The determination that got Lyle Hutley through years in a Japanese prison camp surfaced again when a thief stole a special gift on the eve of his 100th birthday.
A friend of a neighbour had written to the Ministry of Defence about Lyle so his old regiment sent him a book on World War One, a copy of his own war record and a letter from the current commanding officer wishing him well.
But the day before his birthday someone stole it all from his mobility scooter outside Mildenhall Coop as he took it to show his sister-in-law.
His Mildenhall neighbours say he was delighted with the gift but did the theft spoil his birthday on Friday?
“I didn’t let anything spoil my birthday,” he said proudly. “I had a lovely time – I had three dinners! The neighbours got the first and my relatives came to the other two.”
Lyle, who does his own shopping and chores, did not realise the items had been stolen at first.
“I went to take my tablets and they were gone as well,” he said. “I don’t know if they saw the medics and thought it was drugs – they’ll steal anything nowadays.
Born Horace George Hutley, in Bermondsey, he left school at 14 to work as a van boy and was called up to the Royal Artillery Service Corps in 1940, just in time to join the allies retreating to Dunkirk.
He already knew Ivy and when he learned he was being sent to Africa, they married in May 1941.
But the ship was diverted to Singapore where he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and at first put in the notorious Changi Jail then moved to the Burma Railway.
“My first job was the Bridge on the River Kwai – I helped build that,” he said.
He recalls beatings, burning the bodies of comrades killed by cholera and how prisoners who collapsed on the railway were shot.
“I used to have nightmares about it but I don’t now,” he admitted.
He spent three years on the Railway, while Ivy had no idea if he was still alive. He returned home in 1946 weighing only six stone.
They moved to Mildenhall when the metal safety doors company Dreadnaught relocated to the town. He lost Ivy at the age of 77 in 1997 and still tends her grave. They had no children.