Sunderland remembers fallen heroes 70 years after VJ Day

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Prisoner of war survivor Len Gibson says he was touched by Sunderland’s tribute to VJ Day.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war with Japan, a service was held at the War Memorial in Burdon Road.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

Mr Gibson, 95, from West Herrington, was among those to lay a wreath. He was a member of the 125 Anti-tank Regiment that was captured at the fall of Singapore and used as slave labour on the infamous Burma Death Railway.

Speaking to the Echo, he said: “In a way I was pleased that so many people turned up, but in a way disappointed that not so many turned up.

“I’m one of the only veterans able to walk. The rest are either too ill or have died.”

He added: “Until last week I didn’t think we were doing anything for VJ Day, I thought it had been forgotten about. In the war we were known as the ‘forgotten army’. People would concentrate on what was happening in Europe and forgot about the Far East.”

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

Talking about how many people in Sunderland were affected by WWII, he said: “When you think nearly 500 men in the 125 Tank Regiment were from Sunderland. And when you think of how many relatives, near relatives and neighbours they had, there were hardly any families that were not touched by the war.”

Len was one of the few Japanese prisoners of war to return home to Wearside.

Recalling that day, he said: “At the time I lived in Millfield. All the neighbours had put bunting in the street, it was marvellous. There was a home-coming service in the old Town Hall. I remember seeing my father and as I went to shake his hand a woman ran up and hugged me. I had to ask who it was, and it was one of my sisters. I had been away for four years and they had grown from schoolgirls to young women.”

Deputy Mayor of Sunderland, coun Alan Emerson, led the commemoration, while the Mayor’s chaplain, Father Oliver Keyes, offered a prayer.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

Graham Hall, from the Sunderland Armed Forces Network, who organised the event on behalf of the council, said: “This event marks 70 years of VJ Day, but every year is significant to those who served in the war, it serves to bring back memories of the sacrifices made.

“Sunderland has always been very supportive at events like that. It has the largest percentage of veterans per population than anywhere else in the country. There are 26,000 veterans in the city, of all ages, from 19 to 102.”

A further wreath of poppies was laid by Deputy Lieutenant for Tyne & Wear, Dr Norman Taylor.

Coun Emerson said: “It is hard now to imagine the hardship, danger and despair that the war in the Far East caused. For many months after the celebration of victory in Europe, Britain and its allies continued to engage with Japanese forces in the most hostile of jungle conditions. If taken prisoner the threat of cruelty, injury and death was ever present as many thousands of soldiers and civilians found to their cost.”

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.'POW Len Gibson

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.'POW Len Gibson

National VJ Day is celebrated annually across the country each year on August 14 to August 15. The official announcement of Japan’s surrender to the Allies during World War II was made at this time in 1945, and because of the time zone difference, both dates apply. On September 2, 1945, the signing of the surrender document occurred, which was the official ending of World War II.

The formal signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender took place on board of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. At that time President Truman declared September 2 to be the official VJ Day, however, over the years, many citizens of the United States have celebrated August 14 as the official VJ date.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.'Deputy Lord Lieutenant Dr Norman Taylor

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.'Deputy Lord Lieutenant Dr Norman Taylor

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.

VJ anniversary at Sunderland War Memorial.