My father Baillie Eccles was born in Ballyhalbert, Co Down in 1920. He grew up in Moyallon, Gilford and went to Moyallon Primary School and Portadown College. After the war he met my mum Beulah Culbert from Gilford. They married and had three children, Carol, Melvyn, and myself Adela.
In 1938 he joined the RAF, and was posted, amongst other places to Singapore, Java, Sumatra and the Punjab in India.
He was captured by the Japanese in Penang (Malaysia) and eventually escaped with five hundred other prisoners. He escaped on a Chinese boat named the “Mendosa”. They sailed for about 500 miles, and during this time the boat and surrounding waters were bombed by Japanese planes. All on board had to move to one side of the boat to stay afloat. Eventually they made it into allied waters and all were rescued. By this time my dad’s weight had dropped to six stone, and he was sent to a rest camp in India. The story of this escape at the time was in the London papers.
He received the 1939–45 Star, The Defence Medal. The Pacific Star and The Victory Medal, and was also Mentioned in Despatches – Java (Indonesia). He was demobbed from the RAF in 1945.
Dad was one of the last people to see local man Jim Clayton alive, before he was captured as a prisoner of war. Sadly Jim died whilst in the prisoner of war camp in Singapore.
During the war, my mother’s family (Culbert/Beattie) made friends with one particular young Belgian soldier named Louis Renard. When Louis returned to Belgium he never forgot the kindness they had shown him, and both families continued the friendship long after the war ended. The families corresponded by letters and also visited one another, meeting extended family members. Sadly Louis passed away recently in February 2006, but we will continue the friendship with his wife and his daughter Berthe, who both live in Belgium.
Jim Reilly, Tandragee Road, kindly let me use the family records below