Sqn Ldr John Mann MBE BSc
VJ Day 75 - The Potterne Branch of the Royal British Legion marks VJ Day, 15th Aug
As well as remembering VJ Day, the service also included a blessing of Soldiers' Walk, and the dedication of a bench in memory of past RBL members. Finally, the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, 25th June, was remembered, as the pandemic had unfortunately precluded any ceremony on that date.
The video of the VJ Day Service is below; and, if you click on the green button below the video, you can read Lt Col Robin Hodges' interesting "Reflections on VJ Day".
Video courtesy of Stuart Bridewell.
A point of view by Lieutenant Colonel Robin Hodges.
For most British people, ‘the war of national survival’ ended with the surrender of the German armies on the 8 May 1945. VE Day was a really important day for the nation. It was not so much about defeating the Axis forces as it was about ending the war in the UK.
However, whilst the country breathed a collective sigh of relief, the war against Japan continued. During the remainder of 1945 another 15,310 British service personnel would die, and the heart-breaking telegrams would continue to be delivered to families across the country.
In 1945, the youthful Peter Tate, who was to retire to Highlands in Potterne, was serving aboard HMS Empress in the Pacific. He was credited with shooting down the last kamikaze suicide aircraft as it aimed for his ship. He and the remainder of the fleet had no idea that Japan might be about to surrender.
Very few people knew of the plan to use atomic bombs and the British, whilst fighting in the Pacific and Burma were planning an airborne invasion of Malaya or Japan for February 1946.
Since 1937 Japan had been invading its neighbours and enslaving hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war, native populations and civilian internees. The first news of their inhuman treatment was received in September 1944 when a number of Commonwealth prisoners were rescued after a Japanese ship was sunk. They gave an almost unbelievable report of the fate of military and civilian slave labourers and the staggeringly high death rate in the camps. From then on, planned allied operations included special teams which would follow close behind the advancing Army to liberate and evacuate the prisoners and internees. The command was known as the Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees - RAPWI.
Intelligence planning for fighting in 1946 identified 150 prison and internment camps across the Far East; 40 RAPWI teams were formed, equipped and trained.
The Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945 meant that the planning had to start again with the aim of providing relief simultaneously to all the camps. Within days, 150 RAPWI parachute teams were formed and their deployment became the major operational task for the British forces.
The first phase was for the Allied air forces to drop millions of leaflets over the prison camps in Malacca, Singapore, French Indochina, Thailand and Hong Kong, in English for the prisoners and Japanese for the guard forces, explaining what was to happen. The leaflets for Java were in Dutch. The leaflet drops were followed by contact teams parachuting in to provide communications with the camps. This was incredibly dangerous as there was no guarantee that the Japanese and Korean prison guards would surrender.
Seven officers and six sergeants from my [The King’s] Regiment parachuted into Japanese prisoner of war camps in Java, Sumatra, Bangkok and Singapore, to aid allied prisoners. Of these, Captain Wishart became the first member of Allied forces to return to Singapore since its capitulation in 1942. His three man team jumped onto Changi Airfield on 29 August 1945 from a Special Duties Liberator aircraft which flew a round trip of 3,400 miles from The Cocos in the Indian Ocean.
It took two weeks for RAPWI to organise the massive operation. Over the next month the teams contacted, collected, clothed, sheltered and despatched home over 100,000 Allied Prisoners of War and Internees. The remaining 100,000 in less accessible locations were evacuated at a rate of one or two thousand every day.
By November 1945 the 200,000 men, women and children who had survived the nightmare, were home. VJ Day was finally a reality.
This piece was written for the Potterne VJ Day commemoration but as I have made mention of my Regiment it may be of interest to those who served in The King’s Regiment.
Peter Tate was a lovely gentleman who for 20 years looked after the standing stones at Avebury. In 1945 he was an 18 year old orderly aboard HMS Empress. His Action Stations post was as Gunner on a twin-mounted 40mm Oerlikon. On that last day in action, three kamikazes tried to get to the aircraft-carrier, one getting through the screen. Tate was just about to open fire when he was bodily lifted out of his seat, replaced by an old Petty Officer, who coolly shot the Jap plane to pieces. He then disappeared into the ship and Peter sat back down. A few minutes later the Captain appeared, “Which gun got it?” he called.
“Number 8 gun, Sir” someone replied. The Captain, who knew Tate as an orderly, walked towards the gun, saw Tate and congratulated him for his fine shooting. In a ship with hundreds of crew, Tate never found out who the Petty Officer was.
For the next forty years at the ship’s reunion, the Captain’s toast was always, “Tate, the man who saved the Empress!”
 The death of a King’s Officer was reported during the operation but is not confirmed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
 Possibly a world record distance at the time.
ST MARY'S CHURCH
Rector: Rev Ali Bridewell