Although 8th May 1945 marked the end of hostilities in Europe, the conflict in the Far East was not over. Thousands of Allied Forces continued to fight in Asia and the Pacific, while many languished in Japanese Prisoner of War camps.
This included soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch who had been in Burma since March 1944. The Japanese invasion of Burma in 1941 posed a deadly threat to the British India where the 2nd Battalion arrived just as new tactics were being developed. In late 1943, the Battalion became part of the Chindits, men trained in jungle warfare, operating behind enemy lines and attacking Japanese supply routes.
Now deep into Burma, the men relied on aircraft to replenish their limited supplies and spent the next few months attacking Japanese forces in order to divert them from the frontline. In this intensely humid jungle setting, the soldiers lived off American K rations, which came in waxed paper, itself useful for starting fires in the wet jungle. Although highly calorific, if these rations were not supplemented with ordinary food the men suffered from diarrhoea and dysentery, which needed to be hidden underground in order to protect their position. This was also the case with cigarette butts which they pressed into the ground vertically to hide them.
Private Cochrane recounted that ‘all the mules had their vocal cords cut…so that they couldn’t make any noise, it was a terrible thing to do to the animals, but what was the alternative?’
Approximately 800 Black Watch soldiers went into the jungle in March 1944. When they were withdrawn, only 5 months later in August 1944, only two officers and 48 men were judged fit for duty. Many of the men were only able to eat soup, their stomachs having shrunk to such an extreme. Cochrane recalled that on arrival in Assam, their recuperation began with ‘blanket’ treatment ‘to acclimatise us back to eating usual rations, so we were given lots of chicken soup’.
Following the withdrawal of the Battalion that August, they were reinforced and were scheduled to take part in the planned invasion of Malaya in 1945. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th August respectively, following an ignored ultimatum from the Allied forces demanding Japan’s unconditional surrender on 26th July, brought the war to a sudden end. On the 15th August 1945, US President Harry S. Truman announced that the Japanese Government had agreed to surrender and calling it ‘Victory over Japan Day’. A two-day holiday was announced in the US, the UK and Australia and King George VI addressed the nation and the Empire from Buckingham Palace.
The Battalion war diary describes how the men celebrated:
‘Victory Day. To celebrate victory Wednesday and Thursday were announced as holidays. The Battalion celebrated by having a fun fair with elephant rides and pony racing and all sorts of side shows. Every man in the Battalion was issued with three bottles of beer. One half of the Battalion spent the evening at the Battalion concert which proved a great success while the other half held a sing-song.’
‘Battalion still celebrating, everyone in high spirits. Another issue of two bottles of beer per man.’
Throughout the world, celebrations marked the end of 6 years of conflict, and as on VE Day there were street parties, bonfires and fireworks. Following the signing of the peace treaty by the Japanese administration on 2nd September, the Allied forces stationed in western Europe paraded through Berlin. For the men still in Asia the wait was now on to get home.
Private Graves wrote, ‘… we settled down to our duties and in the afternoons education classes were started. Every day now the chaps who had been abroad a few years were going home and with the war over some were now on demobilisation… At the time of writing now we are getting into peace time routine every day. Plenty of spit, polish, drill parades and ceremonial guards.’
The end of the war in the Far East is often overshadowed by the surrender of Nazi Germany in May of that year. The memories and experiences of those soldiers who served there have not been forgotten and we continue to remember their sacrifices today.