VJ Day 75 – 15th August 2020
On Saturday we observed VJ Day 75 with a small closed ceremony in the museum.
Veterans of the Far East, who often considered themselves as the ‘forgotten army’, were at the heart of the commemoration.
Austin and Mandy Harper, son and daughter of Hugh Harper (1918-2000) attended to lay the wreath in memory of their father. Hugh Harper served with the RAF during the Second World War and was a Prisoner of War of the Japanese from 1942-45.
Hugh was born in April 1918 and after leaving school at the age of 14, began to serve his time as an apprentice fitter in Jennymount Mill, Belfast. On 20 July 1938 he joined the RAF at the Recruiting Office in Ann Street as a fitter.
After a number of postings in England, he was finally sent overseas arriving in Singapore early in March 1941, where he was posted to No.100 Squadron at RAF Seletar. As the surrender of Singapore became inevitable, he escaped to Java on board the SS Empire Star on 13 February 1942. Despite plans to wage a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese, Hugh and other British troops were forced to surrender on 8 March 1942.
After having to carry out manual labour on a damaged airfield he was shipped back to Singapore, where after a few days in the infamous Changi Prison, he was transported to Southern Japan with many other servicemen crammed in the holds of what became known as the Death Ship, the Dianichi Maru.
The survivors of that voyage arrived there on 23 November 1942 and despite rising death toll in their camp Hugh and some 100 other airmen were used as forced labour in a shipyard, some 20 miles north of Hiroshima.
As the war progressed repair work on Japanese ships dropped off considerably and as American air raids increased, they were put to work tunnelling air raid shelters into the hillsides of the surrounding countryside.
On the morning of 6 August 1945 what he thought to be yet another earthquake was in fact the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The war for Hugh and his companions ended 2 days later though it wasn’t until the end of November that they finally got home.
Hugh passed away in 2000 and was remembered on VJ Day 75 by his son and daughter and their families.
Austin Harper laid a poppy wreath on a granite plinth which contains a Roll of Honour for the fallen in the First and Second World War. The Rolls of Honour stand in front of a memorial wall which bears the following inscription ‘Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten’.