60 years on, Burnham-On-Sea councillor recalls
his wartime role in Japan
the 60th anniversary of VE and VJ-Day this week, we spoke to one
well-known resident about his time in Japan in 1945 when he saw
the first 500 prisoners of war released from captivity.
councillor Neville Jones OBE was a Sub Lieutenant onboard the
carrier HMS Speaker, the
first Allied ship into Tokyo Bay
during World War II.
was one of 850 recruits onboard between 1944 and 1946 and this
week told Burnham-On-Sea.com about his role.
sixty years ago this week, the second world war officially came
to an end with the unconditional surrender of Japan in a ceremony
onboard the mighty US battleship Missouri at anchor in Tokyo Bay.
I was privileged to be there on a small escort carrier on lease-lend
from the US named HMS Speaker."
this rather unattractive 13,000 ton ship had been thrust the privilege
to bring out of Japan the first 500 prisoners of war to be released
from their captivity and brutality, some having survived nearly
four years of terrible hardships."
Speaker was part of the protection for a massive collection of
supply vessels of every shape and size, mainly consisting of merchantmen
with all the supplies for troops and machines to support four
fleet aircraft carriers, which flew bombing sorties over Japan.
captain was ordered to leave the fleet and we became the first
allied carrier to anchor in Japanese waters steaming through the
line of flagships denoting such famous admirals as Nimitz and
with General Douglas MacArthur onboard the South Dakota. We anchored
all by ourselves some five miles from the battleships and an equal
distance from the shore and felt rather lost in such a huge, empty
bay. However, in the next three days, most of the space was filled
with allied ships - some 400 of them!"
was then on August 31st we carried out our role to embark POWs
and move into the centre of an American Rescue Group of Yokohama.
Within the first five minutes, the first landing craft came alongside
with waving Britishers disguised in American clothing.
the POWs came slowly up the gangways their joy knew no bounds,
shouting 'Blighty, here we come', 'We've made it' and 'God bless
Speaker'. It was then we realised how privileged and honoured
we were to be selected for this initial run, the first of many
was detailed with staff to prepare a list of all those who came
aboard, their nationality and next of kin. They were British,
Aussies, Americans, Canadians, many from the Indian sub-continent
and lascars. This list was flashed by radio all round the world."
and large they looked tolerably well, though some were emaciated
and others had extended stomachs from beri-beri. Some clutched
souvenirs, like Samurai swords, and one man came aboard with a
double bass he'd carried from camp to camp. We also took on board
several boxes of deceased British POW ashes from Camp 3 Fukuoka."
chatter in the hangar was deafening, particularly when Commander
Duncan said every man would be given ten shillings to buy things
in the NAAFI - the first real money some had seen for four years
- and an even bigger cheer went up when he said they'd all be
given a rum ration!"
roamed the gangways, enjoying their new found freedom, but the
greatest magnet was the ship's bakery. They stood fascinated at
the sight of normal food, inhaling the aroma from the tiers of
freshly baked bread."
also stood in a long queue outside the dentists and Surgeon Lieutenant
'Toothy' Leggett had never before had such a willing and enthusiastic
queue of patients!"
the many horrors of war, Neville says he remembers the time fondly:
"It was a happy time overall - I made some great friends
and we still have regular reunions every two years."
History of HMS Speaker