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‘All the guards had disappeared’ - Norwich 103-year-old recalls VJ Day

PUBLISHED: 00:06 15 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:29 15 August 2020

Billy Brown Picture: Family picture

Billy Brown Picture: Family picture

Family picture

Norwich 103-year-old remembers VJ Day liberation from Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Billy Brown Picture: Family pictureBilly Brown Picture: Family picture

William Brown, of Norfolk, has lived a remarkable 103 years and still recalls the day, exactly 75 years ago, he was freed from a prisoner of war camp in Japan.

He was being held in Osaka when, one morning, the prisoners discovered all the guards had disappeared.

Almost immediately US aircraft were overhead, dropping leaflets and then food. “Dad remembers one of these food containers hitting a prisoner who lived in Norwich,” said his son, Mike. A Japanese doctor who was still in the camp stitched his wounds.

“When the prisoners ventured out of camp to the Japanese village there were no males about. The females and children were starving (also terrified) so the prisoners were able to help them too,” said Mike.

William, known as Billy, had been held captive in Changi, Thailand and Japan, and forced to work on the Burma railway, where more than 12,000 allied prisoners of war and tens of thousands of forced labourers perished from exhaustion, disease and starvation.

Billy had been called up, in Norwich, in 1940 when Mike was just 10 months old. By 1942 he was in Singapore, but in February he was captured and held in a series of forced labour and prisoner of war camps. But he considered himself lucky. “The camps he were in, were mostly decent,” said Mike.

Billy remembers the journey home as wonderful, by ship across the Pacific, including three weeks in Hawaii, and then train across Canada, and across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary.

He returned to the Norwich flat he has lived in all his married life with the baby he had left behind now a four-year-old boy. “The story is I cried my eyes out when I saw him because of course I didn’t know who he was,” said Mike.

*Two charities committed to preserving the memory of the service and sacrifice of Far East Prisoners of War can be contacted via their websites at nationalfepowfellowship.org.uk and www.cofepow.org.uk

Margaret Martin is the daughter of a prisoner of war, captured in Java, and helps run a charity dedicated to looking after people captured and imprisoned on Java, and their families. She said: “I always want to find FEPOWs to provide them with welfare support and the camaraderie of their fellow, before it is too late. I also support their wives and widows and help their families to know more about the FEPOWs.” She can be contacted via thejavafepowclub42.org

Victory in Japan Day was on August 15. Many of the planned 75th anniversary events will now be held on the 76th anniversary, next year.

Victory in Europe Day was on May 8 1945 but the Second World War continued to be fought in and around Japan.


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