WAR veteran Robert 'Bob' Hucklesby who celebrated his 100th birthday in January has passed away.

Bob was a member of the 18th Division Royal Engineers and former president of the National Far East Prisoner of War Fellowship Welfare Remembrance Association.

He was forced to work on the infamous 250-mile Thai-Burma railway, also known as The Death Railway, which cost more than 12,000 Allied lives but was lucky enough to return to Southampton on November 19, 1945 after four years away.

Speaking to the Echo eight years ago he said: “I shall never forget it. There on the quayside was a band to welcome us home and one tune I particularly remember was the Cole Porter hit, Don’t Fence Me In. The people of Southampton could never know what that welcome meant. We had all been away at least four years, some as long as seven.

“Unfortunately, almost a quarter of those taken prisoner did not return.”

Bournemouth Echo: Bob shaking hands with the QueenBob shaking hands with the Queen

More than 50,000 British servicemen were captured by the Japanese in South East Asia and the Far East between December 25, 1941 and the end of March 1942.

An estimated one in four of them died in captivity, mainly due to gross neglect by their captors. Prisoners struggled to survive and many worked as slave labourers, living in constant fear.

Bob made his home in Poole but was born on January 3, 1921 in Sudbury, in Suffolk, the only son of Frank and Ella Hucklesby and brother to Joyce – 8 years his senior.

Both his father and grandfather were farmers and the family moved to Diss in Norfolk. As a small child of only 6 or 7, Bob was entrusted to fetch the horses ready for ploughing and given special tasks during harvesting.

Bob enjoyed his schooldays and with hard work & determination passed his entrance exam for Thetford Grammar School. His education was made possible by the generosity of an aunt who worked at Norwich Union - and in Bob’s fond words 'a woman ahead of her time'.

Childhood photos show happy days playing cricket, fishing and generally messing about on the river. He joined the Sea Scouts and earned extra money during the summer crewing pleasure boats for locals and visitors to the area. His favourite vessel belonged to Peter Scott, the Naturalist and son of “Scott of the Antarctic” - someone that young Bob admired greatly.

Bournemouth Echo: Prince Charles shares a word with BobPrince Charles shares a word with Bob

So, it was no surprise when Bob decided to pursue a career as a Marine Engineer - but with the advent of WW2 that was put on hold when he joined the Territorial Army in 1939. The early days of war sound very much like a Boy’s Own Adventure. A young man travelling round Norfolk blowing things up (demolition team) and preparing coastal defences against a possible invasion. And happy memories of sleeping under the Compressor lorry on a mattress that could be stowed away in the morning.

In 1941, Bob’s unit – the 560th Field Company was posted to the Middle East – whilst on route, the ship was diverted to India and then on to Singapore. They landed on 29th January 1942 – barely two weeks before its fall to the Japanese. His first few days as a Prisoner of War were spent patching up warehouses damaged in the bombing. He was then moved to Changi - a military camp which at at its peak housed 40,000 Allied prisoners. The troops initially lived on iron rations of three biscuits per meal with either corned beef or jam and when that ran out – they were given rice which smelt of sulphur.

After 4 or 5 months in Singapore, Bob was transferred to work on the Burma Railway. He remembered a difficult walk through the jungle – four days and three nights to reach the camp at Kanyu 3. Once there, they were up at dawn each morning working like a conveyor carrying soil in a basket to make the base on which the rails were to be laid.

Despite being weak from dysentary and malaria – soldiers had to look as though they were able to work. So Bob was helped to walk to work and tasked with tending the fire which boiled the river water to make it drinkable. Bob always credited his ‘Muckers’ - a team of 3 or 4 buddies who looked out for each other - for getting him through his ordeal.

In later years, Bob would often recall the time that he was placed in the ‘Death Hut’ - a small bamboo enclosure that could accommodate up to 10 men. Realising that his Pals had come to say farewell– he asked them to make a bamboo support so that he could sit up through the night. In the morning he was the only one still alive.

Three and a half years of beatings, starvation and unrelenting tropical diseases but he willed himself to keep going. He was so determined not to die in a foreign land - the same mental strength and determination that kept him focussed on reaching 100.

After liberation in August 1945 – Bob spent many weeks convalescing – first in Burma then in India. Given the choice of being flown home or to return by sea, he chose the latter knowing that the extra weeks would aid his recovery - he didn’t want his family to see him in such an emaciated condition.

His troop ship The Principessa Giovanna docked in Southampton on 18th November 1945 - he smiled as he heard the Military Band playing “Don’t Fence Me In”.

In recent years, Bob was active in the setting up of a Re-Patriation Memorial at Town Quay in Southampton and pleased to share his story with the schoolchildren of nearby St. John’s School. The children will be planting spring flowers in his memory in part of the memorial garden.

After the War, Bob returned to Lowestoft to complete his convalescence. Work was hard to come by and an old friend invited him up to Rochdale. And, on a day trip to Ashton he met winsome redhead and talented pastry cook – Ada Wolfenden.

Ada’s parents were keen for her to set up her own business and when her business partner pulled out – Bob was asked if he would like to join the enterprise. They were married by Special Licence in 1947.

Although a talented confectioner and with Bob heading up the Bakery – the early starts proved challenging and they soon decided a change direction was in order. Bob enrolled at night school and with some extra coaching from his Rochdale chum – who smuggled him into the office after hours - his new found skills landed him a job in the local Council drawing office. The couple relocated to Lowestoft and son Robert was born in 1950. Bob adapted well to his new career and promotion soon brought him to Dorset.

Son Stephen arrived in 1954 and Bob began looking for larger accommodation.

His solution was to buy a plot of land and to design his own house. The plot in Lower Parkstone was a mass of rhododendrons and large pine trees but had views of Poole Harbour and was close to the Civic Centre. Bob’s architectural skills and fine attention to detail have stood the test of time – and he was still living there happily 60 years later.

Although not a native of Poole – Bob enriched the town in so many ways. As Head of the Planning Department, he was involved in several landmark developments during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The phased development of Canford Heath – one of the largest housing estates in Europe, made up of private and housing association properties for young families, Bear Wood, the iconic Barclays International building in 1976 and together with his good friend Borough Architect, Geoff Hopkinson – the preservation of Poole Old Town. A 15 acre heritage site by the quayside which still attracts many visitors to Poole today.

Bob continued his interest in town planning well into his retirement. Spending 17 productive years with Raglan Housing Association – initially as a Board member and latterly as Chairman. During that time he played an active role in the design and construction of new housing developments across the South East, South West and The Midlands …. many Award winning.

Bob also maintained close links with The Inskip League of Friendship and Poole & East Dorset Club for the Disabled - the two Voluntary groups who inspired the creation of Raglan Housing Association.

On his eventual ‘retirement’ in 1997, at the age of 76, Bob allowed himself a little more time for relaxation. Enjoying Fish & Chip suppers with the Royal Engineers Association, Ghurka lunches at Blandford Camp and ‘Architects lunches’ with former colleagues from the Civic Centre - a tradition which has endured over 30 years.

Bob also enjoyed travelling - firstly to Canada, USA, New Zealand & Hong Kong then in 2009 to the Far East to revisit places from his time as a Prisoner of War.

His wife Ada died in 2003 and Bob found comfort in the companionship and support of fellow Veterans. Attending Remembrance Services with the Royal Engineers Association, celebrating V.E. Day in France with the Normandy Veterans, and maintaining close contacts with his Far East Prisoners of War and Children of Far East Prisoners of War ‘family’. He looked forward to every reunion with eager anticipation and greatly appreciated the extra assistance offered to enable him take part – even up until last year.

Many will recognise Bob from the many television & radio interviews that he has given over the past 25 years. He was honoured to take part in several national celebrations for V.J. Day (Victory in Japan) and last year his interview was projected on to the walls of Buckingham Palace as part of the V.J.75 Commemorations.

On his return from the Far East, as a young man of 24 – he vowed to keep the memory alive for those soldiers who did not return. In 1950, he joined the local Ex Internees and Prisoners of War Association and up until his recent death – was actively involved as President of the National FEPOW Fellowship Welfare Remembrance Association.

Sadly, Bob’s younger son, Stephen died in 2015 but Stephen’s wife Tessa has been a great support – accompanying him on road trips to The National Memorial Arboretum and family research tours to East Anglia. Bob was immensely proud of his two grandchildren - James and Laura and their partners. And very pleased to become Great Grandpa to Toby, Oliver... and Margot, who arrived two days before his 100th birthday.

Son Robert is continuing the family tradition - serving the Community as a School Governor and Trustee of two local Almshouses.

His family added: "It’s difficult to give a complete picture of someone’s life when they have lived such a long and varied one. Bob’s war experiences though horrific were also the making of him.

"His time in the Far East opened other doors and new opportunities. And his retelling of his wartime story has brought him to the attention of many different generations from the schoolchildren of St.John’s in Southampton to members of the Royal Household."