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Guard of honour given to Kedington war veteran and survivor of notorious Burma Railway

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Ernest Brett, Haverhill’s last surviving Japanese Prisoner of War and the 2nd Battalion, The Cambridgeshire Regiment’s last man standing, has passed away in his one hundred and second year.

On Monday, March 29, family members celebrated the life of a treasured father, grandfather and great grandfather.

They were joined by The Cambridgeshire Regiment Standard and a Guard of Honour together with Haverhill Town Mayor, Councillor John Burns, who paid their respects.

The guard of honour and standard bearer at the funeral of Ernest Brett (45711397)
The guard of honour and standard bearer at the funeral of Ernest Brett (45711397)

Ernest Walter Brett was born in Kedington on 13th May 1919. After leaving school, he found employment at Little Wratting working for Mr Sainsbury who had several farms in the area.

In November 1939, Ernest joined the Suffolk Regiment. After initial training including sniper and explosives courses he transferred to the 2nd Battalion, The Cambridgeshire Regiment and it was with them that he left Scotland bound for Singapore in 1941.

After fierce fighting at Batu Pahat, the 2nd Battalion were defending Braddell Road, Singapore when news of the surrender reached them on 15th February 1942.

Ernest Brett in uniform. Submitted picture
Ernest Brett in uniform. Submitted picture

After capture, Ernest was taken to Changi before being transported to Thailand to build POW huts and used as forced labour on the notorious Death Railway.

Most POWs suffered from tropical diseases, nearly all had repeated bouts of malaria, and due to the combination of injuries sustained from their captors, poor diet and crippling exhaustion due to overwork, many sustained ulcerated limbs and other septic infections.

Despite it all, Ernest survived and returned home, where his fiancée, Catherine, who worked in a munition’s factory during the war, was waiting for him.

Ernest Brett holding the Haverhill Echo, with him on the front page, of August 13, 2020. Submitted picture
Ernest Brett holding the Haverhill Echo, with him on the front page, of August 13, 2020. Submitted picture

The young couple were married in 1946 and had their only child, John. Ernest went back to his job working for the Sainsbury family, retiring in his early 60s.

He spent the last years of his life living in The Meadows Care Home where he was held in high esteem by the staff.

Ernest’s son, John said, “He lived on starvation rations in the cruellest of conditions.

“He contracted dysentery and malaria, suffered with leg ulcers, and severely damaged the sight in one of his eyes working with explosives on the railway.

“Luckily, he had always been a strong, healthy man which probably helped him survive it all.

“I do remember him sweating and shaking in bed from malaria which continued to bother him at home.

“But he really didn’t talk much about what he had gone through, till much later in life.”

Martin Boswell, Chairman, Cambridge Branch, The Royal Anglian Regiment Association (Cambridgeshire) said, “Like his comrades, Ernest endured three and half years of captivity under unimaginable circumstances facing the cruellest contempt of their guards and working as slave labour in some of the harshest terrain in the world.

“Of the 1,572 men of both Cambridgeshire battalions who fought in that conflict, 200 were killed in action and a further 542 died in captivity, leaving 810 who returned home.

“We knew many of these courageous men and they were our inspiration when alive, and despite being no longer with us, their legendary endurance and forbearance will continue to resonate and command respect.”

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