RICHARD JOSEPH HOWKINS was serving as a Private with the 7th Battalion, The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light  Infantry when he was killed in action Italy on the 11th November 1943 aged 23. He is buried at the Cassino War Cemetery  south-east of Rome (bottom). He was born in 1920 to parents Ernest and  Louisa  and lived in Lower Tadmarton. His father and three uncles all served in the First World War his Uncle Richard dying of his wounds in 1918. 

The 7th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were a hostilities-only battalion raised in 1940. In 1941, they became part of the 167th (London) Infantry Brigade and were attached to the 56th (London) Infantry Division and fought with them in the final battle in the Tunisian Campaign in 1943. The battalion made a successful attack at Enfidaville following a 3,000-mile road move from Iraq. In the Italian Campaign, 7th Ox and Bucks took part in the landings at Salerno in September 1943 under command of the US Fifth Army.

BERNARD AUSTIN FREEMAN was serving as a Bombardier in the 85th Anti-tank Regiment, The Royal Artillery when he died on 21st September 1944, aged 24. He was on the Japanese ship Hofuku Maru carrying Allied prisoners of war. He was the son of  Herbert George and Alice May Freeman. His father had served with the Royal Field Artillery before and during World War One. In 1940 he married Hilda Batchelor of Broughton and had a daughter Pauline in 1941. He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial for those with no known grave.

In October 1941 they embarked on a troopship at Gourock in Scotland, as part of the 18th Infantry Division and sailed across the Atlantic in convoy, in somewhat cramped conditions, to the Canadian port of Halifax. There the boarded the USS Mount Vernon (below), a converted passenger liner, with better conditions and food, but still packed with 9,00 troops aboard. She sailed from Halifax in November 1941, dodging a U-boat pack and making first landfall at Cape Town. During the Atlantic crossing the ships company learnt of the attack on Pearl Harbour and the United States entry into the war, which lifted the spirits of the men. During the two day stop over they enjoyed the hospitality  of the Cape Town residents before   sailing on to Bombay. They arrived at their destination, Singapore, on 13th January 1942, during a tropical rain storm, which protected the disembarking troops from Japanese bombers, which had been carrying out massed raids on the town.

 They were soon in action attempting to defend the Malay Peninsula and had some success before falling back on the island. They continued the action on Singapore Island before they had to destroy their guns and surrender to the Japanese on 15th February 1942.  The men, including Bernard Freeman, were sent to Tamarkan camp in Thailand to build rail bridges over the Khwae Noi River, part of the "Death Railway" from Bankok to Rangoon. After the completion of the bridges the so-called fit men were put aboard the Hofuku Maru (below), a tramp  steamer, to be transported to the Japanese mainland.

1,289 prisoners were crammed  into 2 holds with not enough room to lie down all at once. Food was meagre, about a mug of rice a day occasional vegetables or fruit, barely enough water and sanitary conditions appalling. She sailed from Singapore to Miri, Borneo as part of a convoy of 10 ships, 5 of which carried, in total, 5,000 POWs. At Borneo, the Hofuku Maru left the convoy with engine problems, and sailed on to the  Philippines, arriving on July 19th. She   remained in Manila until mid-September while the engines were repaired. The POWs remained on board, suffering terribly from disease, such as   beri-beri, hunger, and thirst. Around 90% of the prisoners were reckoned to be incapacitated by illness, and 96 prisoners died while the ship was being repaired. On September 20 1944, the Hofuku Maru and 10 other ships formed a convoy and sailed from Manila The following morning, the convoy was attacked 80 miles north of Corregidor Island by more than 100 American carrier planes. The Hofuku Maru carried no markings to show she was carrying prisoners of war. All eleven ships in the convoy were sunk. The Hofuku Maru was hit by three bombs and sank in under 5 minutes with most of the prisoners unable to escape from the holds. 1,047 of the 1,289 British and Dutch POWs on board died, including Tadmarton's Bernard Freeman.  He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial (below) for those with no known grave.

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