A Forgotten Army?
Ray Anglesea shared these thoughts with his congregation at Crook – a small number of whom, he tells us, are VJ veterans
The Queen was at the centre of events last weekend to mark the 70th anniversary of VJ Day. The Sovereign led tributes to the “forgotten army” of veterans from the Second World War in Asia in one of a series of events held in Westminster and across the nation. As I watched the ceremonies I thought of one of the region’s forgotten hero’s, Eric Lomax (1919-2012) from Berwick upon Tweed. Forgotten that is until his war time story of brutality and forgiveness featured in a best-selling book The Railway Man (1995). The book was later turned into a 2013 British–Australian critically acclaimed war film of the same name starring Colin Firth as Lomax and Nicole Kidman as Patti Lomax his wife.
The story tells of Lomax’s capture by the Japanese in Singapore at the age of 22; the brutal inhuman camp conditions, the forced labour that constructed the Thai-Burma “Death” Railway, remembered in the film Bridge over the River Kwai; the fierce sadistic beatings, torture and later, after the war, his confrontation with one of his captors, a Japanese secret police officer, Takashi Nagase. Nagase died in 2011 and Lomax in 2012 before the film was completed. The Railway Man is a film of profound horror, of grief and tortured dreams. It is also a story of reconciliation. Lomax finds that as he tries to let go of death dealing war memories he finds a measure of peace. It is a film not easily forgotten.
As bright sunshine shone through the Houshiary Window at St Martin in the Field, Rev Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin’s, told the congregation “The struggles, the suffering and the sacrifice of the war in the Far East are a defining experience in our nation’s history. We stand in awe of those who were tried in ways beyond what most of us ever have to go through and greater than many of us can ever imagine. People lost life, limb and liberty that we might know peace.”
The Bishop to the Forces and Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock (a Durham graduate and former Canon residentiary of Durham Cathedral 1998-2000), preached the sermon. Bishop Stock spoke of stories of human courage and moral virtue in the grimmest of circumstances, like the torture of the Bishop of Singapore, Leonard Wilson another local man, born in Gateshead and educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, later Dean of Manchester and Bishop of Birmingham; and of the Stock family who too were prisoners of war, tortured and badly treated. Bishop Stock said “memories and sacrifices of these years should not be forgotten; out of all the ignoble and cruel acts of this conflict, there were also many that speak of hope and what might be possible.”
After the morning service and an afternoon drumhead ceremony on Horse Guards Parade, the VJ veterans of the “forgotten army” assembled to march down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey in a special anniversary parade, to rapturous public applause, passing the statue of Field Marshal Slim and The Cenotaph where wreaths were laid. It was a moving conclusion to the morning events that began at St Martin in the Fields. The procession of proud veterans made its way cheered on by a grateful and thankful crowd at every step. The forgotten army was remembered at last.
Minister, St Andrew’s Dawson Street, Crook