As the 75th anniversary of VJ Day approached earlier this year, proud VJ Day veteran, Mr Darbara Singh Bhullar, who was born in India and now lives in Glasgow, has recalled his time in the Far East.
The Fourteenth Army, at the time the largest all-volunteer army in history with 2,500,000 men, was instrumental in securing victory in the Far East. Although large numbers of Britons served in the Fourteenth, an estimated 80 per cent of the fighting force came from units from India, East and West Africa and other parts of the British Empire.
The campaign to retake Burma was one of the longest fought by the British during the Second World War and while the fighting was fierce, the threat posed by disease was equally deadly.
Mr Bhullar, 97, recalled: “I entered the Army on 17th February 1942. We fought against Japan on the Burma front until 1945. When we were fighting against Japan, we faced many difficulties… so many difficulties that I cannot even describe. Our first enemy was Japan. Our second enemy were mosquitoes. If you were bitten by a mosquito it would infect all of your blood. Few were killed by bullets and more by mosquitoes.
“It was always very hot – never cool – so we would not wear much and that would mean mosquitoes would bite. Then we went to Assam. It was the rainy season there, and leeches would attach to us despite us wearing socks and boots. There was no place to stay; only the jungle. We were amongst the animals and some of us died along with the animals.
“My job was communication; telephonic or wireless communication, or using a car or Jeep or motorcycle. We had to keep the communication up, one way or another. If communication were to stop, that would be the end for the troops.”
Mr Sangha, from Newton Mearns, said: “My Dad joined the British Army in 1937. He was only 17 and served in the 15th Punjab Regiment. My Father told me that, and I heard from other people, that wherever there were difficult times, or they knew that the enemy was stronger, the last resort used to put the Punjab Regiment in there; they will sort it out.
“My Dad used to tell us that all of the people around him were killed. He was the last one there. He was only about 50 yards from the enemy foxhole. He could see 15-20 Japanese there and an anti-tank gun. He knew if he tried to run back that he wouldn’t survive as there was no back-up at all. He thought: ‘I am going to die now, so I might as well do something.’
“He grabbed hold of his machine gun and some hand grenades and got up in front of the enemy and he started throwing the hand grenades. The Japanese were not expecting that as they thought the enemy was all dead. He killed all of them and captured the anti-tank gun. By doing that, the route was clear for the Army to come back.
“He was badly injured after that and unconscious for a few days. The bullets were all over him. Until his dying day, in 1996, his leg always used to hurt from those wounds. Years later, my Father chose to receive the Victoria Cross in London. There was a big, big parade in London’s Hyde Park.”
“I feel sad that my Father is not here with us, but I am feeling excited that we are talking about the contribution made by Commonwealth countries during the Second World War. I do not think we had that before and this is why VJ is so poignant for me. These men were great soldiers and I think it’s important that this story is told in our schools and communities.”
- Charanjit Sangha
Omar Shaikh, Founder of Colourful Heritage, said: “These stories are incredibly powerful, and we owe to all the people of the Commonwealth to ensure their sacrifices are never forgotten. More needs to be done to teach this in our schools, and Colourful Heritage has made a call for a permanent memorial in Scotland for the British Indian Army, a Regiment of which (Force K6) after being evacuated from Dunkirk found itself serving in the Highlands protecting Scotland.”
The Far East campaign began on 7th December 1941 when Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour. The British colony of Hong Kong was attacked the following day and, over the subsequent weeks, the British retreated to Singapore, where they were forced to surrender with more than 9,000 men killed or wounded. A further 130,000 were captured and became POWs, facing years of appalling conditions.
The Allied fightback began in 1944 and was led by the British Fourteenth Army, stated to be the largest all-volunteer army in history with 2,500,000 men and comprised mainly of units from India and East and West Africa, as well as Britain. The campaign to recapture Burma was one of the longest fought by the British during the War, but they finally entered the capital, Rangoon, on 2nd May 1945.
Just as they prepared to progress onwards to Malaya and Singapore, the Atom Bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki leading to the Japanese surrender on the 15th August 1945, officially marking the end of the Second World War.