Setch Far East PoW who came back from the dead

Second World War telegram ANL-150819-142234001
Second World War telegram ANL-150819-142234001
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A story of an agonising wait with despair and then hope for a young Setch wife at the end of the Second World War has come to light after being featured in the Lynn News look back at our coverage of VJ Day 1945.

Vera Turner had been waiting years for news of her husband George, a despatch rider with the Royal Norfolks who had been captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942.

Second world war telegram ANL-150819-142244001

Second world war telegram ANL-150819-142244001

Then, as we reported in the Lynn News special feature earlier this month, she had a letter from her husband to say he was fit and well after his release from a PoW camp.

But Vera’s world was turned upside down by two telegrams – which have been kept for 70 years by the family and are reproduced here.

The first, on September 14, said that L/Cpl Turner had been on a recovery aeroplane which was overdue and he was “missing presumed killed”. In full it said: From the under-secretary of State of War… unclassified. Deeply regret to inform you that report has been received that 5776417 Pte G R Turner, Royal Norfolk Regt, previously prisoner of war in Japanese hands is missing presumed killed from overdue aircraft engaged in recovery operations in Far East. (Footnote: His rank should have been given as lance corporal, not as a private).

The second telegram, on September 28, was from George himself to say he had arrived safely at Colombo and hoped to be home soon – and in fact returned to Setch the following month.

L/Cpl George Turner ANL-150825-120208001

L/Cpl George Turner ANL-150825-120208001

The story is taken up their son, John Turner, who now lives at West Winch, who said: “For a fortnight it was accepted that Dad would not be coming home.

“Back then out in the Far East it must have been all very confusing. A lot of planes being used had seen a lot of service in Europe and, of course, there were thousands of POWs wanting to get home. It must have been very difficult to keep track of all the aircraft and all the soldiers.

“Dad was a despatch rider with the Norfolks, riding a Norton, and hardly saw any action before his capture.

“He was put to work on the Burma railway which became known as the railway of death for about three years.

Vera Turner ANL-150825-120219001

Vera Turner ANL-150825-120219001

“That period of his life had a big effect on him and, later on, as a family, we were not allowed to talk about the war and Dad wouldn’t talk about his experiences.”

Mr Turner, who has a sister Mary Colvill, of Blackborough End, went on to become a lay minister at St Mary’s Church in West Winch.

He recalls: “At one service recognising the service of seamen in the 1970s I knew there would be a visiting Japanese priest coming along from Yarmouth to preach. I told my parents and I wasn’t sure if they would go, but they did.

“After that service Dad opened up for two-and-a-half hours and told us about his wartime experiences at the hands of the Japanese. He had been starved and ill-treated when in captivity.

“From listening to the sermon by the young Japanese priest, dad said that he could forgive them, although he could never forget what had happened.”

Before the war L/Cpl Turner had been a barber and he continued that trade on his return, later became a traffic warden and then worked with Kier Construction at Setch; he died in 1999 and Vera, who was a hairdresser, died in 2008. The couple had been married in 1941.

Mr Turner said: “Although Dad didn’t want to talk about the war, he was a staunch member of the Far East Prisoner of War Association and he would attend reunions at the Festival Hall in London.”

The photo of Vera shown here was sent by her to George at the No 4 prisoner-of-war camp in Thailand and he kept it safe throughout his time in captivity