Following the fall of Singapore to the Japanese on 15th February 1942 there was an 18-month silence regarding news of the whereabouts of Charlie Bunce. The silence was broken when Charlie was discovered to be a prisoner of war. He, along with thousands of other prisoners, was held in the most appalling of conditions.
In 1996, Bob Else, a fellow prisoner of war in the Far East with Charlie and a life-long supporter of St Albans City, gave a detailed account of their suffering to the Herts Advertiser.
“We served together in the Cambridgeshire regiment, both on active service and as PoW’s in the Far East. We worked for a long period on the infamous Burma death railway. Many times we talked about his footballing days and I recalled how I would run round to pat him on the back as he left the field at the end of a match at Clarence Park.
We shared two and a half years of PoW life in the same camps and I’ll never forget the last time we spoke together. It was a couple of months before Charlie and other men in our group left to march to another camp up country in Malaya to do more work on the railway, I was too ill to be included.
Most of the men did have some kind of footwear, often pieces of cloth or a sort of flip-flop made from wood, but Charlie had nothing. He faced a bare-foot forced march.
I had been lucky to receive a Red Cross parcel. A rare treat as most of the parcels were kept by the Japanese.
Inside that parcel was a pair of boots and we decided that Charlie should have them. I thought at that time I was dying. They would be of no use to me.
How many miles of marching Charlie and my other mates had to endure I do not know. Shortly after their arrival at that up-country labour camp a cholera epidemic broke out. Two thirds of those working prisoners died. Sadly, Charlie was one of the victims.”
The death of Charlie Bunce has been recorded as 25th June 1943, aged 30.
For Bob Else, his suffering was still far from over. Along with hundreds of fellow prisoners, not just British but also Australian and American, he was boarded onto one of three crowded ships to be transported from Malaya to Japan.
Tragically, two of the three ships were sunk by American submarines, no one survived. Bob was on the third ship, which quickly changed course and headed for Saigon.
He remained in Saigon until a remarkable day in 1945 when Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Commander-in-Chief South East Asia Command, marched into the camp to aid the release of the pitifully under-nourished, now former, prisoners.
Upon his return to England, Bob spent a year at the Roehampton Hospital and then returned to his pre-war job in the book-binding department at Campfield Press. After serving Campfield Press for 51 years Bob retired and, along with his wife, Ciss, moved to Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset.
Following the death of his wife Bob Else returned to Hertfordshire to live with his daughter, Pat and son-in-law Dick, in Harpenden.In his later years, Bob proved himself to be a more than useful bowls player.
Bob Else was in conversation with Roy Bentley.