LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is paying tribute to veterans of the multinational World War II campaign against Japan, which formally ended 75 years ago some three months after Nazi Germany had been vanquished in Europe.
In an open V-J Day anniversary letter released Saturday and addressed to “Veterans of the Far East Campaign,” Johnson hailed the courage of those who fought in Asia and the Pacific. The six-year campaign cost the lives of some 50,000 British and Commonwealth troops, nearly half of whom perished in brutal prison camps.
“You were the last to come home but your achievements are written in the lights of the glittering capitals of the dynamic region we see today,” he said.
Following the surrender of the Nazis on May 8, 1945, V-E Day, Allied troops carried on fighting the Japanese until an armistice was declared on Aug. 15, 1945. Japan formally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, but many Pacific War veterans felt their efforts were not fully recognized and dubbed themselves the “forgotten army.”
Johnson acknowledged their war-time experiences had been “overshadowed in popular imagination by the conflict in Europe,” but he stressed that their service had brought World War II to an end and inaugurated a period of peace and prosperity across southeast Asia that remains intact to this day.
Britain, which had been a colonial power across much of the region, suffered arguably its biggest military defeat to Japanese forces in the early years of World War II. Overwhelmed troops had to retreat from Malaysia, Singapore and Burma in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable.
“These blows were so heavy that many feared they would break your will to fight on,” Johnson said in his tribute letter. “But you survived the longest retreat in British history, marching almost 1,000 miles from Burma to India, and then you regrouped and reformed.”
The prime minister also highlighted the creation of the “formidable” 14th Army, a fighting force that was made up of nearly a million soldiers, including from India and Africa, and which helped “turn defeat into victory.”
In the national capital Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison honoured “a great victory that changed the course of our history” in a 75th anniversary commemoration attended by dignitaries from across the country.
“A country of 7 million united and became one in a mighty national effort to defend human civilization, ” Morrison said. “Everyone played their part. Australia wasn’t alone. We stood with allies and friends.”
Almost 1 million Australians served in World War II, including 39,000 who died and another 30,000 taken prisoner. About 12,000 are still alive.
Among those remembered on Saturday at the “Victory in the Pacific” commemoration was 18-year-old Teddy Sheean, a Royal Australian Navy sailor. He was approved this week by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II to receive a posthumous Victoria Cross, Australia’s highest military honour.
The seaman died in 1942 when the HMAS Armidale was sunk by Japanese bombers in the Timor Sea off the north Australian coast. Sheean strapped himself to an anti-aircraft gun and fired at enemy planes as the ship went down, and was credited with saving the lives of 49 crew.