I was ten years old and living in Shillong, then a small hill station in the far north-east of India. I have many happy memories of VJ Day which was on 15th August 1945 a few months after VE Day and the moment which brought the Second World War to its final end.
My twin sister and I had been born in the remote Cachar district, the first European twins ever born there but our parents moved to Shillong when we were five or six and needed to go to school.
During the war, we got used to seeing jeeps filled with soldiers driving near our bungalow and the ‘grown-ups’ would organize dances and parties to help entertain them. We followed the news of the war in the Far East and of the battles of Kohima and Imphal in 1944 and watched while the little flags, stuck into the large map of our part of India and fastened to one of the walls of our bungalow, were slowly shifted as the news trickled in.
The news of the victory in Europe excited the grown-ups, especially those with relatives in the U.K. but to us England was a mythical country always referred to as ‘Home’ and to which we would be ‘going’ sometime.
Then, one momentous day, my twin and I were out in our garden when we heard shouting and cheering. We ran towards the road which passed at the bottom of the garden and saw two or three lorries filled with Indian soldiers driving slowly along the road with hordes of other men running on the road beside them, all waving and making a great and excited noise.
They were shouting the same words over and over again and we heard the words ‘The war is over!’ in Hindustani!
We knew immediately what it was all about and rushed into the bungalow to check out this momentous information! And it was true! The grown-ups were glued to the radio for the news bulletins and were contacting friends by telephone. The grinning bearer started to pour ‘chota pegs’ and soon the three grown-ups in our household were toasting Victory or Churchill or Peace.
The family who lived in the neighbouring compound had several daughters and the youngest two were about our age. They carried a lot of kudos in our eyes because a war hero cousin of theirs, Anthony Bartley, was to marry the film star Deborah Kerr and we all hoped they might visit but they never did!
My sister and I decided to visit them so we scrambled over a ‘nulla’ or ditch and then through a thick bushy hedge into their garden and ran to the back of their bungalow to the window of their playroom. One of our friends saw us and shouted through the window, ‘Have you heard?’ From their playroom we could hear the sound of excited grown-up voices in another room. To my sister and me it sounded very much like the celebrations which were going on in our bungalow!
Their mother had rather a loud voice which our friends were sometimes embarrassed by but not today! We were all loudly chattering away trying to visualize what a world at peace would be like for us who had no real memory of life before the war.
What none of us children understood in that moment of shared euphoria was the devastation and horror caused by the two atom bombs, with the innocent sounding names of Little Boy and Fat Man, which had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs were dropped on the 6th and 9th August and Japan finally surrendered on the 15th August 1945.
And so VJ Day ended World War Two! I don’t recall any celebrations like those seen in London on VE Day. Perhaps Little Boy and Fat Man sobered things up. Soon all the talk was about ‘Going Home’ which we duly did a year later on a troop ship filled with returning soldiers who were also all Going Home!