Viscount Slim and Far East veteran Alfonso ‘Toni’ Garizio unveil the memorial at Mornington Crescent last Friday
Published: 27 September, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
THEY were notable by their absence. But their families were there. Sisters, daughters, grandchildren of those whose wartime heroism did not merit official recognition.
People such as Carol and Dolly Squires, the daughter and sister of Harry Squires from Chalk Farm, who worked in the camps in Burma.
Or Jennie Barlow, who had brought along a photograph of her father Jack, who helped liberate the troops. Or the family of Ernie Neighbour, from Chalk Farm, who worked on the Burma railway.They had come to see the unveiling of a memorial to finally honour the memory of the tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians who were incarcerated in camps following the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942.
They were there because – although there has been almost 70 years of peace and good relations with Japan – there is no forgetting the appalling conditions PoWs were subjected to. They were forced to work without proper food or medical attention – notoriously, on the Burma to Siam railway, 16,000 died of disease, starvation or by being beaten.
And those who did survive were brushed under the carpet, because the nation wanted to only celebrate its victories after 1945.
On Friday, however, a memorial was finally unveiled, thanks to the generosity of New Journal readers.
Viscount Slim, president of the Burma Star Association and son of General Bill Slim, who led the “forgotten army” in Burma, did the official honours, but he invited one of the few surviving veterans to join him in pulling back the curtain.
Toni Garizio, of Highbury, now 93, was a member of C Company 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire, which held out heroically for four days at the battle of Adam Park in Singapore. After working on the Burma railway he was then shipped to Japan to work as a driller in the copper mines.
He said he was “honoured” to help with the unveiling.
Hundreds of onlookers, and veterans of other wars, looked on as The Last Post – played by Ian Standley – sounded.
“I congratulate everyone in Camden for their efforts,” said Viscount Slim. “The prisoners were held under the most appalling conditions. Those that survived are very special, as are those who didn’t come back. They never gave up, they didn’t just give up the ghost.
“There was no medicine, they were treated cruelly and subjected to just about every disease you can think of – cholera, dysentery, malaria. They deserve not to be forgotten and always remembered.”
The memorial was inspired 10 years ago by the then Mayor of Camden, Roger Robinson.
“We are deeply honoured to unveil this memorial as a permanent statement of our sorrow and yet pride for those PoWs and regret it has taken over 60 years to be achieved,” he said.
“Today, we all say our few words of sorrow and sympathy to those prisoners of war – military and civilian and children, and they will forever be in our thoughts.”
Tribute was also paid to the illustrator Ronald Searle, himself a camp survivor. Before his death last December he gave permission for one of his illustrations made in secret while he was a prisoner to be used on the memorial.
The short ceremony was opened by Eric Gordon, editor of the New Journal.
He said: “Here we have, not only in my opinion but I think we share it, a wonderful memorial to those who fought in the far east during the Second World War and had to endure the most unimaginable brutality and privation.”
He paid particular tribute to survivor Leonard Goodwin, who was unable to attend because of illness.
“He was a camp survivor, he’s 94. Unfortunately, he has pneumonia. He really is so disappointed he can’t be here. His GP told me that she had a number of patients who were PoWs in the Far East. and so many of them suffer from depression and anxiety even to this day.
"This is another reason why they should be remembered.”
Mr Gordon also read out a message of support from the Duke of Edinburgh who lent his support to the memorial, as did CND vice-president Bruce Kent and former independent MP Martin Bell.
“I am very pleased to know that a memorial to all those who served in the Far East, and particularly those who were imprisoned, is being erected in Camden – paid for by generous public subscription it will remind future generations of the gallantry,” Prince Philip wrote.
Wreaths were laid by Cllr Robinson, Viscount Slim and family members before veterans and their families were taken by coach to the Sergeants’ Mess at the nearby Regent’s Park Barracks for a reception.
Ernie Neighbour died in 1997, too late for any memorial, and too late for the compensation that was paid out after a long campaign. But his son, also called Ernie, was there to see the memorial unveiled for him, as were his grandchildren.
They had travelled from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire.
“Dad would have been so proud,” his son said. “It was a great day.”
Robert Oxlade, who was there to remember his father, who died building the railway, choked back tears as he told ITN News, who covered the event: “This has been something like a funeral for me.
"My mother didn’t know my father had died until 1945. The prisoners of war were buried in local graves along the railway site and after the war transferred to Imperial War Graves.
"I had a fantasy that one day I would actually have a party, we’d have a funeral. But this has been a wonderful event.”
The Memorial plaque reads: “In memory of the tens of thousands of British civilian and military personnel who suffered incarceration, many dying in the Far East during the Second World War 1939-45 including those forced to labour on the Burma Railway. They ask for nothing but remembrance of their lives and a promise of peace for future generations.”