I Had a Sword Put to My Throat. I Thought That Was My Lot but He Was Only Playing with Me ; Today Marks the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day - When World War II Was Finally over with Victory in Japan. for the Surviving Soldiers, All Old and Frail Nowadays, the Conflict in the Far East Will Revive Some Terrible Memories. ANDY RICHARDS Reports

Birmingham Evening Mail (England), August 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

I Had a Sword Put to My Throat. I Thought That Was My Lot but He Was Only Playing with Me ; Today Marks the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day - When World War II Was Finally over with Victory in Japan. for the Surviving Soldiers, All Old and Frail Nowadays, the Conflict in the Far East Will Revive Some Terrible Memories. ANDY RICHARDS Reports


A FORMER prisoner of war has told his moving story as the 70th anniversary of VJ Day is commemorated.

Alec Gibson, aged 93, was held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Rangoon for more than two years.

He suffered from malnutrition and was forced into hard labour under the constant threat of beatings.

Alec, now a resident at the Royal Star & Garter Home in Solihull, was in a reserved occupation in an armament firm when the war broke out.

But, knowing that his friends were fighting and even dying for their country, Alec felt it was his duty to join up.

He was commissioned into the Indian Army and served in Burma with the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade, otherwise known as the Chindits, commanded by Brigadier Orde Wingate.

Alec was a cipher officer and his duties included using a code book to decode and code messages.

Alec and his unit were eventually captured by the Japanese as they tried to escape across the Irrawaddy River.

His family had had no word of him since a brief message in 1943 which informed them he was "missing, presumed drowned."

The following two years of captivity were hell in the heat of the jungle.

Alec, a great-grandfather who has survived his wife Kathleen, recalls the time he was captured after having passed out trying to escape across the Irrawaddy River.

He said: "One of the soldiers put a sword to my throat.

"I thought that was my lot but he was only playing with me," he added.

Eventually, in April 1945, the Japanese decided to move their prisoners to Thailand.

When he was eventually freed, Alec recuperated in India and eventually returned home to his joyful family.

He said that, despite everything, he would do the same again, "I had some close scrapes but really it is just sheer luck that I'm still here," he said.

Sadly, many of the soldiers who fought in the war against Japan have now passed away.

Consequently, some of the veteran organisations have also now folded because of dwindling numbers.

Five years ago, on the 65th anniversary of VJ Day, the West Bromwich Burma Star Association held a final service of thanksgiving and remembrance at The Church of St Andrew, in Carters Green.

Fifteen years earlier, the branch could count more than 30 regulars and had weekly meetings at The Hayes Workingmen's Club, in Dudley Street, West Bromwich.

But the strain of organising the event and having to witness the painful sight of everdecreasing numbers forced Charlie Rowley, of Smethwick, who used to be the branch's standard bearer, into stopping their annual get-together.

Speaking in 2010, Mr Rowley, who was then aged 85, said: "My health's not as good as it used to be and my wife, Ciss, has got Alzheimer's so I've got other things that I need to think about.

"I've enjoyed doing it, but it had to come to a stop eventually," said the grandfather-oftwo, who served with the Royal Artillery as a gunner for nearly four years from 1944.

He continued: "At the last meeting we just said, 'This'll be our final one. Who wants this picture, who wants that?' "I was sad because I wanted to keep it going for the comradeship.

"I wanted to keep the lads together," said Mr Rowley, who was conscripted into the Army at the age of 19 and sent straight to fight the Japanese forces in the Burmese jungle.

"The meetings were really good. There was so much joking and laughing going on. I made some great friends and I've seen some of them pass away.

"I've been to all their funerals.

"We used to parade through the High Street in West Bromwich every year until 2000, but people were getting too frail and there wasn't enough of us for that."

Mr Rowley was sent straight to the Far East to fight Japan as Emperor Hirohito's forces were on the backfoot.

Having failed to take India, the Japanese were retreating up to ten miles a day out of the dense Burma jungle as 1945 went on.

"I was lucky enough to go when the big battles had already been fought," said Mr Rowley, who was awarded the 1939-49 Star, the Burma Star and the Defence and 1939-1945 medals. …

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I Had a Sword Put to My Throat. I Thought That Was My Lot but He Was Only Playing with Me ; Today Marks the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day - When World War II Was Finally over with Victory in Japan. for the Surviving Soldiers, All Old and Frail Nowadays, the Conflict in the Far East Will Revive Some Terrible Memories. ANDY RICHARDS Reports
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