Sidmouth prepares to mark VJ Day

Chief Technician O'Conner (left) being presented with his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal by Air

Chief Technician O'Conner (left) being presented with his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal by Air Marshal G A Walker in 1961. - Credit: Archant

On May 8, 1945, millions of people across the world celebrated the end of the European war and victory over Nazi Germany.

Mr O'Connor's painting of his cell at the Java prison camp shows the basic conditions the men were k

Mr O'Connor's painting of his cell at the Java prison camp shows the basic conditions the men were kept in. - Credit: Archant

But for the thousands of families whose loved-ones were still fighting in the Far East and Pacific, VE Day did not provide much comfort.

One such person was Woodlands resident Joan Titley, whose father was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942 and remained captive until after they surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945.

Joan, now 81, said her family had celebrated VE Day, but were unable to fully enjoy the festivities.

She added: “Everybody was pleased about the European war ending, but of course we couldn’t celebrate as a family because our father was still out there.

This watercolour by Mr O'Connor shows the prison camp in Java.

This watercolour by Mr O'Connor shows the prison camp in Java. - Credit: Archant


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“My mother was very good, she didn’t let her worries be known to us.

“We kept going out to places and she kept our life as normal as possible.

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“She was very positive, although she must have been worried.”

Joan was nine years old when her father, Flight Sergeant Ted O’Connor, was declared missing.

And although his family heard very little from him during his time in captivity, after he returned home, they learnt he had a very unique perspective on the final days of war in the Far East.

Speaking in 1978, Ted recalled how August 6, 1945, started as a ‘normal’ day in captivity on Mukai Shima island – some 15 miles from Hiroshima – when he and his fellow prisoners spotted an American aircraft in the skies overhead.

He said: “We waved and cheered, thinking the bomber was going to drop food parcels, but it flew off.”

After a few minutes, the ground shook and the sky turned blood red as the plane passed overhead again on its journey back to base.

The aircraft had been the B-29 Enola Gay - on its way to Hiroshima to drop the first atomic bomb.

Flight Sergeant O’Connor had trained as a carpenter rigger in Cheshire, before serving as ground crew during the Battle of Britain.

He shipped out to Singapore in November, 1941.

Just three months later, the Japanese began their attack on the British port.

He successfully evaded capture for 11 days by hiding in nearby mountains, but was eventually taken prisoner and sent to a camp in the Javan port of Batavia.

After eight months, Mr O’Connor and his fellow RAF prisoners were shipped to Mukai Shima, where their Japanese captors planned to make use of the men’s trade skills.

The group, which Mr O’Connor led as the senior NCO, were put to work on the docks, where they tried their best to disrupt the enemy’s war production effort.

He said: “They got us working on dynamo casings and we ruined them, so we were put to painting and cleaning ships’ bottoms.

“We dropped nuts and bolts into prop shafts and engine casings.”

Ted recalled how the Japanese ship builders used English chalk markings on the steel structure of the new vessels.

He said: “We rubbed those out and chalked them up again in different places, and then the Japanese workers came along and did the work in the wrong places.

“Everything had to be started from scratch and it put the job back by six months.

“Funnily enough, they never seemed to realise we were responsible.”

Mr O’Connor died in 1975 aged 71.

A service to mark the 70th anniversary of VJ Day – Victory over Japan Day – will take place in Sidmouth tomorrow (Saturday) at 2pm at the War Memorial outside the Parish Church. All are welcome to attend.

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