We must remember them

A rare picture of the men, many from Norfolk after they were freed from Far East slave camps. Their memory will never be forgotten.

The smiles masked years of terror and torment – these men were the lucky ones. They were coming home while thousands of their comrades were not.

They died in the jungle slave camps run by the brutal Japanese in the second world war and many of them came from Norfolk.

The soldiers in this photograph, sent to me by Derek Hewitt of Sprowston, did survive but they had to live with the mental and physical scars for the rest of their lives – and the survivors still are. Many of these men rarely spoke about their war – and often they were the ones who were prisoners in the Far East. They kept their memories to themselves, too awful to share.

Can you spot the man on the second row, 7th in from the right, with his arm around another soldier? His name was Fred Hewitt from North Walsham. He and his comrades had been to hell and back.

'There were several from in and around North Walsham who had been with the Norfolks out in the Far East,' said Derek,

'My brother, also Fred, and I used to listen to them talking about the war years. I think my father worked down the mines somewhere. He didn't get home until 1946,' he added. 'I remember him saying he met and was very friendly with some Australians in the camps and seriously considered going out to live there at one point,' said Derek.

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It was estimated that about 3,000 men from three battalions of the Royal Norfolk Regiment ended up in the Far East and suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Hundreds never came home. Perhaps someone else has a copy of this photograph and can shed more light on it? Maybe you recognise someone or know where it was taken.

If you can drop me a line at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email me at derek.james@archant.co.uk

The memory of these men from Norwich, Norfolk, across this country and abroad will never be forgotten – thanks to the work of COFEPOW – the Children (and families) of the Far East Prisoners of War. It was started by Carol Cooper of Norfolk after discovering the diaries of her father William Smith, who died working on the Thai/Burma Railway and was buried in Burma. A story in our papers, and a BBC East film following her visit to Thailand followed – and this led to the formation of this group which has, and is, doing such important and worthwhile work. The members are the war babies and siblings of the many thousands of men who died on the Thai/Burma railway, the Sumatra railway, the Sandaken Death Marches, the copper mines in Formosa, building work across the Far East – the list is endless. From 25 Norfolk members in 1997, the group now has more than 900 members from across the country and overseas. To find out more about them and their valuable work, go to the COFEPOW website. If you had a relative out in the Far East and would like to find out more about them, they might be able to help.