Remembering VJ Day, 75 years on
Saturday 15 August 2020 was the 75th anniversary of VJ Day in the UK, marking Victory in Japan at the end of the Second World War.
With celebrations often centred around VE Day earlier in the year, this period of the Second World War is sometimes overlooked, but it is important to remember that the war between the Allied Forces and Japan continued until August. In fact, on VE Day in 1945, Churchill reminded the British public that the country should ‘not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead’ and for many people this certainly proved to be true.
Troops from the Suffolk Regiment served across the Far East including in the Razmak District of Pakistan, Burma, and Singapore, as well as in Europe and Africa. It was following the loss of Singapore in February 1942 that the 4th and 5th Battalions spent three and half years as Prisoners-of-War, initially in the infamous Changi Jail, then constructing the Burma to Thailand Railway.
The team at Suffolk Archives put together a special online exhibition marking VJ Day, exploring the stories of two Suffolk men who were taken prisoner in the Far East, Able Seaman Harold Lock and Private Raymond Suttle, from the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, as well as looking at the way our county marked the end of the Second World War.
After the battleship Harold Lock was serving on was sunk by a mine, he spent three years as a Prisoner-of-War. He survived and was able to return home to Sudbury, where he lived until his death in 2017, aged 93. 40 years after the end of the war, Harold wrote The Forgotten Men, a memoire of his experiences. This publication led to the formation of the South Suffolk Far East Prisoner of War Association.
Raymond Suttle spent nearly two years as a Japanese Prisoner-of-War, being transferred between different camps before his death in 1943, aged just 23. His story is particularly harrowing and has been uncovered thanks to both a series of secret diaries, kept by a doctor who acted as chief medical officer in the prison camps he was confined in, and records from the trial for war crimes of the commandant of Muroran, which was the final camp Raymond was transferred to.
The Suffolk Archives display also features a digitised version of a 1944 War Office handbook explaining the challenges of contacting and supporting POWs in the Far East, and a series of extracts showing how VJ Day activities across Suffolk were reported in local newspapers.
The development of online displays such as this has been made possible thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, aimed at increasing use and understanding of the archives through a series of countywide initiatives.
Councillor Paul West, Portfolio Holder for Heritage, said; “We hope that this new display will help people to remember and recognise those Allied Forces who served in the Far East, and in particular those who were imprisoned or who lost their lives. Not only did the Allied Forces have to contend with the War itself but also faced the menace of deadly and unfamiliar tropical diseases as well high temperatures, high humidity and monsoons. Seventy-five years on it is important to look back and realise what a difficult time it was for so many.”
The Suffolk Archives display complements a programme of activity developed by the Royal British Legion to mark the occasion.