Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1943, Private Albert Rothwell, 1st/5th Battalion, the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment), died while working on the infamous Burma railway as a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese.
Educated at Haslingden Central Council School, he later worked with his father in the family business as a house furnisher. After the outbreak of the second world war he joined the 1st/5th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment). The battalion was a first line Territorial Army formation which saw service in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium, and its soldiers were among those evacuated at Dunkirk.
Later that year they went to Malaya to defend the peninsula and Singapore against the Japanese. On the 8th of December, 1941, the Japanese invaded Malaya, and crossed the Straits of Johore to invade Singapore on the 8th of February, 1942. Singapore fell a week later, and Private Rothwell’s battalion was pushed back but continued to fight on until they were captured. They were taken to the prisoner of war camp at Changi, and then were among the thousands of prisoners sent to work on the Burma railway.
A combination of overwork, malnutrition, sickness and cruelty took many lives. Men were literally worked to death, received no medical treatment, and were often brutalized, tortured and starved. Under such conditions, Private Rothwell died. His father had written to him in May, 1942, not knowing that his son had died the month before. The letter was returned marked as undeliverable due to the addressee being reported as deceased. Mr. Rothwell wrote to the War Office, and received confirmation of his son’s death from them in a letter dated the 20th of June, 1944.
Private Rothwell is buried in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand, which contains the graves or commemorations of over 5,000 Commonwealth casualties, and it is looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It is on the site of a former base camp, and many prisoners of war of the Japanese would have passed through it as they were taken to the railway or to other camps. On his gravestone are inscribed the words: “A life given that we might live in peace”.
Albert, from Haslingden in Lancashire, was 28 years old.