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Tributes to Durham's 'back from the dead airman'
TRIBUTES have been paid to a Second World War airman feared killed in action for about two years before he was freed from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
Having been captured following the surrender of Singapore in 1942, Robert Jonas Bush, known as Bob, was put to work on the so-called Death Railway from Burma to Siam, which claimed the lives of around 112,000 forced labourers.
Believing him to have been killed, the British war authorities sent his family a letter saying he was missing, presumed dead.
But despite enduring three years of terrible hardship, he survived to return home to the North-East – and his patient fiancée Mary, whom he married shortly afterwards.
Mr Bush died on Monday, August 19, aged 97.
Relatives described him as a kind man, a good sportsman, always willing to help others, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of his beloved Sunderland AFC.
Mr Bush was born in Gilesgate Moor, Durham, in 1916 and grew up at Sherburn Hospital, just outside the city, where his father was a groundsman.
He joined the RAF in 1940, aged 16, serving in a radar unit.
When Singapore fell, he escaped to Sumatra but was eventually taken prisoner.
His daughter, Pamela Ward, said he was close to starvation but made lifelong friends and learned to “forgive and forget”.
In 1985, he returned to the camp which had been his enforced home.
After the war, he lived in Shotton Colliery and worked for the Co-op for more than 30 years, before becoming a geography teacher in Easington.
He achieved a Sunderland University degree aged 70 and received the Chancellor’s Award for lifelong learning aged 90.
Mr Bush was involved in church and local history society activities and Peterlee Walking Club, climbing Scafell Pike – England’s highest mountain – aged 80.
He outlived both his first wife, Mary, and his second wife, Doris, and spent his last years back at Sherburn Hospital, in a retirement complex.
Mr Bush leaves his daughter, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His funeral will be held the church at Sherburn Hospital on Saturday, September 7, at 2pm. The family has requested no flowers.
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