Wymondham memorial service for Far East prisoners

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Wymondham memorial service for Far East prisoners

Wymondham’s ‘Living Memorial’ Church held its annual Ecumenical Memorial service for FEPOW & Civilian Internees in the Far East during WW2 on Sunday May 12, Peter Wiseman, Hon Archivist FEPOW Church, reports.

Led by Fr Denis Gallagher, Parish Priest, and the Anglican FEPOW Chaplain Rev Pauline Simpson BEM, we were honoured to have Lt Col Ian Lonsdale DL, Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk in attendance.  While the Order of Service format has remained similar to previous years, it had been reset in a more user-friendly booklet to include some  photos.  Our long-time supporter, Rev Pauline, beautifully read The Old Testament passage of Scripture.  The Cantor, Peter Wiseman, then sang the 23rd psalm with the congregation singing the response after each verse.

We welcomed Jane Flower, a FEPOW historian, as our speaker.  As the daughter of a FEPOW, she had acquired many insights to inform her poignant address.  What a powerful reflection and insight of a story so similar, but so different, to many other FEPOWs’ stories.  It made a great impression on the congregation who listened intently.  One of our aims is to actively involve today’s generation.  Ahead of the Act of Remembrance, the Intercessions were read with great clarity and dignity by a Boy Scout.  A pleasure to listen to.

Wreath laying took place in the FEPOW Memorial side-chapel and, for the benefit of the seated congregation, each organisation’s wreath was announced.  As custodians of the former Civilian Internees organisation’s Standard, it was laid in the side chapel beforehand. This introduction signalled the wreath laying:

“Lest we forget” – In any conflict, civilians are often the last to be remembered.  Today, the last shall be first.  In their memory the former standard of the ABCIFER Association is laid-up on the altar rail of the Memorial side-chapel.

Lt Col Lonsdale laid the sovereign’s wreath on behalf of His Majesty King Charles III.  Two young people, another Scout and a Cub-Scout of the parish, then followed, laying the parish wreath.  Another 13 wreaths were laid, amongst them the Netherlands was once again represented, and there was also a wreath on behalf of the Special Operations Executive (Far East) for the first time.  As a group they were unknown to me, just as Jane Flower’s post-war research on SOE (FE) was.  Lastly, two young girls of the Parish completed the ceremony: one laid a wreath on behalf of all Seafarers, as no separate Royal or Merchant Navy wreath was available.  The other girl then sprinkled poppy petals over the dark blue cloth for the Hell-ships POWs and all lost at sea with no known grave.

As befits tradition, the FEPOW prayer heralded the Last Post; Silence; Reveille and Kohima Epitaph.  Peter Wiseman concluded the commemoration with his epilogue: 

“This ‘Living Memorial’ Church was built to cherish the memory of all FEPOW and civilian internees of the Far East during WWII.  It embodies ‘those things they never knew in their last days: peace; quiet, and cleanliness amidst the cool, soft air of prayer, in the presence of Him whose suffering was greatest of all’. The beauty of the future they died for is what we live out in our daily lives.  In this way we can say that The Unknown Soldier’s ‘sacrifice is given a point’; and that the Kohima Epitaph’s bidding to ‘Tell them of us…’ is carried out.  If love’s final gift is remembrance, let us refresh their memory again next year on May 11, 2025 @ 12:30.  May their honoured memory live on in our hearts for ever.”

After the final blessing by Fr Denis, two verses of the National Anthem were then sung to end what had been a moving service of remembrance.  The 80-strong congregation were invited to afternoon tea in the parish hall provided by members of Wymondham Section of the Catholic Women’s League.