Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Japanese surrender

On 15 August 1945, the Japanese surrender to the Allies brought an end to war that had cost nearly 450,000 British lives

John Chittendon, 85, from Pevensey Bay in East Sussex joined the Royal Navy Fleet in 1943 as an Ordinary Seaman. He used his Heroes Return 2 grant to retrace the steps of his remarkable journey 65 years ago when along with two of his shipmates he entered Singapore just after it was liberated from the Japanese.

John took a pilot’s course when he joined up, but was unsuccessful as a flyer so he transferred as a DEMS (Defence Equipped Merchant Ships) Gunner on a Merchant Liberty ship, as part of the Arctic Convoy taking vital supplies to Russia.

On 5 September 1945, John was serving on the Indian Coaster SS Pasha, loaded up with food and medical supplies and cruised into Singapore Bay. “Everywhere looked very quiet. We couldn’t see any other supply ships but we noticed some of the British invasion fleet anchored nearby.

I asked to go ashore and was granted permission along with two others, so we got all dressed up in our white uniforms and headed into Singapore.

“I took a dagger and one of the others had a revolver. We followed the roads then crossed over some fields. There were lots of little huts, but not a soul about.

“All the time I had this strange feeling that we were being watched when suddenly I heard a cry of ‘Hiya cobbers!’ and then all these Australian POWs appeared from the huts and ran up to us patting us on the back. They had escaped from Changi gaol and were hiding from the Japanese army, which had disappeared back into the jungle only minutes before we had arrived.”

As they were talking with the POWs a Chinese civilian who had been smuggling them out throughout the war, came over and guided them to a nearby civilian internment camp.

“They were in a terrible state too, most just dressed in rags.” But they were interrupted by a commotion coming from the direction of the harbour as a British naval officer arrived with a party of marines.

“He came striding up to us. He was very angry and shouted, ‘What do you think you’re doing here? Get back on your ship we haven’t occupied Singapore yet!’ So I said, ‘Well we have’. Then he said, ‘Don’t be cheeky and get back on your ship!’”

John attended the official surrender taken by Lord Louis Mountbatten on 15 September.

“There were 40 or 50 high-ranking Japanese officers present. Even without their swords and weapons they looked very menacing as they marched out through the crowds. I was told afterwards that some people booed, but I just remember it being strangely quiet.”

John’s war service finally ended in February 1946 when he was injured in a vehicle accident and taken to hospital in Calcutta before recovering and coming home.

“Apart from being injured once when a wave slammed me across the deck of the ship, I went right through the war escaping serious injury just to end up with a jeep on top of me. But fortunately I wasn’t killed. My mum and dad would never have forgiven me.”

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