Wartime veteran dies at 88

TRIBUTES have today been paid to an Ipswich World War Two veteran and former prisoner of war in the Far East who died this week.Douglas Skippen, 88, a leading figure in the community, passed away on Monday following an illness lasting several months.

TRIBUTES have today been paid to an Ipswich World War Two veteran and former prisoner of war in the Far East who died this week.

Douglas Skippen, 88, a leading figure in the community, passed away on Monday following an illness lasting several months.

After joining the Territorial Army at the age of 19, Mr Skippen was posted in various locations prior to being sent to Singapore as a corporal with the 196 Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

He was one of thousands of men to be captured by the Japanese and spent a number of harrowing years in captivity, working on construction of the Burma Railway, dubbed the “railway of death”.

Despite terrible malnutrition, serious illness and even the loss of his sight at one point, he used his medical knowledge to help others in the same predicament.

Following the war he became president of the Ipswich branch of the Far East Prisoners of War Fellowship and worked tirelessly arranging reunions and memorial events with his former comrades.

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Describing him as the family hero, his daughter Carol Skippen, of Montgomery Road, Ipswich, said her father was always thinking of others.

“He found it hard to discuss what life was like as a prisoner of war,” she said

“He wouldn't portray it how it was even though it was a horror - the suffering was second to none.

“In those days they never thought about themselves, always about others.

“He was selfless to the end.”

Daughter-in-law Jenny Skippen said since Douglas became ill he was keen to ensure he was able to see two new arrivals in the family, twins Eva and Amelia, his third and fourth great grandchildren.

“He really wanted to see his great granddaughters who were born on August 8 and he wanted to be at a family get together on September 6 following the birth,”

“He achieved those two things.”

Carol added: “For all he went through he was a family man. He worshipped his children and his great grandchildren.

“He was a proud man, a gentleman and a generous man who would do anything for you. He was our father, our hero.”

Following the war Mr Skippen worked as an administrator at St Clements Hospital until his retirement at the age of 60.

Mr Skippen married his wife Peggy in 1954 and enjoyed 39 years of marriage until her death in 1993.

He leaves two children, Alan and Carol, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Mr Skippen's funeral will take place at St Mary Le Tower Church, in Tower Street, Ipswich, at 2.30pm on Friday October 3.

Born in Ipswich in March 1920, Douglas joined the Territorial Army at 19.

Based in Dial Hall in Woodbridge Road, the young recruit became a member of the medical corps, training and working within the 196 Field Ambulance regiment.

Speaking to The Evening Star in 2000 Douglas said things took a bleak turn from his arrival in Singapore, after various postings.

“Conditions there were pretty grim,” he says, “It was not long before we were being bombed by the Japanese. We had no aircraft or shipping so we were on our own and being shelled.”

Around 250 young men including Douglas were taken prisoner by the Japanese.

They were marched to a prison where they were forced to share small cells and fenced in the grounds by barbed wire, the men got on with everyday duties.

Douglas said: “We started work there in the prison on casualties and on dysentery patients.

“The Japs just left us because there was no way for us to get out. We were allowed to get on with our work and that was it.”

“We didn't have time to think and that was really good for us because we were unable to dwell on our circumstances.”

Besides all the other difficulties he was facing, he lost his sight. For several months of his captivity he continued to nurse weak and injured victims of the war, while coping with the complete loss of vision. He said: “It was a result of our diet. I was not getting enough vitamins and that was the consequence.

“Maggots and rice became our staple diet with a little bit of green vegetables. The food was atrocious and adjusting back to normal food afterwards took us all a long time.”

He and his comrades found themselves moving on to new postings, following demands to progress up country.

They were packed tightly into steel trucks amid tropical heat and treated like animals.

In their later years as prisoners they worked long, hard hours, building railways under Japanese surveillance.