Plaque Commemorating Far East POWs in World War Two Returns Home At Last

St. Michael at the North Gate, where the Plaque was put back on display.  Source: hayespdx/ CC BY-NC 2.0
St. Michael at the North Gate, where the Plaque was put back on display. Source: hayespdx/ CC BY-NC 2.0

After 43 years, the Plaque commemorating Oxfordshire’s Far East Prisoners of War has finally been put back on display. At St. Michael at the North Gate, churchgoers, and families of the Far East Prisoners of War stood for a re-dedication ceremony.

Rev. Bob Wilkes led the event, which was timed to coincide with the 71st anniversary of VJ-day – the day Japan surrendered in World War II.

The plaque, which was originally embedded into an Oak tree in 1973, reads, “This plaque was planted… in the hope it will flourish and become a living monument to the memory of comrades who died in captivity from starvation and brutality at the hands of their Japanese captors.”

Right after it was put into that oak tree, the plaque was vandalized and dropped into the bushes where Tommy Bowen found it. Bowen had served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in World War II and was a captive of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945.

Bowen took the Plaque back home and placed it in a cupboard; that is where it stayed for 42 years before being discovered by his son John Bowen last summer. The re-dedication that took place was accompanied by a recital Ode of Remembrance.

“My father was a prisoner and for people in Oxfordshire, it’s nice to have something dedicated to them. It’s taken nearly a year to get everything sorted. We went to the parochial council and the Diocesan Advisory Committee, and then in June we were told it could be put in.” Says Trish Fergusson, of national charity Children of Far East Prisoners of War. She and her husband played a vital role in getting the Plaque re-dedicated.

A retired school teacher by the name of Richard Mathews traveled down to attend the event that honored his father. “My father was in the first group of soldiers shipped from Singapore up to the railway. He never spoke a word about it. He died when I was a teenager, because of what happened to him.”

The plaque now resides at the church in Cornmarket Street; it will be permanently fixed beside two Books of Remembrance and underneath the Burma Star and VJ Day 70th anniversary wreath.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE