Relatives of Burma veterans reflect as plaque ceremony held in Stevenage on 70th anniversary date

The service which was held in Stevenage Old Town.

The service which was held in Stevenage Old Town. - Credit: Archant

The dedication of a plaque to Burma veterans today held special significance for two Stevenage relatives who have been uncovering their family’s past.

Veterans Alfred Atkins (Letchworth), Stanley Smith, (Hitchin) and Bob Frostick (Little Wymondley).

Veterans Alfred Atkins (Letchworth), Stanley Smith, (Hitchin) and Bob Frostick (Little Wymondley). - Credit: Archant

The ceremony at Stevenage Old Town’s Bowling Green was held exactly 70 years after Japan signed an unconditional surrender to the Allies, ending the Second World War.

Burma veterans Alfred Atkins from Letchworth, Stanley Smith of Hitchin and Bob Frostick from Little Wymondley were among those to attend the service, which took place at 2pm.

And for Shirley Johanson and Andrew Curtis, who both live in Stevenage, it was a chance to reflect on the contribution and sacrifice their relatives made and the many who fought alongside them.

Shirley was asked to lay a wreath at the unveiling – and did so in memory of her dad Kenneth Henry Bennett and his older brother George John Edward Bennett who both served in South-east Asia.

Andrew Curtis, Leo Curtis, George Curtis and Logan Hammocks lay a wreath.

Andrew Curtis, Leo Curtis, George Curtis and Logan Hammocks lay a wreath. - Credit: Archant

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George – known as Jack – was already in uniform when Kenneth went out to join him on December 8, 1941. And, although he didn’t find out until later, his brother was killed in Malaya just four days after he arrived.

After the war, Kenneth – who served in Royal Signals – worked as a bricklayer and was one of many who helped create the first post-war new town, getting a house in Stevenage as part of the deal.

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His family have remained there ever since and Shirley, who lives in the Chells area, has been remembering her dad this week – almost six years after his death at the age of 86.

“He didn’t talk about the war for a long time but I found a photo and it all came out in the 1980s,” she said.

Andy's grandfather Walter Newberry

Andy's grandfather Walter Newberry - Credit: Archant

“I rang the Royal British Legion as you didn’t have the internet then and we tried to track down his brother’s grave. When we did, he cried.”

About the plaque ceremony itself, she added: “I feel quite emotional about it, it’s special to be asked to represent the family. It’s a good time to remember, not just my father and his brother, but everyone who served.”

Walter Stanley Newberry also survived the conflict after nearly four years as a prisoner of war, and spent the rest of his life in Stevenage.

He died, aged 72, in 1987 and his grandson Andrew has spent a long time since researching his grandfather’s past. He has just been given a treasure trove of items that survived the war by his auntie Yvonne.

“When we were kids we didn’t find out a lot about what happened to my grandad, but you can understand why when you see what’s been released from under the Official Secrets Act,” said Andrew, who also laid a wreath.

“I remember meeting all his comrades when I was young, but it’s difficult to realise the importance of it at that time.

“I’ve got lots of nice things, but the things that mean the most to me are these items that belonged to my grandad. To me these are priceless.”

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