War veteran whose heart belonged to England now laid to rest with roses

A Blackpool war veteran whose heart belonged to England had his dying wish fulfilled as his ashes were carried away by a gentle breeze in the country he loved.

Thursday, 13th September 2018, 9:59 am
Updated Thursday, 13th September 2018, 10:07 am
Service for WW2 veteran Charles Rodaway at Carleton Crematorium

The remains of former prisoner of war Charles Rodaway were scattered among the flowers at Carleton Crematorium yesterday by his beloved wife Sheila as friends and family looked on.

Charles, who used to live in Fleetwood and Layton, died last year at the grand old age of 101 in Ontario, Canada, where he had emigrated in 1948.

His dying wish was to be laid to rest in the town that he loved, alongside the remains of his mother Gertrude, first wife Winifred, sister Doreen and daughter Lynda.

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Charles Rodaway, left, in his later years, and right, at the age of 18

At his memorial service, his niece Christine Cole said: “Charlie never forgot his English roots and came back to England many times on holiday with Sheila.

“In his last few years he talked often of returning to Fleetwood to live, but regrettably he was, by then, too frail to cope with relocation.

“During his lifetime he visited many countries but England, his birthplace, was the country where his heart belonged.”

In 1934, Charles joined the Second Battalion Loyal Regiment of North Lancashire and served in Shanghai the following year, before being transferred to Singapore in 1938.

Charles Rodaway (left) and his wife Sheila

He was captured by Japanese soldiers at the Fall of Singapore in 1942 and put to hard labour in a shipyard in Kawasaki, near Tokyo.

He tried to escape with his friend William Smith by stealing a fishing boat to sail to Vladivostok, Russia, and avoided enemy troops for six days before being recaptured and sentenced to death.

But his firing squad was called back moments before pulling the trigger.

Christine said: “To this day, no one knows why the order was commuted, but the guns were never fired and they were each put into solitary confinement in Kobe jail.”

Carleton Crematorium rose garden

Now a political prisoner, Charles endured tortuous living conditions.

Survivors reported filthy cells, little food, no amenities and frequent abuse from prison guards. During air raids, American soldier Everett Reamer said, prisoners were left handcuffed in their cells.

Once a healthy seaman who worked all day aboard the Isle of Man ferries, Charles’ weight dwindled to a life-threatening five-and-a-half stone.

Meanwhile, back in Blackpool, Gertrude believed her only son was long dead, as news that he had been shot in a prisoner of war camp was reported by British authorities and published The Gazette in 1944.

Christine said: “He and Bill were nearly forgotten, and left for dead.”

Charles clung to life and was eventually rescued, emaciated and shell shocked, in August 1945, a week after the surrender of Japan.

He returned to Blackpool to the great surprise of his mourning family.

It had been 10 years since he had seen them. The teenager Gertrude had said goodbye to in 1934 was now a man of 29.

At his memorial service, The British Legion paid tribute to Charles’ years of service and tenacity with standard bearers.

Prayers were said and the flags were raised and lowered as The Last Post bugle call was played, and his ashes were taken from the crematorium to the rose garden to be scattered.

Sheila said: “It was one year to the day when they did his service in Canada, but I knew he wanted to come here. That was his last request.”

Colonel Bernard Stam, who represented the Loyal North Lancashire regiment at the service, said: “I thought it was a wonderful tribute to Charlie, who was a man for all seasons.

“He lived a very full life with some remarkable experiences.

“It’s unusual for man that went down to five-and-a-half stone at the hands of the Japanese to survive to 101. It shows amazing strength of character to survive and live on.

“He obviously had a very devoted family with lots of support both in Canada and here locally.”

When he returned to Blackpool after the war, Charles got a job at Burlingham’s Coach Builders and joined the Blackpool dance team, where he met his first wife, Winifred.

They moved to Ontario, Canada, in 1948, and had two children, Ken and Lynda.

In 1963, Winifred died and Charles became a single father age 47.

Three years later he married Sheila, a mother-of-two whose first spouse had also passed away.

The couple were married for 51 years, and owned a string of corner shops.

Though his family supported him, Charles suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to his time in Japanese captivity.

Christine said: “There always had to be a light on throughout the night and a radio playing in the background.

“Although he never talked about it, the torture he endured at the hands of the Japanese left him hard of hearing, with traumatic nightmares.

“Despite everything, Charlie was a well-liked man who made friends easily – normally at the bar.

“Charlie was very close to his grandson, Michael... whose first daughter was born on August 17 this year. He would have been so pleased to hear this news.

“He also was closed to his stepdaughter, Diane, and he enjoyed being taken her to the casino in London, Ontario, most weeks.

“Although he could not see the slot machines he played, he still enjoyed hearing the noise they made when they paid out!”

Charles, who was nicknamed ‘Pete the Painter’ by his family in England, continued to lay wreaths in memory of his fallen fellow soldiers at the Canadian Legion in Port Stanley, Ontario, until he was 100-years-old. His family hope to continue the tradition in his honour.

In Canada, he was active in public life and was the past presdient of the Hi Ro Shrine Club, a charitable organisation supporting sick children and their parents.

He was awarded four medals for his military service: the Defence Medal, the 1939-45 Star, the Pacific Star and the War Medal 1939–1945.

Christine said: “Although he lived in Canada for 70 years, his heart was still English.”

Charles is survived by his wife Sheila, son Ken and daughters Sharon and Diane.

He also leaves behind six grandsons, six granddaughters, and three great-grandchildren.