Norfolk veterans to remember darkest day

It was the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history and led to years of unspeakably cruel treatment and death for more than 100,000 troops.

The dwindling number of Far East Prisoners of War (Fepows) who experienced the fall of Singapore will be marking the 70th anniversary of the black day when they gather for a memorial service in Ely Cathedral on Sunday, February 12.

Fepows, wives and widows in Norfolk will be able to pick up coaches being laid on at Gorleston, Norwich, Wymondham and Thetford. The cost of transport and a pre-service lunch has been sponsored by firms across the region.

Fepows' chaplain Pauline Simpson, of Neatishead, said: 'Given the age of the veterans, the 70th anniversary may be the last major one we remember in this way, so it is important we reach out to any Fepows, wives and widows we have not yet come across and make them aware of the free transport.'

Mrs Simpson, whose father was a Fepow, will take part in the service which is being led by the Bishop of Ely; her daughter Lauren, 20, will sing Requiem for a Soldier. Royal British Legion standard bearers will attend from all parts of the country.

Mrs Simpson said that many of the captured troops came from the 18th infantry division and had been recruited across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

She said: 'They were marched 100 miles from Singapore to a railway station, 40 men herded into each railway goods truck, and transported 900 miles to Thailand, stopping only every 36 hours to be fed with one cup of rice and water.

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'This journey lasted five days in the extreme heat. They were then marched 400 miles through the jungle to work for 18 hours daily building the 'death' railway. More than 100,000 died.

'This is why we feel it is so important to pay tribute and honour all those who gave their lives and those who returned, some of whom are still rebuilding their lives.'

Bert Major, 91, chairman of Great Yarmouth Fepow Association, was wounded and captured by the Japanese and spent three-and-a-half years in the Changi POW camp in Singapore, a time when his weight dropped from 11st to 6st. 'Events like the one at Ely are important to reunite veterans and see how we are all getting on,' he said.

Mrs Simpson can be contacted about coach tickets on 01692-630674.

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