Burnham-On-Sea, Somerset

September 17, 2005
60 years on, Burnham-On-Sea councillor recalls his wartime role in Japan

As Burnham marks 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.

Town councillor Neville Jones OBE was a Sub Lieutenant onboard the carrier HMS Speaker, the first Allied ship into Tokyo Bay during World War II.

HMS SpeakerHe was one of 850 recruits onboard between 1944 and 1946 and this week told Burnham-On-Sea.com about his role.

"Exactly 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."

"To 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."

HMS 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.

"My 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!"

"It 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.

Neville Jones with a book of photos from his wartime experiences"As 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 to follow."

"I 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."

"By 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."

"The 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!"

"They 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."

"They 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!"

Despite 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."

RELATED LINKS:

History of HMS Speaker

Burnham-On-Sea History section

 



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