By Louise Reynolds, Author
RFHG is very much about sharing research and information, and sharing was the main aim of my book Echoes of Captivity, published last March. Sharing the unique experience of belonging to the family of a FEPOW. Most of the FEPOWs didn’t talk about their experiences, indeed they were instructed not to talk, but we, their children, have always been aware of something unspoken and disturbing. Did it affect us? I believed so. My aim was to gather interviews with the families, the ‘children,’ now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and to share their stories. I knew that, sadly, I could only manage a tiny and non-scientifically selected sample, but I felt I was on the right track when one of the contributors said to me “It’s nice to know there are still people in the country wandering around in the same state of mind as me.”
I approached the project with some trepidation. Would people want to talk? Was I being intrusive? I put the word out on some FEPOW websites and I was surprised by the number of people who readily agreed. Some interviews were conducted over Skype, but the majority were in person which I preferred
I’m a trained counsellor/psychotherapist, but this was something I never revealed because I am too close to the subject to keep a therapeutic distance. I think people may have trusted me because they knew my own father was a FEPOW. In fact they were astonishingly honest and the words simply poured out of them. Their testimony was often very poignant and I remember particularly, speaking on Facetime to a contributor in Australia. It was a struggle to feel connected because I couldn’t see her face clearly but then I saw tears trickling down her chin and I knew we’d made a connection.
And what did I discover from my small sample? That many people feel they have been profoundly affected by their fathers’ trauma both positively as well as negatively. One or two have had breakdowns, many feel haunted by the unspoken horrors and some of them are carrying ‘live’ and unprocessed trauma they have inherited from their fathers. Recently there’s been a lively response on a FEPOW Facebook site to a BBC World article which was posted there entitled ‘Can the legacy of trauma be passed down the generations.’ It included a reference to the controversial subject of ‘epigenetics’ which is the, as yet unproven (in humans) theory, that in response to trauma actual chemical changes are made to the surface of the genes which are then passed on in the DNA to the next generation. Several people remarked on odd characteristics both physical and mental which they felt might have been passed down to them. All I can say for sure is that there are many more stories waiting to be told, more research to be done, and I’m aware that there is a whole new generation of grandchildren who are interested in research. My own contribution is just the tip of the iceberg.
Echoes of Captivity edited by Louise Cordingly, published March 2020
2 thoughts on “Stories to Tell”
It’s a really interesting subject. Although my father had far from an easy time on the Thai Burma Railway, he was pretty philosophical about the whole experience. Although I was only 19 when he died, I am fairly confident that he was not especially traumatised by what he went through. Therefore I believe that what I have is a healthy interest in his time as a FEPOW from a family history and legacy perspective. I do appreciate that this may well be so different for so many people.
My own theory is that my father was 45 years old when I was born and had therefore had the chance to live and enjoy life for close to 20 years after his 3.5 years as a POW before he became a father for the first time. Time can help to heal – not always though and not with everyone.
Thanks for a very interesting piece.
Thanks for your kind comment.
It’s good to hear that you feel that your father was not especially traumatised by his experiences as a FEPOW. He must have been so happy when you came along!