RICHARD JOSEPH HOWKINS was serving as a Private with the 7th Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light  Infantry when he was killed in action in Italy on the 11th November 1943 aged 23. He is buried at the Cassino War Cemetery  south-east of Rome.

He was born in 1920 to parents Ernest and  Louisa  and lived in Lower Tadmarton. His father and three uncles all served in the First World War, his Uncle Richard, after whom he was named, dying of his wounds in 1918. 

The 7th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were a hostilities-only battalion raised in 1940 and joined the 56th Division. With the rest of the division, they left the United Kingdom in late August 1942. The division was sent to the Persia and Iraq Command. They then moved to Egypt in March 1943 and thence forward to Libya and the front, in April. This involved the division travelling some 2,300 miles by road.  On 19th April 1943 the 7th Battalion took part in the capture of  Enfidaville, one of the last battles in the Tunisian Campaign in which they suffered heavy casualties. They were next in action landing at Salerno on 9th September 1943 suffering heavy casualties as they fought their way out of the beach head.

The Germans made fighting retreats to a series of defensive lines slowing the Allied advance. Private Richard Howkins was reported missing, later killed in action during the advance towards the Gustav line on 11th November 1943.

 

BERNARD AUSTIN FREEMAN was serving as a Bombardier in the 85th Anti-Tank Regiment, The Royal Artillery when he died on 21st September 1944, aged 24. He was on the Japanese ship Hofuku Maru carrying Allied prisoners of war. He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial for those with no known grave.

He was born in Tadmarton in June 1919, the son of  Herbert George and Alice May Freeman. His father had served with the Royal Field Artillery before and during World War One. In 1940 he married Hilda Batchelor of Broughton and had a daughter Pauline in 1941 and had worked as a builder. He enlisted the 63rd (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, a Territorial unit of The Royal Artillery in Banbury and posted into 251 Battery. In September 1941 an order arrived to designate one battery for immediate overseas service and to join the 85th Anti-Tank Regiment at Butlin’s Holiday Camp, Clacton-on-Sea.  251 Battery was selected and they retained the Oxfordshire Yeomanry as part of their title.  The Regiment had all their vehicles and guns re-painted a desert-sand colour and the troops issued with tropical clothing.  It was strongly rumoured they were heading for Basra, Iraq.  On the 10th November 1941 the regiment travelled by train to the port of Greenock, near Glasgow on the Clyde.  On the 11th November they  boarded the SS Narkundaan ex-P&O liner converted to carry 1,300 troops, below.

The Narkunda left Greenock port on 12th November moving out of the harbour to await the remainder of the convoy (WS12ZM).  This convoy of 16 ships was escorted by the battleship HMS Royal Sovereign, with numerous other war-ships of the Royal Navy, changing several times as it made its way south through the North Atlantic, into the South Atlantic.  The convoy had several attack attempts by German U-boats but suffered no casualties. The convoy made a brief stop  in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to re-fuel but no shore leave granted.  On 7th December 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and on 8th December Japanese forces land in Malaya and it is believed this information had been passed to the troops onboard. The convoy arrived in Durban on 18th December 1941.  Due to the involvement of the Japanese hostilities, there were several changes made to the units and the ships they had travelled in.  The WS12ZM convoy was split into three, with Regiments now being sent to Singapore were moved to the Far East convoy (DM1), regiments sent to Aden went to ships in the WS12ZA convoy, and regiments sent to Bombay went to ships in the WS12ZB convoy. The 85th remained on the SS Narkunda and the troops went on shore leave in Durban until required back on board. 

Convoy DM1 left Durban on 24th December, heading  towards the Maldives where they stop on 4th January 1942 for one day to refuel and are joined by USS Mount Vernon which arrived from Mombasa, escorted by the Cruiser HMS Emerald.  They were now 3 troop ships and 2 cargo ships with Royal Navy escorts.

The convoy arrived in Singapore on 13th January 1942, with the Mount Vernon and HMS Sussex headed to the naval base in the Johore Strait, Narkunda and the other ships headed to Keppel Harbour.  The 85th disembark at 1300hrs after being held below decks for 15  mins due to an air raid.  They are then transported to Birdwood Camp in the Changi area, where they aregiven 12 hours leave and the men relax in the NAAFI at Roberts Barracks, and visit Changi cinema.  This is mainly down to the fact that their equipment is taking time to offload, the Narkunda is docked out in the bay as it also contains ammunition.  

They were soon in action attempting to defend the Malay Peninsula and had some success before falling back on the island. They continued the action on Singapore Island, making a brave last stand on Halifax Road, before they had to destroy their guns and surrender to the Japanese on 15th February 1942.  The men, including Bernard Freeman, were sent to Tamarkan camp in Thailand to build rail bridges over the Khwae Noi River, part of the "Death Railway" from Bankok to Rangoon. After the completion of the bridges in October 1943  the bulk of the men were gathered up and moved back down the line to camps in Kanchanaburi and ChungKai. Here with a little better food, some rest and medical care, the men began to get well, and seeing this the Japanese decided that these men were fit enough to be sent to Japan to work in factories, mines and shipyards there to relieve their men to fight at the front. So throughout the spring of 1944 trainloads of men were sent back to Singapore to await the ships that would take them on to Japan. On 4th July 1944 another large group of POWs known as Japan Party 2, departed Singapore in a large convoy with five ships carrying over 5,000 POWs. Bombardier Freeman was one of 1,289 prisoners that were crammed  into 2 holds on the freighter Hofuku Maru, below.

 

1,289 prisoners were crammed  into 2 holds with not enough room to lie down all at once. Food was meagre, about a mug of rice a day occasional vegetables or fruit, barely enough water and sanitary conditions appalling. She sailed from Singapore to Miri, Borneo as part of a convoy of 10 ships. At Borneo, the Hofuku Maru left the convoy with engine problems, and sailed on to the  Philippines, arriving on July 19th. She   remained in Manila until mid-September while the engines were repaired. The POWs remained on board, suffering terribly from disease, such as   beri-beri, hunger, and thirst. Around 90% of the prisoners were reckoned to be incapacitated by illness, and 96 prisoners died while the ship was being repaired. On September 20 1944, the Hofuku Maru and 10 other ships formed a convoy and sailed from Manila. The following morning, the convoy was attacked 80 miles north of Corregidor Island by more than 100 American carrier planes. The Hofuku Maru carried no markings to show she was carrying prisoners of war. All eleven ships in the convoy were sunk. The Hofuku Maru was hit by three bombs and sank in under 5 minutes with most of the prisoners unable to escape from the holds. 1,047 of the 1,289 British and Dutch POWs on board died, including Tadmarton's Bernard Freeman.  He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial for those with no known grave.

 

 


free templates