Sidney Gibbons remembers VJ Day

This August marks the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, commemorating the moment when Japan surrendered and brought about the end of World War Two. It’s a significant occasion for all who fought and lived through the campaign, including Sidney Gibbon, 95, who fought in the Burma Campaign.

Sidney will be remembering the friends, family and comrades he lost and fought alongside at a service held by his local Burma Star Association branch in Deal on the Kent coast. 

For Sid the war began in earnest in 1940 when he joined the Local Defence Corps, trying to protect the docks and railway bridges from German air attack.

“I was based in St Katherine’s Dock in London during the blitz. Much of the south side of the Thames was made of timber and was on fire, as far as the eye could see, but St Katherine’s Dock was on the north side and made of more brick and concrete.

"It was our job to relieve the firemen who stood there for days trying to put the fires out. Food had to be brought out to them.”

Sid’s badges of honour. Left to right: the Burma Star, The Defence Medal, 1939-1945 War Medal, and the Territorial Efficiency Medal.

In 1944 Sidney went out to India as part of a convoy that travelled through the Med and the Suez Canal, both dangerous places at that time, on the two-week journey that was spent mostly four decks down.

“I had 20 young soldiers to look after and I made sure they all got a hammock. There wasn’t one left for me so I slept on the mess table. I fell off many a time.”

Sid went to Bombay and from there to the British Army transit camp at Doolally. To this day we all use the term ‘going doolally’, derived from the hours of boredom endured by soldiers waiting at that camp. Sid went up to the line but was sent back to join the Royal Fusiliers and protect the docks at Rangoon.

“I became a stevedore. Ships used to come in with trains and boats on them, big stuff, which we had to unload. I was lucky. We came under attack one night and, like you do, you grab your rifle and dive for cover. But we rebuffed them pretty quickly.”

After all these years, Sid still has his old soldier’s paybook.

When war in Europe was declared over, Sid was stuck in Rangoon so VE Day wasn’t one big party for him and his comrades.

“We were upset that people at home were celebrating and we were still out there. I didn’t feel we were forgotten, exactly, but all we could think about then was going home.”

Sid finally returned in July 1946, almost a year after Japan surrendered.

“Being out there we didn’t think much about that. We just wanted to go back and see our families.” But for Sid, returning was a bittersweet experience. Shortly before leaving to take part in the Burma Campaign, his mother, father, two sisters and a nine-year-old nephew had been killed at his parents’ home in Mitcham, Surrey during an air raid.

“It was very hard to lose so many of my family in one go. I’d married Lillian by then and we’d just had my son, Malcolm. If I hadn’t had a family of my own, I really don’t know how I would have coped.” Sid and Lillian went on to have a daughter as well, Marion, and Sid worked as an electrician in South London, while John returned to his hometown, Northwich, and started family life with his Alice, whom he’d married just before going to India.

They had two children, Valerie and Derek, and he resumed his career as a joiner before moving to the South Coast to work for his daughter’s transport business.

The veteran was awarded the Burma Star for his service in the campaign, but feels fortunate that he was sent out there, and that he missed the fiercer campaigns waged by British troops in Europe.

“I had a brother in the Royal Pioneer Corps, who went to Italy, Sicily and then France. My other brother was in Bomber Command. We never spoke about the war. Losing our parents and sisters was hard, but I felt I got through it and that, really, I was damned lucky.”

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