Veteran Tom’s ukulele to star on TV screens

Former prisoner-of-war Thomas Boardman
Former prisoner-of-war Thomas Boardman

A musical instrument used by a Leigh veteran to entertain fellow prisoners of war in horrendous camps will feature on national TV today.

The ukulele made by Thomas Boardman is one of 10 objects that will be used to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Imperial War Museum by the BBC on Saturday evening.

He was quite proud to be asked to be in it and he’s hoping to watch it

Ron Boardman

Thomas, 98, used the instrument now in the Imperial War Museum North to keep morale up during three horrific years during World War Two when he was kept in terrible conditions in Thailand and forced to work the infamous death railway in Burma.

The instrument is the only Trafford-based object in the programme Britain At War: Imperial War Museum at 100.

Celebrities were chosen to tell the stories of each object, with Paralympics presenter and former Royal Marine JJ Chalmers travelling to the Salford Quays museum to film the section about the ukuele.

Sadly Thomas was unable to make it to the museum for filming but his son Ron said he was incredibly proud of his musical instrument being selected for the programme.

Ron said: “Dad has a great affinity with the Imperial War Museum and we have been invited to lots of veterans’ events over the years.

“He was disappointed not to make it there for filming but he was quite proud to be asked to be in it and he’s hoping to watch it.”

Thomas survived 32 bouts of malaria and weighed just six stone at one point during the war while carrying out back-breaking physical labour.

He said he built the ukulele due to the appalling conditions around him, which saw many of his fellow prisoners of war lose their lives due to the brutal conditions, the lack of food and the intense tropical heat.

He said: “You had to have will power to survive, if you couldn’t overcome the desperate situation you’d die.

“I had to do something and I wanted to give the lads something to lift morale, if only fleetingly, something to take our minds away from the reality of war.

“I had always loved music and played the ukulele so I set about making one out of the old Red Cross boxes and used telegraph lines for string.”

The BBC programme traces the history of 10 remarkable objects from the different sites now owned by the museum, which was founded in 1917 while World War One was still raging.

Presented by Falklands veteran Simon Weston CBE, the documentary will showcase the museum’s work remembering the stories of those who have fought and died in the British and Commonwealth forces.

Local military campaigner Linda Fisher, who runs Shoulder to Soldier, said she was delighted the ukulele was chosen.

She said: “In the 100 th year of the Imperial War Museum it is only fitting that the museum recognises the enormous contribution that Mr Boardman made. Not only in defending our country in World War Two but also by making this ukulele he has provided a lasting legacy that lives on now as part of our national history.”

The programme is on BBC2 on Saturday at 7.30pm.