Today, August 15th marks the 74th anniversary of the announcement that Japan had surrendered to the Allies in 1945 - ending nearly six years of the Second World War. The day is known as 'Victory in Japan Day' or 'VJ Day' celebrating peace and commemorating all those who fought and lost their lives - around 52,000 Britons died including 12,000 prisoners of war.
The signing of the surrender document wasn't to occur until 2nd September 1945 bringing an official end to the conflict.
The King, in his broadcast on 15th August 1945, Victory over Japan (VJ) Day said:
"Three months have passed since I asked you to join with me in an act of thanksgiving for the defeat of Germany."
"We then rejoiced that peace had returned to Europe, but we knew that a strong and relentless enemy still remained to be conquered in Asia. None could then tell how long or how heavy would prove the struggle that still awaited us."
"Japan has surrendered, so let us join in thanking Almighty God that war has ended throughout the world, and that in every country men may now turn their industry, skill, and science to repairing its frightful devastation and to building prosperity and happiness."
"Our sense of deliverance is overpowering, and with it all, we have a right to feel that we have done our duty."
"I ask you again at this solemn hour to remember all who have laid down their lives, and all who have endured the loss of those they love. Remember, too, the sufferings of those who fell into the hands of the enemy, whether as prisoners of war or because their homes had been overrun. They have been in our thoughts all through these dark years, and let us pray that one result of the defeat of Japan may be many happy reunions of those who have been long separated from each other."
"The campaigns in the Far East will be famous in history for many reasons. There is one feature of them which is a special source of pride to me, and also to you, the citizens of our British Commonwealth and Empire to whom I speak. In those campaigns there have fought, side by side with our allies, representatives of almost every unit in our great community - men from the Old Country, men from the Dominions, from India, and the Colonies. They fought in brotherhood; through their courage and endurance they conquered. To all of them and to the women who shared with them the hardships and dangers of war I send my proud and grateful thanks."
Historic buildings all over London were floodlit and people crowded onto the streets of every town and city shouting, singing, dancing, lighting bonfires and letting off fireworks.
But there were no celebrations in Japan – At noon on 15th August, the people of Japan heard for the very first time the voice of their divine Emperor, who put the good of his country above the degradation of personal disgrace. While German’s war had been lost on the battlefield, and the rebellion of the troops had provoked ultimate surrender, in this case the decision came from the top. ‘Images of War 1939-1945’, issue 51, quotes the Emperor as saying, “To avoid further bloodshed and perhaps even the total extinction of human civilisation, we shall have to endure the unendurable and suffer the insufferable.” The Emperor’s word was law. The Japanese war was over, and on 2nd September 1945, the formal documents were signed aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Unconditional surrender was declared after the loss of over 20 million lives in the Far East.
During the course of the Second World War, over 140,000 Allied soldiers were captured by the Armed Forces of the Empire of Japan. These men were kept in barbaric conditions, utilised as forced labour, tortured for information and used for medical experiments. Japan, while a signatory of the 1929 Geneva Convention, never ratified it and thus ignored it. Treatment of Allied prisoners was so poor that over 30,000 died in captivity. Many of the guards responsible were subsequently tried for war crimes.
Immortalised in films such as “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) and “To End all Wars” (2001), there is no denying the significant impact that these events had and continue to have on survivors, veterans and their families. Indeed, Japanese War Crimes against Prisoners of War are often a hotly debated topic.
New of the Japanese surrender was the cause of great rejoicing throughout the world; but nowhere was it greater that in the enemy prison camps, for the men and women there it meant not only the end of the war but the end of a long term of hardship, humiliation and untold suffering.
Search ‘Prisoners of War of the Japanese 1939-1945’ collections from Forces War Records today and see who you could to add to your family tree.
Forces War Records understand that it can be hard to find information regarding Japanese Prisoner of War records so we’ve worked hard to provide a vast Japanese Prisoner of War database. The fully searchable database includes a list of World War II British Army prisoners of war (POW). They give the details not only of the prisoners who were released after Victory in Japan Day on 15th August 1945, but those who died in captivity.
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