VJ Day Remembered by Sue Blackman, the daughter of Colonel Cecil Hunt. Sue shares what she remembers of her father’s homecoming in late 1945.
My father, Colonel Cecil Hunt, a staff officer in the Malaya Command, was taken prisoner by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942. He had arrived on the island only eleven weeks earlier and had been promoted to full colonel on 3 January.
News of the Japanese surrender, and their consequent freedom, reached the prisoners on 17 August 1945. It was an enormous task to bring all the prisoners home from the Far East. The sick were flown out, but for most of the others, it was the autumn of that year before they arrived on home ground.
At 11 am on the morning of 5 November 1945 the liner Queen Elizabeth drew into Southampton docks. Although our parents had each written diaries they had no need to record this day in writing, so I shall tell what I know about it. I was nine years old, and my brother Tim was fourteen.
An enormous crowd had gathered at the dockside, and as Dad anxiously scanned the sea of excited faces, a colleague drew his attention to a small figure waving madly at him just below. Our mother had been taken to meet the ship by our uncle, Stuart Bedells, a naval officer who had managed to gain entry for her in front of the official reception area. And there she was, he told us, so young, just as he had remembered her.
Not all wives had remained faithful to their prisoner husbands. A few had not, and the sadness of those homecomings can only be imagined. For our parents, the love story never faltered. Granny had thoughtfully booked a hotel room for them to spend some time together before the excitement of the family reunion. Tim remembers feeling surprised by this delay, as the journey to Granny’s house in Southsea was so short, and he had expected them to come straight home. Understanding came later.
Tim and I had been taken out of school to join Granny and Auntie Nell at Granny’s house. Here we all had our instructions: Tim was posted on the windowsill as a lookout, and as soon as we heard the doorbell Auntie Nell and I were to run in the opposite direction to the old wind-up gramophone in the breakfast room, to put on the George Formby song for the troops “Bless ‘em All”. This inspired planning allowed Granny precedence and relieved Dad from facing an overwhelming crowd on the doorstep.
Dad had hoped that he would not be a stranger to his children. He need not have worried. His photograph had been on permanent view at our temporary home Mill Cottage in the Forest of Dean, with a sprig of lucky white heather in its frame. We had written letters, and even though many did not reach him, he was much in our thoughts. I would often say in all innocence to our mother, “Won’t it be nice when Daddy comes home!” And I wonder to this day how she managed to answer without a catch in her voice. We had waited for this day – I shall never forget the sound of that important doorbell. If there was hugging and kissing I don’t remember it, but he seemed to say all the right things to us. Admiring my cherished teddy bear was an instant winner with me. All I remember of the rest of that day is my jaw aching from smiling so continuously from ear to ear.
I fancy he looked thin and a little yellow. Later in photographs, one could see the strain in his face, but it didn’t last. On the sea voyage, he had already gained some strength and the ability to take normal food. In his diary, he had expressed the hope that he and Mum could take a holiday, just the two of them. There would be time for this. Meanwhile, they made the best possible decision which was to return to Mill Cottage for the seven weeks until Christmas. Here they could share the peace and quiet, the beauty of the forest, and produce of farm and orchard, and the incomparable view down over the Severn’s horseshoe bend that had been such a solace to our mother. As Tim and I came home for the Christmas holidays we all assembled once again at Granny’s house for the very memorable Christmas of 1945.
In my prayers for many years afterwards were the words “Thank you, God, for letting Daddy come home”.
Much later, in November 2010 and again in 2013 with his son Geoff, Tim flew out to Taiwan for memorial services organised by the Taiwan Prisoner of War Camps Memorial Society. Here they joined with other relatives in dedicating memorial plaques at the various prison campsites. At one of the camp services, Tim offered his own prayer “For those who were left behind”.
Also, in 2013 I attended the memorial service to those British prisoners who were brought home to Southampton in 1945. Arranged by the group devoted to honouring the memory of the Far East Prisoners of War, the Repatriation Memorial in Town Quay Park is especially dedicated to those British prisoners who survived, and lists the 28 ships in which they were brought home.
Sue Blackwell 2020