Ahead of the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, that ultimately led to the end of World War II, the Taxi Charity spoke to some veterans who served in the Far East in WWII.
Roy “Doug” Miller 96, from Croydon, joined the Navy in 1940 as a fifteen-year-old having lied about his age “It was my duty” he said. “We had no idea what to expect and nothing could prepare us for what we would witness over the next five years.”
At the beginning of the war, Doug was involved in the Russian convoys on board the halcyon class minesweeper HMS Bramble and counts himself as one of the lucky ones. He was transferred to the illustrious-class aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable which was able to handle 48 aircraft, just before Bramble was sunk in December 1942, with the tragic loss of all lives.
Doug was on active duty as a Ship’s Gunner in the Far East for three years on board HMS Indomitable. On 4 May 1945, the Indomitable was hit by two Kamikaze, but her armoured flight deck saved her from serious damage. In August, with the war ending, Indomitable supported the liberation of Hong Kong and the Japanese surrender. Her aircraft flew the carrier’s last combat missions of the war against Japanese suicide boats which were attacking British forces. Doug remembers vividly that the Japanese did not want to surrender, and the ship’s crew were warned that many Japanese aircraft had not surrendered and to be alert and ready to shoot them down. During the week after VJ Day Doug helped guard government buildings in Hong Kong before the Indomitable returned to Sydney.
Veteran Richard Edsor, 94, from Harlow, was served on HMS Formidable. He was a seaman and he recalls that after a Kamikaze attack which damaged the flight deck, Formidable0lo0.0 was only out of action for six weeks while they put new plates on the deck. Richard said “Unlike the Americans who had wooden decks and if they were hit that was the end for them, we had iron decks so we were able to get back into operations within six weeks after the Kamikaze attack on out flight deck.”
Richard was at sea when the Japanese surrendered but when they got back to port the men paraded through Sydney. An event he missed as he was on leave!
Richard returned to England in 1946 and says there was no one to meet them and that is why they will always be known as the “Forgotten Fleet.”
In February 1945, Alfie “Fred” Lee, 94, from Hampshire headed to the Far East on board HMS Nith. Despite having been on the Nith for some years he encountered his first taste of very rough sea in the Bay of Biscay. After a few days leave in Gibralter, HMS Nith headed to Bombay via Aiden. In Bombay they picked up five landing craft to take to Rangoon. Unbelievably Fred’s brother Frank was on one of the landing craft, Fred hadn’t seen him or heard from him for a long time and had no idea that they had both been at D Day in Normandy a year earlier.
After various expeditions including landing troops in Burma, HMS Nith headed up the river to Rangoon on the night the Japanese surrendered. The Japanese had put a large sandbank across the river so Fred, as one of the stokers, had to help build up a lot of speed to get the ship over the obstacle. “It wasn’t too bad he said, just a little bump.”
When the ship reached Rangoon Docks, despite the surrender, there were Japanese snipers firing at them and Fred remembers the sound of the bullets flying past his head and he says one of the other men who realised what the sound was before he did, told him to keep his head down.
After a month at Rangoon they left for Bombay and the ship was adapted to have more power. Fred then had two weeks leave in the Himalayas and ended up in Bombay hospital after being hit by the ball between the legs during a football match between the Navy and the Army in which he was playing in goal.
While in hospital the ship left port and his Petty Officer visited him in hospital and said, “Stoker Lees, here’s your kit bag and a train ticket get yourself to Madras.” Following orders Fred had a very hot and fly ridden 12-hour train journey, on his own to Madras, where he re-joined the ship.
Over the next months the Ship went to Saigon where a surrender was signed, back to Madras, then to Siam (now Thailand) where a surrender was signed, then off to Borneo, Singapore and back to Siam. Fred was in the Far East for 13 months and returned to Portsmouth on a foggy and cold day in March 46.
Fred had two brothers in the Navy and one in the paratroopers and the family was blessed that they all returned from the war.
Danny McCudden, from Dagenham, served on the Destroyer HMS Queenborough for four years. He arrived in Australia on his 21st birthday and ever the entertainer appeared several times on Australian radio and sang in Sydney with Gracie Fields. He remembers that after the Japanese surrender two Kamikazes flew over and attacked HMS Formidable killing 25 men.
One of his other most vivid memories is hearing about two British pilots who were kidnapped by Japanese Officers, taken to Singapore and then to Hong Kong, where they were beheaded on a beach. When Danny returned after the war there was no crowd to meet them and when his Mum saw him for the first time, she was awfully shocked that he had not grown up to be a big man!
WWII veteran Peter Kent, from Pimlico worked on the Mullberry Harbour at Arromanches on D Day before traveling to Canada to join HMS Hartland Point and bring the boys back to Blighty through Panama to the Azores and then to Greenwich.
The ship then travelled to Singapore via the Suez Canal where Peter celebrated his 21st. He served on HMS Hartland Point as an Able Seaman for three and a half years and remembers that towards the end of the war the Americans mistook the Hartland Point for an enemy vessel and almost fired on them thinking they were a Japanese ship.
Veterans of the Far East campaign will be present at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to remember fallen comrades
The Prince of Wales, accompanied by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall, will lead the UK in a national moment of remembrance and thanksgiving for all those who served in the Far East. His Royal Highness will lead a two minute silence at 11am at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire as part of a special televised service on the BC.
A number of veterans, including Roy Doug Miller who served in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Indomitable, will be present at the service to pay their respects to their fallen comrades and will represent the surviving veterans of the war in the Far East still alive in the UK today.
Music at the service will be provided by The Central Band of the Royal Air Force, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will take part in a flypast following the two minute silence.
Dick Goodwin, Vice President, Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, said, “The Taxi Charity has had a commemorative VJ Day tin specially designed for our veterans for the 75th anniversary. The lid of the tin features a work by war artist Thomas Dugdale. The tins will be delivered to local veterans by volunteer London Cabbies over the next two weeks and the tins for those who live further away will be posted. With most VJ Day events having to be cancelled it is our way of letting the veterans know we are thinking of them on this very important anniversary”
If you know of a veteran whose life might be enriched by joining the Taxi Charity family, please visit www.taxicharity.org