A FORMER Far East prisoner of war and dedicated family man has died at the age of 91.
Bill Brown, of Wooler, spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner during the Second World War after being captured in Singapore in 1942.
He was involved in the now-defunct Norham and District Far East Prisoners of War club and later in life returned to Thailand where he had been held.
Henry McCreath, from Berwick, was also captured in Singapore during the war and later helped to form the club along with Bill.
“Bill was a great man and he and I were great friends,” he said.
“He acted as secretary from 1950 when we formed until we closed it down about two years ago.
“Bill played a very important part in the formation of the club and the success it had in keeping everyone in touch.
“He played a very important part in our lives when we came back.”
The 96-year-old also said that Bill was key in the difficult task of trying to trace what had happened to people, another important part of the club.
Bill was born in Cowpen near Blyth in 1920 and moved to Wooler when he was 12 years old.
He was a member of the Territorial Army and was called up to the Royal Northumberland Fusilliers when the war started.
His first posting was in France but after a little over a month he was evacuated at Dunkirk.
On his return to England, he was based in Cheshire, which was where he met Marjorie, who later became his wife of 65 years before she passed away earlier this year.
She waited for three-and-a-half years for Bill to return from the war before they married in 1946.
Bill was captured in Singapore and held there for six months before being transferred to Thailand where he was forced to help build the infamous Hellfire Pass section of the Burma death railway, so named because after dark the PoWs would look at the lamps and think they were like the fires of hell. Hellfire Pass was an 80-foot slab of solid rock which the workforce had to get through with crude hand tools and some explosives.
Work started in 1943 and it took over 1,000 British and Australian POWs 12 weeks to get through in one of the wettest monsoon seasons.
The men were forced to work for 18 hours a day in sweltering temperatures and were utterly exhausted. Many died in the process.
His daughter Susan said the experience wasn’t something he talked about until later in his life.
“Latterly he has but not when we were kids, he kept a lot of it to himself. I think they were all the same,” she said.
“The closest thing to his heart was the prisoner of war club. He did a lot of work with them.
“He went back to Thailand twice, once with me and once with my brother, that was pretty hard for him but he wanted to go.”
In civilian life, Bill had left school at 14 and started working for John Sale at Sale and Partners land agents, which was where he returned after the war.
Richard Landale, from Sale and Partners, said: “Billy Brown was a huge part of the majority of my working life. Both Colonel John Sale, with whom he started work at the age of 14, and then his son Tom Sale held Billy in the highest regard throughout the 45-plus years he worked for the firm in Glendale Road.
“After ‘formally’ retiring in 1985, he continued with us part-time for a further 10-plus years as accountant to Kelso Races and was a critical element in establishing the Racecourse into the successful business it now is.
“Billy was hugely respected firstly in the land agency world and also in the racing world as a man of very high standards and complete integrity. Billy had a great sense of fun and humour and enjoyed life to the full. I will miss him very much as a great friend and mentor.”
Susan said that ‘it gave him a purpose in life’.
In another example of his dedicated service, Bill was secretary of Glendale Show from 1956 to 1991.
But he was also very ‘family-orientated’, according to Susan.
“What can I say, he was my dad,” she said. “He was always there for the family and there to give us support.”
Bill, who died peacefully in hospital on Friday, September 23, was father to Susan, Alan and the late Peter, father-in-law to Sylvia and grandfather to Craig.