The Atom Bomb & VJ Day

The day after Japan bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan, thus joining the Allies in World War II. By April, 1942, Japan was occupying the Philippines, Indochina and Singapore.  American troops dominated the fighting in the Pacific, helping to avert further expansion of the imperialist Japanese empire.
Explosion of the atom bomb at Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 1945
The war in the Pacific continued after the war in Europe ended, culminating with the United States dropping two atomic bombs at Hiroshima, Japan on August 6 and at Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, killing approximately 200,000 people.

Bournemouth, August 9, 1945
Dearest Helen,               
The papers are full of the new invention, the atom bomb and the damage it did to the city of Hiroshima. I can’t see any argument to justify using it to kill 100,000 civilians, can you? It’s just one step further to the end of civilization as we know it as far as I can see. But I hope I’m wrong. I’d like a few years of peace with you darling before we all get blown off the earth!
 [Aug. 13] Well darling, I suppose it’s just a matter of hours until there will be peace on earth again for the first time in eight years. It doesn’t seem natural to know that there isn’t a fight going on in some part of the world. I sure hope that speeds up our return home. . .

With the devastation caused by the atomic bombs, the war in Japan ended on August 15, 1945, commonly referred to as Victory over Japan Day or VJ Day.   The official signing of the formal surrender document took place on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, Japan, aboard the ship, the USS Missouri. 

Bournemouth, VJ Day August 15, 1945 12:30 a.m.
Harry had been in bed for just an hour when he heard some kids hollering and blowing noise makers down below their room on Christchurch Road. He turned on the lamp and peered at the clock - 12:30 a.m. He thought it was strange that kids would be out so late, then he realized - World War II was finally over.
Smitty rushed in and told him that the good news was broadcast at midnight.
 “What an ungodly hour – but I guess we better get over to the square,” Harry said, pulling on his pants.
Once outside, they heard an American dance band marching down the street playing “The Caissons* go Rolling Along.”
Everyone started singing – “Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail and those caissons go rolling along.”
“The unofficial song of the US Army,” Smitty shouted over the din.
Another American band was perched on the roof of the bus depot, playing for the crowds gathering around a huge bonfire in the square.

*Caisson - a chest to hold ammunition

Bournemouth, Aug. 15/45 V.J. Day 2 p.m.
Dearest Helen,
The war is over at last! It seems almost unbelievable to me that factories won’t be making shells and guns any more and that men will all be going home at last instead of setting out for battle fronts all over the world.
            Smitty came in and just then an American dance band came marching down the street playing “The Caissons go Rolling Along”, so sleep was out of the question and I got up and we went down to the Square. There must have been at least a thousand people there around a big bon fire built in the middle and the dance band was up on the roof of a bus station going to it and giving out with plenty of jazz. It was really an American celebration all the way. They had congo lines all over the place and a baton twirler like I’ve never seen before. We hung around until about 2 a.m. and then came home to bed.
We had to report at 10 a.m. this morning but there was nothing for us to do except that the dance band is playing at the Mess Hall (Winter Garden) to-night. I suppose we’ll be doing a big parade on Sunday.
            We just live around the corner from where the WAAF [the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force – the female auxiliary of the Royal Air Force] is billeted and they have the misfortune (?) to have a pub right in the same hotel. There’s a couple of them drunk as lords carrying Union Jacks and shaking hands with everybody on the street saying “We beat them again!” I guess you wonder why I’m not out doing the same? Well, I just received your letter of 7th and 9th this morning and I couldn’t feel any happier if I tried. Darling, the only music and words I want to hear when I get off the train is your voice speaking my name. I’ve dreamed of it so often it almost seems real sometimes sweet. I know we must think of each other often at the same time darling because I always seem to have you in my mind at all times. Yes, angel, our time will come soon but we mustn’t get too anxious. Look who’s talking!
 There’s no one more anxious to use my uniform for a door mat than I am. My shirts were all in ribbons almost and Mrs. Forster[his landlady]  has just done a fine job of patching them. The uniform is really a wreck too and is every colour except blue. Do I worry? Not when I’m making $50 a week.
            You can close your eyes when I kiss you sweetheart but you won’t have to open them to make sure I’m still there. I’ll be there all right, just as close as you want me.
            Well, sweetheart, I’ve spent all afternoon with you again and now it’s time to clean up and get tea. I hope everybody gets too drunk to dance any later than 12 tonight because if they don’t we’ll all have to play until 1 or 2.
All my love angel,

 The Caissons Go Rolling Along by Edmund Gruber

Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail
And those caissons go rolling along!
In and out, hear them shout, Counter march and right about
And those caissons go rolling along!
Then it's hi, hi, hee, In the field artillery
Shout out your numbers loud and strong,
Where'er you go, You will always know
That those caissons go rolling along!

In the storm, in the night, Action left or action right
See those caissons go rolling along!
Limber front, limber rear, Prepare to mount your cannoneer
And those caissons go rolling along!
Then it's hi, hi, hee, In the field artillery
Shout out your numbers loud and strong,
Where'er you go, You will always know
That those caissons go rolling along!

Was it high, was it low, Where the hell did that one go?
As those caissons go rolling along!
Was it left, was it right, Now we won't get home tonight
And those caissons go rolling along!
Then it's hi, hi, hee, In the field artillery
Shout out your numbers loud and strong,
Where'er you go, You will always know
That those caissons go rolling along!

Opening of the RCAF Wing at Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead

Amidst the jubilation of victory were the reminders of the horrible and tragic consequences of the war. The Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead, 43 km south of London, became world renowned for its treatment of severely burned war victims, with innovative methods of reconstructive plastic surgery developed by Dr. Archibald McIndoe. Patients were Allied Air Force personnel burned while on duty as air crew. Plastic surgery on burn victims was performed there from July 1944 on. No mirrors were allowed in the hospital and the employees and citizens in the nearby towns were encouraged to treat the patients as normally as possible to aid in their psychological recovery.
A new Royal Canadian Air Force wing built by Royal Canadian engineers was officially opened at the hospital on September 5, 1945.

                *                 *                  *  
The RCAF Personnel Reception Centre band had just marched 2 ½ km from the town of East Grinstead to the hospital. Lining up on the grounds of the facility, they were waiting for the ceremonies to begin.
RCAF band marching to Queen Victoria Hospital
“That was one of the longer parades we’ve done. All the way from town out into the countryside,” moaned Bill.
 “Did you know they also want us to play a dance here tonight?” asked Harry.
“But we didn’t bring the dance music library,” said Smitty. “Or the instruments.”
“Jim has gone back for the instruments, but as for the music, we’ll have to wing it.”
“I guess that’s why they call us the air force band.” They all groaned at that one.
“Lots of bigwigs here – Frederic Hudd, Acting High Commissioner for Canada, Air Marshall Johnson . . . “
“Look, there’s the chief surgeon, Sir McIndoe.”
The bandmembers watched as the nurses in their white starched caps and uniforms wheeled out the patients who were able to sit up, their heads swathed in bandages, some missing limbs.
“Poor fellows, I don’t think they’re going to care if we don’t have our sheet music.”
“Shh – the speeches are starting.”
(left) Edward Blount, chairman of Queen Victoria Hospital
After Air Marshall Johnson officially handed over the wing, they filed in for supper, followed by the dance. They were told not to react in any way to the patients’ severe injuries or facial disfigurement.

Bournemouth, Sept. 7, 1945
Dearest Helen,                         
On Wednesday we went out to East Grimstead on that hospital job I told you about. We marched from the town to the hospital and back about three miles. The hospital is for fellows with severe burns and needing plastic surgery. I’ve never seen more horrible cases than were at that dance. One fellow had both ears burned off also his nose and his whole face was a mass of scars. I don’t know how some of them lived through it. I woke up in a sweat the next morning thinking about them. The townspeople are warned not to stare at them as they [the patients] are encouraged to walk around the streets as though there was nothing the matter with them. We got back to London at 4 a.m. on the back of a truck after a gruelling ride.
We went up to London on Tuesday and I went to the Beaver Club and bought you a coin bracelet made out of threepenny bits. I hope you like it.
            Take care of yourself darling.
All my love honey. x x x x x x  Harry

When Will He Return?

The war in Europe had been over for three months and Helen was becoming anxious to know when Harry would return. In his letter of July 29, 1945 he said that he thinks he will be home by Christmas, but that it all depended on the number of troops coming back, the spaces available on the ships, and the point system where each person was given a priority ranking – those with the most points went home sooner. Harry was subject to the decisions of the officers in charge and did not really know for sure.
Helen was having difficulty keeping her spirits up.

Toronto, Aug. 4/45
My Own Darling Harry,                    
 I was so happy to receive yours of 29th today; it was a perfect letter, honey. I just had to answer it tonight, but I haven’t very much to tell you. Gee! It sounds more definite now as to when you’re coming. It’s so nice to think about it; I’ve always been afraid to. If it’s just four more months, that isn’t so long. Yes, it will be two years Monday since I’ve seen you; and I can still feel you when I pretend! There’s something to it, I know that, darling, and I know what you mean when you explain it.
[Aug.7/45] Well, honey, I hope you haven’t heard anything to contradict that last report. If it’s true, we’re only about four months apart, so don’t uncross those fingers. The Army Personnel from the Ile de France*
SS Ile de France
arrived today and the R.C.A.F. tomorrow. Our Department [at the TTC] chartered twelve buses to Hamilton and outside points [i.e.  where the ship was docking]. They say Mayor Saunders has been down to meet every train so far to welcome the boys. At first he had a long speech, but he’s gradually shortening it. I haven’t been down to the Colliseum [where the troop trains are coming in] yet.
 Love Helen

*The SS Ile de France was a French ocean liner built after First World War which was used as a troop ship during the Second World War, then, once the war ended, brought the soldiers back.

Canadian National Exhibition, August 1945

The annual Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto was suspended from 1942 to 1946, as the Department of National Defence used the buildings for troop training and demobilization.
Veterans had been gathering at the Coliseum
The CNE's Coliseum was a depot for returning troops
starting in May, 1945 when the first boats began to arrive from England. The returning soldiers expected on August 8, 1945 had come back on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner to New York City, then had taken the train from there to Toronto.

      *         *       *

The noise was deafening in the Coliseum as thousands of people filled the seats, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their loved ones. Others, such as Helen and her cousin Georgie, were there as supporters to welcome the battalions home.
Now that she was actually there, Helen wasn’t sure it had been such a good idea to come. All she could think about was when Harry would return. However, she tried to put on a happy face and take part in the good cheer surrounding her.
Relatives were holding up “Welcome Home” signs, and the band struck up with “Hail Hail the Gang’s All Here.” A roar erupted when the soldiers marched in to the huge arena.

Toronto, Aug. 9/45
Darling Harry                                      
They finally persuaded me to go down to the Coliseum last night honey, and what excitement there was! An Air Force Band played when the 800 airmen marched in. They dropped their bags, looked around for their section, and lost no time in finding their relatives. You see the seats are divided with letters of the alphabet and the people seat themselves accordingly. It was a grand sight, but I knew I’d feel funny – you know exactly how I stood there spellbound. Our turn must come – it must. I see where they expect a slow-up again in repatriation, but they should crowd you in somewhere. Imagine some of them spending their seventh Christmas there – they shouldn’t be asked to bear that.
Aug. 16/45 Lynn [her friend]  said she heard today they were transferring two big boats to the European run – that may speed things up a little. It takes time for all these changes though.
All my love, Helen
Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here, lyrics by D. A. Esrom, music by Arthur Sullivan
Hail, hail, the gang's all here
What the heck do we care
What the heck do we care
Hail, hail, the gang's all here
What the heck do we care now


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