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Gordon Highlanders and north east politicians back new VJ Day petition

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Many of the veterans and their families regard it as the Forgotten War – the conflict in Japan between 1941 and 1945 which led to the deaths of hundreds of troops.

The Gordon Highlanders were among the worst affected, with more than 300 of the regiment perishing in PoW camps, where their Japanese captors ignored the tenets of the Geneva Convention.

And now, almost 75 years after the end of the hostilities, north-east military and political figures have backed a new petition calling on VJ Day – August 15 – when the Japanese surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, to become a national day of commemoration for those who fell on and off the battlefield.

The petition has already attracted more than 7,000 of the 10,000 signatures required to ensure the issue is debated at Westminster.

It has also gained support from figures across the political divide.

Aberdeen SNP councillor John Cooke said: “I am very sympathetic to the idea of a commemoration of VJ Day. World War Two was a global conflict – there’s a clue in the name – so it does seem logical that we should mark the end of that terrible war in the East, as well as marking VE Day and other anniversaries.

“Slim’s Fourteenth Army, of which the Gordons and several other Scottish regiments were a part, referred to themselves as The Forgotten Army, because of the lack of contemporary media coverage they got compared to troops in other theatres of war.

“If we don’t mark VJ Day, we are compounding that lack of recognition 75 years later.”

North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “The Gordon Highlanders suffered terrible losses in Japan, and yet their troops constantly displayed outstanding heroism in often awful circumstances.

“It’s only fitting that we remember the sacrifices they made and a commemoration of VJ Day is no more than they and their families deserve.”

Corporal Willie Gray arrived back in Aberdeen with his duck, Donald. Pic: Gordon Highlanders Museum.

Stewart Mitchell, who works as a historian at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen, wrote a book about the subject, Scattered under the Rising Sun.

He said: “The Far East PoWs have long felt that their sacrifice was not fully recognised but they were not the only members of our armed forces who fought the Japanese. After their early victories in South East Asia, the Japanese turned their attention to the conquest of India, attacking through Burma.

“There were two units of Gordon Highlanders in this campaign. They were the 100th (Gordon Highlanders) anti-tank regiment – Royal Artillery, formed from the 8th Battalion, and the 116th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders) – Royal Armoured Corps, formed from the 9th Battalion.

“The fighting in Burma was brutal with all British servicemen severely challenged by the atrocious weather conditions in the malaria-ridden jungle, where the Japanese were experts in building concealed defences.

“Just under 70 Gordon Highlanders died in the battle for Singapore, but almost five times that number – more than 300 – Gordon Highlanders died during their captivity, the majority losing their lives on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway or drowning, on their voyage to Japan, in overcrowded ‘hellships’, torpedoed by American submarines whose captains had no idea the ships were carrying Allied prisoners of war.

“The recognition of the final victory over Japan would be a fitting memorial to all the brave men and women who served their country in the Pacific War.

“It seems only right that VJ Day should be elevated to a similar status.”

The petition, created by author Ellie Taylor, states: “More than 50,000 UK servicemen were held as Japanese prisoners of war in South East Asia between 1941 and 1945, of whom 25% were either killed or died during captivity.

“With few survivors now left, this conflict is fast disappearing from living memory. These brave men felt cruelly overlooked upon their repatriation and beyond, and a national day of commemoration would go some way to putting that right.”

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