The veterans who dodged kamikaze and sniper attacks to reach first VJ Day

Two Navy veterans have shared their memories of surviving kamikaze attacks and sniper fire to make it through to the end of the Second World War and celebrate the first Victory in Japan (VJ) Day.

Richard Edser, 94, served as a Seaman on board the HMS Formidable aircraft carrier in East Asia.

He had signed up aged just 17, with his training and military career taking him to Belfast, Norway, Gibraltar and the Pacific.

Speaking to the PA news agency ahead of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on Saturday, he remembered his ship being struck by a Japanese kamikaze plane on May 5 1945.

Richard Edser as a young sailor
Richard Edser as a young sailor

Locked up in a gun turret, Mr Edser was initially not aware of the full impact of the attack, which would be followed by another three days later.

“We didn’t see it until after the action was over, but we had to sweep the deck with all the debris,” he said.

“All they found of the pilot was one arm, with his wrist watch on.”

Mr Edser, now living in Harlow, Essex, admitted he turned to prayer during attacks on the Formidable.

“I’m not afraid to say that, I used to pray that I come out alright,” he said.

Despite the hard work on board, which included placing chocks under the wheels of aircraft, Mr Edser said there were still moments of enjoyment.

The crew would play “deck hockey” on board and arrange boxing matches.

HMS Formidable
HMS Formidable

Mr Edser learned to string his hammock up close to the ship’s bakehouse, despite the rats, because it was warmer there.

Due to being on leave he actually missed out on his comrades parading through the streets of Sydney in Australia following the Japanese surrender on August 15 1945.

“I was courting a woman out there,” he said.

He recalled little fanfare when the Formidable later returned to England in 1946.

“Nobody was on the jetty at all, that’s why were called the forgotten fleet,” he said.

“When we came back to England it was just another day.”

Alfie “Fred” Lee, 95, now living in Hampshire, also signed up as a 17-year-old, ending up on the HMS Nith, a river class frigate.

Alfie “Fred” Lee
Alfie “Fred” Lee

He witnessed the action at D-Day in 1944, as his ship ferried troops and served as a base for senior officers.

Having only ever caught the ferry to the Isle of Wight before, he learned to combat sea sickness in the Irish Sea and cope with life working as a “stoker” in the ship’s boiler room.

The Nith travelled to India, helping to move troops, where Mr Lee bumped into his brother.

The pair had not realised they were both at D-Day, having last been together a year before when Mr Lee was best man at his brother’s wedding.

On the day the Japanese surrendered, the Nith was heading to Rangoon where it still encountered resistance in the form of sniper fire.

Mr Lee told PA: “I didn’t realise what it was, all I could hear on the side of the ship was ‘ping, ping, ping’ and I said to somebody ‘what’s that?’ and they said ‘get your head down the Japs are up there firing at us’. They were up in the cranes.”

Nevertheless the crew were able to celebrate the end of the war at sea over “two bottles of beer a piece”.

“That’s more than we did VE Day, we never celebrated anything VE Day,” Mr Lee said, “We were still too busy.”

After spending 13 months at sea, he returned to a cold and foggy England in March 1946.

“There was nobody there to say hello or anything, you just parked the ship up and that was it,” Mr Lee said.

Thankfully his two brothers in the Navy and one in the paratroopers all returned from the war.

At the time of their interviews, both Mr Lee and Mr Edser were uncertain if they would be marking VJ Day on Saturday locally due to the restrictions placed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Lee said: “I can never really forget those that died aboard us.”

While Mr Edser commented: “It is important to me, I make sure people know what we’ve done.

“All the people that was lost, all my mates.

“It’s one of those things, we went to war and that’s it, to save the country.”

Both men are supported by the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans which normally arranges trips and special days out with the help of London licensed taxi drivers, who this year will be delivering commemorative tins to servicemen.