Remembrance Day: The Dagenham veteran who ended the Second World War in a brewery
- Credit: Archant
While Remembrance Day is about honouring those that gave their lives for others, it is also an opportunity to thank the soldiers that made it home.
Veteran Alf Bulgen, from Dagenham, served with the Royal Marine commandos in Burma for the latter part of the Second World War, fighting the Japanese army in some of toughest terrains on the planet.
Although he suffered the trauma of losing close friends in combat, the 93-year-old insists he has plenty of happy memories as well.
“Whenever I go to church for remembrance services all the memories of my mates come flooding back,” he said.
“It’s important that children know about the wars and about the fact that people put their lives on the line, but perhaps not all the details.
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“Fighting in the jungle was bloody horrible. I just try and focus on the good times because there were quite a lot – I had a lot of close friends in the marines.”
Before leaving for the other side of the world, Alf spent a gruelling six weeks of fitness training in Scotland, as part of the Commandos selection process.
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“We had to march seven miles in an hour with full kit on,” he explained. “It was pretty tough, but it did the trick.
“After six weeks of that I felt like I could take on [former world heavyweight boxing champion] Joe Louis.”
After a further two weeks of specialist jungle training in India, Alf, who became a butcher after the war, was posted out to Burma.
Through a tough campaign he was involved in numerous battles including the notorious 10-day Battle of Hill 170 in January 1945, that saw the Japnesse death toll rise as high as 400 compared to as few as 45 British losses.
As events progressed, Alf set sail on a boat for Singapore when the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagaski in August 1945, forcing the Japanese surrender and the end of the war.
Sailing to Hong Kong instead, Alf and his unit eventually found themselves repairing a San Miguel brewery – a world apart from the horrors of the Burmese jungle.
“The Japanese had dismantled it before they left, so they had us all working three eight-hour shifts to fix it,” Alf explained.
“In no-time at all we had it back up and running and then we were all getting to enjoy a pint a day at least, it was fantastic.
“Since then San Minguel has always been one of my favourite beers.”