FOR more than half a century, Rex Devrell thought his uncle, Private Charles Foster, had been executed in a World War II prisoner of war camp for stealing chickens.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
It was only when the government announced it was looking for the next-of-kin for a number of soldiers, so they could be posthumously awarded a Commendation for Gallantry, did Mr Devrell and his sister Julie Edmonds find out what really happened.
Pvt Foster was actually executed for staging a daring escape from the infamous Singaporean prison Changi, where thousands of Allied prisoners of war were sent.
He was just 22 when he was sent to Changi. On March 16, 1942, Pvt Foster and five other men broke out of Changi and stole a boat. However, they were recaptured by Japanese forces while wading ashore on the Malay side of the Johor Strait.
Pvt Foster and the other soldiers were sentenced to death and executed the following day, on 17 March 1942 – four days shy of Private Foster’s 23rd birthday.
Mr Devrell said learning what had really happened to his uncle in the moments leading up to his death was a bittersweet moment.
“I’m very glad and also sad at the same time,” he said.
“It was a real shock, because we had no idea. We were told he got executed for stealing chickens in Changi, and that came from his two brothers and my mother.
“Perhaps they were trying to keep us in the dark.”
Mr Devrell said the whole story felt like something out of a movie.
“It feels a bit like Bridge on the River Kwai,” he said.
Mr Devrell and his sister have applied to receive their uncle’s medal, and hope to hear back soon.