Farewell to war heroes to whom we owe so much

Jack Phillips celebrates his 90th birthday with his son David.
Jack Phillips celebrates his 90th birthday with his son David.

Two men who were Far East prisoners of war for three-and-a-half years have died, both in their 90s.

Tributes have been paid to 94-year-old Jack Phillips, from Rothbury, and Edward Crate, 95, known as Ted, from Howick, who both fought in the Second World War and were two of those fortunate enough to survive horrific ordeals.

Sophie, the Countess of Wessex visits Rothbury.'The Countess with Jack Phillips.

Sophie, the Countess of Wessex visits Rothbury.'The Countess with Jack Phillips.

Ted passed away at Castle View Care Home in Alnwick on Friday, May 2, after a battle with dementia. Jack died on Tuesday evening at Rothbury Community Hospital.

They have been described as ‘inspirational’, a ‘pleasure to know’ and ‘true gentlemen’.

Both were in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and were evacuated from Dunkirk between May 27 and June 4, 1940, in what was described by Winston Churchill as ‘a colossal military disaster’.

After returning to Britain, they were then sent to Africa, but finished up in Singapore and spent three-and-a-half years as prisoners when British forces surrendered to Japan in 1942.

Both Jack and Ted lived in horrendous conditions and saw many of their comrades die.

While they had colourful military histories, they were also family men and went on to have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

They were also friends, a connection made through their service.

Jack was well known in Rothbury and ran the village newsagent for most of his working life.

He joined the 9th Battalion of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in 1938.

When Jack’s war ended in October 1945, he was shipped home and to hospital in Newcastle, where he met his wife, nurse Jessie, who died in 1985.

He moved back to Rothbury where his sons, Howard, 66, and David, 64, were born.

Jack ran Phillips’ newsagents for a number of years before it was taken over by David.

He was a keen golfer and celebrated his 90th with a round at Rothbury. He also played a big role in the British Legion and was an avid supporter of Newcastle United.

Howard said: “He was a good father and doted on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“He loved playing golf and was a big part of the community in Rothbury, he will be sorely missed.”

In 2008, Jack’s home at Armstrong Cottages was flooded when the River Coquet burst its banks and he lost a lot of his war memorabilia – but saved his medals.

The floods led to him meeting The Duchess of Northumberland on numerous visits to Rothbury in the wake of the disaster, and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, when Armstrong Cottages were officially reopened, something of which he was very proud.

The Duchess said: “I’ll always remember meeting Jack in Rothbury after the terrible floods three years ago.

“I visited him when he’d been moved out of his home and had lost many of his treasured possessions.

“To my surprise, he told me that the floods had brought him new opportunities to meet people.

“I think his words were along the lines of ‘I’m having the time of my life – ladies are fighting over me and I’m out day and night’.

“Jack was a great character who had led a fascinating life and I wish I’d known him better.”

Friend Alan Fendley added: “My wife and I have been close friends with Jack for more than 20 years. Like anybody he will be a sad loss.

“He was a real character, he has been an interesting person and we really will miss him.”

Jack also leaves behind five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

No details have yet been announced for his funeral.

A true gentleman who loved to be out in the garden

A quiet man who loved to be outdoors, Edward Crate, known as Ted, lived in Howick for most of his life.

After serving in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and enduring the horrific ordeal of being a prisoner of war, Ted returned home to enjoy life in the garden.

He married the late Elizabeth and the couple had two children – Les and Jennifer.

After the war, he worked as head gardener at Howick Hall, a job he loved, and of which he continued to have fond memories.

Les said: “He had quite a colourful Army career and he did like to talk about it.

“When they came back from Singapore, they arrived at Liverpool and were herded into a warehouse.

“He said that somebody gave a speech and thanked them, but said they wouldn’t live more than 10 years and wouldn’t have families.

“But he proved that wrong.

“Dad loved his garden, he was always outside, and he loved working at Howick.”

Lord Howick said: “He was an absolute stalwart in the post-war years.

“He was fairly shaken up when he came back after being a prisoner of war, but he stayed on and even when things were very difficult, he was here.

“He was very responsible as head gardener in keeping us going.

“We owe him a tremendous debt and gratitude.”

Ted joined the civil defence for a few years and was also a member of the parochial church council at St Michael and All Angels Church in Howick.

He moved to Castle View Care Home in Alnwick 18 months ago after he was no longer able to live alone due to dementia.

Manager Steve Dunn said: “Ted was an absolute gentleman and he was a pleasure to look after.

“It was a pleasure to come to work and see him. He will be a big miss to us all.”