It is right to remember soldiers on VJ Day...soon they will all be gone

Bob Wright (left), a 92-year-old veteran who fought in the Far East, with Mervyn Elder during commemoration at Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker Press
Bob Wright (left), a 92-year-old veteran who fought in the Far East, with Mervyn Elder during commemoration at Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker Press

Ulstermen “punched above their station” when it came to beating back the Japanese invasion of south-east Asia, according to a senior Royal British Legion figure.

Mervyn Elder, the organisation’s Northern Ireland president, was among those who were present at a commemoration on Friday of the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory against the Japanese.

He said it is particularly important to remember the sacrifice of servicemen from the island of Ireland – on both sides of the border – because soon those few remaining survivors will be gone.

Mr Elder said: “There was never any conscription in Northern Ireland and anybody who fought in the Second World War did so as a volunteer.

“We punched above our station and there were lots of Irishmen, both north and south, by the way, who fought in the Far East and that’s why the Burma Star Association was such a strong association here.

“Pro-rata we provided more people in the conflict in the Far East than probably any other part of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Elder said he recently tried to identify the number of residents of Belfast who fought against Japan.

The Burma Star Association represents people who fought in the Far East and there are believed to be only eight remaining Burma Star recipients in Belfast.

The famous medal was awarded for service against the Japanese invaders in Burma from 1941 to 1945, although those serving in the conflict theatres of Bengal, the Indian province of Assam, China, Hong Kong, Malaya or Sumatra can also qualify.

The Far East Prisoners of War Association and Mr Elder believe there are only around five surviving ex-POWs in Belfast.

Mr Elder said it was vital that young people become aware of the sacrifices of those who served during the First and Second World War so that they are not forgotten.

“I think there is a genuine effort to commemorate the sacrifices that have been made.

“Next year will be a big year because it’s the 100th anniversary of the Somme.

“Centenaries are important. When we say ‘why do we commemorate 70 years anniversary of the Japanese surrender?’ the answer is simple – because a lot of these people, who are thankfully still with us, won’t be here many more years longer”.

He added: “I think there is a recognition and due commemoration of veterans and that’s perpetuated by these commemorations.

“It’s also perpetuated by the Royal British Legion year in, year out.”