15 Aug 2010

VJ Day marked in Britain and the US

With David Cameron and the Prince of Wales commemorating the 65th anniversary of VJ Day at the Cenotaph, one veteran’s wife tells Samira Ahmed “We must not forget these people”.

David Cameron this afternoon joined the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, together with representatives of the three military services and WWII veterans, to commemorate the 65th anniversary of victory over Japan (VJ day).

A service at the Cenotaph paid tribute to nearly 30,000 British losses suffered during the campaign in the far east – some 12,500 of whom died as prisoners of war.

Members of the public lined the north side of the Cenotaph to pay their respects.

Among those laying a wreath was Mary Harris, whose father and husband were both prisoners of war. Her mother worked as an intelligence officer. She was evacuated to New Zealand after the fall of Singapore in 1943.

Speaking to Samira Ahmed for Channel 4 News, Ms Harris recalled that it was not easy when her physicist father, Sir Norman Alexander, returned home.

“As children, of course, we didn’t recognise him because we hadn’t seen him for so long.

“My mother had to get used to looking after this skeleton who had come back a different man. They were very different people when they came out of jail, not only because their own health was shattered (…) but also because their wives had gone ahead and built lives.”

She remembered that prisoners of war from the far east had not been allowed to come ashore at Liverpool “in case their emaciated looks upset the locals”.

‘We must not forget these people’

Ms Harris said that it was only since the 60th anniversary of VJ Day five years ago that people had been stirred to say: “We must not forget these people”.

The second world war in Asia began with the bombing of the US Pacific fleet by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. At the same time, there were attacks on British, Dutch and American possessions in the far east.

Victory in Europe was achieved on 8 May 1945, but these Japanese did not surrender until 14 August of that year, following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The following day, 15 August, was celebrated as VJ day.

New York kiss

Sealed with a kiss

In contast to today’s events in London, hundreds of couples yesterday descended on Times Square in New York to re-enact the famous Life magazine photograph of a nurse being kissed by a sailor at the end of the war.