Newmarket remembers VJ Day ahead of weekend tribute at town's war memorial
Relief was the overriding sentiment which greeted the news on August 15, 1945, that three months after victory had been declared in Europe, the war in the Far East was also finally over.
In Newmarket there was little of the uninhibited outpouring of delight witnessed in the spring as always in the background casting a long shadow over any celebration was the knowledge that many local families were still waiting for news of the fate of husbands, fathers and sons who had been involved in the campaign against the Japanese on the other side of the world.
And for months after VJ Day, right up until Christmas 1945 and beyond, families who had clung to the hope that no news was good news were finding out that their prayers had been in vain and their loved ones would not be coming home, while for those who had survived inhuman treatment in prisoner of war camps it would be many months before they were well enough to stand the long journey home.
Denise Rogerson’s grandfather, Herbert Mappledoram, was one of those Newmarket men who didn’t make it back.
Serving with the 1st Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment he had been taken prisoner by the Japanese when Singapore fell and died on September 7, 1944, as the result of an allied air raid at Nong Pladuck, almost 40 miles from Bangkok and one of the larger base and administration camps on the notorious Thai-Burma railway. He was 37.
The lorry driver from Newton Terrace in New Cheveley Road now lies in Thailand’sKanchanaburi war cemetery where his granddaughter became the first member of his family to visit his grave.
The inscription it bears, “Life is eternal, love will remain. In God’s own time we shall meet again,” was repeated on the stone marking the final resting place of his wife Violet, and daughter, June, who lie in Newmarket cemetery. One of Denise’s most treasured possessions are words written by her mother recalling the last time she saw her father. “I clearly remember at the age of 12 going to Cambridge station with my mother to say farewell to my dad. My mother and I were sobbing as the train pulled out of the station. I can still see his face and his wave from the carriage window. Little did I know that would be the last time I would see him.”
It was 18 months after the family were first informed Herbert was missingthat they were finally told of his death.
“I cannot tell anyone the ache I was feeling to know that my dad would not return the day I had dreamt about so often,” June recalled. “I am thankful I was old enough to remember him as a good and loving father.”
Velda Le Cocq’s father, Ernie Burch, was also captured at Singapore. He did make it home but the horrors he experienced as part of the the army of prisoners working on the Death Railway lived with him for the rest of his life. “He never spoke about it not until the last few years of his life,” said Velda. “I can remember him getting very emotional particularly whenever he heard the carol Silent Night because they had sung it on Christmas night in the camp. He brought back the loin cloth he had worn out there and it wouldn’t have fitted my five-year-old granddaughter.”
Ernie was 35 when he finally got home to Newmarket and in 1947 married his sweetheart, Doris, with Velda born the following year. “My nan had three sons away at war and they all came home,” said Velda, “but dad said although there was a big celebration in Exning Road where the family lived she kept hers indoors as the son of a family who lived opposite had not returned.”
Cecil Marriott had been a legend in his own life in Newmarket as the Jockey Club’s agent. A story often told about the man who managed the town’s training grounds for 50 years cast him something of a Captain Mainwaring figure. When a high ranking US officer expressed his concern to one of the senior gallops foremen that the Luftwaffe might attempt landings on the wide open expanses of the heath, he was told politely: “Mr Marriott would never allow that.”
But when Marriott finally stepped down in September 1945, his retirement presentation was tinged with more than a touch of sadness. His beloved son, Captain Christopher ‘Dan’ Marriott, had been involved in the taking of Water Tower Hill in Singapore in February 1942 and while leading his men in an attack was hit twice by Japanese machine gun fire. He survived but was taken prisoner and died three months later in Roberts Hospital in Changi. He was buried in the Kranji war cemetery in Singapore.
“There is one man naturally I wished to be present todayand that is Dan,”his father told the assembled gathering. “I know you all liked him as the one who would carry on and that the old traditions would continue but God willed otherwise. He like many others from Newmarket and roundabout gave their lives for our benefit. These valiant young fellows whatever their ranks, let us always remember them.”
As Capt Marriott fell wounded, another Newmarket man, Lt Orton Taylor, stepped into the breach taking command and leading the men towards the summit of Water Tower Hill.
Although the assault was successful a number of snipers lay hidden in the grass and Lt Orton was shot and killed as he tended to one of the wounded men. Back home, he and his wife of just two years, Rosamonde, had lived at Bassett House, in Bury Road. Mrs Taylor went on to found Fairstead House School.
Another of those valiant young menof whom Cecil Marriott spokes was 24-year-old Victor Hammond, of Balham Villa, in Granby Street, the son of Suffolk’s deputy chief constable Walter Hammond. Victor served with the 2nd Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment and died on August 24, 1943, a prisoner of the Japanese. Just eight years before he had been playing in goal for Newmarket Secondary Modern school’s football team.