The son of a Wheelton man who was a prisoner of war in Changi Prison has shared his father’s remarkable story of survival.
Wilfred Forrester was raised by nuns in Preston as an illegitimate child, after growing up believing that his auntie was his mother.
Originally a bandsman, he worked as a stretcher bearer during the Second World War and avoided combat, but still witnessed and experienced some truly awful things.
His son, David Forrester, of Heathrow Place, Chorley, says: “He was sent to Singapore and the Japanese invaded.
“They came from the land rather than the sea as expected, and the guns were pointing the wrong way. There was nothing they could do.
“He was a prisoner in Changi jail for six months. They were also marched up to Thailand then to Burma on the railway.
“One day, when they were marching from Changi to Thailand, Dad found an old car at the side of the road. He took the hub cap and cleaned it up to use as a rice bowl.”David Forrester
“He did work on the rail but a lot of the time he was seconded to the medical side, to help fellow prisoners of war who were injured.
“They used sharpened spoons for operations; they had very little.
“They didn’t get much food either. Dad said they would try to catch snakes as they tasted like chicken, but most of the time they lived off rice, and they were served pittance in their hands.
“One day, when they were marching from Changi to Thailand, he found an old car at the side of the road. He took the hub cap and cleaned it up to use as a rice bowl.”
Wilfred kept hold of the hub cap and got it engraved many years later, and David still has it at home, along with a few of his father’s possessions such as his compass, medals, and a tiny cross accompanied by a poem which his dad kept in his pocket during the conflict.
Like most veterans, Wilfred spoke very little about his experiences in the war, but one tale stands out in David’s mind.
“He saw some terrible things,” he says. “The Chinese and the Burmese were treated even more appallingly than the British.
“One day they were told to assemble and march, and I remember him saying they were told to look to the left.
“There was a table with seven heads on it from some prisoners who had tried to escape and had been decapitated, put on display.”
Wilfred himself came close to death from an insect bite, and suffered a huge blood blister on his leg.
Thankfully, it lanced itself during the night and the poison disappeared, but he also suffered from malaria.
Wilfred, who had the nickname ‘Sherwood’ during the war because of his surname Forrester, was very well thought of, and documents from his service describe his military conduct as “exemplary”.
It adds: “Has done good work throughout his army career. An efficient, willing worker who will accept responsibility. Sober, honest and trustworthy with a pleasant personality.
“A former bandsman who showed musical promise.”
Poignantly, Wilfred never played an instrument on his return home, but he did go on to lead a happy life with his wife Sarah, from Brindle, who he met after the war.
After she fell pregnant with their only child David, the couple wed at Gretna Green, and Wilfred found work as a gardener for Sir John Jackson at Prospect House in Wheelton.
He then got a job at a paper mill at Withnell Fold.
David, a grandad-of-two, plans to visit Changi Prison next year to see where his dad was captured.
And as the nation marked the 70th anniversary of VJ Day in August (Victory over Japan), David admits that those who continued to fight after VE Day were the ‘forgotten army’.
“My dad always said you can’t dwell on things though,” David explains. “You can’t go through life being bitter.”
Wilfred passed away peacefully at the age of 88.