FENLAND: Family celebrate Kenneth's 90th birthday, former POW who built Burma Railway

A FORMER Fenland shopkeeper and one of the last six survivors of the British prisoners of war who built the notorious Burma Railway celebrated his 90th birthday. Kenneth Arnold enjoyed a surprise party put on by his daughter, Karen and son, Tony. Mr Arno

A FORMER Fenland shopkeeper and one of the last six survivors of the British prisoners of war who built the notorious Burma Railway celebrated his 90th birthday.

Kenneth Arnold enjoyed a surprise party put on by his daughter, Karen and son, Tony.

Mr Arnold joined the Royal Engineers when he was 18. His regiment became prisoners of war when the Japanese invaded Singapore in February 1942 and he took part in the whole of the Burma Railway project.

From the 1950s to the 1980s he lived in Long Sutton and owned the baker's shop, K F Arnold in Wisbech market square.


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Karen said: "He would open the shop at 8 o'clock at night if someone wanted a loaf. He would make celebration cakes and my mother would ice them. He was very popular with his customers."

She added: "When I was a child, he rarely spoke about his time in the war and doesn't speak of it now because it gives him nightmares."

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Mr Arnold and his first wife, Zena parted in 1967. He now lives with his second wife Irene in Stanground.

Karen said: "My father came home after the war to nothing. He was too ill to come back when hostilities ceased. He returned six months later. There were no parades. That had all happened months before.

"His mother and his grandmother had died - they didn't know he had been freed. His father had died when he was a child. His home had gone, too and everything in it. He went to the solicitors where his mother had worked to see if anything was left."

Miss Arnold said the effects of the war had stayed with her father all his life.

"He has always been obsessive about keeping clean because that was how he survived. He said you knew when men had given up the fight to live because they would be covered in fleas and insects.

"His two passions were keeping clean and eating good food - but today he still has his own teeth and his blood pressure is fine. He had a wonderful birthday."

The men who built the 285 miles of railway endured over three and a half years of imprisonment, brutality and torture. Men died in their thousands.

The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, was built with blood between Bangkok and Rangoon (now Myanmar), beaten out of forced labour to support the Japanese in their Burma campaign.

About 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war worked and marched, in rags, covered in lice, diseased and starving, for three and a half years hacking through impossible, hilly, jungle and river terrain.

Over 100,000 men, about 90,000 Asian labourers and 16,000 Allied troops, died during the project, including some 6,318 British soldiers.

In 1945 Kenneth Arnold was one of the skeletal men given his freedom.

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