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Home » Thomas McBrien: Funeral of Burma Star recipient takes place

Thomas McBrien: Funeral of Burma Star recipient takes place

by Bhaskor Maity
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The funeral has taken place of a World War Two veteran from County Fermanagh who was awarded the Burma Star medal.

Thomas McBrien died aged 102 at his home in Enniskillen last Friday.

He had joined the RAF in 1939 to serve as an electrician and served in the Far East and was evacuated from Singapore just 24 hours before it fell to Japanese forces in 1942.

He said he was “one of the lucky ones” because of this.

Speaking in August 2020, he said: “I felt incredibly lucky and relieved to be evacuated, who knows how things might have turned out if I had been captured or wounded as many were.”

He was attending an event in August 2020 with other veterans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VJ Day which marked victory over Japan and the end of the war.

Mr McBrien was part of the RAF aircraft technical crew and in Singapore he worked mostly on Catalina flying boats.

He recalled watching two big battleships sailing past their base in December 1941 – HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse.

“All the [air]crew were English and all went crazy over this, ‘the Navy is here, the war is over’ sort of style,” he said.

“About two days later we saw them going out and cheered them again, Repulse and Prince of Wales.”

‘Very traumatic’

What they did not know was that the ships had been spotted by the enemy and within 48 hours they were attacked and sunk.

The loss of life was the greatest ever experienced by the Royal Navy in one incident: more than 840 officers and men died.

Thomas McBrien who served in East Asia
Image caption, Mr McBrien pictured with his medals at Enniskillen Royal Grammar School in 2020

Mr McBrien said the shock of that was very traumatic and he had a vivid memory of his squadron flying to the scene and finding a survivor in the water.

“He was with us for quite a while, went out with the Catalinas to see if they could pick up more survivors,” he added.

By February 1942 Japanese troops were about to invade the island and Britain’s stronghold in South East Asia was on the verge of surrender.

“The Japanese were just across the water at one time; oh, it was a debacle,” he said.

“There was a proper evacuation, there was no panic.

“We were glad certainly, I mean we couldn’t defend ourselves.”

Unprepared for war

The fall of Singapore was the biggest surrender in British military history and tens of thousands of Commonwealth soldiers were taken prisoner.

Mr McBrien recalled that he was lucky to get out.

Holding a walking stick, he explained: “I was as well armed as I am now, in fact I didn’t even have a stick.

“And that was one thing I do remember, they hadn’t a clue how to prepare us for a war.”

After completing his wartime service, Thomas McBrien returned home with a camera he had bought for £7 in Singapore.

His photographs would chronicle life in Fermanagh over many decades and have been featured in several books.

His son Kevin said his father “had a fantastic eye and took some fantastic photographs”.

“We are very fortunate we have got a wonderful archive of photographs of Thomas,” he added.

Thomas McBrien on the left in the group of three pictured outside his home in Enniskillen after the war in 1946
Image caption, Thomas McBrien, seen on the left, outside his home in Enniskillen in 1946

At the event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, his father sat beside his medals in a framed display, but Kevin said he was never one to show them off.

“Thomas was the least showy person you could imagine about his whole life, he was just a modest man,” he said.

“He knew he was there and that was satisfaction enough for Thomas to be honest with you.

“Lots of people did interesting things, he used to say to me, he was modest, that’s how we always described him.”

Kevin said his father was a generous man, involved in the community, and was proud to be a founder member of Enniskillen Credit Union.

His funeral Mass was at St Michael’s Church in Enniskillen.

Source : BBCNews

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