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Forgotten Far East veterans recalled

PUBLISHED: 15:12 14 February 2008 | UPDATED: 10:26 03 July 2010

SACRIFICE SYMBOL: The clock on a deserted Golden Mile.

SACRIFICE SYMBOL: The clock on a deserted Golden Mile.

THE sacrifices made, and hardships suffered, by British servicemen captured by the Japanese during the war are still vividly remembered by the older generation which lived through those terrible six years of conflict and, perhaps, had loved ones incarcerated in the Far East where they were treated with extreme cruelty.

THE sacrifices made, and hardships suffered, by British servicemen captured by the Japanese during the war are still vividly remembered by the older generation which lived through those terrible six years of conflict and, perhaps, had loved ones incarcerated in the Far East where they were treated with extreme cruelty.

Half a century ago, Great Yarmouth became the focal point of a permanent reminder of those veterans' service and sacrifice and, in addition, its residents had the opportunity to see a cinematic account of the harrowing conditions they endured.

The memorial clock, erected by the Yarmouth branch of the Far East Prisoners of War Association, is still there today, 50 years after its provision. Standing in a garden of remembrance on the Golden Mile in front of the Jetty, it is a small oasis of calm and reflection amid the hustle and bustle and holiday atmosphere engendered by our summer visitors who perhaps do not realise its deep significance.

In 1958 the memorial was formally unveiled and dedicated to honour those who died as a result of their captivity. The ceremony was performed by the president of the national federation, Lieutenant General A E Percival. The Mercury told its readers that although the ceremony was local, “the national and Commonwealth nature of the occasion was emphasised by the character of the attendance”.

By coincidence that same year, those deprivations endured by Far East prisoners of war in real life were fictionalised up on the big screen in the town when the recently-released The Bridge on the River Kwai drew large audiences.

The film, that won seven Oscars, had a particular significance for Yarmouth postman Colin Mills, then 21, of Olive Road, Cobholm, for he was an extra, appearing in several of the many scenes filmed on location in Ceylon where he was serving with the Royal Air Force. Some 90 per cent of his colleagues were also extras.

In full uniform as a Royal Marines corporal, he acted as chauffeur to “Lord Louis Mountbatten” in a high-speed chase…for 200 yards. His fee was £15, no trifling amount to a low-ranking serviceman 50 years ago.

Also, Mr Mills “slaved” with other “prisoners” on the wooden bridge across the river, then joined scores of fellow PoWs in the famous scene in which they marched back into their camp whistling Colonel Bogey. Two hundred men had to be taught the tune, and when their whistling reached the required standard, it had to be edited for recording as the sound track, he recalled.

The immense the trouble taken to achieve perfection in even the smallest detail impressed him - for example, the “prisoners” marched into camp no fewer than 38 times before the director was satisfied.

“Even though I was a Yarmouth postman, I had sore feet afterwards,” said Mr Mills who took some snapshots of the four stars - Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa.

The year 1958 also saw one of the last phases of the reorganisation of the Yarmouth education taking place, with senior pupils from the Priory School moving to the new Styles Mixed Secondary School in Trafalgar Road under new head master Mr S H Thomas. Mr Styles was chairman of the borough's education committee from May the previous year until his death six months later. The Priory School dated back to 1853.

The Styles school building was the former Yarmouth Girls High - and the boys grammar school before that - which became empty when pupils moved into their new premises in Lynn Grove in Gorleston. The plans included a new secondary modern school in Bridge Road, Gorleston (Cliff Park, then unnamed).

Northgate Junior, that used the old Runham Vauxhall building since its proper school in Rampart Road was bombed, was closed.

A new factory was planned for the ex-Northgate School building in Runham Vauxhall where Frank Ungar intended making luxury fabrics like brocades and silks for leading fashion houses, employing up to 100 men and women within three years.

Parents of children at the Herman Infants and Junior School on the Magdalen Estate in Gorleston built a swimming pool for the 600 pupils. It was the first mainstream school in the urban borough to have a pool. Over the borough boundary, at Hopton (then in the county of East Suffolk) a new primary school was built.

At Gorleston, the new £18,000 St Mary Magdalene Church on the Magdalen College Estate was consecrated and a new cemetery in Oriel Avenue dedicated.

The Mercury reported that a blacksmiths' forge was still prospering at Freethorpe, having kept abreast of the times. For ten years it had belonged to brothers John and Norman Sharman who farmed at Acle and Repps, succeeding their father and grandfather. The forge employed a staff of five.

The timber-built long room of the Royal Oak Hotel at Ormesby was destroyed by fire. The room was a venue for meetings and dinner-dances. At Somerton, the thatched farmhouse at Staithe House Farm was gutted; it was the home of Mr and Mrs D F Thain and their son, Vivian.

Town clerk Mr Farra Conway told the annual conference of the Association of Health and Pleasure Resorts in London that a problems of increasing concern was the provision of car parking places for the thousands of cars that visited seaside resorts annually.

Mr Conway, vice-chairman of the national organisation, said he had been in touch with the Ministry of Transport to give powers to resorts to charge drivers using authorised parking places on roads. At present those powers operated only in London.

The Minister was prepared to consider extending those powers to resorts if their need could be justified on traffic grounds before the results of the London experiment had been studied.

Yarmouth borough council rescinded a previous resolution not to hold a pageant to mark the 750th anniversary of the granting of King John's Charter, but ruled that the cost should not exceed the amount already allocated. This year, 2008, the borough celebrates the octocentenary.

The announcement of the intended closure of the Midland and Great Northern Railway linking Yarmouth Beach Station to central England provoked widespread outrage and protest. The council claimed it would jeopardise efforts to attract more industry, and insisted that Vauxhall Station needed modernisation.

There was better news on the London Liverpool Street to Yarmouth Southtown line - a pair of prototype saloon coaches were tried out by British Rail service, and passengers' opinions were being noted. The carriages had reclining seats, acoustic panelled ceilings and special devices for regulating the temperature.

The demolition of Breydon swing bridge was discussed, eight years after the last passenger train trundled across it.

Change was also on the way for the corporation's blue buses, with three London Transport one-man-only (no conductor) vehicles arriving on loan to work the Cobholm and Vauxhall Station routes.

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