Burma Star shines on
Published: 17 Aug 2012 09:300 comments
UNDER a gentle drizzle, heads bowed, veterans and their families remembered generations of fallen comrades this year during a service to mark the 85th anniversary of the Caversham War Memorial.
A poignant silence hung over Christchurch Meadows as silent prayers were said and bemedalled ex-servicemen paid their respects to the dead from both world wars and one from the current conflict in Afghanistan - teenage rifleman Cyrus Thatcher.
Ron Jewitt, chairman of the Caversham branch of the Royal British Legion, said: "We set the date for today ibecause it's the anniversary of VJ Day when, although a lot of people were home in England, there were also still a lot of people out in the Far East, which ought to be remembered.
"It's also to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the war memorial, where the names may be crumbling a little but they will never be lost."
The concrete memorial was built in 1927 to honour the Great War dead, and the names from World War Two were added in 2005.
At Wednesday's service, a wreath was laid by 86-year-old Harold Capel, who joined the Royal Navy aged 17 and began his service on a minesweeper and went on to become a telegraphist.
One of only three surviving members of the Reading branch of the Burma Star Association, Harold paid tribute to those who fell in the Far East and said: "We're the only ones left now, the three musketeers!
"Days like today are important and we always get a great deal of support and help from the people of Caversham, which is very good."
The commemoration, which concluded at the Legion's Caversham headquarters, also held vivid memories for Bob Court, 88, a former corporal in 194 Squadron Royal Air Force, who was 18 when he signed up.
He said: "We would follow the Army through Burma and pick up the wounded. It was hairy, we loved it though. We were doing something useful.
"But we would take them to the ambulance and we never knew what happened to them, so I put a message in the Burma Star magazine asking if anyone had been wounded and what had happened to them, and got a few responses back.
"I wrote a book on it actually, just for the family to read though."
Jack Carter, 87, who said yesterday's monsoon-style rain reminded him of Burma, was just 16 when he lied about his age and added two years before leaving his Tadley home, travelling to India and then Burma and reaching the rank of corporal in the 2nd Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment.
He married childhood sweetheart Elizabeth at 17 - again lying about his age and without telling his mum - and said: "The day we came back after the war ended was my 21st birthday.
"I remember how strange it was coming home. I hadn't been married to my wife long, she was my first love, and all I'd had was letters and one photo.
Jack pondered: "Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if that atomic bomb hadn't been dropped on Japan. I think we'd still be fighting now."
The service also marked the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, and 52-year-old Paul Eastman, the Legion standard bearer, recalled: "My memories of the Falklands are of confusion, of long periods of tedium and short periods of heightened tension.
"I remember chaotic scenes, fire everywhere, exhausted men and destruction. They are moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life."
The Emmer Green father-of-one plans to revisit Port Stanley, the Falklands' capital, with his brother Phil in October, ad he added: "Today has been fantastic. It's lovely that these men can put their badges and their berets on and they feel confident enough to do that.
"In the 1970s there was a time when everyone was scared to come out in uniform because of the IRA but nowadays youngsters have a better understanding of it because they're losing their mates in conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a real pride around it, and rightly so."