John Milliken Witnessed WWII's Big Moments

Catherine Lynagh meets the veteran before his return trip

World War II veteran John Milliken, from Newtownards recently made a return trip to Singapore to retrace his Airforce career 60 years on, this is his story.

80 year old John Milliken who still works as a window cleaner in Newtownards made his memorable trip with his youngest son Martin, thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund.

In an emotional interview John described his fears and apprehensions about what the trip might hold for him.

‘I imagine it will be a very changed place. I would think. We lost two or three friends so I will definitely go to the war cemetery. I especially want to be there on the September 16 for that’s the day they surrendered so it is very memorable.

'Mostly though, I would like my son to see it. The trip isn’t for myself. I am taking my youngest son Martin so that he can more or less see where I was and what I did. I think it is very nice on the part of the government giving us something for a change,’ he said.

John left Newtownards in 1944 and was sent to Naples Italy: ‘The first 6 weeks I was very home sick but after that I just fell in with the crowd. I wasn’t nervous, what’s the point?. Not much happened in Italy. Other than there were some casualties at different battles but those are the parts I don’t want to remember.’

John was stationed in Europe until the armistice and then moved to the Far East, where he and his comrades were among those who liberated 1,000 POWs from the notorious Chiangi Prison: ‘The war was over and the German’s surrendered. We were then asked for volunteers to go to the Far East. I volunteered and I went out to HQ - out in Sri Lanka.

'We landed in Singapore on August 27 1945 at Chang Airfield. We just had to get the POW’s together and take them to hospital right away. One thing that does stand out was that I met two of my mates in Singapore. Cameron McMurry and Robby MacAwell who were both from here but had escaped from a prison in Malaya. They were ‘on the run’ for about a year a half and I just bumped into them in Singapore.’

John recalls, that whilst in Singapore he experienced some of Second World War’s pinnacle moments, ‘When the atomic bomb was dropped I just remember the whole place was a mess. We were in Singapore until the war was over. Then Communists started taking over in Malaya. I wasn’t back home till January 1948 as I was there to help with the post war effort.’

John added: ‘People have since asked me, do I bare any hatred against my enemy? The way I look at it they were fighting for what they thought was right - both the Japanese and the Italians. I just thought we were fighting for what was really right. That was the only difference. So, no, I don’t hold any hatred against those men.

‘That’s the only way you can think about it. If you let hatred burn you up you wouldn’t have much of a life would you?

‘In Italy a German motorcyclist was captured by us, he took the wrong turn -the poor fella. We had great enjoyment with his motorbike - it was a BMW. Yes we had some good craic with it’, added John.

John was asked what his lasting memory of the war is. ‘The one moment that stands out prominently, was in Malaya out in the jungle. We were with the 9th battalion who we travelled with. They had a compound with all their stuff hidden in the jungle. It was covered in barbed wire but the Communists still just took what they wanted. Until one morning we found 40 of them hanging on the barbed wire like crows. They didn’t come back after that.

‘But that’s at the back of my memory; it’s the good times that I will really remember. And I don’t hold any grudges.

‘The Germans were taught the wrong way, but you can’t blame them for that.’

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