The other day, I blogged some pictures of the Holocaust and commented how we must never forget this part of history.
I’d like to add to this. On 15th May 1945, Japan official surrendered and ended the second world war. We celebrate this day as VJ day. This moment in time may not be as famous to us in Britain as VE day, but it is just as significant in our history and the sacrifice on the par with the European soldiers.
A few figures for you (courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London):
The Japanese captured 190,000 Allied PoWs
50,016 of these were from the UK
12,433 UK PoWs were killed or died in Japanese captivity
100,000 British troops fought in the Burma Campaign between 1941 and 1945
More than three million Japanese died
During the war in the Pacific, the Japanese were famous for total ruthlessness in battle and towards their captives. This can be put down to the Japanese culture of surrender being dishonourable (just what I’ve heard). However, the fact remains that PoW’s held in camps in Thailand and Burma (and others) were treated as sub-humans, brutally beaten and starved. Due to the tropical climate, disease was rife in the camps and little or nothing was done.
Two emancipated soldiers liberated from a prison camp on Formosa, November 1945
PoW being executed at a prison camp
My mother told me of a story: One of her uncles (Billy) fought during the war based in Burma. According to him, his troop used to reccy through the jungle in single file due to the undergrowth and, as a precaution, they would tie a rope around themselves and use it as a guide to know no one got lost. One day, Billy’s friend was bringing up the rear of the column. when they got back to camp, he was no longer there. They went back into the jungle to find him. They found him dead, nailed to a tree. The Japanese had cut the rope and took him from the back of the column without anyone realising.
Here is a piece by the BBC on the Forgotten Army. The effects of these prison camps became real to me when I tried speaking to an ex-PoW who my mum looked after for my school homework. He refused to speak of it. All he would tell me is that not one night has gone by in 50 years (when I spoke to him) where he has had a full nights sleep. Every night he has woken up suffering nightmares and will never forget. He passed away last year, still never having a peaceful nights sleep.
During the japanese occupation, they used forced labour to construct a railway from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma. This railway ran for 258 miles through tropical jungles. About 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied POWs worked on the railway. Of these, around 90,000 Asian labourers and 16,000 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians. this railway became know as The Death Railway
My point of this is simple and ties in with my Holocaust post: we must study this, learn and evolve. We can never go back to treating people the way these PoW’s were treated. War is not acceptable. Diplomacy is the only way this world can become what we all want: a peaceful place were all can live together.
*I’d just like to point out that I am in no way against Japanese or Germans. The sins of the father can NEVER be put on the sons and daughters.