: US National Archives).

By sharing their wartime memories, veterans Harry and Peter – who are cared for by Royal Star & Garter, a charity that provides loving, compassionate care to veterans and their partners living with disability or dementia – are helping to ensure that those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Far East are not forgotten.  

Harry Southern, 97, was serving in the Royal Navy and preparing for what he refers to as a "suicide trip", when atomic bombs dropped by American forces on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Japanese surrender.

The flattened Japanese city of Hiroshima after it was hit by an atomic bomb on 6 August 1945 NO DATE CREDIT US National Archives
The flattened Japanese city of Hiroshima after it was hit by an atomic bomb on 6 August 1945 (Picture: US National Archives).

The World War Two veteran was a Leading Seaman and served on a small 18-man motor launch (ML). 

He said: "We were there to harass the Japanese and support the Army, as necessary. 

"They needed people moving and we moved them around." 

On VJ Day, Harry was in Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where his ML was having a refit. 

He said: "The reason for the refit was to have sound amplifying equipment installed which would make the noise of an armada out at sea. 

"The idea was we would cause a diversion to the Japanese, who would think there was an invasion coming down the west coast of Burma.

Harry Southern WW2 Second World War Burma Campaign veteran CREDIT Royal Star & Garter
Harry Southern lives at the Royal Star & Garter in Solihull (Picture: Royal Star & Garter).

"And the diversion would obviously embarrass them because it was maybe three vessels playing gramophone records, just three 18-man crews involved. 

"We were putting ourselves in a great deal of danger. 

"You could regard it in some ways as a suicide trip. 

"If they investigated, we were in trouble, but the bombs dropped and the refit was stopped," he said.

Harry said any relief he felt at the Japanese surrender was later diminished by the devastation inflicted upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saying: "I was out there nearly another nine months before I was drafted home. 

"And we didn't know the extent of the death and destruction it caused – that filtered through later." 

 

Peter Whiteley, 100, was involved in direct conflict with Japanese troops while serving in Burma (now Myanmar).

He joined the British Army at 18 in 1940 and served in the Royal Engineers. 

He was part of the Battle of the Admin Box in February 1944 – a turning point in the Burma Campaign and tactical victory for British troops against the Japanese – and later survived a deadly assault by enemy troops, which claimed the lives of several of the men he was with.  

In Surbiton's Royal Star & Garter care home, VJ Day will be marked with events and activities which include live music from Swingtime Sweethearts. 

The Royal Star & Garter in Solihull will commemorate the day with the local Royal British Legion branch.  

Peter Whiteley WW2 Second World War Burma Campaign veteran CREDIT Royal Star & Garter
Peter Whiteley lives at the Royal Star & Garter in Surbiton (Picture: Royal Star & Garter).

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