RAF Music Services News

VJ 75 - A Personal Story

Senior Aircraftman Christopher Bujok asks Corporal Jono Read to reflect upon his Great Grandfather’s story.

An interesting year so far brings us to the 75th anniversary of the victory over Japan in World War Two, or as it is more commonly known, VJ Day.  Sadly, the chances for RAF Music to reflect and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice will be very different to that of previous commemorations.  However, that hasn’t stopped this year being a particularly poignant moment for one member of the Band; Corporal Jono Read.  I asked him to reflect on his Great Grandfather’s Story.

Corporal Read’s Great Grandfather, Tom Humphrey, was a Cornishman who ran away to sea in 1926.  In World War Two he was a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Exeter.  Sadly, in 1942, HMS Exeter was sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Battle of the Java Sea.  Petty Officer Humphrey was captured and spent the rest of the war in the Fukuoka Prisoner of War Camp in Japan.

Royal Air Force musician plays bass clarinet
Corporal Jono Read.

Whilst a Prisoner of War, Petty Officer Humphrey managed to keep a diary.  It was often confiscated by the prison guards, but he always found a way to retrieve it.  It’s a poignant reminder of what he went through and helps the family keep in touch with his past.

The sinking of HMS Exeter was recorded in one of his diary entries.  He writes:

'At 11:10hrs, our Captain ordered that the ship was to be sunk and her crew were to abandon her.  After leaving my action station, I tried to go below to my mess, but was unable to.  After diving overboard, I surfaced near a large plank of wood.  By this time two Japanese destroyers had stopped and were picking up any one who could reach them.'

Having read further excerpts from the diary, one of my favourites reads as follows:

'Crew are passing cigarettes to our lads, some of whom are selling their watches and rings.  I do not intend to get rid of my ring.  It is the only thing I have from Kath.  I wonder how she and the children are and if they have heard that the Exeter has been sunk.  I feel very sorry that I cannot let her know that I am safe.'

I find it very touching that despite having gone through such an ordeal, his thoughts are with  his family.  It’s also moving that he doesn’t intend to sell his ring and chooses to keep it as a reminder of his family back home.

Petty Officer Humphrey was also in proximity to the nuclear weapon dropped on Nagasaki, one of only two nuclear weapons dropped at times of war.


As I was leaving the shelter I was facing towards Nagasaki.  I saw a flash of intense brilliance which seemed to blot out the sun.  After which there was a complete silence for 10-15 seconds.  As the brilliance faded a ripple of warm air struck my face and upper part of my body.  This increased in heat and velocity, accumulating in an ear-shattering roar of a very heavy explosion which shook the camp causing window frames and glass to fall.  Still looking towards Nagasaki I saw a huge ball of orange and purple smoke.'

Not long after Nagasaki, Japan surrendered and the Allies declared victory of Japan.  Petty Officer Humphrey managed to make it home to Padstow, Cornwall, where he lived until his death in 2000.

A great grandfather cradles his great grandson
A now-retired Petty Officer Humphrey, pictured cradling a young Corporal Read.

Tom Humphrey’s diary is a fascinating piece of history and helps to immortalise one of the many stories of World War Two.  A number of the diary entries can be found in Guy Stanley’s’ book, Nagasaki Six.  It’s a reminder that we all should take a moment to reflect on VJ Day and remember those who sadly did not make it home to see their families; making the ultimate sacrifice.

'For your tomorrow, we gave our today.'


To hear more of Corporal Jono Read's personal story follow the link here.

Article written by Senior Aircraftman Christopher Bujok

Images provided by kind permission of the Read family and NHT Official.

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