Top: Toni Garizio at the unveiling event with four generations of his family
Bottom: Viscount Slim and Far East veteran Alfonso ‘Toni’ Garizio unveil the memorial at Mornington Crescent last Friday
Published: 28 September, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
IT was the best and worst of days on Friday for Toni Garizio of Highbury.
The 93-year-old who spent years in a forced labour camp as a Far East prisoner of war during the Second World War was asked to help unveil a memorial to the thousands who suffered brutal treatment and appalling conditions alongside him.
But the day also brought those 70-year-old memories flooding back.
“He was very proud to be asked to help unveil it,” his wife Doris said. “But it’s also a pity it took so long because many of the men didn’t live to see it. He has too many memories, however. And this has brought them all back.”
Many of his comrades – long dead – were notable by their absence.
But the sisters, daughters and grandchildren of those whose wartime heroism did not merit official recognition were there to witness, finally, a permanent memorial to honour the memory of the tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians who were incarcerated in camps following the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942.
It was unveiled by Viscount Slim, President of the Burma Star Association, and Mr Garizio, at Mornington Crescent in Camden, following a public appeal by the Tribune’s sister paper, the Camden New Journal.
More than two hundred people from all over London and many parts of the country turned up. They were there because, although there has been almost 70 years of peace and good relations with Japan, there is no forgetting the appalling conditions they were subjected to.
Forced to work without proper food or medical attention, 16,000 died of disease, starvation or by being beaten.
And those who did survive were brushed under the carpet, because the nation wanted to only celebrate its victories after 1945.
Viscount Slim, son of General Bill Slim, who led the “forgotten army” in Burma, did the official honours, but he invited one of the few surviving veterans to join him in pulling back the curtain.
Mr Garizio, of Highbury, served as a member of C Company 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire, which held out heroically for four days at the battle of Adam Park in Singapore. After working on the Burma railway he was then shipped to Japan to work as a driller in the copper mines.
“I congratulate everyone in Camden for their efforts,” said Viscount Slim. “The prisoners were held under the most appalling conditions.
“Those that survived are very special, as are those who didn’t come back. They never gave up, they didn’t just give up the ghost.
"There was no medicine, they were treated cruelly and subjected to just about every disease you can think of – cholera, dysentery, malaria. They deserve not to be forgotten and always remembered.”
The memorial was inspired 10 years ago by the then mayor of Camden, Roger Robinson. “We are deeply honoured to unveil this memorial as a permanent statement of our sorrow and yet pride for those PoWs and regret it has taken over 60 years to be achieved,” he said.
“Today we all say our few words of sorrow and sympathy to those prisoners of war – military and civilian and children, and they will forever be in our thoughts.”
Tribute was also paid to the illustrator Ronald Searle, himself a camp survivor. Before his death last December he gave permission for one of his illustrations made in secret while he was a prisoner to be used on the memorial.
The short ceremony was opened by Eric Gordon, editor of the Camden New Journal.
“Here we have not only in my opinion but I think we share it, a wonderful memorial to those who fought in the Far East during the Second World War and had to endure the most unimaginable brutality and privation.”
He paid particular tribute to survivor Leonard Goodwin, who was unable to attend because of illness.
“He was a camp survivor, he’s 94. Unfortunately he has pneumonia. He really is so disappointed he can’t be here. His GP told me that she had a number of patients who were PoWs in the Far East, and so many of them suffer from depression and anxiety even to this day. This is another reason why they should be remembered.”
Mr Gordon also read out a message from the Duke of Edinburgh who leant his support to the memorial, as did CND vice-president Bruce Kent and former independent MP Martin Bell.
Prince Philip wrote: “I am very pleased to know that a memorial to all those who served in the Far Eat, and particularly those who were imprisoned, is being erected in Camden.
"Paid for by generous public subscription, it will remind future generations of the gallantry, suffering and sacrifices of so many soldiers, sailors and airmen from all over the Commonwealth, who fought against the Japanese aggressors.
"They were a long way from home, and they lived and fought under very difficult conditions. Their reward has been the absence of serious conflict in the area ever since.”
Wreaths were laid by Cllr Robinson and Viscount Slim and family members before veterans and their families were taken by coach to the Sergeants’ Mess at the nearby Regent’s Park Barracks for a reception.
Ernie Neighbour died in 1997 – too late for any memorial, and too late for the compensation that was paid out after a long campaign. But his son, also called Ernie, was there to see it unveiled for him, as were his grandchildren. They had travelled from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire.
“Dad would have been so proud,” his son said. “It was a great day.”
Robert Oxlade, who was there to remember his father, who died building the railway, choked back tears as he told ITN News, who covered the event: “This has been something like a funeral for me. My mother didn’t know my father had died until 1945.
“The prisoners of war were buried in local graves along the railway site and after the war transferred to Imperial War Graves.
“I had a fantasy that one day I would actually have a party, we’d have a funeral. But this has been a wonderful event."