Portsmouth Veteran’s National Remembrance Date

For one veteran Portsmouth sailor there is a special place in the landmark national event for the 75th anniversary of VJ-Day, 15 August 2020.

Albert “Les” Wills was just 18 with nearly two years of service under his belt and on HMS Indefatigable in the Pacific when the war ended. But his work was far from done as the ship was ordered to repatriate prisoners of war to Australia before finally returning seven months later via New Zealand and South Africa.

On Saturday, Les will be at the National Memorial Arboretum alongside HRH The Prince of Wales who will lead the commemorative event. Read more about the event on Gov.UK.

“I think it is the highest honour to be asked to represent the Royal Navy on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two,” said Les. “I do this in memory of all those who served their county during those difficult times. We will not forget you.

“I am so pleased to be able to attend this auspicious occasion when so many cannot. It is a real privilege and will be a very special day for me.”

Les joined the Royal Navy fresh from work as a farm labourer in a sleepy Dorset village during September 1943, aged 16. He spent 12 months training at HMS St George on the Isle of Man and left in 1957 as a Petty Officer.

He was part of the British Pacific fleet on HMS Indefatigable, the first British aircraft carrier to be kamikazed and the last to be left in waters after the surrender. The ship went into Tokyo harbour for the signing of the surrender treaty, then carried released prisoners back to Australia and made a victory tour of New Zealand.

21st Century sailors can rely on near-instant worldwide communications to let their families know where they are and when they will come home, but Les’ postcard to his mum from Cape Town about his return arrived weeks after he landed at Portsmouth. Thinking that word of his return hadn’t reached them, Les had no idea his family were waiting for him in Portsmouth when the ship finally returned in March 1946. He was in the mess making tea for those who had already found their loved ones until he was ordered to the forward gangway to meet his.

His mother, sister and other family were amazed to see the array of cakes, mixed fruit, white bread sandwiches, biscuits and the sugar in the sugar bowl from a re-store in South Africa.

After a short leave Les joined the Home Fleet and during 12 months he visited Norway, Scotland and France, incredible experiences for a young boy at that time.

He then spent 2.5 years minesweeping the Mediterranean, and then on a trawler, working off Greece, and the Red Sea.

His last position in the Navy was as a Coxswain to the Queen’s Harbour Master at Portsmouth for two years.

Les added: “Service gets better the longer you are in the Navy. When I left, I was at the top of my game, it was very hard to leave. I had been offered a commission based in South Africa, patrolling South America and the South Atlantic, for two years but my wife and young daughter had other plans for me!”

I think it is the highest honour to be asked to represent the Royal Navy on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two. I do this in memory of all those who served their county during those difficult times. We will not forget you. I am so pleased to be able to attend this auspicious occasion when so many cannot. It is a real privilege and will be a very special day for me.

Portsmouth is a special place for Les and his shipmates. For many years the HMS Indefatigable Association, which Les has been chairman of, has been held their reunion in the city along with a service at Portsmouth Cathedral each April.

He then joined the Birmingham Fire service and eventually rose to the rank of Assistant Chief Fire Officer.

The members were thrilled and honoured when the ship’s standard was allowed to be housed at the cathedral, just one of a few ships which share this honour.

The Service of Remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum, including the two-minute silence, will be broadcast on BBC One from 9.30am. This event is not open to the public and people are asked not to visit the arboretum. VJ Day 75: The Nation’s Tribute will be broadcast on BBC One from 8.30pm.