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Queen joins veterans to mark 70th anniversary of VJ Day

Published 15/08/2015

A composite image of people awaiting news on what was to become VJ Day outside Downing Street, London, and the street in the present day (MoD/PA)
A composite image of people awaiting news on what was to become VJ Day outside Downing Street, London, and the street in the present day (MoD/PA)

The Queen joined Second World War veterans to mark the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, when Japan surrendered and brought an end to the conflict.

Tributes were paid to thousands of Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen who sacrificed their lives as a service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in central London, before a memorial event was staged at Horse Guards Parade.

The Metropolitan Police encouraged people to continue with their plans to attend the events following media reports that extremists were aiming to attack the commemorations.

Security was tight around the church in Trafalgar Square where the Queen - dressed in a dusty pink outfit and hat - was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

Hundreds of veterans gathered later on Horse Guards Parade for a Drumhead commemoration, which was attended by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Royal Marine buglers and percussionists from Portsmouth piled up their drums to form a ceremonial altar at the centre of the parade, replicating the practice used by troops on the front line.

Charles, Mr Cameron and Royal British Legion chairman John Giddings laid wreaths by the Drumhead, while Camilla, dressed in mint green, watched from the royal box.

Crowds applauded as a Dakota, Hurricane and a current RAF Typhoon fighter flew past the parade. The world's oldest surviving Royal Navy Swordfish bi-plane was due to lead the flypast but did not take part due to a "last minute minor technical issue", a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

Actor Charles Dance read Rudyard Kipling's Mandalay - a favourite marching tune for many in the 14th Army in Burma.

Veterans, civilian internees, their descendants and families with serving members of the armed forces, then marched from Whitehall and through Parliament Square to Westminster Abbey - passing the statue of the 14th Army commander Field Marshal Slim - in a special 70th anniversary parade.

Along the route they were supported by military bands, and the final part was lined by serving military personnel. A reception took place in the grounds of the Abbey, hosted by the Royal British Legion.

Veterans met Charles and Camilla at the lively party where a band played to more than 1,000 people.

Gordon Smith, 95, from Rotherham, talked to Charles about how he watched the atomic bomb fall on Hiroshima.

He was in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and was a prisoner of war from 1942.

"We heard this plane. We went and had a look out and this plane was overhead and the next thing we saw something floating down," he said.

"We didn't know what it was. It exploded in mid air and then there was a great big cloud like a mushroom. And that's all we saw."

Speaking about the commemorations, he said: "I think it's been marvellous."

Joseph Fisher, 93, from Newcastle, was in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and hailed the day as ''fantastic''.

He said the reception of the crowd during the parade was ''unbelievable'' and it brought a tear to his eye.

''I never expected anything like that,'' he said.

He added: ''It's very important because you mustn't forget what happened.''

He also chatted with Camilla, which he described as a ''highlight''.

Mr Cameron said thousands of people had died and many others "suffered appalling injuries and torture" during the conflict to "preserve our freedoms".

"I feel my generation hasn't had to suffer anything like what these incredibly brave people went through," he said.

"It is completely humbling to think how these people suffered, to think how many people died, to think how brave they were and what they went through for our freedoms in this titanic struggle, it is truly humbling."

At the church service, a wreath was dedicated at the altar in memory of those who died in the fight against the Japanese and of those who died as a result of the brutal conditions in Japanese prison camps.

George Reynolds, 97, who joined the Royal Artillery as an 18-year-old in 1937, became a prisoner of war when Singapore fell and recalled the words that were said to him and his comrades that marked the end of their ordeal.

"For you the war is over," they were told. "I wasn't ecstatic," he said, adding that he was a professional soldier. "I just took it as it came."

Standing over 6ft tall, Mr Reynolds had dropped to just five and a half stone.

Reflecting on what it was like to land back on British soil, he said: "It felt great. It was nice to see green fields." He now lives in Newport, Wales, and has 10 great-grandchildren.

There were an estimated 71,000 British and Commonwealth casualties of the war against Japan, including more than 12,000 prisoners of war who died in Japanese captivity.

More than 2.5 million Japanese military personnel and civilians are believed to have died during the war.

In Scotland veterans were joined by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a service at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh hosted by The Royal British Legion Scotland.

After attending the event, Ms Sturgeon tweeted: "Privileged to attend a very moving service in Canongate Kirk to commemorate #VJDay70".

The Act of Remembrance at the VJ Day event was led by Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin, national president of Legion Scotland.

Second World War veterans Donald Christison and Jim Richardson were among those who attended.

Mr Christison, from Edinburgh, was on HMS Duke of York at the end of the war. He was in Tokyo harbour around the time of surrender, and was taken down to Hiroshima at a later date, not long after the bomb had been dropped. His boat was picking up prisoners liberated from the camps.

The 89-year-old said: "I was working with electrics down below in the ship where the hull was 15 inches thick. It was a scary place to be if we were torpedoed, you wouldn't get out."

Jim Richardson, 90, was taken prisoner when his ship was sunk - and he was a prisoner for three years, seven months and 23 days.

This evening, the First Minister is being joined by a group of veterans as her invited guests at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

She said: "Today's commemorations are a moment to reflect on the huge sacrifices involved in the conflict in the Far East during World War Two. The war in the Pacific continued for several months after it ended in Europe, and that period saw some of the most harrowing episodes of the entire war.

"This anniversary is an opportunity for us to pay tribute to those surviving veterans and to remember the many who did not return home.

"The war in the Far East saw countless acts of selfless courage, many of which will never be known or told, and today's events are a chance to pay tribute to all those who served."

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