A Blackpool Second World War veteran is about to celebrate his 100th birthday - despite being declared dead more than 70 years ago.
Charles Rodaway, from Layton, walked seven miles from Blackpool to Fleetwood to sign up for the territorial army at the age of just 12. Six years later, in 1934, he joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and protected the British in Shanghai in 1935 befpre being transferred to Singapore in 1938.
He was captured by Japanese troops at the Fall of Singapore in 1942 and put to hard labour in a shipyard in Kawasaki, near Tokyo. A bungled escape attempt with a friend saw him sentenced to death by firing squad, and in 1944 The Gazette recounted, from Army reports at the time, that he had been shot dead in a prisoner of war camp.
But reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. Charles narrowly cheated death when his firing squad was called back moments before pulling the trigger.
In a previous interview, he said: “I said to my pal, ‘This is it’. But the firing squad got called to attention and marched off.”
He was sentenced to 15 years at Sakai Prison in Osaka alongside eight other prisoners of war, including American army officer Everett Reamer. In a 2005 statement detailing his wartime experiences, he described the grisly conditions the prisoners were kept in.
He said: “There was no heat or fan; no water, a wooden pail for a toilet, one light hung from the ceiling, a small barred window at the rear of the cell. Clothing was one thin shirt, one thin trousers, no shoes or socks, no jacket or kimono. No wooden box, only the floor to sit on. Only one thin blanket for cover.
“Bathing was usually allowed once a month; no soap, no wash cloth or towel, no clean clothing.”
Despite the appalling living conditions, Charles survived to be rescued when the prison was liberated in August 1945, a week after the surrender of Japan. He returned to Blackpool to the surprise of his mourning family, who had been left in tears at the train station when he failed to arrive home with other troops.
He emigrated to Canada in 1948, but made frequent visits to his home town before he become ‘too old’ to travel, and enjoyed spending time in the Layton Institute on Westcliffe Drive. Now he celebrates his 100th birthday on March 12.
His wife Sheila said: “It’s quite an accomplishment, especially considering the inhumane conditions during his time in Japan prisons. He’s absolutely amazed he’s lived so long, and feels wonderful, excitedly looking forward to his birthday although he can’t quite believe it! He credits truthfulness and honesty as the key.”
Amateur historian Tony Rodaway – no relation – discovered Charles’ incredible survival story while researching the military history of his own family.
He said: “It’s absolutely unbelievable.
“A lot of those lads when they come back they don’t want to talk about it and they just want to get on with life, though obviously they would have been under a lot of stress.
“To be in front of a firing squad and saying goodbye to your friend and then having the commanding officer call it off at the last second – the odds of that happening just beggars belief.
“It brings a tear to your eye straight from the heart.
“Anybody reaching 100 in any walk of life is an absolute feat, without a doubt – it gives the rest of us something to look towards! He’s still in reasonably good health apart from his eyesight and he hasn’t lost too much weight. He’s absolutely more than one in a million.”