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John Mills was among the first Allied soldiers to land in Japan after the surrender... 70 years on, he says war is nothing to brag about

By Lesley Houston

Published 14/08/2015

John Mills, the longest-serving member of the Royal British Legion, at home in Larne, with his array of war medals
John Mills, the longest-serving member of the Royal British Legion, at home in Larne, with his array of war medals
Kilted soldier John in Japan in 1946
The city of Hiroshima in ruin

The longest-serving member of the Royal British Legion says war is nothing to brag about as he prepares to remember his fallen comrades on the 70th anniversary of Victory in Japan.

John Mills, who is 91 and lives in Larne, was among the first British soldiers to arrive in Japan following its surrender on August 15, 1945 after the Allies dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - bringing the Second World War to a dramatic and horrific end.

Because of the time difference, the day is celebrated on August 14 in the US and Pacific regions.

Originally from Armoy near Ballycastle, the man who spent 26 years serving his country during some pivotal times in world history has no official plans to mark the anniversary, but he will be "remembering them all" quietly at home with his wife Joyce by his side.

In recent years John has participated in a number of official commemorations to remember all the servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, most recently travelling to Belgium to mark 100 years since more than 54,000 soldiers lost their lives during three battles in Ypres.

He has also joined fellow ex-servicemen at the Somme in northern France, where during the First World War the Royal Ulster Rifles suffered heavy losses.

"We have to remember them all.

"You can't forget those soldiers," he told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, adding he has enjoyed a longevity countless others were deprived of.

"I'll be 92 in November and I just got a letter to tell me I'm the longest serving member of the Royal British Legion and they offered me a holiday to Turkey," he said.

Mr Mills left Northern Ireland at 16 to find work in Scotland before enlisting at the age of 18, spending 26 years in the army.

It was with the Gordon Highlanders, later 2 Division Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, that he was sent to the Far East as the Second World War came to a tumultuous close.

He also experienced interesting times after that conflict, being mobilised in Cyprus during the Suez crisis in 1956 and a short time later in Gibraltar when General Franco closed the border between the Rock and Spain.

Prompted to ponder his small but important role during a time when the world was last embroiled in global combat, Mr Mills' remains upbeat and unburdened, overtly at least, by its worst horrors.

His memories of that momentous time in Japan are tempered not by the horrors of that terrifying new era in weapons of mass destruction, but by the incredulity with which his battalion was met on the streets of Japan.

"I'd been stationed near Calcutta and we were on a sort of a holiday at a beach near Bombay when it happened, when we'd heard about the bombs being dropped."

"We were issued with kilts and told we were going to Japan and were the first to land, with the Devon and Dorset regiment.

"We marched through the town with our kilts on and they thought we were girl soldiers because of the kilts. They stood in amazement on the side of the road, just watching us," he recalled with a chuckle.

Aged just 20 or 21 at a time of such immense global importance, he said it was his youth that carried him through the shocking impact of war.

"Some never came back, but at that age you just think, well, if I don't get out alive I'll never know about it," he said stoically.

"It's not something I wanted to brag about; war is nothing to brag about."

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