Bishop tells 'terrible' story of father's time as Japanese prisoner of war

Father Pat Cleary delivers the address written for the service by Michael Ipgrave, the Anglican Bishop of Litchfield.

Father Pat Cleary delivers the address written for the service by Michael Ipgrave, the Anglican Bishop of Litchfield. - Credit: Diocese of East Anglia

People attending a special service at a Norfolk church were told the story of a Bishop's father who spent time in a Singaporean internment camp during the Second World War.

St Thomas of Canterbury church in Wymondham hosted the service for Far East prisoners of war on Sunday, May 16.

It has become an annual event at the church, which was built in 1952 by Father Malcolm Cowin as a memorial to those who were internees of the Japanese forces during the 1940s.

The service was held on Sunday, May 16.

The service was held on Sunday, May 16. - Credit: Diocese of East Anglia

It remains the only church in the UK dedicated to the memory of Far East prisoners of war and internees of all faiths and nationalities who died in Japanese camps in the Second World War.

Around 36,000 names are held in the church's book of remembrance.


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One of those taken by Japanese forces was Geoff Ipgrave, who was captured in Singapore.

Wreaths laid at the service to commemorate Far East prisoners of war.

Wreaths laid at the service to commemorate Far East prisoners of war. - Credit: Diocese of East Anglia

His son Michael, the Anglican Bishop of Litchfield, could not attend the service in person due to Covid restrictions, but wrote an address detailing his father's experiences, which was delivered by parish priest Father Pat Cleary.

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In the address, Mr Ipgrave said: "Captured at Singapore, and put to hard labour on the railway, he experienced terrible conditions of deprivation, overwork and brutality there.

"He was fortunate to survive, but his health was permanently damaged, and I believe that what he went through deeply scarred him – how could it not?"

Thousands of names of Far East prisoners of war are held in the church's book of remembrance.

Thousands of names of Far East prisoners of war are held in the church's book of remembrance. - Credit: Diocese of East Anglia

His father survived his years as a prisoner of war and later returned to England, where he married and started a family.

"But what he had seen and known was lodged deep within him, too deep for him to speak of it freely for most of his life," Mr Ipgrave said.

The Bishop added his father "had never, as far as I know, harboured any particular resentment against Japanese people", and even returned to travelled to Japan for a few weeks when in his 60s in "a remarkable act of courage and imagination".

The service was closed with a scattering of petals in front of the memorial.

The service was closed with a scattering of petals in front of the memorial. - Credit: Diocese of East Anglia

A series of wreaths were laid on behalf of surviving prisoners of war unable to attend, before the Rev Pauline Simpson concluded the service by scattering petals in front of the memorial.

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