Joint VE/VJ Day? Another insult from Blair

Despite what you may think of the Daily Mail, I thought the following article made interesting - and sad - reading....

Copyright 2004 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
November 10, 2004

THE DATE is as firmly rooted in the calendar as Christmas. November 11 equals Armistice Day, the day the guns fell silent at the end of the Great War.

Come tomorrow morning, Britain will again pause to remember her glorious dead. Come this weekend, we will hear the bugles.

It is equally preordained that the second Sunday of November shall, in perpetuity, be Remembrance Sunday. The Cenotaph, the Last Post, the Queen - we all know the ritual.

Dates matter when they have been turning points in our own story. They etch crucial milestones in the mind. That is why we mark birthdays, wedding anniversaries, jubilees.

That is why, year after year, we see old soldiers make their pilgrimages on dates which haunt them still. That is why, come November, every lapel sports a plastic poppy.

And that is why this Labour Government is about to make one of its most arrogant blunders of all. It is a mistake which will make Michael Foot's infamous Cenotaph donkey jacket look like a mild fashion hiccup.

For, with a breathtaking contempt for facts, the Government has decided to overlook two of the greatest dates in British history because they are, well, rather inconvenient.

Next year sees the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. It should be the climax to a succession of profoundly moving commemorations, including this summer's D-Day events. And there are two dates which, above all others, should be engraved in the minds of every British child for ever.

The first is VE or Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, the day when Germany's surrender brought peace to this battered continent. The other is VJ or Victory in Japan Day, August 15, 1945, when Japan finally ceased its savagery and the war was truly over.

Modern civilisation hinges on these dates. For veterans and the war generations, they are moments which separate light from dark, hope from fear.

But Labour knows better.

Rather than give each one its due - as Britain did so memorably for the 50th anniversaries in 1995 - this Government has decided to merge the two dates into one single, meaningless day. They have plumped for July 10 - because it is 'midway between the two'.

According to a Ministry of Defence spokesman: 'July 10 is a symbolic date and is not intended to mark any specific event of World War II.' Why on earth not? 'We are not just focusing on the military,' says the MoD sniffily, 'but on everyone from the Bevan Boys (conscripted miners), Air Raid Wardens and other civilian organisations on the Home Front.' And there are several other factors, including 'the availability of individuals' - VIPs in other words.

August, says the MoD, is also a 'block leave' period. We can't let the greatest triumph of the 20th century get in the way of our Tuscany holiday plans, can we?

It is a shameful mockery of history.

So much for men like Lieutenant Robert Gray. He was only 27, with everything to live for, on August 9, 1945. The war was all but over - less than a week to go, as it turned out.

He could soon be on his way home to a hero's welcome.

This outstanding Fleet Air Arm officer had already been awarded the DSC for his bravery. He had nothing left to prove as he set out in his Corsair IV over Japan's Onagawa Bay looking for enemy shipping.

And he found it. But as the massed guns of eight Japanese ships and several shore batteries opened up on him, he did not flinch. Leading the way, his aircraft took one hit and then another and another.

Within seconds, it was on fire but instead of taking abortive action, he was determined to fly close enough to drop his bombs accurately on the Japanese destroyer Amakusa. He was just 50 feet from his target when he scored a direct hit.

They never found Lt Gray. But you can still see his posthumous Victoria Cross in the Canadian War Museum.

It was the last VC of World War II.

Unless, that is, you listen to New Labour's new version of history.

Because according to them, of course, it was all over by July.

So much for Lt Gray and all the countless others who died in the frightful last weeks of the war. Little wonder the 'Forgotten Army', as Britain's Far Eastern force was known, still feels forgotten.

'November 11 is the end of World War I, fixed in everyone's mind, and you'd never get anyone fiddling around with that,' says Colonel John Kenyon, 82, holder of the Military Cross and president of the Shropshire branch of the Burma Star Association.

'Why should I mark some random day in July when I was seeing men under my command being killed in August, when there was still heavy fighting at the height of the monsoon season, hand-to-hand fighting up to your waist in water?' Imagine if it was arbitrarily announced that Armistice Day was to be shifted to October 'for planning purposes'. Imagine, even, that Christmas was to take place on Bonfire Night or your wedding anniversary had been shunted forward or backwards by a month or two because the Government said so. Then you begin to understand the indignation of many veterans across Britain and the Commonwealth.

How could Ministers be so insensitive? Quite easily, as it turns out.

They are not just worried about holiday arrangements. You do not have to be Nostradamus to work out that VE Day, in May, might clash with a widely-predicted May election.

Legions of blazered old heroes evoking memories of Churchill might not suit the election plans of a Prime Minister whose war in Iraq has split the nation.

And, in any case, one parade is a lot cheaper than two.

According to a press release from the Minister for Veterans, Ivor Caplin, July 10 is to be 'a fitting and dignified commemoration' and 'a day for the nation to come together in collective thanks for the brave efforts of those whose courage, resilience and determination were the safeguards of our freedom'.

Fine words, of course. But, as we shall see, the spin has been utterly cynical.

This is not merely a case of botched planning. It is, perhaps, the most damning example yet of historical vandalism by a Government that has tried to consign everything from the British Empire to the 1,000-year-old post of Lord Chancellor to a designer wastepaper basket.

To many of those who actually made these 'brave efforts', it is an insult.

'Why can't they just wait a few weeks?' asks former Signalman Arthur Titherington, indefatigable chairman of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association.

'The war was far from over. On August 11, in Fukukoa, Japan, eight American airmen were beheaded, one after the other. They used one for karate practice first.' His voice falters a little before his anger kicks in again. 'I was in a camp in Taiwan. Men around me were dying right up to VJ Day and beyond. The commandant of our camp didn't surrender for another ten days. To say it was all over in July is just out of order.' The veterans' dismay is compounded by the fact that their 'collective' contribution is to be crammed into a single Sunday afternoon with an event that will be able to accommodate only a tiny fraction of those involved.

In May 1995, more than two million people in London alone attended the 50th anniversary of VE Day.

Remember the Queen, Queen Mother and Princess Margaret on the Palace balcony, joining in that mass singsong as a Lancaster bomber flew overhead?

Across the country, millions took part in similar events over a long weekend.

Three months later, millions more cheered and cried as tens of thousands of the old and bold, led by Burma Star veterans, marched through London during a weekend of national commemoration for VJ Day.

Next year will be the last major remembrance of these great events for a generation most of whom are over 80. And the plans? A Sunday lunch for 2,000 at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and an afternoon service on Horse Guards Parade for 11,000 to cover all aspects of the war.

Of necessity, there can only be a token presence from so many deserving organisations. How else will they squeeze in everyone from the Desert Rats to the London Fire Brigade?

The Burma Star Association alone has 10,000 members and estimates there are 30,000 surviving veterans of the ghastly conflict.

The Labour Camp Survivors Association has 7,500 members.

Little wonder that Mr Titherington, say, or Col Kenyon and the 75 members of his Burma Star branch, have all, reluctantly, decided to have nothing to do with the event.

And it is not just the veterans of the Far East who are feeling forgotten.

'There should be two separate events to mark two very separate phases of the war. I'll be marking VE Day on my own if necessary,' says El Alamein veteran John Shield, 84, from Warrington, Cheshire, the former general secretary of the Eighth Army Veterans Association.

'I have a mental picture from Pathe News of VE Day - Churchill and the Royal Family on the Palace balcony,' says Wing-Commander Jim Wright, 82, from Abingdon, Oxfordshire. He spent two years flying Lancaster bombers over Europe, winning the DFC in the process. 'Of course, VE day should be recognised properly.

And so should VJ Day. I won't be going on July 10, even if I'm invited.'

The anger and resentment is only starting. Many veterans have only just realised what is going on.

For this classic Blairite fudge was unveiled with masterful stealth.

There was no grand announcement. It leaked out in a brief parliamentary answer during a day of Iraq-fuelled bedlam back in March when the national mind was on other things. The only details so far emerged a few days later in a cursory MoD press release.

The MoD admits that the VE-VJ decision had actually been taken in March 2003. And yet the Government decided to announce its plans in a few paragraphs on March 11, 2004. For some reason, they did so a few hours after the Al Qaeda attack on Madrid had left 200 people dead and the world in shock.

Coincidence - or yet another textbook case of 'burying bad news'?

At that stage, the veterans were focused on the upcoming Normandy commemorations for D-Day. The Government had said it would merely contribute a band and a junior minister. The disappointed veterans had been pleading for rather more.

As public anger grew and the White House announced plans to despatch President Bush and a small army to France, Tony Blair was forced to change his tune. A full royal, prime ministerial and military presence was suddenly announced and the result was a triumph.

'When the Government finally came on board, they couldn't be faulted,' says Sidney Goldberg, 81, secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association. 'But they kept insisting that there had been "full consultation" throughout, and that just wasn't the case. They simply don't understand history.' 'The Government were shamed into it,' is the more forthright verdict of Gerald Howarth, Shadow Defence Minister. 'And now we must try to shame them into recognising VE and VJ Day.' Veterans are not natural lobbyists.

Octogenarians do not mobilise at the click of an email and most have been unaware of the July 10 plan.

But the issue suddenly surfaced a few days ago when Col Kenyon wrote a letter to a national newspaper expressing his disgust at the plan and his intention to boycott the July 10 proceedings. His anger struck an instant chord and he has been inundated with support from home and abroad.

The MoD insists that a number of Services charities were 'fully consulted' on all the July 10 arrangements. I have spoken to several of these charities and this turns out to be yet more devious spin.

'We were only asked for our thoughts on the parade, not the date,' says a senior figure inside one prominent welfare organisation. 'As for the merger of VE and VJ Day, the Government told us that this was a fait accompli.' And the veterans themselves?

They were not consulted at all.

Certainly, some are happy with the arrangements as they stand.

'We're not getting any younger and some of us just aren't up to marching up and down the Mall any more,' says Frank Rosier, a D-Day veteran from Portsmouth.

But many feel that meddling with these great turning points in history is simply sacrilege to the memory of Lt Gray and all the others.

For now, we are left with a compromise which sums up this Government's capacity to play with history like just another batch of statistics, to disregard the difficult past in favour of the manageable present.

Who needs VE or VJ Day?

Henceforth, let it be known that the war ended on July 10 - Suits All Diaries Day.

The sooner we get rid of this horrible disgusting maggot of a prime minister and his toadying cronies for a party which actually respects the citizens of this country and their acheivements intead of burying them, the better.
One word!

Several years ago in the USA during the first months of the Clinton regime it was proposed to abolish Veterans (the US name for Remembrance Day) Day as a public holiday as the introduction of Martin Luther King Day had created one too many public holidays. Now Clinton as everyone knows was a tosser of the same stripe as BLiar. The furore generated by enraged veterans changed his mind. One hopes WE can similarly persuade BLiar and his gang not to amalgamate VE and VJ Day.

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