ONE of the last survivors of Sunderland’s 125 Anti-Tank Regiment has died.
William McCready spent three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp after the ship he was on was bombed close to Singapore in 1942.
After surviving two days in the water, he was rescued by a Dutch vessel before being captured and taken prisoner.
William, known to friends and family as Bill, died at St Mark’s nursing home in Pallion last Wednesday at the age of 93.
His son, also named William, remembered a father who went through so much but spoke so little of his hardships.
“He very rarely talked about his time in the Far East, but we know what he went through must have been terrible,” said William, 63.
“He came back from war just skin and bones, but he considered himself one of the lucky ones – because he did come back.”
Bill McCready was raised in General Graham Street in High Barnes, Sunderland. A pupil at Cowan Terrace School, he would eventually go on to work as a pattern maker at marine engineering company Doxfords.
As the storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe, Bill signed up, eventually becoming a member of Sunderland’s 125 Regiment.
On February 5, 1942, he was onboard the Empress of Asia when the vessel encountered Japanese air attacks near Singapore.
Nine Japanese dive bombers focused their attack on the Empress, which sustained massive damage near the island of Sultan Shoal in the western anchorage of Singapore.
Nearby rescue boats picked up 1,804 survivors. There were 16 deaths. Singapore would fall to the Japanese only 10 days later, on February 15, 1942.
Bill spent the next three years in Japanese prisoner of war camps.
William said: “He had extreme dysentery and got moved from one camp just before it got bombed. He used to say he considered himself lucky.”
After the end of the war, Bill returned to Sunderland where he married Lilian. The couple went on to have twins named Lilian and William after their parents.
“He remained a very determined and competitive man until the day he died,” recalls William.
Diagnosed with bowel cancer about two years ago, Bill was in hospital last Remembrance Sunday when he was due to give his annual reading at St Gabriel’s Church in Chester Road.
“He was not going to miss that for anything,” remembers William. “He left hospital and went along to the church to give his reading.”
It was there Bill met and spoke to then Bishop of Durham and Archbishop of Canterbury-in-waiting, the Right Reverend Justin Welby.
William added: “Dad loved to play bowls and was a regular player right up until the age of 91 when arthritis in his fingers stopped him playing.”
l Bill’s funeral will be held tomorrow at St Gabriel’s Church, Chester Road, at 11.45am before moving on to Sunderland Crematorium at 12.30pm.