Today is the 70th anniversary of the Victory over Japan – VJ Day 1945.
At the time there was a mixture of feelings; joy, relief, hope, but also grief after six years of so much pain and sacrifice.
Accounts of conditions in Japanese prisoner of war camps featured prominently in the Lynn News and Advertiser as local men returned home and were interviewed.
Gunner Andrew Searle, of Flitcham, was one of those captured in Singapore in January, 1942.
He was photographed and the caption read: “He is lean and yellow, caused by the mepacrine all returning ex-prisoners-of-war have to take to suppress malaria, but fairly fit after three-and-a-half years in Far East prison camps.”
Gnr Searle told the paper: “Most atrocities took place during the building of the railroad in Siam. The public have been led to believe – wrongly – that conditions were atrocious the whole time.”
He spent the first eight months at Changi in Malaya, but later 27,000 prisoners from that camp were crammed into buildings built for 600 when they refused to sign a document promising not to escape. They finally gave in after diphtheria and dysentery broke out.
“We were sent to work on the Siam railway and that next year was the worst of my captivity. The Japs were fanatical about the railway, saying it must go through no matter how many prisoners died.
“Cholera broke out, resulting in thousands of deaths. Owing to the bad food many prisoners had ulcers on their legs and one Australian doctor was performing four amputations a day with a hack saw.”
Pte Stanley Church, of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, returned to his home at the Hob in the Well pub in Lynn and spoke to the Lynn News and Advertiser in November.
He was put to work on the railway in Thailand when he was first captured. He lived on seaweed, silkworms and snakes, suffering from beri-beri, ulcers and malaria.
In 1944 he and other prisoners were taken to Japan on board a cargo boat and were put to work building a dam and a factory until the end of the war. The food was not good, but their health improved because they were not in such a hot climate.
Pte Church added: “The Japanese were a bad lot except for one man named Sayonara. He was a soldier who had lost an arm fighting in China and was on the administrative staff of the camp in Japan. He was a great friend to us and everyone liked him. He always said when the prisoners were happy he was happy.
“He brought us tea when he could and told us not to tell anyone about it.”
The first Terrington St Clement man to arrive home was Pte William (Billy) Gower of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. His family decked out the house with flags and coloured electric lights.
He had been injured during the fall of Singapore and taken to hospital – which was shelled and he sustained burns to his face and hands.
As a POW at various camps he had to carry out fatigue duties for the Japanese army, was later set to work on the Siam to Burma railway, then at Singapore docks and finally at Saigon docks.
Pte Arthur Steward, of the 6th Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment, said that he and many pals worked 18 hours a day helping to build the railway from Bangkok to Moulmin, a distance of 250 miles.
He added: “For a year-and-a half I had no boots and very little clothing. Soap was a thing of the past. The food consisted of rice or water stew; leaves from hedges were often gathered and cooked.”
Pte Harry Hammond, 5th Royal Norfolks, reached his home at Harpley in October. He stated that he had received “very particular instructions to reveal nothing for publication”.
Pte George Sainty, Royal Norfolk Regiment, of Losinga Road, Lynn, said the food situation had been very bad and they received only one Red Cross parcel throughout their captivity. “We even ate monkeys. They are a bit tough, but they are quite good to eat.”
Cpl Trevor Jones, RAF, of Heacham, was taken prisoner in Java in March 1942. He said: “Throughout captivity the men were always receiving news by secret radio. We had a good idea of what was going on all the way through, but it still came as a great surprise at the end when we realised it was all over. The atomic bombs in Japan saved the lives of most prisoners.”
Pte Leonard Brown, 5th Royal Norfolks, of Priory Road, Downham, spent his time as a prisoner in Japan itself. A fortnight after the end of the war, American and Australian troops reached his camp and they left for Nagasaki, embarking on an aircraft carrier.
He said: “Nagasaki, where one of the atom bombs was dropped was knocked absolutely flat. There were practically no buildings left intact.”
Just before Christmas 1945, a victory dinner for 400 Lynn servicemen was held at Lynn Corn Hall through the generosity of Mr and Mrs Ben Culey, of Lynn.