Divisions about the past remained. But in its final moments the day belonged to children and the future

Will Bennett reports on how the 'forgotten army' of VJ Day lost its tag forever
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The Independent Online
One thousand children escorted the Queen up the Mall last night, candles flickering in the darkness, as the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of VJ Day came to an end.

The past had inevitably and rightly dominated the VJ Day events but last night at a sunset ceremony outside Buckingham Palace it was children who took centre stage.

The crowd sang "The Day Thou Gavest Lord has Ended'' and the flags of the Commonwealth nations were lowered.

It was a moving end to a weekend of official commemorations. On Saturday the veterans of the Burma campaign, who called themselves "the forgotten army'', lost that tag forever when they received rapturous public acclaim as they marched through London. Yesterday church bells tolled all over the country at mid-day and in the evening there was pageantry with Beating the Retreat ceremonies in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.

But amid solemn remembrance the arguments about reconciliation with the Japanese still divided veterans.

In London 1,500 former prisoners of war and civilian internees who endured terrible treatment at the hands of the Japanese held a service at St Paul's Cathedral to remember the many thousands who were killed in action or died in captivity in the Far East.

But the emphasis of another service at Westminster Abbey was on reconciliation and there were Japanese veterans among the 150-strong congregation, which included Lord Weatherill, a former Speaker of the House of Commons.

The service, which was organised by the Burma Campaign Fellowship Group, a pro-reconciliation group of veterans, was the only event during the weekend to which the Japanese were invited. The service, however, drew criticism from some former prisoners.

Harold Payne, of the Far East Prisoners of War Association, said that he was deeply distressed that such a service was being held.

Keith Martin, chairman of the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East region, said: "I think reconciliation is something that we strive for but it needs the other party to take steps towards you."

But the Very Rev Michael Mayne, who, as Dean of Westminster Abbey, preached at the service, said: "You do not honour the dead by continuing hatred for the former enemy."

Maurice Franses, the treasurer of the BCFG, said: "We feel that the Japanese apology should be taken as complete. It is never going to get any better."

In London, on Horse Guards Parade the Queen and other members of the Royal Family watched as military bands marched and played wartime music.

The Queen, who had celebrated with the crowds on VJ Day in 1945, told the audience last night that "like so many others I have vivid memories of VJ Day and of joining with the nations around the world in celebrating the long-awaited coming of peace. Prince Philip was serving in the Far East on board a destroyer in Japanese waters. On that day in 1945 he was not part of a forgotten fleet, indeed there were no forgotten armies.

"There were just a vast number of men and women who had fought for and saved the future of the free world."

Then she drove down the Mall, flanked by 1,000 children from all over the Commonwealth, carrying candles.

Divisions on how to deal with the past remain, but in its final moments the day belonged to children and to their future.

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