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VJ Day: Haunting memories of those who came through

By Toby Neal | Nostalgia | Published:

Veteran John Hutchin, originally a private in the South Staffordshire Regiment, was in the front line when the atomic bomb was dropped.

John Hutchin today with his Tommy figure for the RBLI campaign

“I was horrified when I heard the news," he recalls.

"I knew the war was coming to an end – we had beaten them, we had driven them out. I would have fought another two years in the jungle if they hadn’t dropped the bomb. I thought it was a dreadful thing to do. Luckily no-one’s done it since."

John served in the famous Chindits and on one occasion, wounded, malnourished, and unable to travel, had to be left behind by his colleagues. With steely determination he managed to get to his feet and trek for four days and four nights through the Burmese jungle to safety.

His story is highlighted in a campaign launched today, VJ Day, by the charity Royal British Legion Industries.

Its "Tommy in the Window" campaign encourages members of the public to place a special edition engraved commemorative Tommy soldier figure in their windows in recognition of the thousands of men and women who continued the Far Eastern fight against Japan months after victory in Europe was declared.

John Hutchin was originally in the South Staffordshire Regiment

John is one of a dwindling number of living witnesses to the bitter conflict, which haunted survivors, particularly those who were taken prisoner by the Japanese and endured disease and terrible ill-treatment.

Among those to have told us their stories on past anniversaries was Corporal Tom Earp of Shrewsbury, who was a prisoner of war just outside Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city.

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"Everything shook. It was absolutely colossal. Then we saw a great big column of smoke with a massive canopy like a mushroom. The noise was horrendous," he was to recall, speaking in 1995, at the age of 75.

He had no idea what he was witnessing.

"We heard this tremendous explosion, which we thought was caused by American bombers dropping incendiary bombs. We hadn't a clue what it really was."

Ron Walker of Tipton was another for whom his experiences were forever branded in his memory. Serving in the RAF, Leading Aircraftsman Walker was 23 when he was captured in 1942.

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RAF man Ron Walker of Tipton was a Japanese prisoner of war.

By August 1945 he and his pals were weary and skeletal, and being forced to build defences at Singapore. Then came the news on hidden radio sets that it was all over.

"I'd come out to the Far East weighing 10st 11lb. When we were liberated I was 5st 10lb. I never expected to survive," he said.

"It is time to forgive, but I can never forget what the Japanese did to us."

John Pratt of Sedgley, an Army signaller, was one of tens of thousands captured at the Fall of Singapore in 1942, and was used as forced labour.

"Some days, all hope deserted you and you just wanted to die," he was to recount.

John Pratt from Sedgley

"I remember one night looking up into this immense tropical sky. The whole heavens were alive with planets and stars and somehow it restored some sort of faith to me. It made me think things weren't as desperate as they seemed to be."

It was not just those in uniform who suffered. Mrs Miki Harper of Copthorne, Shrewsbury, was only seven when she and her family were rounded up and sent to a Japanese internment camp in Sumatra. Her father was a government official. Miki spent three and a half years in a camp for women and children during which the worst aspect, she was to recall, was being separated from her father.

Life in the camp was dominated by the thought of food. Later they were taken to the island of Banka where the squalid conditions and scenes of brutality left an enduring mark on her.

When she found the war was over nobody was fit enough to celebrate. The real rejoicing came when the women and children were reunited with the men.

"Towards us shuffled a group of old men on sticks and crutches, limping and barefoot, bearded and dressed in tatters and rags. Amongst them all was my father. I'll never forget finding him in all that lot."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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