From Blairgowrie to Burma to Bombay: reflections on the 75th anniversary of VJ day

This week we remember 75 years since the end of World War Two, which drew to a close after peace was signed in the pacific on Wednesday 15 August, 1945, and became known as Victory in Japan (VJ) Day.

Group photo from the 1950s with Douglas Fernie and John Russell
L-r: Douglas Fernie, Mrs Carmichael, Isobel Fernie, Charles King, Mr Carmichael, John Russell.

On the anniversary of VJ day, Rev John Russell, Presbytery Clerk of Dunkeld and Meigle, pays tribute to a family friend caught up in the conflict who embarked on an epic journey of hundreds of miles to survive.

By Rev John Russell

Soon VJ day will be observed throughout Great Britain and the Commonwealth commemorating the end of the war against Japan.

After VE day ended the war in Europe many people forget that there was still a war going on in Asia – in China, the Pacific islands and Burma.

I spent my early years in Bombay (now Mumbai) which was a great naval and army base. Troops disembarked from great liners and travelled by train across India to fight the Japanese army on the Indian border with Burma.

From our house we used to see the long troop trains on their eastward journey. Imphal and Myitkina were names of places of battle and we read about all this in the ‘Times of India’. Generals Slim, Stilwell and Wingate were household names.

Douglas and Isabel Fernie were in Burma when the Japanese invaded there in early 1942. Isabel hailed from Polcalk farm, Alyth and Douglas from Blairgowrie. Isabel was evacuated and returned to Scotland.

In Burma the Irrawaddy river runs from the sea up the centre of Burma. The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was founded by a Scot and carried passengers and cargo the length of the country. Many of its engineers were Scots and Douglas Fernie was one of them.

The British army retreated northwards – many on the ships of the Irrawaddy flotilla, travelling as far as possible up the river. The ships were sunk and the troops with many civilians walked across the mountains into India. Douglas Fernie, with his two dogs Sally and Sam was one of that great number who made that epic journey.

Being a marine engineer Douglas came to Bombay to work at Mazagon Dock, India’s leading shipbuilder where my father was on the staff.

Douglas used to say to me “After the war you will have to come to Polcalk farm and I will make a real farmer of you.” For over a decade I used to spend my summer holiday at Polcalk farm, along with Charles King, the nephew of Douglas and Isabel.

Whenever I pass the roadend to Polcalk farm with its sign I remember that heroic retreat in Burma in 1942.

As we prepare to observe VJ day we remember with thanksgiving that great number who served their country in the Far East campaign and their numerous acts of courage and the faith that sustained all who served and we thank God for the peace that ensued. We remember too all those who died on both sides of the conflict.