Family ‘deeply moved’ as fallen soldier’s full story emerges ahead of VJ Day
PUBLISHED: 09:51 14 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:39 14 August 2020
COURTESY OF THE ROTHWELL FAMILY
On the eve of VJ Day 75th anniversary commemorations, the family of an Ipswich soldier who died fighting the Japanese were “astonished” and “deeply moved” as full details of his story finally emerged.
Relatives learned the truth of how Second Lieutenant Basil Raf Groom died this week, after 101-year-old Suffolk veteran Ernie Brett shared his story.
A commemorative event held at the war memorial in Christchurch Park, Ipswich, in honour of Lt Groom last weekend – on behalf of veteran Ernie who served under him – led to the family discovering the full story.
Basil’s nephews said they were “knocked for six” when they read about the event. They had previously been unaware that Basil is commemorated on the Ipswich War Memorial.
Paul King, of Leavenheath, said: “My mother, Pearl, visited her brother’s memorial in Singapore in the late 1970s, and I have visited about five times. It’s a very special place to be able to honour someone.
“Now I know that Basil is also remembered as part of Ipswich history, not far from where I live. It’s all quite incredible.
“I have been overwhelmed at the kindness and honour paid to my lost uncle.
“I cannot thank Ernie enough choosing my uncle to commemorate. I’m incredibly proud and emotional. It means so much to us to know that when he died, Basil was alongside the men he led and that he had made such an impression upon them, and he was held in such high esteem. I never had the chance to meet him, but now, thanks to Ernie, it feels like I know Basil that little bit more.”
Until now, Lt Groom’s family believed he fell in Singapore.
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His parents, Frank and Blanche Groom, never knew that Basil, the youngest son of their seven children, had in fact died in Malaya – bravely fighting next to the men he led.
As possibly the last surviving member of the 2nd Battalion, The Cambridgeshire Regiment, Ernie, from Haverhill, is the last person who could relate first-hand how his commanding officer had met his death.
The two served together just before the fall of Singapore in 1942. Ernie recalled how Basil was shot by the Japanese Imperial Army on 26 January 1942, as they fought side by side to defend an important crossroads in the town of Batu Pahat.
Basil is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Singapore Memorial, in Kranji War Cemetery, which bears the names of over 24,000 casualties of the Commonwealth land and air forces who have no known grave.
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In the run-up to the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan (VJ Day), the CWGC and Haverhill Family History Group (HFHG) offered Ernie the opportunity to commemorate someone who he had fought with.
Ernie immediately chose 2nd Lt Groom. Both Suffolk lads, Ernie was himself just 22 when Basil, 23, died next to him.
Nick Rothwell, from Lancashire, said: “Uncle Basil was always the person missing from family celebrations and get togethers, the baby of the family who went away to war and who never came back.
“We are so touched that all these years later Ernie wanted to ensure that people did not forget the sacrifice Basil made by giving up his life while fighting so bravely.
“My mother, Joan, once told me how they were devastated when that fateful knock came on the door to tell them that her baby brother was missing in action. After that they never really talked about him too much when I was a child, I think it was too painful for all the family. And they never found out what really happened. Now we know exactly where he fell and how that all came about. In a sense he’s not ‘missing’ anymore.”
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The HFHG and CWGC organised the small ceremony with support from the Ipswich War Memorial Project, the Royal Anglian Regiment Association (Cambridgeshire), the Friends of the Suffolk Regiment and the Royal British Legion Ipswich Branch.
A bugler played the Last Post and the Kohima Epitaph and the FEPOW Prayer were read, before Haverhill mayor John Burns, laid a wreath for Basil on Ernie’s behalf, along with the CWGC and RBL.
Nick and Paul both hope one day they may get a chance to meet Ernie and his family. Ernie, who now lives in the Meadows Care Home, is one of the last surviving Far East prisoners of war. Due to shielding, he could not attend, but son John Brett, from Kedington, said he was very touched people had done this for him.
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