South Bersted civic service marks VJ Day anniversary

The Royal British Legion's standard bearer makes his way to the altar. LA1500175-2
The Royal British Legion's standard bearer makes his way to the altar. LA1500175-2

FAR East veteran Ray Johnson cast his mind 
back as he took part in a service to mark the 70 years since VJ Day.

Mr Johnson, a member of the Burma Star Association, read a Far East prisoner of war prayer during the civic commemoration and celebration in South Bersted.

He said afterwards: “I saw the prisoners of war in Singapore. They were like human skeletons.

“It shocked us. We all collected all the cigarettes we could to send them to them.”

Aldwick resident Mr Johnson, 93, said: “My thoughts about the war are that people complain about the dropping of the atomic bombs (on Japan) but I think, when I look around, it 
saved my life.

“I would not have my family, my seven grandchildren and my ten great-grandchildren, with another due in September, but for that.

“Although dropping the bombs was a terrible thing, 
it saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Mr Johnson served in India, Burma and Malaya from late 1944 to 1946. He was an acting petty officer in a Royal Navy landing craft recovery unit.

He marked VJ Day on August 15, 1945, at a Fleet Air Arm aerodrome in Malaya with the rare celebration of twice splicing the mainbrace in the naval tradition of serving rum to sailors .

Last Saturday’s hour-long service at St Mary Magdalene Church was attended by some 75 people and led by its vicar, the Rev Tim Crook.

He used a Hollywood film based on the book, Miracle on the River Kwai, to show how hope replaced despair in the PoW camps run by the Japanese under brutal conditions.

He said: “For most of the prisoners, nothing mattered but to survive. It was the 
law of the survival of the fittest. The prisoners were forsaken men.”

But self-sacrifice, heroism and love started to emerge even in those conditions.

“Those acts of self-sacrifice shone like beacons, causing 
a transformation in the camps,” he said.”

It was an example we 
could still follow seven decades later.

He said: “On this 70th anniversary of VJ Day, let’s be inspired to think differently and act differently.”

The service was jointly organised with Bognor Regis Town Council. It also included contributions from Bognor Regis’ town mayor, Cllr Jeanette Warr, who read an extract from a speech given by USA president’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, exactly 70 years ago, and former soldier Keith Harrison, of the Royal Horse Artillery.

Bognor RAFA officials David Hewings and Alan Hunter took part as well.

Four standards were paraded. The youngest standard bearer was Luke Rudge, 16, of the 2351 Air Training Corps Squadron 
in Bognor.

Luke, of Aldingbourne, said: “It’s definitely important to mark the end of the second world war. Hearing about the PoW camps was quite horrific. I didn’t expect that to go on.

“I have heard of the Bridge on the River Kwai film but I didn’t know it was like that.”

The congregation included Aldwick resident Vera King who typed the draft instrument of surrender signed by the Japanese to mark the war’s end.

Vera, 94, was a stenographer in the WAAF based in Kandy in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

She typed the first version of the important document for Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in South East Asia, which he would sign in its printed form with the leader of the Japanese southern army.

She said: “I had typed so many signals for all the important generals I had got a bit blase about typing the instrument of surrender.

“I thought the service 
was extremely good and I found it moving.”

Her airman brother crashed in the Far East and was reunited with her in Ceylon, to her surprise.

“He was never the same man after the war,” she said. “He used to have blackouts.”

Aldwick Parish Council’s vice-chairman Molly Myers said: “The service was moving and very well presented.

“My cousin survived 
being a prisoner of war 
of the Japanese for 
two-and-a-half years.”

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