The poignancy of Remembrance Day for one Burma campaign veteran has never diminished despite the passing of seven decades since his own service.
Belfast man Bob Wright was still short of his 16th birthday when he volunteered for Boys’ Service in the Army - one year before the outbreak of World War Two.
He was one of the youngest combatants when hostilities were declared in 1939 but managed to survive some of the most unforgiving battlefields - and enemies - while serving in the Far East.
“You always remember the ones with you who were killed. I can still remember all of their faces,” Bob said.
“I always remember one great friend who had a watch he carried in his breast pocket. His father was a railway man and he gave him this railway watch before he left, so he doted on that watch. When he was killed we made sure that the watch was returned to his parents. That was all we could do but it was important to us that we did it.”
Now aged 91, the former Army commando speaks proudly of the men he fought alongside against the Japanese in India, Singapore and Burma.
“We kept the Japanese out of India,” Bob recalled.
“We were sent to Bangladesh for a bit of a break and I met a friend from Belfast called Jackie Creighton. He was in the Inniskilling Fusiliers 1st Battalion.
“I said to him, ‘What about your brother Sammy?’ Jackie said, ‘Did you not hear about him? He was taken prisoner in Singapore’.”
Bob was shocked at the news and totally horrified when he heard the fate that had befallen his fellow soldier who was serving with the Manchester Regiment.
“Half the men taken prisoner were sent to Japan to work in the mines where they were badly treated. The other half were put to work on the Burma railway where they were badly treated.
“Sammy and his mate were working on the Burma railway and fed watery rice every day. His mate collapsed because he was so weak. When the Japanese saw him collapsing they hit him with the butt of a rifle and told him to get up.
“When they drew back Sammy Creighton beat the head off one of the Japanese. The next morning, all the Japanese were there and all the prisoners of war were there. Sammy was a Sandy Row man. They just killed him with a Samurai sword.
“Every year on Remembrance Day I lay the wreath here [in the NI War Memorial building]. I’m the old soldier here, all the rest are much younger than me, but I’ll never forget the sacrifice as long as I live.”
• As cities, towns and villages fall silent across Northern Ireland to remember the fallen, the News Letter will be covering the commemorations as they happen.
More than 200,000 Irishmen served in the British armed forces during World War One with around 35,000 killed in action. A further 7,500 - from both sides of the border - were killed during World War Two. Many more were seriously injured.
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