Gorleston former Far East prisoner of war celebrates 102nd birthday

102 year old with family celebrating birthday on August 14

102 year old with family celebrating birthday on August 14 - Credit: Archant

A couple of pints with his son every Friday is just the tonic for a Gorleston man – who celebrated his 102nd birthday on Sunday.


John Howes, who is one of Norfolk's last surviving Far East prisoners of war, marked his special day with a family gathering at St Edmund's Residential Care Home, and a special cake which featured a small bottle of Scotch on the top!

And he is following in a family tradition – his late sister Gladys Boast of Caister lived to reach 107.

Mr Howes has resided at the home for nine months, previously living on his own until November when he fell and broke a hip. A hip replacement followed and within three weeks he was back on his feet again and he moved into St Edmund's.

His son, John, of Lowestoft said: 'We're all very proud of him and what he's done.

Mr Howes was born in one of Great Yarmouth's rows in 1914.

He was called up to service just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 as a member of the Territorial Army and went on to spend four years overseas – three and a half of them as a PoW in Singapore.

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Educated at St George's Infants and the Nelson School in Yarmouth, where he was told by one teacher on his last day 'I don't know what'll become of you,' his first job was an errand boy in a tailor shop in King Street.

At 16 he started work at a barrel factory near the gasworks where he said he learned the meaning of hard graft as it was piece work. He worked at the factory for six years before war changed the course of history for him.

He was a soldier in D company with the 4th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.

Travelling to the centre of warfare, his company went to South Africa leaving just the attack on Pearl Harbour drew the US into the war.

'That's when I went east with Monty (Field Marshall Montgomery),' explained Mr Howes. He was in India for two-three months waiting around before they got the message to go to Singapore.

But Mr Howes became one of 80,000 British Far East PoWs and saw first hand the horrors of the Japanese prison camps.

When he was 100, he told the Mercury: 'I knew about hard work from the barrel factory so it wasn't the work that affected me. It was having no medical treatment and eating what you could. Eventually your body gets used to no food and the work didn't bother me. We always talked about going home. We didn't all make it of course.'

Mr Howes had met and married his sweetheart Irene before the war started. Son John arrived in 1939 and daughter Pat in 1940. The family reunited after the war and soon moved to Magdalen Way in Gorleston where they settled; Mr Howes joining the electricity board – staying for 33 years.

Until 2013, John was a member of the Yarmouth FEPOW Association but when the group folded, following the death of chairman Bert Major, he became a member of the Royal British Legion.