“What I remember about VJ Day is fighting for my life”

15th August 2020

Between December 1941 and August 1945, troops from the British Commonwealth and their allies were fighting the Japanese in Asia – from Hawaii to north-east India. It was a bitter and brutal war, fought in gruelling conditions where malaria was rife and soldiers endured drenching monsoon rains and overpowering tropical heat.

While jubilant crowds celebrated VE Day back in Britain in May 1945, these brave soldiers were struggling to survive far from home.

When Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in south-east Asia, addressed the men of the 25th Dragoons back in December 1943 he said: “I know you think of yourselves as the Forgotten Army. Well, let me tell you, you’re not forgotten…nobody even knows you’re here”. Although the troops laughed, as Mountbatten intended, his remark was all too true.

On 15 August 2020, 75 years will have passed since the Japanese surrendered and World War II finally ended. Today we acknowledge the crucial part those soldiers in the Far East played in winning us the freedoms we enjoy today.

George Phipps
Chelsea Pensioner George Phipps will never forget the terrible months he endured, aged just 19, on the long road back from Burma to the Indian border.

“We lost a hell of a lot of men”

On VE Day I was in the Far East – we were the Forgotten Army. I have no memories of VE Day because I wasn’t in Europe. All I know is they celebrated over here and we were still fighting in Burma. What I remember about VJ Day is fighting for my life. The Japanese threw us out of Burma and we had to make our way back to the Indian border – the 2nd Division Royal West Kents and the 17th Indian Division. I was 19 years old.

It was a long, long walk – there was no transport. I remember I had sore feet – I was looking for some boots – everything was falling apart. We walked for days and days, had a rest when we could, started fighting again and then had another rest.

We slept out in the open under a groundsheet, even in monsoons. We had malaria, typhoid, everything. We lost a hell of a lot of men. Some of them were wounded and they were just left there, we had to carry on.

“A famous man said, ‘You’re the forgotten army'" 

When we came back. they never thought about us. A famous man said, “You’re the forgotten army and they‘ll forget you when you’re back home” and they did.

When I came back home, all that happened was that when we got off the boat there was a lady at the bottom of the gangway giving us yellow flowers - it was Lady Astor, she was an MP. Then we were put in hospital and they kept us there for three weeks to see if we were all clear, as we had all the diseases going. 


“We risked our lives for 14 shillings a week”

It was unfair. I felt we were let down after risking our lives for 14 shillings a week. When we were out in Burma we had to rely on the Air Force, dropping us food and things. I survived, came back to England and then back to America where most of my family were." 

We hope that the contribution soldiers like George made in the Far East will be remembered in the way that they deserve.

Royal Hospital Chelsea Newsletter

Stay up to date with what's going on at The Royal Hospital by signing up for our e‑newsletter.

News

View the archive

Pensioner Charmaine Coleman skydiving tandem in Scarlets
This International Day of Charity we’re celebrating fundraisers

To mark the International Day of Charity on 5 September we would like to highlight just how important and valued fundraisers are to the Royal Hospital. We are so grateful to all the kind people who have devoted their time, effort and talent to help us.

Great Hall mural by Antonio Verrio
The Art of Persuasion: The Great Hall Mural

Whether you have been lucky enough to visit our Great Hall in person, or have experienced its grandeur by watching our virtual tours, it's difficult not to be impressed by the imposing mural that adorns the back wall where Pensioners take their meals.

Twitter

Follow @RHChelsea