Bathurst loses a caring ex-POW

REST IN PEACE: Former prisoner of war Les Browne.
REST IN PEACE: Former prisoner of war Les Browne.

CENTENARIAN and former prisoner of war, Les Browne died on Thursday.

Mr Browne survived three years in Singapore’s Changi POW Camp following the Japanese occupation during World War II.

He celebrated his 100th birthday on the eve of Anzac Day this year.

Mr Browne enlisted for active service in June 1940. During the occupation, his troop was marched 200 miles from Changi prison along the route of the notorious Burma-Thai Railway.

In his secret diary, Mr Browne recorded that, of the 7000-plus servicemen interred with him, more than 3000 died of disease, wounds or starvation.

Mr Browne used this diary, which he had to keep hidden, to record the deaths, and the dates and circumstances of those deaths.

He was able to bring that record home with him when the camp was liberated, bringing closure to thousands of families. Bathurst RSL Sub Branch trustee Bruce Irvine said Mr Browne was a highly-esteemed member.

“His POW status meant he was held in high esteem, and he was much loved by members,” Mr Irvine said.

“By nature he was very generous and supportive – he had a heart of gold.

“His stories were documentaries when he told them, as the detail was very explicit.”

Mr Browne met his wife, Noelene, after the war and came to Bathurst in 1950.

His daughter, Kim McArdle said her father would be remembered for his compassion, loyalty and sense of service to his community and his family.

“Dad was involved in helping establish Meals on Wheels in Bathurst, the Christmas Bowl appeal, and was co-founder of the Churches United Soccer Club.

“He always went to watch his grandchildren play soccer and, even at the age of 85, was still playing soccer with them,” she said.

“He ran the Uniting Church office for 50 years, and was a life member of the Bathurst City Bowling Club.

Ms McArdle said that before the war, her father worked in the Premier’s Department and came to Bathurst to manage the property Wonalabee for former POW Ben Hackney.

“Dad was initially reluctant to speak about the war, but as people, especially the younger generation, became interested he realised they could learn from his experience.

“He could always end his talks with an expression of forgiveness and a lack of bitterness.

The funeral service will be held at Bathurst City Uniting Church at 2pm next Tuesday.