In celebration of Peace Day 2012, a memorial to the thousands of Prisoners of War who suffered and lost their lives in the Far East during World War Two was unveiled in Mornington Crescent.
Friday 21st September 2012 saw the unveiling of this new memorial, featuring the a reproduction of a drawing by Souvenir Press author Ronald Searle (who sadly passed away at the end of 2011, aged 91). Searle himself was a Prisoner of War who worked on the Burma Railway, and was eventually liberated in 1945 after the defeat of the Japanese. Throughout his captivity, Searle drew in secret on scraps of paper, keeping them hidden from the guards.
Taken from Searle’s book TO THE KWAI – AND BACK: WAR DRAWINGS 1939-1945, the illustration featured on the memorial is accompanied by the words: They ask for nothing but remembrance of their lives and a promise of peace for future generations.
The memorial was unveiled by Viscount Slim, President of the Burma Star Association, in the presence of veterans and their families. Souvenir Press managing director Ernest Hecht attended the unveiling of the memorial as Ronald Searle’s representative.
The memorial’s architect, Chris Roche, wrote in the programme to accompany the unveiling that he was inspired in equal parts by Searle’s TO THE KWAI – AND BACK and by the 1957 movie A BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. Of the memorial, he wrote: “I hope in viewing this memorial, the people of Camden will […] come to appreciate that despite the suffering, the prisoners were able to build something of immense value which outlived the war, and which continues to inspire and uplift in times of peace”.
HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh unfortunately could not be present on the day, but sent a wonderful letter which began: “I am very pleased to know that a memorial to all those who served in the Far East during the war, and particularly to those who were imprisoned, is being erected in Camden.” You can read the full letter from the Duke of Edinburgh on the Camden New Journal website.