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Family’s plea to give Norfolk Second World War veteran and Burma Railway survivor a hero’s funeral

PUBLISHED: 07:03 12 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:10 12 August 2017

Billy Chapman (centre). Photo: Mustard TV.

Billy Chapman (centre). Photo: Mustard TV.

Mustard TV.

People are being asked to help give an “incredible” send off to one of the last survivors of the notorious Burma Railway.

Billy Chapman with his wife. Photo: Mustard TV. Billy Chapman with his wife. Photo: Mustard TV.

Billy Chapman, from Horsham St Faith, spent three-and-a-half years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp after being shot in Singapore.

Having signed up to fight aged 18, he survived torture and back-breaking work on the Burma Railway during the Second World War.

The route’s construction cost the lives of more than 12,000 allied prisoners of war. But Mr Chapman survived.

“He said that his strength got him through,” his son, David Chapman said: “Obviously beatings and torture were rife.

Having signed up to fight aged 18, he survived torture and back-breaking work on the Burma Railway during the Second World War. Photo: Mustard TV. Having signed up to fight aged 18, he survived torture and back-breaking work on the Burma Railway during the Second World War. Photo: Mustard TV.

“He was tied up with barbed wire, for reasons I don’t know why, for 30 hours and made to stand outside in all weathers.

“He had fags burned out on him and if he moved he was then punched.”

Following Mr Chapman’s death on Saturday, August 5, tributes have poured in from those who knew him.

He died at his home in the village, near Norwich, aged 96.

Billy Chapman. Photo: Mustard TV. Billy Chapman. Photo: Mustard TV.

Now, his son is appealing for people to attend his funeral on September 7 at The Church of Saint Mary and Saint Andrew in Horsham St Faith.

He said: “I think dad deserves an incredible send off to be honest. He lived in the village all his life and he was a postman.

“He outlived everyone else who was a Far East prisoner of war within quite a few mile radius [of here] I should imagine.

“I would like to see St Faith’s church full in honour of the legend what was Bill Chapman.”

The veteran, who served with the 6th Royal Norfolk Regiment, returned to the county following the war to rebuild his life.

He met his wife of 55 years, Audrey, and worked as a postman for three decades. He would cycle 59 miles everyday to do his rounds as he never held a driving licence.

But even in his old age, the horrors of the war remained with him. In 2014 he went to hospital with back pain, which an X-ray revealed to have been caused by a bullet still lodged in his lower back.

His funeral takes place on Thursday, September 7 at 11am. There will be a procession through the village passing all of his favourite drinking spots.

Mr Chapman will be laid to rest with a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of good whiskey, which was one of his last requests.

The Burma Railway

The Burma Railway, also known as the death railway, stretched 258 miles between Ban Pong in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Burma.

Forced labour was used to construct the route, with around 60,000 allied prisoners of war (PoWs) working on it.

Of those, it is believed 12,621 allied PoWs and 70,000 civilian workers died during its construction.

The Japanese army decided to build the route after it was defeated at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

It was expected to enable the Japanese to move 3,000 tons of supplies each day from Singapore and Bangkok to the Indian border.

Living conditions were initially bearable, but when the monsoon started in May 1943, rain resulted in the spread of cholera and cut off supplies for some PoWs. The railway joined the existing Moulmein-Ye line on October 16 1943. It was used by the Japanese until November 1944, when parts of it - and the famous bridge over the River Kwai - were destroyed.

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