Skip Navigation
Navigation Menu

VJ Day: the pride and the passion

The sufferings of soldiers held prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War were vividly recalled in a moving VJ Day service in Wisbech last Friday (August 14).

VJ Day - Bambers

About 175 people, including veterans, their families and members of armed forces associations, packed St Peter's church for the simple service of commemoration.

It was organised by Fenland District Council to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allies' victory over Japan, which finally brought the war to an end.

The congregation listened in rapt silence as two members of former prisoners' families recounted the terrible hardships their loved ones had endured.

Richard Whitwell paid an emotional tribute to his grandfather, Pte G L Seekins, of The 2nd Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment, "known to us all and his friends as Sam".

Taken prisoner after the fall of Singapore, he had been taken to work on the notorious Burma Railway.

Mr Whitwell said: "A lot of atrocities were carried out on the men, too bad to go into detail. They were always starving and only had rice to eat - until the day he died he would never, ever, eat rice.

"He hardly spoke of what happened out there - only one or two things, like going to sleep at night shoulder to shoulder with other men, and turning to speak in the morning only to find him dead alongside you.

"He said they all kept their emotions close to themselves.  He said they would take the men who died - there were always a few - and bury them in shallow graves and say a prayer for them."

Then, his voice cracking, Mr Whitwell pulled out the flag that had greeted his grandfather's homecoming. "When they got home there was a Union Jack flag hanging from the window which we have to this day, with some cigarettes which were given to him by the American troops when he was liberated.

"He was a very quiet man, who loved his family, gardening and was a mechanic to all the family cars. I am very proud that he was my grandfather."

Simon Bamber recounted similar hardships experienced by his father, Geoff, another veteran of the 2nd Cambridgeshires captured at Singapore.

His father, who had celebrated his 97th birthday three days earlier, stood proud and erect by his son's side throughout his account.

Both addresses were followed by loud and prolonged applause.

The personal experiences of the two veterans were placed in their wider context in an address by Jonathan Farmer.

Outlining the history of the campaign in the Far East , he said: "It is appropriate that we mark this day here in Wisbech for three reasons.

"Firstly, to recognise those local men who died in combat or captivity or suffered at the hands of the Japanese during the struggle in the Far East.

"Secondly, to remember the involvement of the Cambridgeshire Regiment and wider East Anglia in the fight against Japan.

"And finally to commemorate the conclusion of a struggle between good and outright evil."

As well as the sufferings inflicted by the Japanese, Mr Farmer described the devastating firebombing of Tokyo that destroyed 16 square miles of the city, killed or injured an estimated 150,000 Japanese and made over a million homeless in one night.

He said that the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had spared the Japanese people an invasion which would have resulted in up to five million Japanese casualties as well as very sizeable Allied loss of life.

"We should be grateful that the nuclear weapons brought the war to an abrupt halt. The Japanese should be grateful as well," he said.

Earlier Father Paul West, parish priest of St Peter's, had introduced the service, saying: "It's often said to me by veterans of the Far East campaign that they are more than a little forgotten. Well, in this parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Wisbech, we remember them well."

He was wearing the medals of his grandfather, who had served with the Royal Australian Air Force in the Far East.

The service included the hymn "The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended", which Mr Whitwell said the prisoners of war had often sung "to give them comfort and strength to carry on".

It also featured the Kohima Epitaph: "When you go home, tell them of us and say 'For your tomorrow we gave our today'."

The event was hosted Fenland District Council's chairman, Councillor Carol Cox, who gave some of her own personal memories.

She said: "I was one of the lucky ones - the first of the peace babies born in 1946 to parents who had not seen each other for six years. My father was physically wounded but came home. Others were not so fortunate."

She described her visit to the former Changi prisoner of war camp. "The chapel is still there, made from driftwood and anything they could salvage, the benches for worship rough hewn. But every day fresh flowers appear and hundreds of remembrance cards are pinned around with names of loved ones. It is a quiet spiritual place and people stand in silent reverence. They will never be forgotten."

The service ended with prayers for peace and reconciliation and the laying of a number of wreaths under the memorial donated to the church by the Singapore Club Wisbech. The memorial is dedicated to all the local men who were killed in action or died in captivity in the Far East.

Light refreshments were served in the church afterwards.

Article added August 18 2015