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VJ Day 15th August 2021 - Skegness War Memorial

The war in South East Asia is so often referred to as the 'Forgotten War'. For most people it was the war in Europe that made the headlines (and the movies). When on May 8th 1945 the World War 2 allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler's Third Reich celebrations erupted throughout the Western world. From Moscow to New York, people cheered. In the UK more than one million people celebrated in the streets to mark the end of the European part of the war.

However, even after hostilities in Europe came to an end the war in South East Asia against Japan continued for several more months. Britain had declared war on Japan on December 8th 1941, the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, when the Japanese invaded Burma from bases in Thailand.

The Battle of Kohima was the vital turning point of the Japanese offensive into India. The garrison was continually shelled and mortared and was slowly driven into a small perimeter on Garrison Hill. Some of the heaviest fighting took place at the north end of Kohima Ridge, around the Deputy Commissioner's bungalow and tennis court. The tennis court became a no man's land, with the Japanese and the defenders of Kohima dug in on opposite sides, so close to each other that grenades were thrown between the trenches. The Japanese finally withdrew from Kohima on June 22nd 1945 some three months after their initial attack on the town.

Elsewhere the Allies continued to push against the Japanese who were in retreat almost everywhere. They recaptured the Burma Road and moved on to Mandalay, which fell in March 1945, and then to Rangoon in the south. The Japanese forces were, by now, cut off from each other and continued only sporadic fighting.

On August 6th and 9th 1945, the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. On the 9th August the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Then on August 10th the Japanese government communicated its intention to surrender. Then on August 14th President Harry S Truman announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally. On August 15th Japan's Emperor Hirohiti broadcast the surrender to the Japanese people on Radio Tokyo.

In 1944 Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten had addressed a press conference which he ended with the words; "I am proud of the gallant fighting which has taken place on all fronts in the Burma Campaign and I hope that my statement may make the people who read it proud of the achievements of their own countrymen and grateful to their Allies who helped them in these achievements."

We are today commemorating the 76th anniversary of Victory in Japan still proud of the achievements of all who fought. Sadly the ranks of those who actually served in the Far East during World War 2 are depleting at an ever increasing rate and the Burma Star Association has lost many members and seen many branches close including Skegness, although it continues under the wing of the British Legion.

But this is no reason to cease the practice of remembering the great sacrifices made in past years by so many. This dedication to Remembrance is all the more important because the campaign in the Far East, and in particular in Burma, has been called the "forgotten theatre" of World War II. Indeed those who fought there were once referred to as the Forgotten Army.

And remember the impressive results achieved by the 'Forgotten Army' were not secured without heavy casualties. Allied forces in 1944 alone suffered 10,000 killed: 2,000 missing and 27,000 wounded.

Those who fought there would never forget the hell it was. Intense extremes of cold and heat, rainfall as great as anywhere on earth, swamps which were the breeding ground for the malaria mosquito, jungles so thick that whole armies could pass each other without noticing, and wide and turbulent rivers that were almost impassable!

Our being here today goes some way to acknowledging the sacrifice, not only of those who never returned, but of those who have had to live with the terror ever since. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve the ultimate life.

And I am able to tell you that they have received the Ultimate Life; an eternity of peace and love with God, and one day my friends we will share that eternity with those we have loved and lost, for it is God's promise.

Here in Skegness at the height of the Summer Season we are a long way from the terrifying killing fields of Burma and the Far East. Indeed not just distance but also time separates us from horrors of World War II and from the lawn tennis court in Kohima.

But for those who were there and who gather today to remember with gratitude those who fought an intense and ferocious rearguard battle, indeed for all who fought in the Burma Campaign, for those who were there neither time nor distance can erode the memories of the military successes or the comrades who fell nor the valiant deeds that were then part of everyday life.

But let us also remember their legacy to us. Let us embrace Peace.

Jesus said; "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

My dear friends, For every soldier, seaman, airman, and nurse, whether man or woman, who suffers or dies in the pursuit of peace there awaits an eternity of peace.

As the years go by we continue to remember all who have made the ultimate sacrifice knowing that even for the "Forgotten Army" the memory of their sacrifice lives on in our hearts.

Men who were in Burma, we are gathered today standing still together for your special day. For we know that for our tomorrow you gave your today. Amen

 

 Rev Ian Banks

Chaplain - Burma Star Association, Skegness Branch.