John Denham's memories of his VJ Day

On This Day: August 15th, 1945 I, L/Cpl. Signalman John Denham succumbed to the evil of drunkenness all in the line of duty of celebration marking the ending of hostilities in the Far East and of World War II.

This celebration took place in the Burmese village of Tharrawaddy where it had deemed that I could be of some use to the British Army.

As an army signals operator, I mainly worked on teleprinters, teletypes and landline communications, with a little bit of armed guard escort duty to help things along.

This particular day I recall, I was on teleprinter duty at 8am, having been on Stand To, roll call and to cookhouse Basha for breakfast.

Before moving on through the rest of the day, it is well to recall how we were living at that moment.

I was a 12th Army (14th Army had been replaced) signal body attached to 20th Indian Division Signals with two other 12th Army signalers. This posting was to make a difference as to what was to happen.  Our unit had taken over the  Tharrawaddy Post office as a Signal  Office, being a wooden building of ground and first floor. The signal office with wireless, teleprinter, and cipher was located on the ground floor and upstairs was our billet for operators and linesman.

Our bedding was one blanket and a mosquito net, but ingenuity and invention by someone had devised a suitable sprung bed which got one off the ground.

This product was like a Venetian blind but made with strips of bamboo 30 or so inches in length and one to two inches wide and secured with Don8 Signal wire down each side to form a Venetian like blind. With some ammunition boxes at each end and resting each of the ends of the two army signal telegraph poles onto the boxes, one could unroll the bamboo blind resting onto the poles and a sprung mattress off the ground was the luxury. Also as the mattress was flexible to roll up, one could carry it when moving on The ammo boxes and poles were always available somewhere.

My Oppo Charlie got put on a charge for throwing a bucket of water over an Indian soldier who was doing his prayers sometime during this period. The amazing thing about the day was that discipline in the main seem to come through and signal traffic did get handled but I remember that most of the British soldiers in the unit that numbered about 60 were very joyful that it was all over. Spasmodic fighting did still go on as some Japanese units could not be contacted immediately due to their communication breakdown.

But Back to VJ Day..........

I remember that I took over teleprinter duty from my Oppo, Charlie for the morning duty and the first signal traffic was the directives for the cease-fire and the handling of any Japanese prisoners, No doubt it was a busy morning.  By the afternoon movement orders were arriving for the various units in our sector of the front line, but in the meantime, the spirit of celebration was gathering pace. Later in the afternoon, I think it was 12 bottles of Gin arrived with the compliments of our Commanding  Officer. This together with any beer that was around, some was Lion brand from Canada I think, and some issue rum that was found, a cocktail was brewed in which we all gleefully partook of. In a short time the joyful,  without a care, had taken hold on the British element of our unit. I cannot recall the reactions of the Indian soldiers in the  Signal office, perhaps they stayed sober, being mostly wireless operators.

I have a memory of dancing with a Corporal Dickson and seeing the Signal Duty Officer, a 2nd. lieutenant lying on the floor, with very happy bods stepping over him. 

Within the week 20th Division was on the move to Saigon in French Indo China for occupation duties. The three of us, Charlie, Taggy and Myself were told that we were to return to Army HQ in Rangoon and that transport would come for us. 20th Division Signals moved out to be flown to Saigon whilst the three of us were left at Tharrawaddy to await transport.

Signalman John Denham 14778695


John Denham collected the memories of his friends who shared his childhood in the other village in his long life. He wrote a short book called via Bradford on Tone - 1920 to 1945 that captures the pre war life of that small rural Somerset community. 

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