Our brave Fen Tigers

REFERRING to the great tragedy at Singapore in the Second World War, a great source of inspiration particularly relating to the Fen Tigers unit adjoined to the Cambridgeshire Regiment, the legendary Rev Canon Noel Duckworth, chaplain of the Second Battalion, himself a prisoner of war, wrote feelingly of the men forced to build the Railway of Death.

I knew Canon Duckworth, a humorously good man. Connected with the Cambridgeshires for more than 30 years he told me several stories of his experiences as a prisoner in the notorious Kranji prison where troops were initially incarcerated.

Before being captured he entered the abandoned Woolworths store at Singapore and helped himself to a lot of cheap sixpenny bakerlight pens.

The Rev Canon was in charge of several sick and wounded Fen Tigers. He approached a guard on Japanese pay day and offered him a pen convincing him it was an expensive Parker.

“You like Parker for half wage?” asked Canon Duckworth. “Ah so, Parka” said the guard and handed him a fistful of Yen notes.

Canon Duckworth then purchased geese eggs and a dead snake or two from the natives and these were processed and cooked to feed the ailing Cambridgeshires.

He wrote: “I am overwhelmed with wonder at the sturdy loyalty, the matchless bravery and unassuming steadfastness of the Fen Tigers.

“If that terrible affair had to happen and there had to be a special band of men to go through it, the only men who could do it would be the Cambridgeshire boys, and of course they did.

“Betrayed by inept leaders, told to stop when they wanted to go on to the bitter end, they were left to fight a better fight - that of sharing each other’s ills, sorrows and meagre rations and to wrest their comrades’ lives from the very pit of hell...

“Sorrowful they were always rejoicing. Poor they made many rich by their spiritual resources. Having nothing of this world’s goods, they possessed all things of inner strength and of the finest of human gifts, courage.”

Hundreds of those young men that were killed in action; and died in captivity in the Far East are buried in war cemeteries far away from the wholesome fields of Fenland.