Tributes paid to Holbeach POW veteran

Leonard Harding.
Leonard Harding.
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A Japanese prisoner of war veteran who lived in Holbeach for almost 25 years has died aged 96.

Leonard Harding, who worked on the Burma Railway during his three and a half years in captivity, passed away at Ashwood Nursing Home in Spalding on November 2.

Born and raised in London, Mr Harding left school when he was 14 and worked in London for a year before joining a cork manufacturing company in Essex where he stayed for 40 years before retiring in 1978.

His employment was interrupted by World War II when Mr Harding joined the East Surrey Regiment and it was while stationed in Singapore that he was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942.

Mr Harding’s wife of 30 years, Jean, of Hallgate, Holbeach, said: “Len didn’t talk much about his experiences but I know he saw dreadful things like people with ulcers and gangrene who had their limbs amputated.

“It was a very, very brutal time, but he was allowed to drive the trains carrying Japanese troops and on one occasion, when he realised the line ahead had been blown up, Len and his friend jumped out of the train before it went over the embankment.

“During his captivity, Len had to live on rice and courgettes which made him long for simple food like bread, butter and custard.

“He picked up malaria, but Len didn’t consider himself to be a war hero.”

After retirement, Mr Harding moved to Hong Kong where he volunteered for the Samaritans and Riding for the Disabled before moving to Holbeach with his wife in 1988.

Mrs Harding said: “Len was a very caring man, a bit of a disciplinarian but also very agreeable to live with.

“He loved his music, ballet, cricket and rugby, even though he wasn’t an active sportsman.

“We had 30 wonderful years together, he was well-loved by everyone who knew him and we shall all miss him.”

Members of Spalding Probus Club observed a minute’s silence at their meeting last Wednesday for Mr Harding who is survived by two children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren from a previous marriage.

He is also survived by two step-daughters and three step-grandchildren from his second marriage.

A thanksgiving service takes place at All Saints’ Church, Holbeach, on November 21 at noon.