The end of the war in the Far East
I know that for some people what happened before the Japanese surrendered, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, blocks any desire to celebrate. That is entirely right. I want to bring a more personal look at that time. When I was clearing my parents’ house, I found a case of letters and other documents mainly relating to my father’s wartime activities. When my father, Alfred, was called up in 1939, he joined the Royal Norfolk Regiment. Amongst the letters were those written to his sweetheart from various training camps around Britain. Often, they told of contacts he made with other Christians in Gospel Halls. Then he was ordered to the Far East.
Late in 1941 I think he sailed from Liverpool on HMS Andes, first across the Atlantic to Boston, then back to South Africa which they reached just before Christmas. They had shore leave, very welcome after a long sea voyage. He wasn’t sure how he would cope with ‘sweating over a Christmas dinner!’ but enjoyed the fruit they found. They travelled on, I think to Malaya. Here they were engaged in jungle warfare, travelling through elephant grass, shinning up coconut trees, and being helped by the local people.
It is said that the Japanese were beginning to struggle with supplies as were the Allies. The decision was taken by the Allied commander on the ground to surrender Singapore on February 21 1942. The Allied troops were taken prisoner, many held at Changi, and their treatment at the hands of their captors is well documented. Many were placed in camps on the Malay Peninsula and moved along from time to time. Alfred was often moved on to different camps. He had his Bible and autograph book with him which he would bury to keep safe, not only from the Japanese, but also fellow soldiers. Did you know that the paper a Bible was printed on made a good substitute when rolling your own cigarettes? I have no idea what they put in them!
One time he was moved on before he had time to retrieve his Bible. Imagine his surprise when, sometime later, a new arrival asked if there was an Alfred Frost in the camp. His Bible and autograph book were returned to him intact. It was a miracle. Some of the time of his internment was spent working in the cook house. Only rice for the prisoners, but meat included for the captors. Occasional supplements of meat were found, such as monkey and snake. Once a cow was brought in. The prisoners were treated to a taste of veal as the Japanese failed to realise that the cow was in calf! Eventually the Red Cross were allowed in and tins of corned beef arrived. As a child, we never had corned beef or rice at home.
Back home, letters which had previously got through to the troops were returned, marked ‘Addressee reported missing,’ and it was probably July 1943 before those back home had any news of what had happened. Occasionally messages got through, but it was hard, wondering how Alfred was getting on, or at times wondering if he was still alive. His sweetheart trusted that God would take care of him, which was another miracle.
The Japanese surrender was signed on August 15th 1945, the date marked as VJ Day. It took a while for news to come through, and many of Alfred’s fellow prisoners did not survive. I remember as a child going to Remembrance Day celebrations where sounding the Last Post brought back memories of those who had not returned. Alfred was sent to Thailand to be treated for Amoebic Dysentery and Malaria. The Malaria continued to cause problems, off and on, for several years.
Eventually he returned home on HMS Mooltan. This was another mail boat pressed into military service.
He married his sweetheart, but sadly she died when I was born.
In spite of everything, his faith in his Lord and Saviour stayed firm. I believe he could say in the words of the chorus of an old hymn,
‘I know who I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.’
May we be able to say that too.