20 December 1920- 30 September 2020
(Header image shows Maurice delivering the FEPOW Address at the 2010 conference)
On 2 June 1973, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, William Maurice Naylor was awarded the CBE for Services to the NHS. At the time Maurice was Chief Executive of Trent Regional Health Authority one of only four regions in England. It was the pinnacle of an administrative career that had begun in the late 1930s. Having grown up in Hazel Grove in Cheshire, Maurice worked for Manchester Corporation at the Town Hall in Albert Square. While there, he studied for a degree in Administration at Manchester University. When war came, Maurice was initially in a reserved occupation but once his Call Up papers arrived, he joined the 135th Field Regiment Royal Artillery.
Maurice was a great friend to the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG). He attended his first conference, held at the National Memorial Arboretum, in 2008. In 2010 Maurice was among the eight former FEPOW and three Civilian Internees, invited as guests of the third conference at which he was asked to give the FEPOW Address. Composed and with a straight face, he began by thanking the RFHG for inviting him to open the Conservative conference! It brought the house down.
His address focused on his liberation and repatriation from captivity in 1945. He spoke about arriving back in Liverpool and the difficulties of adjusting once back home. He recalled that it was not until 1981, and recently retired, that he went back to Thailand for the first time, visiting the bridge over the River Kwai and the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Kanchanaburi:
“I decided then that I owed it to those who had died, and their families, for the story of those years to become better known. I started to give talks to organisations like Probus and Rotary in and around South Yorkshire.
“I came to the 2008 Conference to find out more and was overwhelmed by the welcome that I and my fellow FEPOWs received. There are not many of us left now to tell the tale and soon there will be none.
It is gratifying and comforting to know that there are younger people still around, able and willing to give their time and energy to researching and recording the history of FEPOWs and civilian Internees and passing it on to future generations”.
In 2009 Maurice was interviewed for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s FEPOW oral history study. Softly spoken and with a trace of his Mancunian roots, his interview radiates a calm authority, his answers clear and considered. Every word counted.
His administrative training was to come in useful when, in 1943 at Tamarkan Camp in Thailand, he offered to assist the Senior British Officer, Lt Col. Philip Toosey, who was also Commanding Officer of 135th Field Regiment. At interview, Maurice recalled the occasion:
“I approached Colonel Toosey on the parade ground on one occasion, “I’ve got a degree in administration, I can do clerical work without any problems, if you want any assistance in the camp office let me know.” And he said Alright… A few weeks later he and Major David Boyle came charging into the hut I was in and Toosey said, “There he is, that’s the one, come with me.” So, I went to the camp office… they wanted me to take over from [Sergeant Neave who was sick] …It was against my principles really to get too involved with the Japanese, the lower profile you could keep the better really…”
Having sailed from Liverpool in November 1941 he arrived back there in early November 1945 almost five years to the day, on board the SS Orbita. He recalled it vividly, and his struggle to regain his balance once home:
“I got the train from Liverpool to Manchester and then got the bus to Hazel Grove and walked down the lane and my Dad came and met me half-way down, that was it… [initially] I reacted very badly. I was not able to communicate with people. I couldn’t stand the triviality of conversation. I would sit down to breakfast with my parents then I’d have to go upstairs and go to my bedroom. It must have been hard for them …I think the psychological effect of being a prisoner was much greater than the physical effects, as far as I was concerned at any rate …I’ve never discovered whether it was out of consideration for me, or because it was they didn’t want to know, but nobody ever asked questions about it. And I never said anything. And it was as though everybody wanted to forget about it… “.
On 15 October 2011, a brilliantly sunny autumn day, in front of a crowd of 650 gathered on the Pier Head overlooking the River Mersey, Maurice unveiled the first of the RFH Group’s two Repatriation Memorial stone plaques. The day before, he had met former Liverpool merchant seaman, Stan Buchanan, who as a 20-year-old had served as Deck Steward on board the SS Orbita, on its return voyage from Rangoon.
In an interview for The Guardian at the time, Maurice said:
“It is 66 years since we arrived back in this great port of Liverpool to the sound of ships sirens and the cheers of multitudes of onlookers and well-wishers… [This] is a memorial, too, to the girlfriends, spouses, parents and grandparents who had to put up with us and our idiosyncrasies. And we must remember those many thousands of our fellow prisoners who, sadly, died during their captivity in atrocious conditions. Their families continue to suffer too, and their sacrifice should never be forgotten”.
Two years’ later, Maurice travelled to Southampton for the unveiling of the second Repatriation Memorial. At the Service of Dedication, he gave this reading from Philippians 4, verses 10-13:
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Maurice died on 30 September aged 99. The Researching FEPOW History Group has lost a great friend.