POW son’s letters to mother discovered

POIGNANT letters written by a World War Two prisoner of war describing his fight for life in the horror camps of Burma have come to light following his death last month.

POIGNANT letters by a World War Two prisoner of war describing his fight for life in the horror camps of Burma have come to light following his death last month.

Kenneth Arnold, formerly of Kings Ripton, spent three years as a POW in camps in Thailand and Burma. He survived forced labour, beatings, near starvation and disease, including Beri Beri, malaria and dysentry.

Two letters written following his release by allied forces in August 1945 were discovered among a bundle of papers by his daughter Karen just three days after his death on February 25 at home in Peterborough aged 91.

The letters were addressed to Mr Arnold’s mother Edith, and include his hopes of a ‘marvellous future’. Mr Arnold did not know at the time his mother, then his only living relative, had died three months before.

Miss Arnold of Thriplow Heath, Hertfordshire said: “Dad never spoke about what happened to him during the war. These letters were stuck in a photo album, and I did not know about them until my stepmother gave them to me on September 28.”

One letter sent to Mr Arnold’s mother on September 15, 1945 was penned while the soldier, then aged 25 was aboard a medical ship on his way to India for convalescence.

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It describes the cruelty, Mr Arnold, a driver in the 287th Field Company of Royal Engineers, suffered at the hands of his Japanese captors.

The prisoners were forced to walk 220 miles in 18 days in order to help construct a railway through the Siam jungle.

In the letter Mr Arnold wrote: “Oh mum, we had a terrible time when we were sent to Thailand and Burma to build a railway through the Siam jungle.

“We were wet through for days on end as the monsoon was on for about five months at a time, but still trees had to be cut down and the swamps filled in. Men were left there to starve.

“We could not stop stomping through the swamps up to your knees. They kept promising us a good time and more rice, but there was just rice and jungle stew, which is green water with about six beans in it.”

Of the 129 men captured from Mr Arnold’s regiment, 103 died. Among them were Mr Arnold’s friend Tommy, who lost his leg.

Mr Arnold continued: “I forced myself to keep eating to keep living. It was a job at times as it would take two hours to eat a mess tin of rice, forcing it down, so as to keep some strength and some just would not, and they used to die as sure as eggs.”

Mr Arnold describes also being taken on a test ride of the tracks following the completion of the railway in 1945.

He and the other prisoners were forced into a windowless metal box car where they stayed for five days and nights without food, water and in extreme temperatures.

After his return to the UK, Mr Arnold met and married his first wife Zena. They had two children, Karen and Anthony. The couple later separated, and Mr Arnold re-married in 1985. His second wife Irene survives him.

His wartime experiences continued to affect him until his death. He ran a bakery in Long Sutton for 25 years before being forced to retire due to recurring bouts of malaria, first contracted in the jungle.

But he also enjoyed life. A keen bowler, he became life president of Huntingdon Bowls Club and was made Hunts Post Sports Personality of the Year in 1992.

Miss Arnold said: “He was well-loved and well-liked. I think he saw so many people die while building the railway through the Siam Jungle, in their memory, he decided he would live for all the others.

“I am so proud of what he achieved in the war. He was not bitter, life was for living and he did just that.”

A funeral service will be held for Mr Arnold on Friday (March 11) at Thomas a Becket church in Ramsey from noon, followed by a woodland burial.

Donations if desired will be gratefully accepted for the Salvation Army or Cancer Research UK which may be sent to Anglia Co-operative Funerals, Whittlesey Road, Stanground, Peterborough, PE2 8RB. Tel 01733 426860.