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Pride of former prisoner-of-war

PUBLISHED: 13:30 27 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:54 03 March 2010

NOBODY holds the Burma Star standard more proudly than ex-PoW Bill Matthews, 84.

That is except - by his own admission - his predecessor Fred Harvey, once a member of the famed special forces unit known as the Chindits, but now too frail to bear the standard he had carried since the 50s.

NOBODY holds the Burma Star standard more proudly than ex-PoW Bill Matthews, 84.

That is except - by his own admission - his predecessor Fred Harvey, once a member of the famed special forces unit known as the Chindits, but now too frail to bear the standard he had carried since the 50s.

Both though will help hand the flag to the church for safe-keeping, its shaft ringed with the names of former Burma Star members who have since died.

"I hope my daughter can take a photo of Fred and I," said Mr Matthews, a regular soldier who served with the Duke of Wellington Regiment. "He's a very good man."

Mr Matthews, who is chairman of the Ipswich Royal British Legion, was captured by the Japanese at Sittang Bridge, one of three survivors from his "decimated" unit. But, even though he was wounded, he managed to escape their clutches and later fought with Chinese troops under General Chi against their common enemy in the jungle.

But he was taken prisoner a second time and endured the horrors of captivity under the Japanese in Rangoon for a large part of the war.

As he was Red Cross trained, he helped look after the hundreds of PoWs who fell ill through malnutrition and disease. But without any proper medical kit, he faced an uphill struggle

"We were losing as many as 13 a day through cholera, dysentery and malaria," he said.

"All the horror of war was there."

He added: "Eventually we were released and with our stamina and good care from our families and wives some of us have managed to live into our 80s.

"Now we try to put back into the community the lessons that we learned from looking after each other over there so the younger generation can learn something.

"But it was a war we all believed in," he concluded, saying: "Freedom. How invaluable is that?"

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