World

Wartime allies pay tribute to VJ-Day veterans on 75th anniversary

Wartime allies Britain and Canada both paid tribute Saturday to veterans of the multinational Second World War campaign against Japan, which formally ended 75 years ago some three months after Nazi Germany had been vanquished in Europe.

Victory over Japan Day marked effective end of Second World War

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend the national service of remembrance marking the 75th anniversary of VJ-Day at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, England on Saturday. (Peter Byrne/Press Association via The Associated Press)

Wartime allies Britain and Canada both paid tribute Saturday to veterans of the multinational Second World War campaign against Japan, which formally ended 75 years ago some three months after Nazi Germany had been vanquished in Europe.

In an open VJ-Day (Victory over Japan) anniversary letter released Saturday and addressed to "Veterans of the Far East Campaign," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the courage of those who fought in Asia and the Pacific.

The six-year campaign cost the lives of some 50,000 British and Commonwealth troops, nearly half of whom perished in brutal prison camps.

"You were the last to come home, but your achievements are written in the lights of the glittering capitals of the dynamic region we see today," Johnson said.

Following the surrender of the Nazis on May 8, 1945, VE-Day, Allied troops carried on fighting the Japanese until an armistice was declared on Aug. 15, 1945. Japan formally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, but many Pacific War veterans felt their efforts were not fully recognized and dubbed themselves the "forgotten army."

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, speak with Johnson and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at a service of remembrance marking the 75th anniversary of VJ-Day at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, England on Saturday. (Peter Byrne/WPA pool/Getty Images)

"We pause to honour over one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served during the Second World War, including those who helped our Allies in the war in Asia and the Pacific," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement released Saturday. 

"More than 10,000 Canadian service members fought courageously in Asia, with tens of thousands more volunteering to join the Pacific forces as part of the final Allied push to victory. Those plans were never carried out. Instead, the world was shaken by the mass destruction caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945 effectively ended the Second World War.

"With the grim struggle in both Europe and Asia over, the world mourned the steep human cost of a war that had ravaged it for almost six years. In Canada alone, we grieved and honoured more than 45,000 who had lost their lives and 55,000 who were wounded."

Trudeau also said the anniversary was a time to acknowledge a "shameful episode" in Canadian history: the internment of Japanese Canadians following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

"Over 20,000 Canadian citizens and residents were separated from their homes and their families, forced into internment camps. Today, we are reminded of the need to always fight against the spread of intolerance and racism, wherever and whenever it occurs," he said.

WATCH | VJ-Day ceremonies in Canada and around the world:

From Halifax to Tokyo, dignitaries, veterans and those honouring the war dead gathered to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. 7:10

Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay was in Halifax on Saturday to lay a wreath at a ceremony marking the anniversary and to praise those who fought.

"It doesn't matter whether they served on the home front or whether they charged the beaches on D-Day; whether they dodged boats on a convoy across the Atlantic or took to the skies in North Africa; or whether they survived the most awful circumstances you can imagine in a prisoner of war camp," MacAulay said.

"They're proud of their service. They often say they did it for us, for the world that we're able to enjoy today."

Johnson honours 'formidable' 14th Army

Britain, which had been a colonial power across much of the region, suffered arguably its biggest military defeat to Japanese forces in the early years of the Second World War. Overwhelmed troops had to retreat from Malaysia, Singapore and Burma in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable.

"These blows were so heavy that many feared they would break your will to fight on," Johnson said in his tribute letter. "But you survived the longest retreat in British history, marching almost 1,000 miles from Burma to India, and then you regrouped and reformed."

The British prime minister also highlighted the creation of the "formidable" 14th Army, a fighting force that was made up of nearly a million soldiers, including from India and Africa, and which helped "turn defeat into victory."

Queen Elizabeth paid her own tribute, sending a message in which she praised Allied troops for their sacrifice during the war. She said she offered her "grateful thanks to the men and women from across the Commonwealth, and Allied nations, who fought so valiantly to secure the freedoms we cherish today."

With files from CBC News

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