A Second World War hero who survived the barbaric Japanese prisoner of war camps has died aged 97.

Sergeant John Phillips, who lived in Nevill Avenue, Hove, returned to his former camp and visited the war graves of his fellow serviceman when he was in his 80s.

After leaving the forces, the dad-of-four trained as a teacher and taught at primary schools across Brighton and Hove.

His son, Andrew Phillips, said: “He was a very interesting man because he was interested in everything.”


Born in Worcestershire, he moved to Hertfordshire and then Hove before going to school at Varndean.

He met his wife, Kathleen, at the Bishop Hannington Church tennis club in Hove and they married in the early 1940s.

But before he could enjoy married life, the RAF Sergeant was sent out to the Far East to fight the war in the Pacific.

After their ship sunk off Java, they were captured by Japanese troops and taken to the mainland.

Others from his group managed to escape to Australia – where he remarkably received his log book in the post 20 years later.

In Japan he was transported from camp to camp before ending up at a mine in Ikuno.

Subjected to beatings, he watched as many of his friends were executed in the brutal conditions.

His son Andrew, added: “Despite this he never had any bitterness towards the Japanese as many did following the war.

“He would tell us that the people of Japan were very good to him but the guards could be brutal.

“The war, he would say, brutalises men.”

After the war, he returned home and settled in Hove.

He retrained as a primary school teacher at Eastbourne Teacher Training College before going on to work at The Downs, Stanford Infants, Moulsecoomb Primary and Fairlight among others.

He was also a keen cricketer and played for Brighton and Hove’s second team until his throwing arm gave way.

When not playing sport, his passion was amateur dramatics and he appeared in numerous productions for the Bedford Players in Brighton.

In 2006, just a month or so short of his 90th birthday, he returned with other veterans to his former camp.

As well as visiting the graves of his friends, he went back to the mine in which he spent the last months of the war.

He leaves behind four children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

His funeral will be held at the South Chapel at Brighton’s Woodvale Cemetery on January 29 at 11.20pm.

All are welcome. Family flowers only with donations to the Martlets through Bungard and Sons Limited, Sackville Road, Hove.