Artifacts of a Far East Prisoner of War

By Kurt Hughes

Whilst searching for an enamel mug on eBay, I happened across a group of items that appeared to belong to a FEPOW veteran. I searched the name and confirmed they did indeed belong to a FEPOW. Although not something I would normally be looking to buy, I purchased the items in order to keep them together as I feared the group being split up as, sadly, this does happen from time to time with military groups. I contacted the seller who was not related to the original owner but had purchased the items from a general auction.

I have a good knowledge of WW2 and, in particular military artefacts, but my wife is more knowledgeable than myself on the Far East campaign and POW’s experiences having had two great uncles that served in the Far East. One served in the Royal Marines 44 Commando, the other was Raymond John Marks (Royal Engineers), who sadly died whilst in captivity after the fall of Singapore. I have some experience researching the service of other family members and soldiers from different periods in history, so I helped research the history of my wife’s great uncle’s service.

These items belonged to Lt. John Fredrick Wright, the son of a Royal Navy Surgeon Captain; he was born in August 1919, and with the outbreak of War in 1939, he was a student living with his parents in Bournemouth. His POW report card has his occupation as an automobile engineering trainee. In 1940 he was commissioned and joined the Royal Army Service Corps attached to 196 Field Ambulance Royal Army Medical Corps; the RASC provided drivers for their ambulances. Lt. Wright travelled to Singapore with 196 FA part of 18th Division and was there during the fall of Singapore. I have managed to download several documents pertaining to his service; these include his captivity report, his record card and a number of camp rosters where he is listed. I have recently begun looking into the camps listed on his captivity report. Other than those, I currently have no further knowledge of his time in captivity or his life after WW2. I am still researching him, so I would be interested to hear from anyone who can provide any further information about him. It would be particularly special to be able to add a photo of him to the collection.

The group of items, pictured below, consists of:

  • His British Army issue 08 large kit bag with his name and number written in many places and numerous field repairs.
  • Mess tins, one with his name inscribed, and on the other his name, rank, number on one side and “18 DIV RASC SINGAPORE 15th Feb 1942”, and his unit and division insignia on the opposite side.
  • His 1939 dated fork with his initials.
  • His army issue WW2 water bottle, the stopper has been replaced with a bamboo one. His name is on the cloth cover, and the harness has a field repair plus the addition of a leather bottom. His initials are written on the harness’s underside and are not sun-faded like the rest of the water bottle.
  • His army issue white enamel mug which still has his fibre dog tag attached with string.

There are two clothing items: his “Jap Happy” loincloth and non-issue handmade shorts, possibly camp made.

Image courtesy of Kurt Hughes.

The following few items may indicate a medical link, firstly a set of unidentified kidney-shaped tins use unknown. The smaller section is able to sit on the edge of the main tin. Nearly all British army items are usually marked; however, these are not.

Next, there is an ivory tongue depressor, and finally, a piece of bamboo of unknown purpose that has been hollowed out at one end, creating a vessel for maybe a medicine or ointment. It has a staple in the bottom, perhaps to enable it to be hung up. Any suggestions as to its use would be appreciated. Given that these items are included, I think that Lt. Wright served in some sort of medical capacity. Although he was not RAMC, he was attached to them, and with his father being a Surgeon Captain RN, he may have had some basic knowledge or just willing to serve as an orderly.

Image courtesy of Kurt Hughes.

These items no doubt meant a lot to Lt. Wright as they were his worldly possessions for a number of years. Understandably many would be only too happy to part with any reminders of their time in captivity. For some, it might not have been easy to part with items that were so important to them after many years in captivity. He kept that simple, inconspicuous piece of bamboo, and the mug is still stained from use as is the clothing, one mess tin retains the burn marks of use, and the web material of packs holds dust from the Far East. Untouched, they tell the story of their use. They have not been cleaned, washed, or polished bright in later years; they look to have been brought home and just put away. Perhaps a reminder that he did not want to part with, but equally just wanted to put away.

Handling these historic items is a tangible link not just to Lt. J.F. Wright, but also Raymond John Marks and every other Far East Prisoner of War. I plan to donate the items to somewhere they can be preserved for the future and commemorate Lt Wright’s service.

Thank you to Meg Parkes for suggesting this post and identifying the loincloth, also thanks to Emily Sharp for help with this post and translating the report card.

10 thoughts on “Artifacts of a Far East Prisoner of War”

  1. Hello, I am researching Thomas Norman Brown who I believe will have been with Lt. John Fredrick Wright in the camp and then the railway. His family have no knowledge of his time out there as he sadly didn’t come home. He was a driver with the 18th Division also. Are you able to share anything with me? It would be so hugely appreciated as his daughter was only aged 7 when he passed and no one ever spoke about any of it. Many thanks, Emma

  2. Hello Emma.
    Firstly apologies for not replying sooner, I have only just seen your reply.
    I found some of his related paperwork but there was no mention of his unit just 18th Division?
    Are you able to contact me direct? In the meantime I will see if I can find any additional information.
    Once again sorry for my late reply.
    Regards
    Kurt.

  3. Emma, further to my previous reply I assume you have a copy of his Japanese POW record card? If so having the reverse of the card translated may provide some additional information.
    The card for J F Wright had a single line on the reverse, but the card for the great uncle of my wife had much more additional information that aided with further research.
    I found that Thomas Brown sadly died of Colitis in Malaya POW camp.
    Looking at his card it appears he was a driver for 18th Div HQ and therefore perhaps not part of 196 Field Ambulance?
    Regards
    Kurt.

  4. Thanks for posting this, it’s not often that new information appears regarding the 196th Field Ambulance. My grandfather was also a member of this unit. Regarding John, I can only tell you that he was one of the rare members of the R.A.S.C. to come through as a Cadet from the “Officer Producing Centre”, during October 1940. As such he is also included in the “Army List” and appears to have been released from duty mid-1946.

  5. Hello Phil
    Thank you for the additional information. Coincidently just last Friday I donated the group to the National Army Museum, they will care for the items and hopefully help keep the memory of John and the men of 196th Field Ambulance alive.
    Whilst I no longer have the items I am continuing to gather any additional information so what you have provided is interesting and I will pass on to NAM. I was able to locate numerous rosters from his time as a POW and various other related documents but have so far not found a photo of him as yet, it would be a nice addition one day.

  6. Reading these posts has been so interesting. My uncle Robert James Hatcher was a L/CPL with the RASC attached to the RAMC 196th. He died on 12/3/1943. His name appears on a roll-call list when they arrived in Singapore & he is buried in Kanchanaburi Cemetery. I am trying to find out where he was posted & what he died from. I have photos of his unit & the whole 196th taken in Wales just before they set sail.
    He was, by all accounts, a quiet gentle man. I would be so grateful if anyone has any information that could help me with my quest.
    Many thanks & best wishes to all,
    Helen Seaman

  7. Hello Helen
    I have found some details that may be of interest, not sure how I can contact you direct?
    Regards
    Kurt.

  8. Hi Helen,
    If you have not seen it there is a page created for Robert, at the Roll of Honour website. (You are credited there, but occasionally new updates are added). Also if you use Facebook, I would suggest joining the “FEPOW Family” group, where someone will be able to translate Robert’s POW card, and put you in touch with the Thai Burma Railway centre team, who may be able to provide additional information. If you do have pictures of the 196th from their time in Presteigne or elsewhere – I would be interested to see them, as the only ones I saw are too blurred to pick out anyone specifically. I do have some individual pictures of the more senior members of the 196th that I have managed to source. Here is the full link : https://www.roll-of-honour.org.uk/h/html/hatcher-robert-james.htm

    Best wishes, Phil.

  9. Hello Helen
    It is interesting to read about your uncle and him serving with 196 FA, just on a brief search I managed to find a few items relating to your uncle which you may or may not have seen already, I am more than happy to copy them and email them to you.
    I would love to see any of the photos you mention of 196 FA should you be happy to share any.
    Regards
    Kurt.

  10. Hello Kurt & Phil. Apologies for late reply but just trying to find my way around the FEPOW website & Facebook.
    2/Lieut JF Wright is listed with my uncle & the 196 in the exercise book used in the Singapore High School as a roll call. Did not know he was a RASC because without a list of their names could pnly assume those ranked as ‘driver’ were RASC. The photo of the RASC is clear but very large (about A6). Would have to find out how to replicate it. (Coincidentally was having it framed today but unwell & postponed). I have no names to put to faces. I can also pick out my uncle on the other photo of the full 200+ men of 196.
    Looks like Wright was in work group 1. My uncle was 6 and posted to Kinsaiyok. Wright went there after Robert had died in March 43.
    Very happy to be in touch & share what we know.
    Best wishes to you both,
    Helen

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