FOR Suffolk war veteran Harold Lock, Christmas is a time for contemplation.

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The 89-year-old from Sudbury finds it hard to celebrate during the festive period because of the suffering he experienced in the Japanese prison camps during the Second World War.

Mr Lock, who joined the Royal Navy, aged 15, just before the outbreak of war, spent a total of four years as a prisoner on the Indonesian island of Java where beatings, death and starvation were a daily occurrence. And when he returned to the UK at the end of 1945 he found it was the company of men who had undergone a similar ordeal that helped him cope with the hellish memories.

But as each year ticks by there are fewer and fewer Far East prison of war survivors left.

Mr Lock said: “It makes me feel sad to think how our numbers are dwindling.

“There used to be around 40 of us in Sudbury - now I’m the only one left. There’s only two I know of in Bury and two in Haverhill. It’s the same in the Ipswich area.

“We still meet up but we don’t talk about what we suffered out there. We like each others company and to laugh about things. But there is something between us that we know what the other man has been through.”

This decline in numbers caused Carol Cooper from Great Yarmouth to start an organisation called COFEPOW - the Children of Far East Prisoners of War, more than a decade ago. The organisation is dedicated to keeping the memory of these men alive and to piece together the stories of individual British servicemen who were held captive in the region.

Ms Cooper, who’s father died in Burma in 1943, says around 55,000 British troops were dispatched to the Far East and just over 30,000 returned. But because of the suffering endured, much of the information about what went on has been suppressed and lost.

She added: “The British campaign in the Far East was a disaster and those who returned were told not to talk about it.

“We are always appealing for veterans to come forward to give us their account of their experiences while they can. It’s like putting together a giant jigsaw.

“There aren’t many of these men left and when they die their stories will go with them unless we record them.”

Naval researcher David Verghese, who has visited Mr Lock, has similar fears.

He said: “ When I retired about five years ago, I wanted to write a book based on interviews with these veterans but many of these men are in their 90’s and are now just too infirm.

“I suppose I started ten to fifteen years too late.”

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