Remembrance Day: Son pays tribute to war hero dad

Martin Percival remembers the sacrifices his father made while fighting during World War Two

The son of a war hero who spent three years in a prisoner of war (POW) camp has paid an emotional tribute to his father on the eve on Remembrance Day.

Martin Percival, whose father Frank fought for the Allied forces in the Far East during the Second World War before being captured in Singapore in 1942, told the Times he is immensely proud of his father.

Speaking 65 years after the Allies won the Second World War, Mr Percival said he was thankful that the contribution of British soldiers who fought in the Far East is finally being recognised.

He said: “I am extremely proud of what my father did. He fought bravely during the war, and endured horrific hardships as a POW, but to me he was just my dad.

“Soldiers had a tough time in the Far East and in the past this has been overlooked as people focus more on Europe, and viewed the Pacific as an essentially American battle.

“There is more recognition now than about the sacrifices soldiers stationed in the Far East made than there has been for an awful long time.”

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Frank Percival, who lived in Willesden and worked in mental health before the war, signed up to the army in 1939, and was stationed in Singapore.

As one of Britain’s largest naval bases in the Far East, Singapore was considered by many to be impenetrable, and the key to the allied force’s military operations in the Pacific.

But in 1942 the Japanese invaded the allied stronghold in a humiliating defeat which was a major blow to Britain’s Far Eastern operations.

In just two weeks the Japanese took 80,000 troops hostage and dumped them in Prisoner of War (POW) camps, where they were forced to work every day in searing heat, subjected to frequent beatings, and given little food to survive on.

After he was captured, Frank Percival was among the prisoners who were forced to labour daily to build the Burma Thailand Railway and the famous bridge on the River Kwai. Conditions were grim, and many prisoners lost their lives to malnourishment, disease or exhaustion.

In a daring move which challenged military conventions at the time that soldiers shouldn’t speak about their wartime experiences, Frank Percival wrote a moving front page story for the Times, where his father worked as business manager, about his harrowing times in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp.

In 1945, just weeks after he was released from his camp, Frank wrote about working on the Burma rail roads: “We travelled in closed metal trucks, 30 men in each. The trucks were so crowded that tire men sat shoulder to shoulder and were unable fully to stretch their legs.”

He went on: “At the end of the ten days march the majority were completely exhausted. Many had contracted malaria as a result of sleeping in the jungle at night and dysentery was rife. Of the party of 100 of which I was a member, six men had died, within 8 days of our arrival, from sheer exhaustion.

“To make matters worse, cholera broke out in June of 1943 and every night the camps were illuminated by the fires lit for burning the bodies and personal possessions of the men who had died, from cholera during the day.”

Talking about his father’s decision to write about his experiences, Mr Percival said: “Many prisoners didn’t want to talk about their experiences, instead they bottled it up and it ended up ruining their lives. Tragically, many who survived took their own lives.

“But my dad was relatively philosophical about his experiences. He was just glad he was alive and he didn’t want to let it ruin his life.”