IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Teens’ tribute to their war hero great-grandad

Brothers wear Far East veteran’s medals at memorial service

25 August, 2017 — By Koos Couvée, Steve Barnett

Tommy and Charlie Reid wearing their great-grandad’s medals

THE great-grandchildren of a Far East prisoner of war veteran wore his military medals in his honour at a memorial service marking the 72nd anniversary of VJ Day.

It was the first time since the Far East Prisoners of War peace memorial in Mornington Crescent opened in 2012 that the ceremony was held without Alfonso “Tone” Garizio, who survived four years of forced labour on the Burma Railway during the Second World War. He died in March aged 97.

But paying tribute to Mr Garizio’s military service – and that of his father Giuseppe who served in the First World War – great-grandsons Tommy and Charlie Reid wore their ancestors’ medals with pride.

The pair, who live in Colchester, had a close relationship with their great-grandfather, and often listened to his stories in his kitchen in Highbury where he lived with wife Doris, 93, also present at the event on Saturday.

Tommy and Charlie laying flowers at the Far East Prisoners of War peace memorial in Mornington Crescent

“We would sit with him in his kitchen and he would tell us stories about the war and I did get really interested in the history,” said Tommy, 15.

“It was horrific what they went through but we loved hearing them.

“It was very different this year [without Tone] but it was really, really special.”

Charlie, 18, added: “It was moving, but I felt really proud as well.”

A member of C Company 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire, which held out heroically for four days at the battle of Adam Park in Singapore, Mr Garizio was captured and sent to Thailand to work on the Burma Railway, clearing the dense jungle and “spiking” the rails.

There he endured brutal conditions. Working in tropical heat and monsoon rains, he survived on just a pound of raw rice a day. He was then shipped to Japan to work as a driller in the copper mines.

Mr Garizio returned home in 1945 and met Doris while working as a chef at Le Caprice in the West End.

Speaking about his wartime experiences, he told the Tribune in 2012: “If you didn’t believe you would live, you would die. I always knew I would come back home.”

Alfonso ‘Tone’ Garizio

War veterans and their families gathered at the memorial – the only one of its kind in London – which was created to honour soldiers who fought in the Far East and were incarcerated during the Second World War.

The commemorative stone, which was paid for through the generosity of readers of the Camden New Journal – sister paper of the Tribune – remembers those who worked on the Burma Railway which became known as the “railway of death”.

Camden’s deputy mayor Jenny Headlam-Wells, Councillor Roger Robinson and Sgt Major Chris Maynard were among the dignitaries to address the crowd. Air Cadets from the 329 Finsbury Squadron and the Pearly King and Prince of Finsbury, John and Darren Walters, were also in attendance.

“Victory over Japan Day was officially on Tuesday, August 15, the day when Japan surrendered in World War Two, in effect ending the war,” said Cllr Headlam-Wells.

“Many were imprisoned, tortured and forced to work on the Burma Railway, which is why we see the railway sleepers incorporated in the design of the memorial.

“I would like to open this ceremony in the spirit of remembrance, in the spirit of gratitude and in the spirit of peace.”

Tommy recently ran 97 kilometres over seven days in honour of his great-grandfather, marking his age when he died, and raising almost £3,000 for Cancer Research. To donate visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/johanna-reid

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