Hundreds of people attended a poignant service in Belford to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Japan.
The service in St Mary’s Church, held jointly with the Erskine United Reformed Church, brought together the families of the men from the village who were Far Eastern Prisoners of War and who suffered so horribly at the hands of their Japanese captors.
A brief history of the Northumberland Fusiliers’ role in the Far East in the Second World War, culminating with the capitulation in Singapore, was given by Captain Kerry Noble, whose father was a captain on both Chindit expeditions fighting to regain Burma.
Jane Flower, whose father Lieut Col Flower was given command of the battalion upon surrender, gave an overview of the work done by the Fusiliers while in captivity.
Liz Loutfi, whose father Jack Atkinson was a FEPoW, spoke about the spirit of the men and some of the humour that helped to keep them going.
Wilf Johnson’s daughter Marion shared memories of her father which made those presentfeel that they all knew him and felt some of his suffering and his appreciation of the simple things in life once back home.
Named for his Fusilier father, Leslie Tait read a list of 27 local lads who were captured and reminded the congregation that these men were their fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, uncles, brothers and friends and that they fought, suffered and some died so that we could all live our lives in freedom.
At the end of the service, the Northumberland Fusiliers Standard was lowered and the two youngest great grandchildren of FEPoW Wilf Johnson, three-year-old Logan Thompson and Caleb Johnson, aged three months, with their fathers, laid a poppy cross on a wall of bamboo.
Tea was served on the lawn in front of Belford Museum, which gave the congregation a chance to meet up with old friends.
A DVD of the service is being produced which is to be given to all the families of the Belford Boys and which will be available to others for a donation.
A two-day exhibition in the museum attracted many visitors, many of whom had travelled long distances.
Every local man that was captured by the Japanese was featured and as the weekend progressed, more and more photos and memorabilia were handed in and more stories told.
In one very poignant letter, only discovered this week, Cliff Johnson describes sitting with a friend from home as he passed away after an operation in a prison camp.
Wilf Johnson had made a small box in which he kept miniature clogs and brushes he made while working in a clog and brush factory in Changi which was on display.
One mother wrote every week to her son, Bert Rutherford, for years not knowing whether he was still alive, only for all the letters to be returned unopened, whereupon she started all over again.
In later life, these men did not talk about what had happened to them while they were prisoners .
Nearly all the families mentioned their loved ones screaming in the night and remembered never being allowed to leave any food on their plates when they were children.
The exhibition was a tribute to a band of men who considered themselves the ‘forgotten army’ and the families left at home not knowing for years whether their loved ones were still alive.
The exhibition was so popular that it will be restaged for the Heritage Open Weekend on September 12 and 13.
The Belford Boys captured in the Far East
Hedley Bell d; Tony Branfoot; John Chapman d; Thomas Chisholm d; Bill Davidson; Jack Dunn; Jack Dunlop d; Tommy Falla; George Fleming; Sandy Gilholm; Ritchie Hall; George Hull; Cliff Johnson; Wilf Johnson; Mark Newton d; Bob Patton; Robert Robertson d; Bert Rutherford; Jack Ryan, killed in action; Tommy Ryan; George Smith d; Les Tait; Bob Turnbull; Willy Johnson; Mark Lowrie; B Mckenzie; Richard Nairn.