Leonard William Cole was educated at Chelmsford's grammar school, and after leaving there worked in the Town Clerk's office in Chelmsford. He served in the army during the war and landed in Singapore in January 1942. The following month he was captured by the Japanese at the fall of the colony. He was forced by his captors to work on the 'death railway' and died from Beri-Beri in September 1943. His parents lived in Writtle Road, Chelmsford.
Leonard was born in the Chelmsford district in 1921, the son of William Samuel Cole (1891-1977) and Dorothy Alice Cole (nee Knight, 1890-1956).
His parents had married at St. John’s Church, Moulsham on Valentine’s Day 1914. At that time Leonard’s father was a 23 year-old clerk living at 11 Manor Road, Moulsham; his mother was aged 21 and lived nearby ar 11 Lower Roman Road, Moulsham.
Leonard's siblings included Phyllis Mary Cole (1914-1998), Richard Samuel Cole (1916-1937), Jean Dorothy Cole (1926-1998), and Molly K. Cole (born in 1930).
Leonard's brother Richard was fatally injured on New Year's Eve 1936 while cycling at Little Waltham when he was hit by a car driven by the son of the Rector of Widford. The driver was later cleared of a charge of manslaughter.
He was educated at King Edward VI's Grammar School in Chelmsford and worked in Chelmsford Town Clerk's office. He was a member of Chelmsford Athletics Club. His father worked at the Chelmsford bearings firm Hoffmann's.
During the Second World War Leonard served as Corporal 7684602 in the 18th (Eastern) Provost Company, Corps of Military Police. The Company, a Territorial unit, was formed in Norwich in early 1940, but the core of its personnel had been transferred from 54th (East Anglian) Divisional Provost Company, Corps of Military Police (Territorial Army), which had been raised in Chelmsford in February 1939 and was based at a rented property "Phoenix House," New London Road, Chelmsford.
The Company landed in Singapore in January 1942, comprising of 117 men. A few weeks later, on 15th February 1942 when the Japanese captured the colony. only four men from the Company escaped capture. Leonard was one of those captured. Of the remainder, one was killed in action and 56 were to die later in the war through ill-treatment and disease.
Leonard William COLE, Corporal, 18th (Eastern) Provost Company, Corps of Military Police
Killed in Burma while a Japanese Prisoner of War. Aged 21
Leonard was initially interned at Changai Prison, before being transferred to work on the notorious Siam to Burma 'Death Railway'. The railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar). Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre. The Japanese aimed at completing the railway in 14 months and work began in October 1942.
The line, 424 kilometres long, was completed by December 1943. Where found the graves of those who died during the construction and maintenance of the railway (except for the Americans, whose remains were repatriated) were transferred from camp burial grounds and isolated sites along the railway into three cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Siam (now Thailand) and Thanbyuzayat in Burma (now Myanmar).
Leonard died whilst a prisoner of war working on the railway on 20th September 1943. According to a role of honour compiled by the Officer Commanding of 18th (Eastern) Divisional Provost Company, Corps of Military Police, he died of Beri-Beri at the Rami Songkrai PoW Camp, Thailand. He was 21 years old.
Cruelly, three months later, on Christmas Eve 1943 Leonard’s parents received a long-delayed postcard from him which had been written on 15th February 1943 stating that he was well. It was not until after the war that Leonard’s fate was confirmed. One of Leonard’s comrades who lost is life was Lance Corporal Robert George Dance.
Today Leonard lies in grave B6. G. 20 at Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery. His parents lived in 'Hillcroft' in Writtle Road, Chelmsford. Leonard is commemorated by the King Edward VI's Grammar School war memorial and the Widford war memorial. He left an estate valued at £436 3s. 1d.