It’s the anniversary of VJ Day (Victory over Japan) today. The end of hostilities in August 1945 has sometimes been overshadowed in popular consciousness in the UK by VE Day and the fall of Nazi Germany. The 15th August marks the 75th anniversary of this crucial event and I didn’t want to let it pass without remembering my grandad, who served in the far east theatre as 4864372 Private Laurence ‘Nobby’ Clark. He enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment and was later drafted to the under-strength North Staffordshire Regiment, serving in India and Burma.
I recall hearing from my grandad a number of comments and seeing some mementos of his time there. As is the way with eager but ignorant schoolboys, I would often press him to tell me more of his wartime experiences, and – as is the way with veterans who encountered the reality of war – he was reluctant to go into too much detail about the actual combat. He would occasionally recount how he and his comrades would be subjected to Japanese psychological warfare in the jungle. At night, the unseen enemy would call out in English the first names of soldiers, saying such things as “Nobby, go back home to your mother, she’s worried about you“, etc. etc.
One story that I remember most clearly was his recounting a time when he encountered some Indian jungle wildlife. He was used as a ‘runner’, sent on his own to carry messages through the jungle between lines, often at night. This must have been a terrifying experience for a working class city man from the midlands of England. On one occasion he ran straight into the path of a tiger running towards him! The shock of the encounter was shared by both tiger and soldier, and both turned and ran in the opposite direction. My grandad told me he thought it might have been a juvenile. The badge of both The Leicestershire Regiment and the 26th Indian Infantry Division (to which his other regiment the N. Staffs was attached) is a tiger, so perhaps he was forewarned of this eventuality!
My mother sent me this below she’d discovered about the 7th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment. Perhaps he was transferred in 1944 to the N. Staffs after serving with the Chindits, I need to find out more:
I imagine that tropical diseases, privations from extended lines of communication, plagues of insects and other exotic wildlife, the heat and humidity, the extreme stress of fighting far away in such alien and difficult conditions, all must have made the experience incredibly gruelling.
After VJ day, he understand that he felt part of a forgotten army. No cheering crowds or wild celebrations in the streets greeted his return in a nation already months into adjusting to life after the Nazi threat had been destroyed. I recall he was disillusioned also by the issuing of his medals without any engraved name and number of the recipient. The impersonal nature of these awards meant that they mattered little to him as a consequence and, I believe, he simply lost them or threw them away.
He returned home with some locally bought Indian metalwork crafts and a kukri, the famous bent knives of the Gurkhas, which he subsequently used to trim his lawn with. Nearly a very literal case of from swords to ploughshares! I believe he maintained a good friendship through correspondence with at least one of his senior officers for some years after the war and leaving the army.
Even 75 years on, and over 20 years after he passed away, this blog post affirms that he’s not a forgotten soldier from a forgotten army.
There is a website dedicated to this year’s VJ Day commemoration – https://ve-vjday75.gov.uk
Fighting in the Far East theatre were many nations with Africans, Indians, Japanese, British, Americans, Chinese and many others including the Australians. My blog buddy IRO over at Imperial Rebel Ork blog has just completed some fabulous looking Aussie infantry from the New Guinea campaign.