Bitter veterans welcome VJ Day for Allies only

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The Independent Online
The bitterness of war veterans at atrocities by the Japanese and Germans upset the carefully-planned message of peace and reconciliation which the Prime Minister yesterday announced would be the theme for events to mark the 50th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day.

Viscount Slim, whose father commanded the 14th Army in Burma, defended the decision of the organising committee to exclude the Japanese and the Germans from the Victory in Japan events.

Although German and Japanese leaders are invited to a service of reconciliation to mark Victory in Europe Day in May, they have not been invited to join a VJ-Day march-past in August of Allied and Commonwealth forces. The salute will be taken by the Queen outside Buckingham Palace from the steps of the statue of her father, King George VI.

Recalling the "beastly" treatment of prisoners by the Japanese, Lord Slim, president of the veterans' Burma Star Association, said: "We remember those who did not come back. We remember our mates and those who were trodden so hard upon. Our reconciliation is a little different.

"We admire the capabilities of the Japanese warrior. We are perfectly happy to meet Japanese but we do not wish to meet them all the time. VJ Day is veterans' day, the end-of-war day, Commonwealth day. I think the Japanese who we spoke to perfectly understand."

One veteran at the launch said: "I am delighted they haven't been invited. I can tell you from my federation membership, if they had been, none of them would have attended and the Japanese would have been marching by themselves. The spirit of reconciliation doesn't come into it."

Viscount Cranborne, Leader of the House of Lords, and chairman of the organising committee, said the Japanese would be sending a representative to the VE Day ceremony in May, to which Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, and Italian leaders had also been invited.

The Government, which Mr Major said would be spending "a few millions" on the events, believes it has been able set the right tone. Ministers were anxious to avoid making the mistakes of last year's proposed D-Day anniversary events which were changed after coming under fire from veterans' groups for being too frivolous.

Mr Major carefully avoided any mention of the Germans in the war. Blaming the war on Nazism in Europe and militarism in Japan, he said it was a "people's war against tyranny . . . in the end, tyranny lost".

The VE Day weekend, 6-8 May, including May Bank Holiday Monday, will include a concert at Wembley with Vera Lynn; a Portsmouth event called "Brylcreem, bullets and bunting"; a street party in Weymouth, Dorset; "pigs on parade" in Nottingham; a chain of beacons being lit by the Queen in Hyde Park; and the opening for three days of the secret code-breakers' unit at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes.

About 5,500 British troops will take part and 150 RAF aircraft will be involved in 12 fly-pasts. The main VE Day events will be a three-day public show in Hyde Park, postponed from last year's D-Day commemorations; a service of remembrance at St Paul's Cathedral; and a lunch at Buckingham Palace hosted by the Queen for heads of state and Commonwealth and Allied leaders.

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