9th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
Ex-PoW Jack called on his survival instincts
Jan 2 2009 by Brian Daniel, The Journal
A PENSIONER in Rothbury called on his survival instincts learned from his prisoner of war days to get through the floods which will keep him out of his home until 2010.
Jack Phillips, 88, was one of many people forced from their homes as the River Coquet burst its banks.
Water five feet deep swamped his bungalow and ruined most of his possessions, including memorabilia from his days serving his country in the Second World War, when he spent three years as a prisoner of the Japanese.
Jack believes captivity toughened him up both mentally and physically, preparing him for this year’s events.
He said: “It is certainly bad enough when you lose everything – but looking back into my war experiences, it is not in the same league really.”
Jack was one of 45 men from Rothbury to join the 9th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in 1939, and is the only one to survive.
He fought in France but was part of the allied troops who were evacuated through Dunkirk in 1940.
Jack was later deployed to the war in the Far East where he fought the Japanese at Singapore.
And in 1942, the British surrendered and he was taken prisoner.
Jack worked on building the war cemetery at Changi and would later be moved to Thailand to help construct the Thai Burma Railway.
He soon caught dysentery and had to undergo a lifesaving operation.
Jack’s war ended in October 1945 when he was shipped back to England, and hospital in Newcastle, where he was to meet his first wife, nurse Jessie.
A career as a registrar followed his war years, before Jack retired in 1963.
The veteran, who married again and now has two children, newsagent David and baker Howard, 10 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren, has returned to Singapore more than five times over the years.
Jack left his Armstrong Cottages home – a complex where he was the oldest resident – the night before the floods in September, after noticing the river rise rapidly and seeing two cars washed downstream.
He returned after the water level had fallen, to find his home devastated. Lost were notepads he would record thoughts in during the war and his Army paybook which he had carried through the jungle.
Memorabilia and most of his books were lost.
Jack, a keen golfer, added: “I managed to save my most important four books, which is all I have got left.
“I lost most of the stories I had got published in The Journal years ago and the Sunday Sun.
“Some of those were saved because my friend managed to dry them out for us. I have lived there all my life and I have never seen it flood like that.”
Jack was also able to salvage some clothes and more importantly, his treasured war medals.
Such was the damage and level of contamination, landlord Cheviot Housing Trust told him it would be 18 months before the property would be habitable.
In the aftermath of the floods, Jack stayed with a friend elsewhere in Rothbury.
Now, he has been offered indefinite use of another friend’s property on the village’s Addycombe Gardens.
And the property has one advantage, Jack added: “It is up the bank and it is safe from flooding!”