VJ Day: tributes to Far East Prisoners of War

Families of veterans take part in remembrance event at memorial funded by CNJ’s readers

Thursday, 19th August 2021 — By Tom Foot

vjday Image 2021-08-14 at 16.12.45

A special event at the Prisoner of War Memorial is joined by the Mayor of Camden Sabrina Francis

VETERANS and families of former servicemen and women attended a remembrance event at the Far East Prisoners of War memorial in Mornington Crescent.

The memorial – the only one of its kind in London – was the brainchild of our readers, former Mayor of Camden Councillor Roger Robinson, and former New Journal editor Eric Gordon, who died earlier this year.

The event marked the 76th anniversary of VJ Day, the day imperial Japan surrendered after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Speaking at the memorial on Saturday, Cllr Robinson said: “Some of us are old enough to remember the Second World War. My late cousin Leonard, he was 21 when he died. He left university, went to Hong Kong, in the army. The next thing we knew he had died.

“There are very few if any pictures of him in the family. I had the only one I think. It’s there and I talk to it occasionally and I get tears coming to my eyes, thinking of the days when young men and women died like that, in camps in torture and in war.

Former Mayor Roger Robinson helped organise the memorial in Mornington Crescent

“I’ve been in the army, I know what it’s like, although I’ve not been in as bad as that. My thoughts go every day to those who fight for this country and those that died in camps.

“God rest your souls and may we see you one day in Heaven.”

The Burma railway, also known as the “death railway”, which linked Burma and Thailand, was built by Japanese prisoners of war. Tonia Garizio, whose father was forced to work on the railway, laid flowers at the memorial along with police officer Sgt Mark McCann, whose grandfather was also in Burma.

The memorial was paid for by generous New Journal readers and features an image of a prisoner of war (PoW) created by the late artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle, who himself laboured on the Burma railway.

Sgt Mark McCann lays a wreath

It was unveiled in 2012 by Viscount Slim, President of the Burma Star Association and the son of General “Bill” Slim.

Sgt Major Chris Maynard told the service that “our safety depends on the people we rely on”, adding a “great big thank-you to the police and the National Health Service”.

Painting the picture for the crowd of the conditions endured on the Burma railway, he said: “They toiled for 10 to 12 hours a days. If they faltered they were beaten, or bayonetted to death. They had this every day for many years. They suffered in a way that we can only imagine or see about in films.

“Our greatest achievement is that many survived, but many didn’t and we are here today to remember all those who didn’t make the journey back. We are here to remember their families, and all those that made it home. We are here to pay our respects and to say thank you.”

The Mayor of Camden, Sabrina Francis, said: “Many people, including some from Camden, were imprisoned, tortured and forced to work on the Burma railway. Whenever I pass this memorial I’m always inspired by how it came to be.

“My fellow councillor, Roger Robinson, and the CNJ, and the people of Camden worked to fund it and get it constructed. It says a lot about us as a borough.”

The memorial was blessed by Father Graeme Rowlands who prayed for peace and justice “which still needs to be established throughout the world”.

Edwards Security provided a tent, nurse and stewards for the event, which ended with Michael Kinnear playing The Last Post.

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