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Last of the British Bridge on the River Kwai survivors and Mildenhall veteran Lyle Hutley dies aged 104

The last British soldier to work on the infamous bridge on the River Kwai has died at the age of 104.

Lyle ‘Bill’ Hutley, of Mildenhall, was one of 60,000 Allied prisoners of war forced by the Japanese army to endure horrific living and working conditions during the construction of the railway between Thailand and Burma.

For nearly four years he, and his comrades, suffered unspeakable treatment at the hands of their captors at the notorious Changi gaol and as they worked on the death railway, so called because of the thousands who died laying the 258 miles of track through the jungle and across the River Kwai.

Lyle Hutley celebrating his 100th birthday in 2017. Picture: Mecha Morton
Lyle Hutley celebrating his 100th birthday in 2017. Picture: Mecha Morton

A Bermondsey boy, born as the First World War was still raging, Lyle had started work at 14 then, like so many of his generation, found himself called up to serve in another global conflict that would change his life forever.

With the Royal Artillery Service Corps he was part of the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in 1940.

But by then the Army was already in retreat and Lyle and his comrades found themselves on the beaches at Dunkirk waiting to be evacuated.

Lyle Hutley with his wife Ivy
Lyle Hutley with his wife Ivy

In 1939, Lyle had met Ivy, the love of his life, and the woman who in May 1941 became his wife and shared his life until her death in 1997.

Two weeks after their wedding Lyle had been posted to Africa and it would be four years until he saw Ivy again.

On arriving in Africa Lyle’s regiment’s orders had been unexpectedly changed and their ship was sent on to Singapore, arriving in February, 1942, just 10 days before British forces surrendered to the Japanese and Lyle found himself a prisoner of war.

Despite his treatment, Lyle survived and eventually returned home in 1946 weighing less than six stones and with memories so terrible he never spoke of them to Ivy, whose love had sustained him through the darkest times of his life.

Lyle Hutley pictured at Changi Prison in 1999
Lyle Hutley pictured at Changi Prison in 1999

The war years took their toll and the couple did not have children but they enjoyed nearly 60 years together. Two years after Ivy’s death, in 1999, and accompanied by his nephew, Bill Ripper, Lyle returned to Changi Prison when he was finally able to lay the ghosts of his years as a POW to rest.

Lyle had moved to Mildenhall, with Ivy, in the late 1960s when the company he worked for re-located and he made the town his home.

By the time he celebrated his centenary he was still fighting fit, doing his own shopping, cooking, ironing, and gardening as well as helping his younger neighbours with their chores.

His niece, Eileen Wakelin, now 88, who also lives in Mildenhall, said: “He didn’t speak of what he went through in Burma for a long time then one afternoon he started to talk about it to my husband.

"He still had nightmares particularly if he had watched a film about the war but he had a good life and his nature was to see good and happiness.”

Lyle’s funeral service will be at Mildenhall’s St Mary’s Church on Friday, July 9, at 1pm.

There will be a guard of honour provided by the town branch of the Royal British Legion and for the cortege as Lyle makes his final journey from the church to the cemetery.

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Read more: All the latest news from Mildenhall