The 75th Anniversary of VJ Day

After six years of fighting, with three of those against Japan, VJ Day would finally mark the end of World War II...

August 15 marks 75 years since Japan’s initial surrender in World War II, effectively bringing the six-year conflict to an end. Although the official documentation was not signed until September 2, the announcement of Japan’s surrender initiated great displays of celebration across the world. The United Kingdom and its allies rejoiced as they learned of the end of the war, and the imminent return of their loved ones who had still been involved in the bitter fight in the Far East.

It was the British Fourteenth Army – made up of units from all the Commonwealth states – who had become responsible for operations against the Japanese during the war. They were the main fighting force within SEAC (South East Asia Command). It was their involvement in the Burma Campaign that particularly earned this army their stripes. Referred to as the ‘Forgotten Army’ by many due to the lack of cover by the contemporary press, they mounted the main offensive in Burma from December 1941 until the all-important surrender of Japan in August 1945. Although not the only campaign between the British and Imperial forces during World War II, it was the longest, spanning the entire course of Japan’s involvement in the war.

Field Marshal Sir William Slim
Field Marshal Sir William Slim, General Officer Commanding Fourteenth Army in Burma, 5 March 1945. Source: WikiMedia Commons

British, Commonwealth and Allied forces had fought across a vast area in the Asia-Pacific Region for a long time in order to bring the war against Imperial Japan to an end. Thousands of ground crew, aircrew and pilots from the RAF – together with the Indian Air Force – had played a vital role in supporting the Fourteenth Army’s operations in the offensive. Even the people of the hills through which the armies trekked supported the war effort, offering practical assistance such as carrying out casualties. Some even fought directly, despite having no training and little equipment.

It was President Harry S. Truman who announced the surrender of Japan. Following the dropping off the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he addressed the nation with the news: “This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbour.” Also confirming the news to his own people, British Prime Minister Clement Atlee took to the wireless at midnight. His broadcasted message informed the British people that, “The last of our enemies is laid low.” Special thanks were given to all of Britain’s allies in New Zealand, India, Burma, Australia and particularly the United States. Atlee would commend the dedicated efforts of the US, “without whose prodigious efforts the war in the East would still have many years to run.”

In celebration of the news, buildings across London would be floodlit. Throughout the streets of every town and city, people crowded in order to shout, dance, sing and let off fireworks. VJ Day marked not only the end of the war, but the beginning of the world’s efforts to rebuild itself.

Fourteenth Army War Memorial
Fourteenth Army War Memorial. Source: Steve Daniels / WikiMedia Commons