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VJ Day 75th Anniversary Event

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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
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Millions watch UK's commemoration of VJ Day 75 years on
HRH the Prince of Wales was at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to lead the UK's national commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan. Prince Charles, accompanied by his wife, Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, attended the Arboretum at Alrewas, near Lichfield, for the remembrance ceremony which was screened live on BBC television from 9.30am on Saturday 15th August. The ceremony, which was also attended by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, civic dignitaries, serving military as well as about 40 World War Two veterans, culminated in the Prince of Wales addressing the gathering. Earlier, a televised two-minute silence was led by Mr Johnson shortly after 11am. The VJ Day 75th anniversary event, held in the Far East section of the Arboretum, was closed to the public, but relayed on a giant screen in the Naval Review section of the grounds, as well as on BBC1. The moving ceremony, which included music and readings, was hosted by actor Art Malik, whose father was a medic with the British Indian Army in Burma during the war.

National Memorial Arboretum, Art Malik
Actor Art Malik hosts the VJ Day 75 anniversary event at the National Memorial Arboretum

The remembrance service, which was hosted by the Royal British Legion, began with the Prime Minister laying a posy on the Burma Railway Memorial, which comprises a section of the 250-mile long railroad which British and other Allied prisoners of war were forced to work on. Mr Malik then spoke of the "tranquillity" of the Arboretum, and described the 150-acre site, which is the UK's centre of remembrance and a living tribute to those who have served and continue to serve, as "an extraordinary place". He went on to say: "We are honoured to be joined by veterans from both the British and Indian army here today", adding that today's generation gave thanks to the "bravery" and "sacrifices" that they made.

National Memorial Arboretum, HRH Prince Charles, HRH Duchess of Cornwall
HRH Prince Charles, with the Duchess of Cornwall, led the national commemoration

Throughout the service, poignant readings were given by veterans, civilian internees of the Japanese when Singapore and Burma were invaded, and the descendants of those who fought during World War Two. There were also a number of soldiers' accounts written during the conflict which were read out by serving military. Other readings and addresses were made by actress Shobna Gulati, Viscount Slim, the grandson of British commander Field Marshall William Slim, and Alice, the grand-daughter of Major General Ord Wingate, who commanded the Chindits in the Burma Campaign. Among the internees present was Jane Elgey, who was just 16 when she was detained.

National Memorial Arboretum, Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson signals the two minute silence

The veterans who attended the VJ Day 75 anniversary were aged between 93 and 100. They included Royal Navy veteran Les Wills, who spoke of the hot and humid conditions during the Far East campaign, and Australian Army veteran James Easton, who joined up at the age of 23. He described being bombed and then captured by the Japanese after arriving in Singapore. He said his weight plummeted from 12 stone 4 lbs to "seven something" while a PoW, one of 140,000 British and Allied military personnel taken prisoner by the Japanese. Mr Easton added: "To me, it's not 70-odd years ago, it will never go away." And 97-year-old George Lee of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who laid a posy at the Burma Star Association Memorial, said the ceremony had "brought it all back". He added: "You were always wondering when you went out on patrol if you would come back, but I did. I must have had a guardian angel over me."

National Memorial Arboretum, Les Wills
Royal Navy veteran Les Wills addresses the ceremony

After a fly-past over the National Memorial Arboretum by five aircraft representing World War Two, the two-minute silence was introduced by Boris Johnson, followed by the playing of the Last Post. After further readings, it was time for a final address, given by HRH Prince Charles. He paid tribute to the "bravery, resourcefulness and tenacity" of those who fought during World War Two and spoke of the "most fitting" of settings - a "hallowed place" - in front of the Burma Star Memorial Grove at the Arboretum. Addressing the veterans present, he added: "To all of you, we owe the greatest debt of gratitude which can never fully be repaid."

National Memorial Arboretum, HRH Prince Charles, HRH Duchess of Cornwall
HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall beside the Burma Railway Memorial

Philip White, Deputy Leader of Staffordshire County Council, had earlier said: "It's fitting that a day of national commemoration of Victory over Japan should begin here in Staffordshire for the county has many links with that historic conflict in the Far East through the Army regiment that bore its name and the many others who served on land, sea and air in harsh physical conditions to bring about peace."
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Why? Moving national ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day
When: Sat 15 August
Phone: 01283 245100
Where: National Memorial Arboretum, Croxall Road, Alrewas, Staffordshire DE13 7AR
Cost: Free
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