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A tiger at his bed, malaria and parasites - the incredible story of a prisoner of war

PUBLISHED: 16:58 19 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 October 2019

Eddie Hunn, 99, grew up in East Dereham and was a prisoner of war during WW2. Picture: Ruth Lawes

Eddie Hunn, 99, grew up in East Dereham and was a prisoner of war during WW2. Picture: Ruth Lawes

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Few people have lived a more extraordinary life than former prisoner of war Eddie Hunn.

Eddie Hunn in his territorial uniform before he joined the 5th Norfolk Regiment. Picture: Kevin HunnEddie Hunn in his territorial uniform before he joined the 5th Norfolk Regiment. Picture: Kevin Hunn

From fighting Japanese soldiers in the Malaysian jungle to being woken up by foot-sniffing tiger, the 99-year-old from Dereham has lived what he describes as "a long adventure".

It began in 1939 when Mr Hunn, who worked for the territorial army, was enlisted and sent thousands of miles across the North Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town on a boat with 5,000 other soldiers.

Eddie and Doris Hunn on their honeymoon in London in 1945. Picture: Kevin DunnEddie and Doris Hunn on their honeymoon in London in 1945. Picture: Kevin Dunn

But in South Africa, where Mr Hunn arrived in December 1941, there was an attack following the strike on Pearl Harbor and Japan's declaration of war.

"Many of my soldiers died in the bombings," he said, "We ended up getting diverted to Singapore."

Eddie Hunn relaxing in Wells, where he spent his youth before going to war. Picture: Kevin HunnEddie Hunn relaxing in Wells, where he spent his youth before going to war. Picture: Kevin Hunn

From Singapore, Mr Hunn and the soldiers took a route through the Malaysian jungle - but none of them had jungle training.

Mr Hunn said: "I drove the lead carrier and took charge for 10 days. My youth spent in Wells gave me some grounding.

Eddie Hunn will turn 100 next year but still plays and wins at pool. Picture: Kevin HunnEddie Hunn will turn 100 next year but still plays and wins at pool. Picture: Kevin Hunn

"It was an extremely muddy jungle and there were Japanese fighters hiding in the trees. When we met the commander he said 'you are the scruffiest soldiers I have ever seen'."

But on his return to Singapore, Mr Hunn encountered the Japanese and was forced to surrender. He was captured and taken to an encampment in north east Changi in Singapore with 100,000 other prisoners of war.

Mr Hunn said: "There was no food. They just didn't have the resources for us at all because they hadn't expected to win.

"I found some fishing nets and caught fish, but some of the fish were poisonous. There were some doctors on site so they would inspect them. People still got stomach bugs though."

Mr Hunn, however, was soon sent to work in Thailand, where the Japanese soldiers had ambitions to connect the train line between Burma and India. The construction effort led to the Bridge of the River Kwai.

He said: "The English had decided that the construction of the train line was too treacherous but we were sent to complete it. It was impossible. It was a hard life.

"We all got malaria and our bodies were rotting. There was flesh falling off us and we were all inflicted with parasites and dengue fever."

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The living conditions were extremely poor. Mr Hunn would spend each morning beating the bugs, which included scorpions and centipedes, out of his bed slacks.

He added: "I was once woken up by a tiger. He was stood at the end of my bed and was sniffing my feet. We just banged objects until he was scared off.

"And we were beaten regularly by bamboo sticks by the Japanese fighters. We were defiant and didn't want to help them, so we would try and waste time or put ants in the wood.

"I was distressed, but I wasn't going to let them get the better of me."

But then Mr Hunn fell ill, and had to have a make-shift blood transfusion, in which he had a one in four chance of dying.

He said: "They didn't test the blood beforehand. My life was saved by a red-haired Australian who donated his blood."

However, one day, Mr Hunn heard planes and was instructed to walk 30 miles to Bangkok airport to freedom - at which point he had no clothes and had dropped from more than 11 stone to six and a half.

Mr Hunn added: "When I got there the plane was full, so I ran across the airport and got let in.

"On the flight, we encountered a tremendous storm, and we all passed out because there were no oxygen masks. We just all collapsed upon one another and ended up in a heap on the floor."

The plane, however, safely landed in Yangon in Burma and the soldiers took a boat across the Mediterranean to reach home.

Mr Hunn added: "We were given medication on board which turned us all yellow. I had yellow eyes."

Waiting at home was Mr Hunn's future wife Doris whom he had met nearly four years earlier. During Mr Hunn's military career abroad, Mrs Hunn received just one message to let her know he was alive.

"She had written to me once a week." He added, "But they didn't get sent to me and were found in a shed after the war."

Mr Hunn later settled into an accountancy career after a high school correspondence course, and lived in both Great Yarmouth and Norwich with his family.

He has two children, six grandchildren, nine great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

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