Finding out about your family and where you come from is always something special. Discovering that your great great Grandfather was a world war two veteran and spent over three years in a prisoner of war camp in Japan is something else. So, when my nan rang me one day telling me she had an idea for my blog, I was all ears. After sitting for hours, flicking through photo albums and death certificates, I decided that I needed to tell the story of my great great Grandfather Charles Thomas Gunton. Here is the life and legacy of a ww2 hero…
I’ve decided to write everything I learnt about Charles Gunton in the form of an interview with my nan. After all, I discovered everything I knew about him from my nan and I wanted to keep some of her words alive.
Who was Charles Thomas Gunton and what was he like?
“Charles Thomas Gunton was my grandfather and he was born in 1900 and past away in 1991. He was a remarkable man, despite everything that he went through he still always had a smile on his face. He was a very positive person, my own hero in a way. I was born in 1945 and when he returned from war he was surprised to see me because he didn’t even know that his daughter (my mother) had gotten married. Of course, he wouldn’t have heard anything about home given where he had been”.
What was Charles Thomas Gunton’s childhood like?
“He didn’t have much of a childhood. He was born in woolwich, London and was put into an orphanage with two of his sisters. The sad part was that he was separated from his sisters. I wish I knew why they had to be separated but I guess I’ll never know. He went straight from the orphanage into the army. A lot of young boys would lie about their age to escape into the army from the orphanage and that is what he did”
Did he ever get reunited with his sisters again?
“Yes, one day he decided to put an advert out in hope that he could find at least one of them and he did. Isobel ended up marrying a Canadian man and moved to Canada. The sad part is that they didn’t have any money to be able to meet up. Instead they just wrote to each other and I still have one of the letters today. I’d like to hope that one day I’d be able to get in touch with that line of family but it is very hard when you know so little about them”.
Who was Charles Gunton’s wife and how did they meet?
“My grandmothers name was Margaret O’Reilly and was born in Ireland in 1897. They must have met in Ireland and I assume they met when my grandad was stationed there. They had two daughters Valerie Gunton and June Gunton. Unfortunately my mother pasted away from Alzheimers a few years back but June now lives in Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. I still keep in touch with my aunty June and It’s always lovely speaking to her. Unfortunately, Margaret passed away when she was only 61 from a brain haemorrhage, leaving 57 year old Charles Gunton widowed”.
What was his time during world war two like?
“I mean I don’t suppose any soldiers time during the war was pleasant but my grandad had a particularly hard time. He was imprisoned by the Japanese early on in the war and he spent 3 years and 202 days in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He didn’t like to speak about it much but when he returned from the war he weighed a tiny 6 stone. I think what got him through the war was the fact that he made friends with a doctor and he pointed out what was edible in the jungle. You know, fruits and berries. One story I will always remember that he told was the story when he was caught smoking a cigarette. As punishment they tied his hands back and put as many cigarettes into his mouth that they could. They then let the cigarettes burn down to his lips. I can’t imagine what those years must have been like for him. He’s lucky to have survived really.
When the war was over and he was being rescued the prisoners were asked if anyone knew how to drive a train and my grandad’s hand shot right up. Well, he’d never driven a train in his life and he always says that was one hell of an experience!”
Did he struggle to adapt to life after the war?
“Growing up, he was the most positive man I knew. He always had a smile on his face and could not say anything bad about anyone. You wouldn’t expect a man who had been through all he had to be like that. When I was a child, my parents would take us to the beach and we always knew it would be a particularly good day if my grandad was there as he would treat us all to a nice meal out”
What was the end of his life like?
“After his wife died in 1958, he lived with my sister for some time as she wasn’t married. They became the best of friends and were always up to something! Sadly, my sister passed away in 1984 from multiple sclerosis (MS) and that hit him really hard. Only nine years before my 18 year old brother died after he was involved in a motorcycle accident and I always remember my grandad saying, “that should have been me”. He was a big family man and he always took care of us all.
He spent the last years of his life with my aunty June who lives in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. Sadly, he developed dementia and passed away in 1991. He was cremated in Tewkesbury”.
Looking back, why have you decided to have his story written down?
“I wanted you to write the story of my grandad firstly because not only was he a hero to this country but he was also my hero. Although he hasn’t been here for over twenty years now, I think it’s a nice way to keep his story alive. I don’t know much about the internet but I do know that his story can now stay on the web forever. One day, I would like to find out more about my potential relatives living in Canada. I often wonder what lives his sisters had and his sisters children and their children and so on. Ultimately he was never one for moaning about anything. After everything he went through he carried on working for the army as a plumber for the rest of his life. You could always rely on him and if half of the youth today were anything like he was, the future would look very bright.”