Meeting again after 63 years

PUBLISHED: 17:25 09 October 2008 | UPDATED: 11:58 03 July 2010

THE last time Norman Hunt and Alan Barkes saw each other they were guarding a bombed-out airport in Singapore in 1945 which had been occupied by brutal Japanese invaders.

THE last time Norman Hunt and Alan Barkes saw each other they were guarding a bombed-out airport in Singapore in 1945 which had been occupied by brutal Japanese invaders.

And as the RAF Regiment members went their separate ways after leaving Kallang at the end of the second world war they assumed they would never meet again.

But the years rolled back on Wednesday as the former 2810 parachute squadron sergeants held an emotional reunion in Yarmouth - 63 years after they had last laid eyes on each other.

As soon as Mr Hunt, from Norwich, and Mr Barkes, from Lincolnshire, met at the seafront Carlton Hotel they started to reminisce about the bitter Burma and Far East campaign against the hordes of the Japanese Imperial Army.

And as the pair swapped stories they soon mentioned how they had been prepared to parachute from Dakotas at 6,000 ft on to an enemy airfield in Malaya.

Their 2810 parachute squadron was the first RAF regiment to be parachute trained and was due to go into action against a Japanese stronghold .

But the risky operation was called off when the American dropped two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - ending the war.

The squadron then went on to secure Kallang airport from the fleeing Japanese and put its special training into practice as gunners parachuted into Indonesia to capture some stubborn enemy occupiers.

When asked why he had volunteered for the parachute squadron Mr Hunt, 86, said: “I often wondered myself. The first time I looked out of a Dakota I wished I had never volunteered.”

He remembered how his unit's padre would say he put his faith in whoever packed his parachute every time he went on a training jump.

Before being posted to the Far East, Mr Hunt was one of the first servicemen to be evacuated from Dunkirk and after the war he went to work for Colman's in Norwich.

Mr Barkes, 87, saw action at the battle of Meiktila, where the Japanese surrounded and were beaten off by a much smaller British force in Burma.

He recalled that when 2810 squadron liberated Kallang he saw the Japanese had strung up young girls on lampposts. Mr Barkes said: “The Far East campaign was vicious and very bloody. The simple fact is I am here today and many others sadly are not.

“I volunteered for the parachute squadron because it sounded exciting. But I think we were all relieved that we did not have to jump into Malaya as we felt many of us would not have pulled through.

“Today has been absolutely wonderful and meeting Norman has bought back many memories.”

After the war Mr Barkes resumed his career as a baker and then went worked for Greene King in Lincolnshire.

The pair were reunited by the Norfolk branch of the RAF Regiment Association and committee member Colin Clarke.

For more details on the RAF Regiment Association's Norfolk branch call Mr Clarke on 01502 585079.

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