Free at last from railway of death

Sergeant Ernest Neale.
Sergeant Ernest Neale.
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With the 70th anniversary of VJ Day still fresh in our minds this week’s feature is about two people who celebrated the occasion for two very different reasons.

Margaret Quinell, now of Portchester, lived at Lawrence Road, Southsea, and attended Albert Road Junior School.

On that special day in her life she remembers her beaming mother waiting at the school gate. She hugged Margaret and told her the war was over and that her daddy would be home soon. They danced and sang all the way home.

Word soon got around that there was to be an impromptu party that evening on a nearby bomb site on the corner of Addison Road and Fawcett Road. As a bonus Margaret’s mum said she could stay up late.

Everyone seemed to get hold of any spare food they had and off they went to find a large bonfire had already been lit.

There were people from all over the area dancing and singing.

What Margaret remembers most of all is the constant replenishment of the bonfire by sailors who always seemed to be carrying doors and other pieces of wood to the fire.

She says: ‘Goodness knows where the wood or the sailors came from. I just remember their uniforms. My dad was in the navy so perhaps I identified with them. It was an amazing night.’

Margaret’s best friend Patricia Hooper lived at Harold Road, Southsea, and attended the same school. Although she now lives in Canada they are still best friends.

Pat’s father Ernest was an Eastney boy and a sergeant in the Royal Corps of Signals. He was taken prisoner when Singapore fell to the Japanese and spent the rest of the war incarcerated and forced to work on the dreaded Burma death railway.

He was one of the lucky ones who managed to survive the ordeal.

Ernest enjoyed running and after a day’s work he would arrive back in the camp and force himself to run around the perimeter no matter how hungry he was or how weak he felt.

On arrival home he worked locally and then took the family to Canada. He died in his early sixties.

While looking through some of his papers Pat found many pieces of paper which Ernest had written describing conditions in the camp. She also has a final letter home saying ‘free at last’.

If the notes he made had been discovered then it was punishable by death.