VJ Day in Shetland

VJ Day (Victory Over Japan) has never been as important a celebration as VE Day, but for some people in Shetland it was a very important day indeed.

VJ Day is on the 15th August each year. Local newspaper reports of it were short. They and spoke of VFE-Day – Victory in the Far East. Prime Minister Attlee had broadcast the news at midnight on Tuesday 14th, and the Shetland News noted that by 12.30 on a fine night

there were people about everywhere, and dancing was indulged in on Commercial Street.

The Shetland Times came out in the 17th and had more to report. The editorial was a sobering assessment of the atomic bomb, saying that the London Blitz would only have required three-eighths of the Hiroshima weapon.

Man is well on the road to mastering the means of destroying himself.

The Town Council electricity department put the town lights back on for the first time since 1939, and the Town Hall clock was lit up once more. Ships in the harbour blew their whistles, and fired flares and Verey Lights. Things continued on Wednesday, with the British Legion Pipe Band marching, and bonfires and fireworks at night. There was a great relaxation of emotions. St Columba’s Kirk held a service: a very large congregation. They took up a collection for China. The Chinese had been fighting for eight years.

The Times also reported how things were getting back to normal, among it all the Swan LK 243 had returned from war service. A paragraph gave news of how a postcard had come from A.W.G. Abernethy, a prisoner in the east. He had been taken prisoner in Malaya.

D1/397/3/7 A letter to Alexander Robertson Wilson’s parents, telling them that he was a prisoner in Japan. Pilot Officer Wilson survived the war. His parents lived at Gas Cottage, Lerwick.

Bob Spence, a merchant seaman, was taken prisoner on Ben Line boat Benevis as the Japanese offensive began in 1941. After years of brutality in 1945 he was in a camp in Honshu, Japan, weighing less than seven stone. They heard about the atom bomb on a hidden wireless, and after the Nagasaki bombing the guards disappeared. American planes dropped supplies, the prisoners ate the chocolate but were in such poor condition they couldn’t digest it and were sick. They commandeered one of the remaining Japanese trains and went to Yokohama.

Among the celebrations some Shetland families awaited news of the prisoners. Were they alive or dead, how would they come home? In the 1970s many of the war veterans viewed the purchase of Japanese products as offensive. Sometimes a sentence beginning with Boy, du widna tink sae muckle o dem if … arrived unexpectedly. The unsaid was often more powerful than the said.

He wis taen prisoner be da Japanese, he never says muckle aboot it …

VJ Day has never been as important a celebration as VE Day, but for some people in Shetland it was a very important day indeed.

Note – the story of Bob Spence is taken from J.W. Irvine’s book The Giving Years.

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