Gallery: Families gather at Wisbech Museum for opening of major Singapore exhibition
The families of local men captured by the Japanese in Singapore were among the crowd at the opening of a special exhibition.
A reception for them together local army and air cadets as well as senior officers of the Royal Anglian Regiment was held at Wisbech library on Thursday (10).
It was to mark the official opening of a special exhibition dedicated to the fall of Singapore 80 years ago.
Wisbech mayor Andrew Lynn was also at the official opening of the exhibition, which actually opened to the public on the anniversary of the surrender in February.
At the time the fall and surrender of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 was described by Winston Churchill as the “worst disaster in British history”.
The fact that the surrender led to heartbreak for many local families is marked with the exhibition at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.
From the date of the surrender hundreds of fathers, sons, brothers and sweethearts serving in the
Cambridgeshire Regiment became prisoners of war and those who hadn't first died of starvation or disease were forced by their Japanese captors to labour on the notorious Burma Railway.
This was the fate of Sapper Bernard Pentelow, a farmer s son from Tydd St Giles who never returned to marry his fiancée Olive. A tropical ulcer killed him aged 23 in a makeshift jungle hospital.
Bernard's letters home and photographs of him and his fellow recruits marching through Wisbech, recently discovered in an attic and kindly lent by his family, inspired Wisbech Museum trustee Paul McGregor to research and collate the Exhibition and to write the accompanying book called A Wickedly Inept Political Sacrifice – the 1942 Singapore Debacle.
Paul said: “The last of Sapper Pentelow's surviving letters home was posted three days before his company of Royal Engineers set sail with 3,000-plus other troops, in October 1941. He asked his mum to visit his sweetheart Olive and said he hoped it wouldn't be long before he saw them all again.
“It prompted me to piece together the story of what happened to him and why, from every possible source.
“The war against Japan in which so many local families tragically had a stake has been neglected by popular culture in favour of the battle against the Nazis in Europe.”
Visitors to the Exhibition, open on Thursdays and Saturdays, 10am to 4pm, will be able to see brilliant drawings by Ronald Searle of army and prisoner of war life in Singapore and Burma (the artist was a sapper in the same RE company as Bernard from 1939); a chunk of teak sleeper and metal fixings from the 'Death Railway' brought back by a survivor, and much more, including many items loaned by the Pentelow family.