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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August 2005, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Memories shine for Forgotten Army
By Martha Buckley
BBC News

The Duke of Edinburgh arrives at the Imperial War Museum
The Duke of Edinburgh was guest of honour at the commemoration
They are known as the Forgotten Army but for the scores of veterans who turned out in the sunshine to celebrate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day, the memories were as clear as if they had happened yesterday.

Resplendent in their rows of medals and smart regimental hats and blazers, they made a striking sight in the gardens of London's Imperial War Museum, where they gathered to mark the anniversary of the end of hostilities in the Pacific - and the real end of World War II.

Months after VE Day brought the fighting to a close in Europe, these men and women were still battling on in the Far East, or labouring in Japan's prisoner of war camps, until the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima finally brought their war to a close.

Of those who suffered as prisoners of war, many remain angry that they have not received what they see as a "meaningful" apology from Japan.

VJ veterans reminisce

Others worry their harrowing experiences are being forgotten, overshadowed by those who fought closer to home.

Despite these concerns, there was a relaxed mood among those who gathered at the museum, with most enjoying meeting old friends and happy to recount their experiences to a mass of reporters and television crews.

The veterans were entertained by the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas, complete with traditional dancers.

The guest of honour was the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, himself a Far East veteran as well as patron of the Burma Star Association.

Most of the time I think to myself, 'Gosh, John, you're damned lucky to be here - you're 82 and you're still here
John Nunneley

Actress Joanna Lumley, whose late father served in the Far East was also present, as were forces sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn, Countess Mountbatten of Burma and Lord Wetherill, former speaker of the House of Lords, who also served in Burma.

Among the veterans was John Westlake, 82, who served with the army in Burma.

He said: "It's great to be here. As for VJ Day itself I didn't believe it until I saw it. We really didn't know if the Japanese Army might disobey the order of the Japanese emperor and carry on fighting, but in fact they didn't.

"Of course we were very pleased and I don't mind telling you we got well drunk. It seemed like the right thing to do.

John Nenneley
John Nunneley shows off a Union Jack re-captured from the Japanese

"I've no feelings about it now really. It's too many years ago to still have any real hate, if there ever was hate.

"The ordinary Japanese chap was a soldier doing his duty. He fought for his country. He was wrong but it wasn't his fault."

For many of the veterans, almost all now in their 80s, it is still a matter of amazement that they survived the war at all - let alone lived to see the 21st Century.

John Nunneley, 82, from Surrey, brought to the commemoration a Union Jack flag brought back from the Far East 60 years ago as a souvenir.

He said the flag, scarred with bullet holes, had been captured by the Japanese in February 1943 in Singapore but that he had managed to recapture it in Burma two and a half years later.

The Japanese officer who had taken it had written the name and date of its capture on it in Japanese characters.

Band of the Brigade of Gurjhas
The Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas provided the entertainment

He said: "It came back slightly scarred. I think the officer had been using it as a blanket, and I used it myself as a blanket in my foxhole in the jungle. It was very comfortable.

"It's absolutely marvellous to be here today. I see it as a celebration and a commemoration. It's an opportunity to remember all the people I knew who didn't survive."

He added: "Most of the time I think to myself, 'Gosh, John, you're damned lucky to be here - you're 82 and you're still here.'"

Arthur Titherington, chairman of the Japanese Labour Camps Survivors Association, ended the war weighing just five and a half stone after three "horrendous" years as a Japanese prisoner of war in Taiwan.

The 84-year-old has been campaigning for years for compensation and an apology for former POWs from the Japanese government.

That's the one thing I can't forgive the Japanese for - they took my girl-chasing years away from me
Arthur Titherington

He said: "I'm still very unhappy that we haven't had a meaningful apology. They used the wrong words, and they know it too."

But he says: "Having travelled to and from Japan as I have and I do have some Japanese friends, I don't feel anything any more.

"I was 20 years old two days after Pearl Harbour and I was nearly 24 when I got home. That's the one thing I can't forgive the Japanese for - they took my girl-chasing years away from me!"


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