World War II definitely created it’s fair share of heroes – ordinary young men put in extraordinary situations, who proved they had courage, strength and loyalty and fought to defend their King and Country.
We are lucky to know one such man very well. Kenneth Pett has had a long association with Mill Rythe. 91 years ago at the age of 5 he made his first visit to our holiday park on Hayling Island as a Sunday School outing with the Salvation Army, and we’re extremely lucky that he still joins us regularly. In fact, he celebrated his 90th Birthday at Mill Rythe and this year came back to celebrate his 96th!
Young Ken started life in a large family, but after the death of his father he and two of his brothers were sent to live in an orphanage. When he left the care home in 1937 he joined the British Army. A Gunner in the 80th Anti-Tank Regiment in the Royal Artillery, Ken embarked to Singapore in 1940 and was involved in jungle warfare and saw active service in India, South Africa and Malaya. Ken’s regiment surrendered after the fall of Singapore in 1942 when they were taken prisoner and placed on the Japanese ‘hellship’ the England Maru where they spent the next 17 days in the most appalling conditions as they made their way to Taiwan. However this was just the start of Ken’s story.
When the England Maru docked the young English men were marched to the largest copper mine in the area – the notorious Kinkaseki POW camp.
Every day the men were stripped, beaten, starved – kept in the most inhumane conditions. Forced to march up the hill behind the prison camp and down the other side to enter the mine every day. Ken recounts that there were 1023 steps to reach the deep, dark, fiercely hot mine area where they worked. If they didn’t reach their daily work quota, which considering their physical conditional was an impossible challenge, the men where once again beaten. Disease and illness swept through the camp, and death was common.
Ken continued to endure this hell for three years, keeping his spirits up by learning Japanese and having the camaraderie of the other men.
He was finally liberated by the USS Santee in 1945. He was then only 23 years old and weighed just 4 stone 10lbs. He was one of only 64 survivors from the original 523 men that had started the journey to Kinkaseki, and the only one now still alive.
Ken’s had an amazing life, this short video clip will give you a small insight into what he had to endure in the hands of the Japanese during his captivity during World War II, the amazing strength of character that allowed him to survive this terrible experience, when many of his brothers in arms weren’t as lucky. Ken is a true hero in our eyes, and we love having him visit us at Mill Rythe.