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Second World War veterans share memories on VJ Day 75 years on

Veterans spoke of nearly being stuck in quicksand and laughed with Charles and Camilla over an important commodity during the war in the Far East.

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The Prince of Wales chats with a veteran on VJ Day at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire (Oli Scarff/PA Wire)

The Prince of Wales chats with a veteran on VJ Day at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire (Oli Scarff/PA Wire)

The Prince of Wales chats with a veteran on VJ Day at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire (Oli Scarff/PA Wire)

Around 40 veterans shared their memories of the Second World War at a remembrance service marking the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

They were greeted by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire, who led a two-minute silence at 11am on Saturday.

After the ceremony, Charles and Camilla took time speaking to veterans from each Armed Forces service, and representatives from across the Commonwealth.

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The Prince of Wales chats with veterans on VJ Day (Oli Scarff/PA)

The Prince of Wales chats with veterans on VJ Day (Oli Scarff/PA)

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The Prince of Wales chats with veterans on VJ Day (Oli Scarff/PA)

Among them was Mervyn Thomas, 96, from Cornwall, who had flown 30 bombing sorties over Burma for the RAF, using US-built Liberators.

Mr Thomas recalled a “heavy-landing” in a Wellington bomber, which promptly “broke in half” on the airstrip earlier in the Second World War.

Turning to his time in the Far East, he said his unit at RAF Salbani had bombed Japanese supply dumps, bridges and railroads.

“We bombed the bridges flying at 300ft – including the Bridge over the River Kwai, then of course afterwards the British prisoners of war rebuilt it,” he said.

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The Prince of Wales (left) and the Duchess of Cornwall speak with a veteran (Oli Scarff/PA)

The Prince of Wales (left) and the Duchess of Cornwall speak with a veteran (Oli Scarff/PA)

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The Prince of Wales (left) and the Duchess of Cornwall speak with a veteran (Oli Scarff/PA)

“The weather was the worst part of it, with monsoons, and flying night-time.”

He praised the anniversary service, adding: “I think this has been a wonderful setting – I don’t think they could have done it any better, even without Covid-19.”

The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who read the Exhortation before the silence, which was followed by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flypast over the arboretum.

Charles and the duchess laid poppy posies and wreathes at the Kwai Railway Memorial, while veterans looked on from benches dotted around the memorial, to maintain social distancing.

Edward Woodward, a 97-year-old, who served in Burma, India and Malaya with the Royal Corps of Signals, caused mirth after asking the royals to guess what was the most sought-after item in their air-dropped rations.

“Toilet paper,” he told the prince and duchess.

After meeting the royals, the former electrician from Kings Norton, Birmingham, said: “That had them laughing.”

He also shared how he caught dengue fever on arrival in India, which laid him low for two days.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

And while shipping out to India in a troop convoy aboard the requisitioned ocean liner Britannic, the engines broke down and its escort had to leave them alone off the coast of West Africa.

“There were 1,000 pairs of eyes aboard ship watching the water for submarine periscopes, while they did the repairs,” he said.

“But the Germans must have been asleep that day.”

Mr Woodward said he found out about the Japanese surrender just as he was preparing to wade ashore in Malaya (now the area including Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula) alongside a unit of Gurkhas, in the first wave of what was expected to be a heavily-fought beach landing.

He said despite the timely withdrawal of the Japanese, he and his colleagues found themselves facing another adversary – quicksand.

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The Prince of Wales delivering a speech on VJ Day (Oli Scarff/PA)

The Prince of Wales delivering a speech on VJ Day (Oli Scarff/PA)

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The Prince of Wales delivering a speech on VJ Day (Oli Scarff/PA)

“The Japanese had packed up, and we found out right before which was good news as I was supposed to be going in first with some Gurkhas,” he said.

“But we landed in quicksand and we had to try and wade through it – thankfully somebody must have remembered where we were, and they came to find us, otherwise we’d have been stuck.”

Richard Day, 93, from Boreham Wood, north London, was involved in the decisive Battle of Kohima in north-east India, which marked a turning point in the Far East land campaign.

Mr Day, of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, served in the forces which relieved Kohima and Imphal and told of how he contracted malaria and dysentery at the same time, while fighting a highly determined enemy.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to guests at the national service of remembrance on VJ Day (Peter Byrne/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to guests at the national service of remembrance on VJ Day (Peter Byrne/PA)

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to guests at the national service of remembrance on VJ Day (Peter Byrne/PA)

He said: “What can one say about it; the noise, the shouting the screaming, people laying about wounded and you can’t do anything about it.”

Mr Day said the VJ Day ceremony was an important act of “remembrance for the people that didn’t make it”.

However, the surrender of Imperial Japan that signalled the end of the Second World War did not mean an immediate homecoming for many troops, like Mr Day.

Having shipped out to the Far East in 1944, he would not return home until Boxing Day in 1947.

In a speech dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of Allied and Commonwealth personnel who fought and died in the campaign, Charles said: “All too often those who served in the Far East have been labelled The Forgotten Army, in a forgotten war.

“Many of the soldiers, nurses and other personnel felt anger and disappointment at how they were treated when they finally returned home from a war which, from the public’s point of view, had ended on May 8 1945.”

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