FEPOW Plaque unveiled in Southampton

NFFWRA organised a 2 night stay in Southampton for Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th October 2013 to attend the unveiling ceremony of the FEPOW plaque dedicated to those who arrived in Southampton on their return from the Far East.

IMG_1299 The Researching FEPOW History (RFH) Group, led by Meg Parkes, was instrumental in erecting a Repatriation Memorial to mark the return of FEPOW and civilian internees to the port in the autumn and early winter of 1945.

The first Repatriation Memorial was erected on Liverpool’s Pier Head in October 2011.The very first ship to arrive back in Britain was the P&O liner, SS Corfu which docked in Southampton on 7 October 1945 with over 1,500 FEPOW and a few civilian internees on board.  Both plaques commemorate the arrival in British ports of over 37,500 FEPOW (British military personnel) and several thousand civilian internees (men, women and children.) All had spent up to three and a half years in captivity in South East Asia and the Far East. The majority, though not all, returned home by ship and disembarked in either Southampton or Liverpool.

The granite memorial has been erected on a wall within Southampton’s Town Quay Park, facing Southampton Water and the docks where the ships arrived. The park is run by a local community group, the Friends of Town Quay Park, and Southampton City Council agreed that such an important memorial should be sited within this small historic park. Town Quay Park, surrounded by the medieval city walls, is one of the few places where there is a good view of the waterfront so it is very fitting that the memorial overlooks where the POWs arrived home.

IMG_1324The area around the plaque has been landscaped with a sympathetic planting scheme including bamboo and grasses, helped by donations from NFFWRA members. The plaque, like the one in Liverpool, has been inscribed with a central dedication and flanked by the names of the ships that docked in each port.
FEPOW Bob Hucklesby, 93, the NFFWRA President, who lives in Bournemouth, has been a great supporter of the appeal. He vividly remembers arriving back in Southampton on board the hospital ship, Principessa Giovanna: “I shall never forget it. There on the quayside was a band to welcome us home and one tune I particularly remember was the Cole Porter hit, Don’t Fence Me In. The people of Southampton could never know what that welcome meant. We had all been away at least four years, some as long as seven. I am pleased that finally this piece of World War Two history, relating to the war in the Far East, is to be recorded in Southampton. Unfortunately, almost a quarter of those taken prisoner did not return.”

The service, held iP1050324n the Church of St Michael the Archangel, was an all ticket affair, and it was attended by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, the Mayor and other local dignitaries. At least 13 FEPOWs and many relatives of FEPOWs and internees were there. The photograph on the cover of the Order of Service was of Tom Boardman playing the ukulele he made in Thailand, on his disembarkation from the SS Corfu in Southampton on 7th October 1945. It was a moving service, including a reading by Maurice Naylor, the Act of Remembrance led by FEPOW Chaplain Pauline Simpson, the NFFWRA Secretary, and the FEPOW Prayer given by Stan Vickerstaff, FEPOW Chaplain and NFFWRA Secretary Pauline Simpson.

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After the service there was a walk past the memorial led by a lone piper – fortunately the rain held off.

NFFWRA welcomed special guest Captain Tom Tulloch, Naval Advisor to the Canadian High Commission, and his wife Bonita. As it was too windy to lay the wreaths at the memorial on Sunday, the St. Jude gale hitting Southampton just a few hours later, they were laid around the altar rails in the church and moved to the memorial site on Monday. Refreshments were then provided at St.Joseph’s Hall giving us all a chance to talk and share our thoughts with FEPOWS, internees and their families.

That evening many NFFWRA members enjoyed a Thai meal at the Kutis Royal Thai Pier Restaurant, the only surviving part of the Royal Pier, opposite the memorial plaque and gardens. FEPOW Tom Boardman gave a heartfelt and moving address recalling his emotions on his return, and expressing his thanks, on behalf of himself and all of his comrades, to the people of Southampton who had turned out in large numbers that October day in 1945 to cheer and welcome the FEPOWs and civilians home. Tom paid tribute to those of his comrades who did not return. Later Tom’s son Ron told us how much thought his father had put into the various drafts of his short speech and it showed – the care to say what he wanted to is entirely typical of Tom.

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Our thanks go to Meg Parkes for inspiring the idea of the memorial and for ensuring the delivery of the memorial and service. Pauline Simpson, NFFWRA Secretary and the FEPOW Chaplain, played a key role in the events, delivering the Act of Dedication, and also organising a coach to Southampton, hotel accommodation and tickets for many FEPOWs, widows and their families. Pauline discovered as part of the preparations for the event that her father had returned from Rangoon on the ship SS Chitral on 28th October 1945. Additional photographs of the FEPOW Memorial dedication event are now available on the Researching FEPOW History Group’s Facebook page