After waiting 75 years for a memorial stone commemorating those who were taken prisoner during World War 2 in the Far East, a dedication ceremony has finally taken place with the support of the Lodge of Welcome, No. 5664 at Victoria Park, Leicester.
On 10th August this year, families and relatives of those who were taken prisoner, were in attendance alongside The Lord Mayor of Leicester City, Cllr. Deepak Bajaj, military officials, and religious dignitaries, as well as a representation from the Lodge of Welcome, No. 5664. The stone was originally laid in Peace Walk, next to the Arch of Remembrance in October 2020 to commemorate the men, women and children of Leicester and Leicestershire who were caught up in the fighting during this time. With the relaxing of COVID 19 restrictions earlier in the year, it was possible for a formal commemoration ceremony to take place.
A local charity, Children of the Far East Prisoner of War, presented their request for assistance with funding for the stone to the Lodge of Welcome committee. The committee and members of the Lodge were only too happy to take the opportunity to give a donation, acknowledging the sacrifice that the charity’s forbears made, and for this aspect of the war to be better understood and honoured.
The stone memorial commemorates the men and women of the armed forces who fought, died and survived during this period, and in some cases beyond. Over 140,000 military personnel were captured from a variety of countries that include, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, the Netherlands and India. Made to work on the railways, roads and airfields, the prisoners of war were eventually liberated by allies in 1945. This stone has been laid in their memory, as well as those from Leicestershire and Rutland.
A member of the fundraising charity Shirley Barnes’ father was captured in Singapore and worked on what is commonly called “the death railway”. Although he survived, Mrs Barne says that the horrific memories stayed with him for the rest of his life, “He reckoned every day he woke up was a bonus, a day he thought he would never have, you never knew if today was the day you were going to die.”
During the touching ceremony the Worshipful Master of the Lodge of Welcome, W.Bro. Rob Tattersall laid a wreath on behalf of the brethren of the Lodge. After the ceremony, The Lord Mayor was able to speak to members of the charity, along with the other dignitaries at De Montfort Hall, about the challenging road the charity has had to travel to get the memorial stone in place, as well as the need to educate the public about the Forgotten Army and the reality of what life was like for the military personnel and their families.
For many of those who went through this ordeal, it is too late for them to see the memorial in place. However, it is hoped that the dedication of the memorial and the education that can come from it, will bring some comfort to many of the families and acknowledge the sacrifices that were made.