Honouring soldiers who fought in Far East

A long-held dream to honour all those who fought in the Far East during the Second World War has been realised with the dedication of a scale model of the Changi Gate in Blackpool.

Friday, 17th November 2017, 9:33 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:03 pm
Head girl of Moor Park Primary School Reuben Ormand with merchant navy veteran Bog Vaughan (right), 91, and Barry Price

The detailed replica has been installed in the Blackpool and Fylde Memorial Arboretum on Moor Park Avenue in Bispham.

A dedication ceremony, attended by surviving veterans of campaigns in Burma, was held as part of a remembrance service last Saturday.

The Changi Gate joins other memorials at the arboretum including a stone monument bearing the words of the Kohima Epitaph, and a piece of railway symbolic of the infamous Burma Railway.

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Burma Star chairman Ray Shaw,94, former RAF pilot who flew a Hurricane bomber in the Burma Campaign.

Prisoners of war being held in Changi Prison, Singapore, built the original gate which stood at the entrance to the prison cemetery.

It became a powerful symbol of the sacrifices which were made.

At the end of the war it was dismantled and returned to England, where eventually it was re-assembled and now stands in the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Blackpool’s scale model has been built by students from Blackpool and the Fylde College using timber donated by Willmott Dixon Construction, the contractors building the town’s new police station in Marton.

Representatives of Blackpool and the Fylde College, Wilmott Dixon join standard bearers at the dedication of the replica of the Changi Gate at the Fylde Arboretum in Bispham

Liz Clayton, of the Blackpool branch of the Burma Star Association, said; “The gate is absolutely stunning and even includes the original inscription around the rafters.

“It has taken 18 months to complete the project and is an exact scale model.

“The Changi Gate brings things full circle and means everyone who went out to the Far East is honoured by these memorials.

“More and more people are becoming aware of the arboretum, and we are so proud of it.”

Former merchant seaman Bob Vaughan

Among those at the dedication service were Ray Shaw, chairman of the Blackpool Burma Star Association, who is believed to be among the last surviving pilots to hold the Burma Star, and Bob Vaughan, who also holds the Burma Star.

Pupils and teachers from Moor Park Primary School, and representatives of those involved in the project, also attended the service.

Richard Wright, operations manager at Willmott Dixon, oversaw the engineering work, while students from Blackpool Build Up programme under the guidance of Roberta Austin, carried out the groundwork.

Factfile

Burma Star chairman Ray Shaw,94, former RAF pilot who flew a Hurricane bomber in the Burma Campaign.

Following the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese military detained about 3,000 civilians in Changi Prison, which was built to house only 600 prisoners.

Around 850 prisoners of war died during their internment in Changi.

The Burma Campaign took place between December 1941 and September 1945, during which time Japanese forces invaded Burma and drove British forces back to the Indian border.

POWs were forced by their Japanese captors to work on gruelling projects such as railway construction, later famously depicted in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

The Burma Star was awarded to those who had served in operations in the Burma Campaign in recognition of the sacrifices they made.

The Burma Star Association has a long history in Blackpool, having held reunion weekends in the resort for 22 years until 2008.

Representatives of Blackpool and the Fylde College, Wilmott Dixon join standard bearers at the dedication of the replica of the Changi Gate at the Fylde Arboretum in Bispham

But dwindling numbers, as many of the veterans have now passed away or are aged in their early 90s, has forced the decline of the branch.

It has previously used £5,000 of its funds towards memorials.

However volunteers including Liz Clayton, Ian Hindle and Paul Binns will continue to work at the arboretum.

Former merchant seaman Bob Vaughan