FEBRUARY marked the 70th anniversary of what Winston Churchill called the ‘largest capitulation in British history’, the fall of Singapore, though the disaster had links much closer to home.
Mablethorpe’s own war hero, George Alan Mountain, was one of 80,000 British soldiers captured by the Japanese at the ‘impregnable fortress’ on that February morning in 1942 and, like most, he never returned home.
Alan, as he was known, was the only brother to six sisters and was a well-liked local lad. The son of Victoria Road greengrocers George and Florence, he joined up with the Nine Coast Royal Artillery and was shipped off to defend the empire.
Among the British troops in Asia the mood was light, with the prospect of a Japanese invasion still only a remote prospect. In fact Alan recounts meeting two other Mablethorpians, Frank Bogg and H Burton, while in Singapore, something he fondly alluded to in his regular letters home.
But the Japanese attack was rapid, and in just a week their vastly-outnumbered forces swept through the British defences, forcing Lieutenant-General Percival’s surrender.
Many of the soldiers captured were taken away as prisoners of war on the infamous ‘hell ships’ to work on the ‘death railways’ of Siam and Burma in appalling conditions. Survivor Alistair Urquhart’s 2010 bestseller The Forgotten Highlander echoed the experiences of many prisoners, including Alan Mountain.
Of course, at this point none of Alan’s family knew of his whereabouts – or if he was even alive – until, in July 1943, the Red Cross confirmed only that he was in enemy hands.
But on Christmas Day that same year, thanks to a thoughtful postmaster, the Mountain family received confirmation that Alan was fit and well.
That would be the last anyone would hear until Christmas Eve 1945, after the war was over, when a letter informed them that Alan had died five months earlier in the Kuching (or Batu Lintang) POW camp in Borneo.
Like many others Alan, aged 28, of the Nine Coast Regiment Royal Artillery, had died of starvation and dysentery, weighing just seven stone. Just three years earlier a six foot three, 14 stone young man had proudly left England to fight for his country.
Alan’s remains and memorial lie in the Labaun war cemetery in Borneo, but his name can be found inscribed on the war memorial in Mablethorpe, where such heroes will always be remembered.