ONE of the last surviving prisoners of war who worked on the notorious 'Death Railway' will mark the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan (VJ) Day.

Walter Stead, 100, of York, will pay tribute to the tens of thousands of servicemen killed during the campaign with a two minute silence tomorrow (Saturday).

Walter was among the thousands of Allied troops held captive by the Japanese and forced to build a 400km railway from Thailand to Myanmar (then Burma) during the Second World War.

They spent more than three years - between 1942 and 1945 - working backbreaking seven day weeks building the line and the notorious bridge over the river Kwai.

Prisoners were fed rationed meals of rice once a day, often going whole days without food.

Around 16,000 PoWs died during the construction of the infamous railway, which runs from Ban Pong, western Thailand, to Thanbyuzayat, south-eastern Myanmar.

Many more Asian slaves died during the construction of the railway, with around 100,000 people believed to have perished while making the track.

In 1940, Walter was sent with the Royal Army Service Corps to supply the front line in the war against the Japanese.

But a year later he was declared "missing in action - presumed dead" as the Red Cross could find no record of his whereabouts.

Walter, who was once described as "the luckiest man alive" after escaping a firing squad, said the captives had no idea that Victory in Europe had been declared two months earlier.

And they were confused when they woke up on August 15, 1945, to find the Japanese soldiers had fled their posts.

He said: "Nobody told us the war in Europe was over. The war with the Japanese was the one we were involved in and we knew nothing of anything else.

"VJ Day was the end of my war when all hostilities ceased.

"We had no idea the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th. All we knew was that the Americans were bombing Japan.

"All the prisoners were kept in the dark about what was happening outside of the camp.

"When we woke to find the guards had deserted, it was an absolutely strange feeling that they had gone.

"We didn't know they had fled, they literally disappeared overnight.

"Our first thought was to find some food.

"We didn't wake up that morning thinking 'oh good, the war is over'. We didn't know what was happening.

"It was a few days before American troops entered the camp to liberate us."

Walter partially lost his hearing after a savage beating with bamboo rods and had to watch in horror as a fellow inmate was beaten to death in front of him.

But he found cunning ways to survive, including sneaking out of the camp to forage for food.

When each prisoner was given six onions to eat from a consignment that had gone off, he ate two and planted four.

Within three weeks, green shoots appeared, which added vital vitamins to his diet.

But he was given the death penalty when the guards discovered that he was hunting for food at night.

However the next day, instead of facing the firing squad, he was told: "You're the luckiest man alive. They've had people speaking on your behalf all night and they rescinded the death penalty."

Walter added: "They were just doing their job as I was sent to do mine for my country.

"That's why I don't hold a grudge. I don't consider myself a hero, I am a fortunate survivor."

Margaret Martin, welfare officer of the Java Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOW) Club, which supports around 35 surviving ex-PoWs and their families, believes there may be more who could benefit from the group's support.

She said: "On their release, one prisoner of war said to Lord Louis Mountbatten that they’d been forgotten.

"His reply was that they had not been forgotten but 'nobody’s heard of you', but that he would change that.

"Our goals are to provide all remaining FEPOWs, wives and widows with camaraderie and welfare advice, with access to specific grants."

For more information into the support network, visit