Norwich service to remember 'forgotten army' this weekend

Members of FEPOW with their chaplain the Rev Pauline Simpson at the memorial in Great Yarmouth

Members of FEPOW with their chaplain the Rev Pauline Simpson at the memorial in Great Yarmouth, the only one of its kind in the country, in 2011. - Credit: Sue Fletcher

The National FEPOW Fellowship Welfare Association will be marking the 80th anniversary at St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich tomorrow morning. It will be a moving and important service.

Standard bearers from across the country will be attending, as well as many families of the veterans for the service prepared by the rev. canon Edward Carter with assistance of the FEPOW chaplain Pauline Simpson BEM of Norfolk.

The Bishop of Norwich, the rt. rev. Graham Usher will preside and preach at the service starting at 10am, attended by civic dignitaries from across the county.  

Why St Peter Mancroft?

The striking slate memorial erected at St Peter Mancroft in 1987

The striking slate memorial erected at St Peter Mancroft in 1987 by the Norwich men who had served in the Norfolk Regiment in the Far East. - Credit: Pauline Simpson

The church is home to the slate memorial erected in 1987 by the Norwich men who had served in the Norfolk Regiment and who had been imprisoned by the Japanese in the Far East.

It serves as a reminder of all they suffered, of those who did not return home and of their families who came to services in the church to pray for the men in captivity – often not knowing if they had survived.

The National FEPOW Fellowship Welfare Remembrance Association was formed as a remembrance and welfare Association in 2005 when the National Federation of Far East POW Clubs and Associations handed over to them the responsibility of organising events and looking after the  welfare of surviving prisoners and their wives (latterly widows).

Allied prisoners of war celebrate their liberation from Changi Jail, Singapore

Survivors. Allied prisoners of war celebrate their liberation from Changi Jail, Singapore, at the end of the war. Many men from Norfolk and Suffolk were held there. - Credit: PA

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The standard of the association, based in Norfolk, was dedicated at the church in February 2015.

As times moved on the men starved, beaten and killed by their Japanese guards, have become known as the 'forgotten army'  but not in Norfolk and Suffolk thanks to the wonderful work of the association and their chaplain the rev. Pauline Simpson.

Pauline’s father, Sidney Vincent, was a 19-year-old from Topcroft near Bungay, when he joined the Royal Engineers, part of the 18th Division, mostly a territorial force with mainly  members from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

He and so many other young men – not highly trained jungle fighters – never stood a chance against the Japanese.

Allied prisoners of war celebrating their liberation from Changi Jail, Singapore. During the occupat

Survivors. Allied prisoners of war celebrate their liberation from Changi Jail, Singapore, at the end of the war. Many men from Norfolk and Suffolk were held there. - Credit: PA

The tensions in the Far East culminated in the almost simultaneous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the Malayan coast in December 1941.

The defence plan for Singapore relied on the availability of a modern air force and significant naval forces.

Unfortunately the Japanese quickly established air supremacy whilst the early loss of battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse to air attack left Singapore dangerously exposed.

Despite valiant efforts, allied forces were forced to fall back to the island fortress of Singapore.

The Japanese successfully achieved a night landing of their troops and having gained a foothold on the island cut off the water and power supplied.

Faced with a deteriorating and desperate situation the garrison commander finally ordered a cessation of hostilities at 6pm on Sunday February 15, 1942.

As a result, nearly 80,000 allied servicemen became prisoners of the Japanese.

Influenced by their warrior code they were contemptuous of their unexpected unarmed prisoner workforce but quickly put them to work both on menial humiliating road sweeping/repair tasks and the unloading of Japanese supply ships in the docks.

In spring 1942 60,000 allied prisoners of war were taken from camps in Singapore by train to Siam to work on the construction of the infamous Burma-Siam railway project.

Many died in agony at the hands of their cruel masters, or from a catalogue of killer diseases.

As for those who made it home….life was never the same again

The late Cyril Ramsey told me many years ago: “I got to Thorpe Station in March 1946 and I was so relieved to be home that I kissed the ground.”

All are welcome to attend this very special anniversary service at St Peter Mancroft at 10am tomorrow (Sunday, February 13).

Do you have a relative who was captured at the fall of Singapore and was held captive for three and a half years? Call Pauline Simpson – Chaplain to Far East PoW’s  (07818 599303) or pauline761@btinternet.com