|14 Aug 2020|
The 15th August 2020 is the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, to mark the end of the Second World War in the Far East. As was the case in 1945, there are no co-ordinated celebrations and no street parties. Even 75 years on, there is little or no appetite to remember publically the enormous sacrifices made by all those who fought in that brutal theatre of war.
43 Old Ipswichians served in the Suffolk Regiment during the war and the 4th and 5th battalions, part of the 18th Division, embarked for Singapore on the 29th October 1941 on the S.S. Andes and S.S. Reina Del Pacifico. At Halifax, The battalions trans-shipped to U.S.T. Wakefield which was described as “magnificent transport” and which became “home” for the next two months. The journey took them to Trinidad and via the Venezuelan Coast to Cape Town and then to Bombay, where the troops dis-embarked. After two weeks training they then re-joined the “Wakefield” and Singapore was finally announced as the final destination. They docked on the 29th January 1942 and, by the 15th February, after barely 17 days fighting, they were ordered to surrender. By that time the 4th battalion had lost, killed or died of wounds, 7 officers and 93 other ranks and the 5th, 2 officers and 32 other ranks.
The survivors spent the next three and a half years in unspeakable conditions in the complete control of a savage regime with total disregard to life or the suffering of others. The first nine months were spent at Changi and other camps on the island of Singapore and then, from October 1942 until the middle of 1944, every prisoner available was put to work on the building of the BURMA – THAILAND Railway over mountains and through impenetrable jungle. After the railway was completed, many of the surviving prisoners were moved to Japan. The conditions on board the ships were appalling and many ships were sunk by American bombers or submarines.
The deprivations suffered at the hands of the Japanese and Korean guards in building the railway are well documented. 283 other ranks and three officers from the 4th battalion died whilst POWs and 58 other ranks were lost at sea en route for Japan. The Fifth Battalion lost 271 other ranks and, of that number, 61 died from Beri-Beri, 52 from Cholera and 92 from Dysentery, Malaria and other related diseases. Of the 271 who lost their lives from the 5th Battalion, 144 came from Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and most of the rest came from East Anglia.
Five OIs who served in the Battalions were POWs. Major S.G. Flick was second-in-command of the 4th battalion and took over command on the 15th February after his commanding officer Lt-Colonel A. A. Johnson was wounded. Lance Corporal Garrett served in the 4th Battalion with Captain R.S. Hollamby and Captain R.H. Willett. The accompanying photograph of the officers of the 4th battalion in 1942 includes the three officers named. Lieutenant J. N. Westren served with the 5th Battalion. Lieutenant Granville James Haskell (OI President in 1983) who served with the 58th Medium Regiment Royal Artillery was also captured and was a POW at Changi and at camps in Thailand as were Lieutenants A.B. Gates and H. D. Sutor, both with the Cambridge Regiment.
The bravery and will to survive of these men is without parallel. They endured so that future generations could survive and we will never know the inner turmoil which they suffered in later years. They deserve to be honoured publicly every year.
Alan Wyatt OI (1944-1953)
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