Why war in Far East must be remembered

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A leading light in the Lanarkshire Yeomanry Memorial Group has made an impassioned plea for a fitting national ceremony for VJ Day.

Campbell Thomson shared last week’s VE commemoration with some of the few surviving local veterans of the 156th (Lanarkshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery – who fought in the Italian campaign and in northern Europe.

The Lanarkshire Yeomanry monument in Carluke.

The Lanarkshire Yeomanry monument in Carluke.

But in a letter to a Scottish daily newspaper he says he’s concerned that some may still assume VE Day (May 8, 1945) marked the end of the war.

He said: “I really hope that the same commemoration will be made to those who continued to fight in the Far East long after VE Day”.

These men included, for example, Blackwood veteran Tom Hannah, who was forced to work on the notorious Burma Railroad as a prisoner of war.

It has been estimated that one prisoner died for every sleeper laid for the 450-kilometre track through the jungle.

Other local men slaved and died in copper mines, while still more died en route to Japan in the notorious Hell Ships near the very end of the war.

Mr Thomson said: “There were countless families in Britain who worried and feared for relatives who were still fighting, and dying, in Burma and elsewhere in the Far East.

“For them the celebrations of VE Day were bitter sweet, and for the families of the 155th (Lanarkshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment – the sister regiment to the4 156th – there was perhaps an even greater fear: what was happening to their loved ones who were prisoners of the Japanese?”

He added: “Today we know what that hell actually was, and I seriously hope that on August 14, the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, and the real end of the war, a grateful nation will similarly remember their sacrifice.”

For many years the campaigns of the Far East tended to play second fiddle in the public memory to the war against Hitler, and it has been argued that the fate of the British and Commonwealth troops caught up in the Fall of Singapore has only recently received the attention it is due.

The ultimately victorious campaign of 14th Army in Burma has also been sidelined in the past, despite the cataclysmic battle of Imphal-Kohima in 1943, which saved India from the Japanese and led to the annihalation of the invading enemy army.

Heroic Gurkha troops who fought as an elite component of the British forces are also widely seen as having been neglected in the aftermath of the Second World War. These are elements which may surface towards the 70th anniversary of VJ Day.