“TAKE care of yourself Sweetheart, and mind you don’t get hurt. Please don’t worry about trouble starting out here for it is impossible for the Japs to start anything. There are enough troops here to eat them, let alone kill them – Indians, Aussies, Gurkhas, Malays.

“No, Sweetheart, I don’t believe the Japs would attempt to land here. There is far too much jungle for them to walk through, rubber plantations and paddy fields.

“Don’t forget, Sweetheart, nothing will happen to me out here, never mind what the papers say.”

THIS morning at 11am, the mayor of Darlington will lead two minutes silence at the war memorial in the centre of Haughton-le-Skerne where the name of Bombardier Harry Innes will be writ large in poppies.

Harry sent a steady stream of loving letters home to his wife, Phoebe, on Haughton Green, from the Far East where he was serving with the Royal Artillery.

The Northern Echo: Phoebe InnesPhoebe Innes

The stream comes to an end on January 20, 1942, as the Japanese drove the British down the Malaysian peninsula and onto Singapore where Harry was captured a few weeks later. He was set to work on the notorious Burma railway where he died on September 13, 1943.

Phoebe, who kept his chit-chatty letters home, didn’t learn of his death until two years later, so 75 years ago today, as the rest of the country celebrated VJ Day, she was hoping against hope that he would walk through the door any day…

The Northern Echo: Harry InnesHarry Innes

With the benefit of hindsight, the letters are desperately sad, with Harry chattily writing home about his hopes for their family’s future and how he’s never going to grow a potato again after being served them three meals a day while in army camp.

Harry’s first letter home is December 30, 1940. His leave was over, he’d left camp in Frosterley in Weardale, and he was on the move – where to, he did not know.

The Northern Echo: One of Harry's letters home to Phoebe on Haughton GreenOne of Harry's letters home to Phoebe on Haughton Green

“Well, Sweetheart, thank-you for the happy times I have had with you lately,” he wrote. “I am going to join the boat tonight.

“I should have told you last night, Sweetheart, but I thought you would have worried all night, so I put off telling you so that you wouldn’t cry. We have no idea where we are sailing from.

“I hope you don’t worry, Darling. It won’t be long before I am with you and the kiddies once again. The next time you see me, I will be home for good.”

Harry never again saw Phoebe, nor their children, Marjorie and Herbert, six, although they were never far from his thoughts.

He sailed from Glasgow on a converted liner, the Empress of Japan, in a convoy of 21 troop ships escorted by one battleship, three cruisers and 11 destroyers.

“I wish you could see the ship I am on, it is ever such a length,” he wrote to young Herbert. “It is nearly as long as Haughton Village so you can tell how long it is.”

Once he had arrived in Malaya, letters took up to four months to reach him, so their chat is rather stilted, and he can’t tell too much of interest because the censor would cut it out. He’s keen for news, and pictures, of the “kiddies”, and gossip about family, friends and life back home.

The Northern Echo: Three of Harry Innes' friends out for a walk in his camp in MalayaThree of Harry Innes' friends out for a walk in his camp in Malaya

“The people in Darlington must be going mad to start smashing shops up because they sold cigarettes to a woman,” he wrote in reply to one titbit. “It really is absurd, isn’t it.”

He quite likes life in the camp and seeing the sights and colours of the exotic foreign country.

“I went to town last night and it was quite a change,” he wrote. “I had my tea in a café, then went off to the pictures. The tea was very good, two slices of fish, potatoes, peas and carrots and a glass of orange squash, it only cost a shilling. We went to the pictures and it looked like the Regal.”

The Northern Echo: 122 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery in Malaya in 1941 - Bdr Harry Innes is on there somewhere122 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery in Malaya in 1941 - Bdr Harry Innes is on there somewhere

He sends presents home, even though parcels take so long to arrive, he spills his secrets in a letter which reaches Haughton a bit quicker.

“There is a kimono to replace the old blue one of yours,” he promises Phoebe. “I hope it won’t be long before I see you wearing it. I shall look forward to that day.”

In fact, he yearns to be home with them.

“It is Sunday afternoon and there is a bit of a breeze blowing and it seems quite cold in the hut,” he writes. “I wonder what I shall feel like when I get back to Durham. I bet I shall be freezing on the hottest day. If I get home tomorrow, it won’t be too soon for no matter how warm the place is or how nice I shall always like Darlington best of all.”

He’s very worried about his family and is desperately keen to convince Phoebe that he is completely safe in the jungle – as the extract at the top of the article shows.

Even in January 1942, when the war is finally coming very close to him with the Japanese advances forcing the British to retreat, he tries to sound unworried.

“Well, Sweetheart, it is no good writing about our war because the Japs are dead easy,” he writes. “We have let them push us down country, but it seems to be part of a pre-arranged plan, and we have done some good work as the Japs found out when they had to bury their dead.”

That, though, was his last letter home, the last that Phoebe ever heard from him. That evening, his battery was forced to evacuate and retreat 100 miles south to Singapore, where fierce fighting continued until the British surrendered on February 17, 1943.

Phoebe received a standard note telling her that he had been taken prisoner, and perhaps it is better that she didn’t learn of the atrocities of his final months. Of the 61,000 Allied prisoners of war put to work on the Burma railway, 16,000 died of malnutrition, mistreatment or disease.

Phoebe learned of his death 26 months later when, on November 6, 1945, she received the dreaded letter, telling her that he was buried in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand, about 70 miles from Bangkok.

The Northern Echo: Bdr Harry Innes' grave in ThailandBdr Harry Innes' grave in Thailand

She remained in their little house on the Green until she was into her nineties. She never remarried. Marjorie and Herbert are still in Darlington, and the letters were published in 1995 by Barbara Hodgson.

The Northern Echo: Harry Innes' home on The Green in Haughton - a flag will fly outside it todayHarry Innes' home on The Green in Haughton - a flag will fly outside it today

Harry is the only Haughtonian known to have died in the Far East, and so he will be the focus of today’s ceremony around the war memorial that villagers keep so splendidly.

People will start gathering at 10.45am for a short service at 11am led by the mayor, Cllr Chris McEwan, whose grandfather patrolled the Strait of Malacca off the Malaysian coast in a submarine at about the same time as Harry was in camp at Malacca.

The Northern Echo: Today's service at the immaculate Haughton War Memorial starts at 10.45amToday's service at the immaculate Haughton War Memorial starts at 10.45am

With thanks to Carol Atkinson, of the Haughton-le-Skerne Local History Society, for her help