Although Europe celebrated victory over Germany on 8 May 1945, troops in the Far East would continue fighting for another three months; their war only ended when the Allies declared Victory over Japan in August 1945.
At 93 years old, Alec Gibson is now a resident at The Royal Star & Garter Home in Solihull. When the War broke out he was in a reserved occupation in an armament firm. Knowing that his friends were fighting and even dying for their country, Alec felt it was his duty to join up. He was commissioned into the Indian Army and served in Burma with the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade, otherwise known as the Chindits, commanded by Brigadier Orde Wingate.
Alec was a cipher officer and his duties included using a code book to decode and code messages, which made good use of his excellent numeracy. During one engagement in 1943, his brigade was under attack and his commander told him to quickly destroy the code book. Unfortunately, it was attached to a dead mule in a clearing that was under attack. Alec had to crawl to the book – under fire – to retrieve it so he could burn it.
Alec and his unit were eventually captured by the Japanese as they tried to escape across the Irrawaddy River. Alec was held in a POW camp in Rangoon for over two years. Despite suffering from malnutrition and disease, Alec and his fellow prisoners were forced into hard labour under the constant threat of beatings. Alec sabotaged anything he could, damaging rice sacks and dropping goods from boats. “If you were found out you’d get a good old beating. I got caught now and again.”
In April 1945, the Japanese decided to move their prisoners to Thailand. Those who were fit to march were lined up, including Alec, who by then weighed just five stone. Those not fit to walk were left to fend for themselves. Those marching ended up in no man’s land, being shelled from both sides, and were abandoned by the Japanese. They were eventually set free in a village, where they faced bombing from the unsuspecting Allies until they were able to get a message to the British Forces. Alec was saddened that one of the senior officers, having survived the rigours of the camp, was caught up in the shelling and killed.
Once he had recuperated in India, Alec returned to his family in the UK who had received no news since 1943 when they received the message: ‘Missing, presumed drowned’.
Alec feels that despite everything, he would do the same again, “I had some close scrapes but really it is just sheer bloody luck that I’m still here.”