Surviving the Death Railway: A POW’s Memoir and Letters from Home
Men captive in the Far East in WWII and their families in Britain lived separate, and unspeakably stressful lives for three and a half years. Surviving the Death Railway: A POW’s Memoir and Letters from Home combines documents from both fronts to tell their story.
Barry, a young captain, and the 68 Royal Signals linemen under his command arrived in Malaya while it was still at peace. The men, mainly reservists with some regular soldiers – Dunkirk survivors, built lines through the jungles of Malaya until they were all captured at the Fall of Singapore.
In Britain, Barry’s wife Phyllis, had collected addresses for the families of the men before they disappeared behind a wall of silence. For the duration of the war and after she kept in touch with the wives, mothers, grandparents and others. She received letters – from the tenements of Glasgow to the East End of London – telling of their fears, hopes and concerns.
At the end of the war, Barry and Phyllis got in touch with all the bereaved relatives and most of the survivors, as the men tried to track down their missing friends and rebuild their family lives.
In later life Barry wrote his memoirs of life as a prisoner of the Japanese, mainly on the Thailand-Burma Railway. This is full of the details of survival, both of the drudge and disease of the up-river camps and the contrasts between the hospital wards and theatre fun,towards the end of that captivity, in the base camps.
The Art of Survival
Drawings by Fred Ransome Smith, prisoner of war 11 December 2015 – 28 February 2016 – See more at:
Art of Survival
The launch of Fred Ransome Smiths Exhibition went really well and an interview he did with Channel 7 is shown below. Some of the artwork exhibited was produced when Fred was as a Lieutenant POW in camps on the Burma/Thai Railway, whilst others were drawn later from memory.
Fred was pleased with the exhibition as he was keen to get across the suffering and brutality that the POWs had to endure at the hands of the Japanese.
Fred, now 96, was a POW of the Japanese, having been captured at Singapore in February 1942 and then sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. During his three and half years of captivity he took the opportunity, at great personal risk, to draw incidences of the appalling treatment of his fellow POWs.
Fred joined up as a Lieutenant with the 5th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, and despite originally being destined for the Middle East, arrived in Singapore in late January 1942, which he described as being “in a bad shape when we arrived”. Fred was born in 1919, London and emigrated to Australia after the war where he continued his career in advertising. Following his retirement Fred lectured at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Victoria.
Unspoken: The Forgotten Prisoners of War
In conjunction with the 70th anniversary year commemorating VJ Day and the end of WWII, Wellcome Trust’s online science magazine Mosaic Science has published an audio documentary:
Based on Captive Memories, Far East POW and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
by Meg Parkes and Geoff Gill
The documentary features the eye witness accounts of eight former Far East POW veterans and others connected to this history who were interviewed for the Tropical School’s Far East POW oral history study.
Published 8 December 2015
Researched and narrated by Chris Chapman
Editor Mun-Keat Looi,
Click on link: https://soundcloud.com/mosaicscience/prisoners-of-war
Thursday 10 December
7 – 8pm
Hosted by the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room
Meg and Geoff discuss the research that informed Captive Memories and the documentary, Unspoken.
Free, open to all
Bill Pearson – Malaya 1942
Published in the Times Newspaper today 06 November 2015, the obituary of Bill Pearson, the last British survivor of the Malaya sabotage group.
Interesting article on the Imperial War Museum Blog
IWM Research Blog
First contact between HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and Far East POWs
August 1945 – Tokyo
To mark the VJ Day 70 events we are reproducing the following extract taken from Prince Philip’s speech at the May 1974 National Federation of FEPOW Clubs and Associations 23rd national conference held in Blackpool. This was later published in the June/July 1974 issue of ‘FEPOW Forum’, the official magazine of the London FEPOW Club.
Reasons for Survival
Luck plays a very big part in ordinary life, but in war the element of luck is literally VITAL. Since I was invited to attend this reunion, I have been looking into the appalling story of POWs in the Far East and I can only say that I blessed my luck that I was not one of them.
I was fortunate enough, during a visit to Thailand some years ago, to see the famous bridge and I took the opportunity to lay a wreath at the camp cemetery, now beautifully looked after by the Imperial War Graves Commission.
I believe that many people assume that the POWs in the Far East were kept either in Singapore or in Siam. In fact, at the end of the war, prisoners were found in Rangoon, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Siam, Saigon, Borneo, Macassar, Hong Kong, Formosa, Korea, Manchuria and Japan. So far as the British were concerned the major concentrations were 7,000 in Singapore, 13,000 in Siam, 9,000 in Japan and 2,300 in Saigon.
It seems to be one of the peculiarities of human existence that there is always a good side and a bad side to everything we do. In war this contrast becomes even more marked as it brings out both the best and worst in people. This is so brilliantly illustrated by the comradeship and self-sacrifice of the Prisoners of War and the inhuman brutality of those who held them captive in the Far East.
My only personal contact with Prisoners of War in the Far East was when I was serving on the destroyer ‘HMS Whelp’ in the British Pacific Fleet. In August 1945 we found ourselves part of the escort for the flagships of the American and British Pacific Fleets on our way to Japan immediately after her capitulation. The two battleships, ‘Duke of York’ and ‘Missouri’ escorted by four US and two British destroyers, approached the Japanese coast and with considerable caution anchored for the night in Sagami Bay at the entrance of Tokyo Harbour. Suddenly, just before dusk, there was a lot of activity amongst the guard boats and later on we learned that two swimmers had been picked up. It then turned out that two Royal Marine POWs, who had escaped from their camp near Tokyo the day before, were walking along the coast when they saw, to their considerable astonishment, a fleet of Allied Ships and promptly decided swim off and join them. We felt this was a splendid welcome and we sailed to Tokyo, determined to get all of the other prisoners out as soon as possible.
Owing to one thing and another, the evacuation of prisoners could not get started quite as quickly as we would have liked but within a few days the two British destroyers were ferrying released POWs from the shore to some escort carriers which had been made ready to receive them. In spite of the surrender ceremonies, it was this job of providing the first step to freedom of these prisoners that made me realise that the war was over at last. It was a moving experience. Many of the ex-prisoners happened to be sailors and as we gave them the usual cups of tea in the wardroom and the messes, we just sat in silence as we thought what this moment must have meant to them and many guests and hosts were quite unashamed to shed a tear.
Next year it will be 30 years since your captivity came to an end. All of you suffered in one way or another and many of you are now getting on in years. I believe the nation has a very special responsibility for your welfare in old age. I am quite sure that the Far East Prisoners of War Association will see to it that no-one in sickness, old age or distress will ever be forgotten or neglected.
VJ Day 70th Anniversary – Newcastle
On 15 august The Royal British Legion will be holding a service in Newcastle at the Burma Star Memorial: Everyone in the area is invited to attend. There will be a buffet 1030hrs at Jesmond RBL Post Code E2 3EX. Please Telephone 01912810736 for details.