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Mildenhall centenarian Lyle is a born survivor

Lyle Hutley from Mildenhall celebrated his 100th birthday on May 19.'''PICTURE: Mecha Morton
Lyle Hutley from Mildenhall celebrated his 100th birthday on May 19.'''PICTURE: Mecha Morton

Born as the First World War raged, Lyle Hutley survived evacuation from the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War only to be captured by the Japanese and tortured and starved in a prisoner of war camp.

But incredibly, despite all the terrible experiences which blighted the first 30 years of his life, Friday saw the Mildenhall pensioner celebrate his 100th birthday.

Still fighting fit, doing his own shopping, cooking, cleaning ironing and gardening, as well as helping neighbours 20 years his junior with their gardens as his way of helping to ‘look after the old people’, for Lyle it was the love of his late wife, Ivy, which sustained him through the darkest times of his life.

The Bermondsey boy who had started work at 14, like so many of his generation faced a conflict that was change his life forever. He and Ivy had first met in 1939. A year later he was called up to the Royal Artillery Service Corps and was part of the British Expeditionary Force sent to France. But British forces were already in retreat and Lyle and his comrades found themselves in the middle of the Dunkirk evacuation.

He managed to get home and was reunited briefly with Ivy, only to give her the news that he had been posted to Africa.

With the war turning in the Nazis’ favour, the couple decided to marry and did so in May 1941. Two weeks later Lyle had to leave, not knowing it would be four years before he saw his beloved Ivy again.

After arriving in Africa, military orders were unexpectedly changed and the ship was sent on to Singapore, arriving in February 1942. Ten days later, British forces surrendered to the Japanese and Lyle found himself a prisoner of war.

For nearly four years he endured of unspeakable treatment at the hands of his captors at the notorious Changi gaol and was forced to work on the Burma railway, known as the death railway because of the thousands who died laying the 258 miles of track through the jungle to the River Kwai.

All this time Ivy did not know whether her husband was alive or dead. All she could do was hope.

Despite his treatment, Lyle survived and eventually got home in 1946, weighing less than six stone and with memories so terrible he never spoke of them to Ivy.

The war years took their toll and the couple did not have children but they enjoyed near 60 years together and moved to Mildenhall in the late 1960s when Dreadnoughts, the company Lyle worked for relocated to the town.

The couple used to tour Kent, first on a tandem, then a motorbike and finally a camper van. Lyle only gave up driving five years ago because, he said, ‘everyone was in too much of a hurry’.

Ivy died aged 77 in 1997 and two years later Lyle returned to Changi Prison to finally lay the ghosts of his years as a POW to rest.

He was accompanied by his nephew, Bill Ripper, who said: “While we were there a party of school children were being taken round and told that many people visited to remembered loved ones who had been there. With that, we told them Lyle had actually been a prisoner and with that he became an instant celebrity.”

He added: “Lyle still regularly tends Ivy’s grave and perhaps it was because of their enduring love of each other that sustained them through all the hardships of those war years of suffering and starvation. Ivy must have been a great comfort with his nightmares that he still had of those horrific times. He never spoke of it when Ivy was alive, he tells of the more amusing things that happened rather than dwell on the dark side. Such is his nature to see only good and happiness and smile in the face of adversity.”

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