VJ Day 75 – Warwick Soldiers Remembered

August 15th – the 75th Anniversary of VJ Day – officially marks the surrender of Japan and the end of World War Two. Unlocking Warwick’s researchers have established that four names on the war memorial in Church Street are those of Warwick men who died in the Far East battling the formidable Japanese Imperial Forces before WW2 finally came to an end.

They are being remembered in a special VJ Day display at the Visitor Information Centre in the Jury Street Court House.

The Manager of the Visitor Centre, Liz Healey, said, “We are proud to mark the final end of hostilities in WW2 on its 75th anniversary by remembering all those from Warwick who served in the armed forces, and in particular the four Warwick men who died while fighting against Japan in the harshest of conditions.”

These are the four Warwick men who died in the battles against the Japanese.

Ernest Bennett lived at 3 Crompton Row, Warwick, one of four children of Agnes and William, who was a bricklayer by trade. The family worshipped at St. Mary’s R.C. Church in West Street. Ernest worked at Motor Haulage Services in Leamington. At the outbreak of WW2, he enlisted in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and served in India. In April 1943 he transferred to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers but shortly afterwards was reported missing in action.

The family had to wait over two years until after VJ Day, when the War Office reported him ‘presumed killed in action in Burma’. Ernest is commemorated at the Rangoon Memorial in Myanmar and at St. Mary Immaculate R.C. Church in Warwick.

Jack England lived at 11 Peel Road. His parents were Arthur England, a postman, and May Ann. Jack was a career soldier who served during WW2 as a Bombadier with the first Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment based in Hong Kong. He may have been captured at the fall of Singapore. We only know that he died of wounds in a Japanese POW camp in April 1945, just 4 months before the end of the war. He is buried at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.

Harry Hill lived at 84 Greville Road in Warwick. His parents were called Ernest and Betty, and when war broke out he served as a Staff Sergeant in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps. While on leave in 1941 he married Betty Hope, but less than a year later he died as the Japanese forces overran Singapore. He was killed there on 13th February 1942 at the age of twenty-four. Two days later the allied forces had to surrender. Churchill called it “The worst disaster in British military history.”

Harold ‘Bunny’ Oakley lived with his parents Edgar and Elizabeth at 101 Wathen Road. The family had formerly lived at 20 Albert Street. Harold had enlisted at the age of 17 and had served for 7 years in India and Burma before the war broke out.

He was a Lance Corporal in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, involved in the four-year battle in Burma against the invading Japanese forces. He died from his wounds on 8th February 1945 and is commemorated at the Rangoon Memorial in Myanmar.

The Warwickshire Yeomanry – Relief and Jubilation

In August 1945, the famous Warwickshire Yeomanry were at Chippenham Camp North, in Ely, Cambridgeshire, on standby in case they were needed in the continuing conflict in the Far East. They had long experience of warfare in hot and hostile environments after serving in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, and the Yeomanry had fought with distinction in the two battles of Alamein in 1942. After joining the Italian campaign in 1944 as part of the 9th Armoured Brigade, they had returned home as a Tank Training Regiment.

The Yeomanry in Palestine at the start of WW2 before they became a tank regiment

The Archivist of the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum, Philip Wilson, said, “On VJ Day there would have been much jubilation, with mixed emotions within the Regimental Family, tinged with fond memories of those who had not survived after almost five years of active service overseas. They had transitioned from horses in Palestine in 1940 to become Motorised Infantry, and then to Tanks in North Africa from 1942.”

The Warwickshire Yeomanry War Diary records:

14th August 1945: Prime Minister announced finish of war with Japan.

15th August 1945: VJ Day.

19th August 1945: National Day of Thanksgiving.

The official history of the regiment says: “In the late spring, on 8th April 1945, it was all over in Europe, and finally in August, the atomic bomb put an end to activities in the Far East. From then onwards, the Regiment was gradually run down as men were sent home under the various release schemes, until in the spring of 1946, the Regiment was finally wound-up and went into what was termed ‘suspended animation.” In 1947, the Regiment was reformed at Warwick as an Armoured Regiment.

The government has published a schedule of events for the 75th Anniversary on August 15th, which includes:

  • At 11am, a National Two Minute Silence led by the Prince of Wales, which will take place at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

  • The Red Arrows will conduct flypasts over Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, and will conclude their tour of the UK over London.

  • ‘VJ Day 75: The Nation’s Tribute’ will be broadcast on BBC One between 8:30pm and 10pm.

The Royal British Legion has a special website where you can leave a message of thanks or memories of family members. www.rbl.org.uk/vjday75 The commemorative display in the Warwick Visitor Information Centre will remain until Sunday August 23rd.

With thanks to the researchers from Unlocking Warwick and the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum, which remains closed at present because of the Covid restrictions. Yeomanry photo courtesy of the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum Charitable Trust.