Civic services in Thanet marked the 75th anniversary of VJ Day yesterday (August 15) – Victory over Japan Day marking the end of all hostilities in the Second World War. Peace arrived in Europe in May 1945 but those fighting in the Far East continued until Japan’s surrender in the wake of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.
St Saviour’s report by Dr Dawn Crouch
At St Saviour’s Westgate-on-Sea just before 11am Christine Attwood, church warden of St Saviour’s church and I, Hon. Freeman of Westgate-on-Sea, met in St Saviour’s Church to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VJ Day and to remember the men from Westgate, who had fought in the Far East in the Second World War. It was also for me the opportunity to honour a pledge I had made 15 years earlier to Jack Stokes, a Royal Naval veteran – that those who had fought so far away should not be allowed to be forgotten.
Jack was a Westgate man, born and raised, who lived here for most of his long life, except for the 30 years in which he served his country in the Royal Navy. In 1945 he was a Petty Officer Gunnery Instructor serving with the British Pacific Fleet on the destroyer HMS Whirlwind.
When the nation was celebrating Victory in Europe in May 1945, they were still far away, with their ship prepared that day for attack from the Japanese, as they waited wearing their anti flash gear and with hatches battened down.
They felt forgotten, he said. I vowed then that, as long as I was able, I would see that such as he were not forgotten.
In August 1945 he was still in the Pacific on VJ Day, when they heard the news of the Japanese surrender. “My first thought was I’m alive”, he said. That was a thought echoed by all of us who were alive to see that day, when war was finally over.
Christine has had much to do in recent years with veterans’ associations here in Thanet and had met men who had served in Burma and other places in the Far East, who had also felt they had been the forgotten army.
So, we came together, representing the Town and the Parish Church, to honour that pledge, to give thanks – I for my own survival of that war – and to remember. We remembered all those who have fought and died in the cause of freedom, justice and peace and but especially the men from Westgate who fought in the Far East and on the Pacific Ocean.
We remembered with pride and thanksgiving all those who lost their lives in battle in the terrible conditions of jungle warfare and those who died in the notorious Japanese Prisoner of War Camps and, from Westgate we remembered especially Colin Hambidge and Frederick Clark
There were only five people in the church – all socially distanced and masked. We were fortunate that one of them was Aidan, who is responsible for streaming the church services on Sunday mornings at present, with his equipment, which included a recording of the Last Post and Reveille and so we were able to remember with dignity and respect.
Christine and I lit candles and then stood one at each end of the brass plaque bearing the names of those who had died in the Second World War and in a subsequent conflict.
Today that plaque is underneath a Cross of Blessing donated in 2005 by the Friends of St Saviour’s to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.
We read our tributes and followed them by the Exhortation and the Kohima Epitaph. The Last Post was sounded, the two minutes’ silence kept and Reveille brought it to an end.
In Margate a service was held at the Trinity Square war memorial, attended by Margate Mayor Mick Tomlinson, Mayoress Shirley Tomlinson, dignitaries and veterans.
A banner creation has also been made by Cliffsend resident Beryl Harrison and is due to be displayed outside her home in Beech Grove.
The banner is 11ft 6’ long and 7ft tall and includes an epitaph, Burma Star and figures of sea, air and land forces. There is also an old wooden gas rattle used by the ARP wardens to warn of a gas attack which has been signed by wartime sweetheart Vera Lynn. Beryl met Vera several times prior to the singer’s death in June.
Beryl, 80, said: “I am not an artist but I like making things. It is my tribute to all those who lost their lives. We must never forget those we have lost.”