Back in the 1960s, the congregation at Draycott St Margaret’s put up a war memorial plaque in the church. It named the forces personnel of the parish who had died in both world wars.
See – the story of Draycott’s war memorial.
This is the story of Bernard Stubbs.
All stories of deaths in war are tragic, but the story of Bernard Joseph Stubbs is especially so.
Just 25 when he died, he had survived two years in the appalling conditions of the Japanese ‘Burma Railway’ POW camps when he was killed in 1944 in a bombing raid – carried out by planes from his own side…
Back in 1919 when he was born, Cresswell had a railway station, where Bernard’s father William probably worked, as he listed his profession as ‘railway porter’. Perhaps he worked also at Totmonslow station (oddly, the station there was called ‘Tean Station’ at the time). Both stations have since been demolished.
William and his wife Annie had married in 1897, having seven children in all, with Bernard being their youngest.
The family lived for many years at ‘School House, Cresswell’ a house within the grounds of St Mary’s Catholic Church on Cresswell Old Road. Over a century ago, the church ran a small primary school (which closed around 1918), and the School House was so-called because it was where the teacher lived. (The house next door – St Josephs House – was the old school itself).
William & Annie Stubbs were Catholics, which is presumably why they got to live in the house.
(Courtesy the Thorley Collection for all the black-and-white photos above).
In 1939, Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, and, two years later, on Japan too. The Second World War would last for six years.
It must have been heart-breaking for William & Annie to see their youngest go off to enlist. Bernard joined the Royal Artillery, where he became a lance bombardier.
We know little of his war career until 1942. In this terrible year for Britain, one of the greatest blows was the fall of Singapore, a British colony at the time. With its fall, control of the Far East – from the Pacific to the Indian border – was now in the hands of the Japanese.
Bernard was one of the British troops in Singapore at the fall, and so he became a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese.
The Japanese POW camps were notoriously brutal, partly because they worked the prisoners so hard. One construction project these prisoners were forced to undertake was the building of the infamous ‘Burma railway’. This huge project saw the deaths in terrible conditions of thousands of Allied prisoners – mostly British, American, Australian and Dutch. The story is the basis for the famous war film ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’.
By the time of Bernard’s death in 1944, the project had been completed, but many prisoners, including Bernard, had to stay in these camps in order to carry out maintenance on the railway.
What a strange irony – a father who worked on a railway, and his son also working on a railway – but in such different circumstances…
And it was here on the Burma Railway that Bernard died. In an Allied air-attack on the railway in September 1944, Bernard was killed. In other words, he survived the camps – but only to die in an attack by his own comrades…
Bernard’s remains are now in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand, the main POW burial ground for those victims of Japanese imprisonment who were forced into labour on the Burma Railway.
It is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In there are buried almost 7,000 POWs.
Near to it is the ‘Burma Railway Centre’ a small museum about the railway and the prisoners who built it.
Every year hundreds of thousands of British people holiday in Thailand, and many take time out to visit this site in their time there and pay their respects.
With thanks to Bill Pearson for researching the records.
Can you add any more to this account? We’d be grateful for any knowledge anyone may have. Use the Comments-Box below or email us. Bernard’s service number was 1426651
For the stories of all the other service-people whose names are on the war memorial plaque in St Margaret’s, click here