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‘70 years on, I still have nightmares’: War veterans remember VJ Day

PUBLISHED: 09:00 11 September 2015

Service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VJ Day.

Service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VJ Day.

Archant

WORLD War Two veterans from across Weston and North Somerset gathered last week to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied forces’ victory over Japan (VJ Day) on August 15, 1945 – and Mercury reporter Grace Earl joined them to hear their experiences.

John Thorn. John Thorn.

“WE WERE young men and we should not have been put through it.”

These are the words of 92-year-old World War Two veteran Peter Garrett, who was one of many former servicemen who gathered at a Weston church last Wednesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied forces’ victory over Japan (VJ Day) on August 15, 1945.

A service, organised by North Somerset Council, was held at St Paul’s Church in Walliscote Road in honour of the victory and its ‘forgotten army’ of veterans who, like Peter, had served in the Far East.

Peter spent much of his wartime service in Asia and was en route to Hong Kong on the morning of August 6, 1945, when his unit learned the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

He credits the bombing with saving his life.

Peter said: “If they had not dropped the bomb I would not be here.

Douglas Burford Douglas Burford

“We were on our way to Hong Kong and made it to the Admiralty Islands when we learned what had happened. We did not even know what an atomic bomb was.

“But if we had gone up to Hong Kong we would have been blown out of the water.”

Winscombe resident Peter said he had been affected by witnessing ‘atrocities’ carried out by Japanese forces during the war.

He explained: “One of my strongest memories is of those atrocities the Japanese committed. You would have had nightmares about what they did to women – I still get nightmares now after all this time.

“But life is an adventure and if you base your life on love and forgiveness, you will be alright.”

One of the service’s highlights was a speech given by Douglas Burford, who served in the Royal Engineers in Burma and was involved in the defence of the Kohima garrison.

Peter Garrett. Peter Garrett.

More than 4,000 British officers were killed defending Kohima but, according to Douglas, it is a conflict which people know very little about.

He said: “Nobody knows about Kohima, even though it was recognised as being the turning point of the war in the Far East.

“When we arrived there, it was the monsoon season and it made movement very hard, especially as we had very little transport. Bridges were broken and everything had been destroyed – we had to fix it all.

“But it was 72 years ago and being here today has been wonderful.”

Another veteran who attended the service was John Thorn, of Ashcombe Road.

John, now aged 92, was just 17 when he joined the Royal Air Force. He went on to become a Spitfire pilot and was almost killed by friendly fire during the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

He said: “We used to take off at dawn each day and fly up and down between Calais and Holland. The idea was to persuade the Germans we were going to invade here and we saved hundreds of lives through doing it.

“But on D-Day, we had not been told anything was happening.

“I flew up and down and did my usual run, and suddenly I saw lots of boats in the sea. As I got closer all the big guns started facing across into France, so I had to dart up into the sky to avoid being hit by friendly fire.

“When I got back to the English coast a Navy cruiser was going into Portsmouth Harbour, and he started firing up at me. I got shot four inches behind my seat but luckily I landed safely at our base in Tangmere, near Bognor Regis.

“Behind my seat there were one-inch bullet holes all the way to the tail of the plane. I never flew again after that. I was incredibly lucky not to be wounded once during the war.”

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