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Poignant Second World War Memorials Re-Listed in Commemoration of 75th Anniversary of VJ Day
Two Grade I listed churches in Cambridgeshire have been re-listed in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day (15 August) and the final conclusion of the Second World War.
Updated list entries now include new information linking these sites to the Second World War and the Allied forces' victory in Japan.
The list description of The Church of St Thomas à Becket in Ramsey, Huntingdon now includes mention of a Lady Chapel in the south aisle giving thanks for the safe return of Lord de Ramsey, a Second World War Prisoner of War in Japan, as well as a dedication and commemorative tablet added in 1956.
The Grade I listed Church of St Peter and St Paul in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire has been re-listed to make special mention of a memorial to the men from the area who were killed in action or in captivity in the Far East.
Their list descriptions have been updated on the National Heritage List for England which affords special protection to the most important parts of England's heritage.
Whilst war memorials are common within parish churches, those specifically dedicated to the fallen in the Far East are rare.
As we come together this weekend to mark 75 years since VJ Day, we must not forget the sacrifices of the Second World War generation. It is a fitting tribute to all who served in the Far East that we are protecting and preserving sites so that future generations can learn about this important period of our history.
We are surrounded by surviving physical evidence of the Second World War, from former air raid shelters to statues and plaques. However memorials that commemorate the Allied forces fighting in the Far East are surprisingly rare in England. Seventy-five years on, it’s important that we remember them.
Church of St Thomas À Becket, Ramsey
The Church of St Thomas à Becket, Ramsey was built in the late-12th century as a guest house or infirmary for Ramsey Abbey and converted to a church in the early-13th century. Inside is a Lady Chapel giving thanks for the return of Lord De Ramsey from the Far East in 1945. The Chapel and accompanying memorial plaque were added in 1956, five years after the church was originally listed.
Lord De Ramsey fought in the Second World War as a captain in the Royal Artillery and was awarded the Territorial Decoration. He was taken prisoner of war by Japan along with over 190,000 British and Commonwealth troops, almost a quarter of whom died in captivity.
Conditions in prisoner of war camps in the Far East varied but the treatment these captives received was often extremely harsh. Prisoners carried out forced labour and were subjected to sadistic punishments for minor breaches of camp rules. Poor living conditions and a meagre diet of rice and vegetables led to malnutrition and disease was rife in the camps.
Memorials to those killed in the Far East are rare, with 25 examples inside churches, but chapels devoted to giving thanks for those surviving are even rarer.
The chapel created to mark Lord Ramsey’s safe return is marked with a plaque inscribed ‘THIS CHAPEL IS THE GIFT OF LADY DE RAMSEY, IN THANKSGIVING TO ALMIGHTY GOD FOR THE SAFE RETURN OF HER HUSBAND LORD DE RAMSEY FROM A JAPANESE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP 1945 8 AUGUST 1956.’
Church of St Peter and St Paul, Wisbech
The Church of St Peter and St Paul was constructed in the 12th century and substantially rebuilt in the 14th century. The alterations over time can clearly be seen in the fabric of the building. It was later restored in the 19th century by George Glover and William Smith and listed in 1951 at Grade I.
This church includes a memorial to those killed in action or in captivity in the Far East during the Second World War. Commissioned by the Singapore Club Wisbech, it was unveiled by the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire on 20 October 1985 in a ceremony attended by the Bishop of Ely.
The memorial is a slate tablet set into a sculpted frame depicting a bamboo and coconut leaf hut. It was designed by Brian Krill and sculpted by Angela Hull.
Whilst war memorials are common within parish churches, those specifically dedicated to the fallen in the Far East are rare. Most are a plain plaque, making the memorial in the Church of St Peter and St Paul stand out for its decoration.
The tablet is inscribed ‘15TH FEBRUARY 1942 - 15TH AUGUST 1945 TO THE MEMORY OF THE MEN OF THIS AREA WHO WERE KILLED IN ACTION OR DIED IN CAPTIVITY IN THE FAR EAST THIS TABLET IS DEDICATED BY THEIR COMRADES OF THE SINGAPORE CLUB WISBECH "TURN YOU TO THE STRONGHOLD, YE PRISONERS OF HOPE" ZECHARIAH IX.12.’