In the Second World War, over 850 Old Emanuels served and just over 100 lost their lives.

On this Remembrance Day we briefly reflect upon the life of Arthur Daniel Willett (OE1925-33) who died knowing he had a baby son, whom he had never seen, waiting for him back home in England. In one of the surviving letters he sent to his wife he pleaded; “take care of Christopher”.

Arthur was a keen cricketer during his time at Emanuel. He was also a house prefect for Nelson, played in the 1st XI and was in the Officer Training Corps (OTC), where he was awarded his War Office Certificate ‘A’ in 1932. He gained his full cricket colours in the same year and The Portcullis notes he was an excellent defensive batsman, a good fielder and valuable member of the team. Arthur was also a member of the Emanuel School Dramatic Society and featured in many concerts and productions, including Shakespeare’s King Henry VI.

Details about his war service are sketchy but it is known that he was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in February 1942. On 7th January 1944 an article appeared in the local Battersea newspaper, the South Western Star, which announced that Arthur’s father, Mr. Thomas Charles Willett (who was the Mayor of Wandsworth’s private secretary), had received information that he was alive and that he was in No. 4 POW Camp, Thailand.

In the following year the family had no further news of Arthur and a second article appeared in the South Western Star on 19th January 1945. The headline announced, ‘Mayor’s Secretary Informed of Son’s Death.’ For a whole year his family had thought he was alive, not knowing that shortly after he had sent news home in 1943 he had died. His son Christopher was born after the fall of Singapore and never had the opportunity of knowing his father.

Arthur was a private in the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. We know that he was listed as prisoner 5955656. He was a prisoner of war for 22 months before dying through complications caused by ulcers on 8th December 1943. One can only imagine the inhumane conditions Arthur would have experienced over that period and perhaps the thought of home, his wife and the son he never met gave him the strength to survive for so long. A mere decade before, he had been running across the Emanuel School cricket pitch scoring runs for the 1st XI with many other young men who were later to serve in the war, shown in the photograph.

Arthur was originally buried in the camp in which he was a POW, Tasao No. 2, but his remains now lie in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. It is likely that Arthur was involved in the construction of the infamous Burma-Thai Railway. He was 28 when he died.

If you are reflecting upon those who lost their lives this weekend, spare a thought for Arthur and the 250 Old Emanuels who lost their lives in both WW1 and 2 and the other 1,450 who served.

Tony Jones (Senior Librarian and Archivist)

Featured in the photo above and below: Emanuel School cricket 1st XI, 1932 – Back row (left to right): C.E. Crimp, P.T. Addison, S.G. Standing, W. Webber Esq., A.D. Willett, U. Thornburn; Middle row: W.J. Biles, F.L. Abbott, The Headmaster, A.E. Mills, V.S. Nargang; Front row: E. Matsuyama, D.E. Cheadle.

1st XI cricket team, 1932