Why you must support the poppy appeal

CYRIL Upchurch admits his war memories can sometimes prove too much for him.Without warning, his mind can suddenly be thrust back into the untold horrors of he experienced during his three years in prisoner of war camps.

Dave Gooderham

CYRIL Upchurch admits his war memories can sometimes prove too much for him.

Without warning, his mind can suddenly be thrust back into the untold horrors of he experienced during his three years in prisoner of war camps.

He has been known to shut himself away from his close family as he remembers when he was captured in the Far East, saw friends brutally murdered and wondered if he would ever come out alive.

Ahead of Remembrance Day, Mr Upchurch - who survived six camps during the Second World War before being rescued weighing little more than six stone - recalled his horrific experiences while praising the work of the Royal British Legion in supporting serviceman, past and present.

The 87-year-old veteran revealed how he saw friends he had been to school with die in the prisoner of war camps and that much of his time was clouded with uncertainty as well as brutality.

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“I can still remember so much and I have been known just to switch off or I used to go to my shed to get away,” said 87-year-old Mr Upchurch.

“At the time, there were moments when I would try not to think about what could happen. Me and my mates all went to the same school and decided to sign up together, but so many of them were killed.

“I don't feel relief at surviving, I think it is more anger. At the time, I had no wife or children so I felt sorrier for the other men who knew they were being sent to their deaths.”

In unthinkable conditions, Mr Upchurch's weight plummeted to just six stone as the Japanese Imperial Army believed POWs deserved harsh treatment because surrendering was an admission of guilt of dishonouring their country and family.

Mr Upchurch, who said he and fellow troops were forced to surrender by the Governor of Singapore, was still uncertain as to why he survived while so many of his fellow prisoners perished.

But now, so many years on, looking to tomorrow's services and parades and Remembrance Day on Tuesday, Mr Upchurch, who lives with his wife Brenda in Boxford, near Sudbury, said the current generation was aware of the sacrifices made.

“There was a time when I couldn't understand why children didn't know about the First World War and Second World War,” Mr Upchurch said.

“But now I think there is a lot more awareness and a lot more appreciation. I think people are also more aware because of Iraq and Afghanistan. People are wearing poppies with pride because of what happened in the past and what is happening in the present.”

In 1938 when he was just 17, Mr Upchurch signed up for the Territorial Army and then joined the 18th Division of the Suffolk Regiment. He was eventually sent to guard Singapore when Japan entered the war.

He said: “Before we went to Singapore, we were in the water for three months and we thought that we were deliberately in a certain place where we could be sent anywhere - wherever the danger might be.

“When we started fighting the Japanese in Singapore, we had never been trained in jungle warfare so we actually held our position on a golf course.

“Then we got a call from the Governor of Singapore to put down our arms and we had no choice but to become prisoners of war. They took us to Changi jail, where all the swamps were. I was also made to work in the copper mines and spent three-and-a-half years in prisoner of war camps in total.”

Following the fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese military detained about 3,000 civilians in Changi Prison - even though it was only built to house a fifth of that number.

The Japanese also used the British Army's Selarang barracks, near the prison, as a prisoner of war camp - detaining some 50,000 Allied troops.

An estimated 850 POWs died during their internment in Changi during the Japanese occupation with many more prisoners dying after they were transferred to various labour camps outside Singapore, including the Burma Railway and the Sandakan airfield.

Mr Upchurch, who worked in the building industry until his retirement, admitted that he still felt let down by the decision to surrender and the reaction by many when he returned to England.

But he was full of praise for the American forces which rescued him and then helped restore him to virtual full health.

“The U.S. looked after us very well,” he said. “I was suffering from dysentery and I knew that if the war had carried on for me for just a few more weeks, I would not have made it.”

For more information and details of how to support the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal visit www.poppy.org.uk

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