A Second World War veteran who has lived in Salisbury since 1953 recently celebrated his 104th birthday.

Former Royal Marine James “Jim” Wren, who now lives at Old Sarum Manor, is the last living member of the HMS Repulse detachment and survived for years as a prisoner of war held by the Japanese.

Jim was on board the HMS Repulse on Wednesday, December 10, 1941 when it was attacked by the Japanese. The ship turned over on its side within seconds and Jim plunged into the water. Covered in oil, he found a piece of debris to latch onto and was later pulled aboard a Carley float.

Jim and other survivors made their way from the sunken ship to Singapore where they attached themselves to other units.

It was on another ship, alongside fellow servicemen and evacuating civilians, that Jim was captured on Sunday, February 15, 1942.

Jim said when the Japanese captured them, they took away everything of value and there was little food given to the prisoners.

Jim said: “It was just a case of scrabbling anything you could get a hold of to feed yourself at that stage. Eventually it came to they’d issue a bit of rice and things like that but it was appalling conditions to find yourself in, in a sense, and you couldn’t really do much about it either- that was it.”

Salisbury Journal: Second World War veteran James Jim Wren turned 104 years old on April 22.Second World War veteran James Jim Wren turned 104 years old on April 22. (Image: Joshua Truksa/Newsquest)

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The prisoners were also being sustained on local edible plants, including a particular type of weed that grew along the river.

Jim said: “It was a weed much like a watercress, but much coarser, and when you bite it, if had been cooked, if hadn’t been cooked thoroughly and you bit it, it blew a little whistle. There was a hollow stem that blew a little- so we called it the whistling weed.

“These are the sort of things you look back on and think to yourself, that kept us alive, but it was horrible stuff.”

Jim continued his military service after the war, as he had a 12-year contract. After 13-and-a-half years, he left the service in 1953 and moved with his wife, Margaret, to her hometown of Salisbury.

He had met Margaret in the early days of the war soon after joining up. While in training, Jim had become friends with a fellow serviceman named Fred Bell, later meeting Fred’s family, including Fred’s sister Margaret.

The couple’s relationship had not started long before Jim went to Singapore and was taken prisoner by the Japanese for three-and-a-half years, but Margaret waited for Jim and was with his parents when Jim returned home.

Jim said: “I suppose the biggest surprise I had in my life was when I walked in the door when I got home and Margaret was there.”

The couple married in 1946 and enjoyed 74 years of marriage before Margaret’s death in 2022 at the age of 97.

Following his discharge from the military, Jim worked for the Salisbury District Council Parks Department and later as the gardener and groundsman for Westwood St Thomas School before retiring at the age of 65 in 1985.

Jim said he never expected to reach the age of 104 and said a lot of people ask him the secret to a long life.

He said: “A lot of people ask me that and sometimes I’ve got to stop and think about it. I suppose it’s mainly that I’ve took life as it come along.”

Jim added that “hard work and enjoying food” has also played a role.

He said: “My wife was a wonderful cook.

“I enjoyed hard work when I was doing it as well.”