- Alan Smith questions the decision not to mark the anniversary of VJ Day
The British government is proposing to have a bank holiday on the 75th anniversary of VE Day in 2020. On 21 February, The Daily Telegraph reported: ‘Ministers appear set to move next year’s May Day bank holiday so that it falls on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. Greg Clark the Business Secretary has written to Chancellor Philip Hammond asking for permission to move this holiday—which normally takes place on a Monday—to Friday 8 May, the anniversary of the final surrender of Nazi Germany. Downing Street confirmed ministers were preparing to mark ‘the overthrow of fascism in Europe and the establishment of peace on our continent ever since.’
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might possibly have commented as follows:
‘Is there any other point to which you wish to draw my attention?’
‘To the curious incident of the proposal to have a bank holiday to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day in 2020.’
‘There was no proposal for a bank holiday to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day in 2020.’
‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.
Readers may recall that I have a family interest in the Far East theatre of the Second World War as my father died in a PoW camp in Japan (see New Directions, September 2015). This makes me more sensitive to government actions that appear to regard those who fought against Japan as less important than those who fought against Germany.
Let us start by stating the temporal framework of the Second World War:
– 1 September 1939: Germany invades Poland.
– 3 September 1939: The United Kingdom and France declare war on Germany as a result of Germany’s invasion of Poland.
– 7 December 1941: Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, and Malaya.
– 8 May 1945: VE Day marks the end of the war against Germany.
– 15 August 1945: VJ Day marks the end of the war against Japan.
There was one war only, not two: Once the war in the Far East had started, Germany declared war on the USA, as a consequence of the Axis agreement, and the USA and the UK agreed a joint strategy to deal with Germany and Japan. In addition, units were moved from the North African desert to meet the threat from Japan. Furthermore, the war started in September 1939 and ended in August 1945. (In passing, I would suggest that we should count the war as starting on 1 September rather than 3 September, as a tribute to our Polish allies.) Why, then, is the government proposing a special commemoration of the 75th anniversary of VE Day but not that of VJ Day which, after all, marks the end of the Second World War? I think it stems from the establishment’s embarrassment over its responsibility for the fall of Singapore, preferring to leave the responsibility to fall on those who had to do the fighting with inadequate forward planning and resources. In the queue for military equipment in 1941, British forces in the Far East came after UK home defence, our forces fighting the Germans in North Africa, and our new allies in the Soviet Union; Malaya and Singapore had not been put on a war footing until the Japanese had attacked; and the hope of the British government was that forces in Malaya and Singapore could hold out until help came from the US Navy based in Pearl Harbor. Spotting the error in this forlorn hope is left as an easy exercise for the reader.
Putting aside this psychological hang-up from the past, are there any rational reasons for the government appearing to celebrate VE Day but not VJ Day? None of the ones I can think of, listed below, gives me a nice warm feeling:
We were going to celebrate VJ Day all along. It would have been more efficient to plan the two bank holidays together. Any subsequent announcement of such a celebration will be a rapid reaction to hostile comment rather than a cunning plan.
Some government ministers think that the Second World War ended in May 1945. I should like to be able to rule this out but, somehow, I can’t.
Our opinion pollsters tell us that the public aren’t interested in the war in the Far East and, anyway, August is a holiday month. This one is too close for comfort.
The only way for the government to salvage their position is to announce: ‘Sorry. We have made a mistake. In 2020, and annually thereafter, the August Bank Holiday will take place on the Monday nearest 15 August to mark the end of the Second World War.’