New play: Captain Duncan’s Diaries

A brand-new play has been written by Ann Warr based on the books by Meg Parkes describing her father’s adventures during three and a half years of captivity in Southeast Asia during the Second World War.

Based on the diaries that he managed to keep in that time, you will be amazed by this true-life story of Dr Duncan from Moreton, portrayed by our young actors during Wirral’s own premiere production.

The play is being performed on four dates as part of Wirral Arts Festival.

Dates and Venues:

October 3rd, 7.30pm: Church of the Good Shepherd , Wirral

October 5th, 7.30pm: West Kirby Arts Centre

October 10th, 7.30pm: Birkenhead Town Hall

October 12th, 7.30pm: St Mary’s Church, Wirral

Tickets are £5. For details of how to book , please go to the Wirral Arts Festival website and search for the play in the Events calendar.

 

On VJ Day, 73: the preciousness of tiny things

Chair of RFHG, Dr Lizzie Oliver, reflects on a year in which the lessons of history have offered a humbling reminder…

October 1945, Bangalore, India. Patrick Thomas Rorke sat writing an extended version of the words that he had spoken to his fellow POWs for the past three and a half years. They were words of patience and love from a man who had seen his compatriots severely beaten and killed before him. They were words of stoicism and forgiveness penned by a chaplain who had sold his vestments in order to buy fruit for the starving, sick men around him. Most humbling of all, they were words of hope and optimism, and of lessons learned during the bleakest of times.

‘Not many could live in the bad days, unless he had the support of friends…We learnt to give and to share and to lend without stint…What generosity and unselfishness was to be found in captivity; what patient and dogged care for those who were sick; what loyalty and comradeship and support for those whose circumstances were broken and bad’.
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

Less than one month before his writing, Rorke had been liberated from Pakanbaroe, the base camp of the Sumatra Railway on which he had been held captive alongside nearly 5,000 Allied POWs and 100,000 romusha.

POWs Sumatra Railway
Former POWs walking along the Sumatra Railway, September 1945. State Library of Victoria.

The railway was completed on 15 August 1945, the same day that Japan surrendered: this year sees the 73rd anniversary of its completion, and of the liberation of those held captive cross Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War.

‘To have to wait, sustained by no real news, disappointed by the deceitfulness of rumours, on and on, week after week, month after month, for the great day. No one ever doubted that it would arrive; but when?’
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

The anniversary of the Japanese surrender is always a poignant day for the communities of people who follow the work of RFHG. Many of us are the family members of those held captive. Many have undertaken painstaking research to find out the smallest details of a relative’s captivity, and have followed fascinating archival threads that help us to understand the why, who or how of this difficult history. As a result, we carry with us the stories that we have heard and read, and we hold fast to our aim of sharing them where we can, and as widely as we can.

After spending the last seven years reading and writing about the Sumatra Railway, and as the granddaughter of a man held captive on the line, perhaps it is inevitable that I  look from time to time to the histories of the camps not just to tell a story to others, but for a source of my own strength.

‘When one has lived so, for three and half years, and kept one’s soul and retained the ability to joke and smile, one feels that life holds no terrors any more. We’ve managed to survive this: we’ll cope with anything now’.
Patrick Rorke (1947), The Wisdom of Adversity.

Many of you know that at the start of 2018 I found myself in hospital, rather suddenly and unexpectedly, having broken my spine. The months since have been painful and frustrating, and there has been a lot of waiting to feel stronger and to be able to move easier. Plans have been put on hold as the precarity of life was brought starkly into focus.

And yet, I was lucky too. Exceptionally so. And all that waiting meant that I was forced to stop, completely, and appreciate what Rorke would call ‘the preciousness of tiny things’ – the memory of which he and his campmates came to treasure so much.

‘When a man has lost all that makes our life pleasant…he discovers for the first time, probably, the preciousness of tiny things… to sit on a chair and eat at a table from a plate; to walk in real shoes…to have paper to write on and a book to read…
We learnt the secret of contentment not merely by what we lost, but also by what was left to us: real and profound and lasting things that once we took for granted’.
Patrick Rorke (1947),The Wisdom of Adversity.

For all the stories of bruality that can be told about captivity, out of the horror and cruelty grew survival and resilience. The first contributors to our guest blog series have shown just how diverse the connections between history and memory can be: from Mary Munro’s pilgrimage to Hong Kong, to Meg Parkes’ FEPOW art study; Clare Makepeace cycling part of the route of the Sandakan Death March to Louise Reynolds exploring the transgenerational impact of these histories on FEPOW families.

They all remind us that there is much yet to learn from histories of Far Eastern captivity, as we remember VJ Day and those for whom we still tell these stories.

 

© Lizzie Oliver, 2018

Harry Stogden’s Pocket Watch – Louise Reynolds

In our latest guest blog, Louise Reynolds talks to us about her new research project looking at how the experiences of captivity across the Far East has affected subsequent generations. If you would like to be involved with Louise’s project, her contact details at the end of this blog.

Harry Stogden’s pocket watch

HS pocket watch
Harry Stogden’s pocket watch, courtesy of Louise Reynolds

This precious pocket watch is one of the very few items that Bernard Stogden owns, which belonged to his father, Staff Sergeant Harry Stogden, RAOC. Harry was a FEPOW who tragically died in September 1945 on the boat on the way home. He had carefully etched the details into the cover of the watch: it was purchased in Cape Town in December 1941, just one month before the allies surrendered in Singapore. Bernard says:  “I wonder how he managed to hide it from the Japanese?”  Then he says:  “I was only 4 years old when he went to war. I have gone through life without a father. I missed him then and I still miss him now.”

As the child of a FEPOW myself (Padre Eric Cordingly) I feel there’s an area of our research which has been somewhat neglected, which is how the experiences of the FEPOWs impacted on their families: the wives, children and grandchildren, and how it still echoes down through the generations today.

Some, like Bernard, grew up without a father, and others had frightening and negative experiences because the men were so traumatised by what they’d been through.  Other families were inspired to find out more about their relative and undertake extensive research which has been of benefit to the whole FEPOW community.  Some had fathers who wrote diaries and a lucky few have discovered bagfuls of treasures which survived the war and were put away in cupboards to be found years later.

Jeremy Stacy’s father, Eric, was a chartered architect in civilian life and when he was a prisoner he helped to design some of the little chapels they built in Changi, Singapore, and up-country, beside the Thai-Burma Railway. He made some beautiful paintings of them, one of which Jeremy is holding in this photo: St George’s “in the Poultry”, close to the chicken runs in the officers’ area and within the Changi gaol walls.

painting
Jeremy Stacy with his father’s painting of St George’s “in the Poultry”. Courtesy of Louise Reynolds

That’s why I’m getting this project together. I feel it is helpful for us to recognise that, as children, we have all been affected in some way or another.  The men returned home and many were told to keep silent, or their stories were neglected or ignored. That’s why so many of us have struggled to share their histories with a wider audience.

I’m trying to document the various ways in which the impact of the FEPOWs’ experiences affected their families and to understand how difficult it can be for later generations. It’s not an academic study: it’s a chance for us to tell our stories.

I’ve already completed several interviews, and I’m looking for more.   If there is anyone who would like to talk about their father, grandfather, uncle or other relative, and how his experiences in the Far East affected them and their families, please do contact me.

I’m aiming to have all the research completed by Christmas 2018 so please get in touch as early as you can.  You can reach Louise directly at:  louisereynolds99@aol.com  or fill in the contact form and we would be happy to forward  your message to her.

Words and images: © Louise Reynolds

Lisbon Maru Documentary: Call for information

A call for information from Laurel Films – please contact Major Brian Finch directly (details below) if you are have any information that may help.

Laurel Films are making a documentary film about the sinking of the Lisbon Maru on 2 October 1942 and we would like to contact relatives of all those British prisoners of war who were on the ship. Please get in touch if you are willing to share your memories, photographs, letters or any other material. We hope that your contribution will preserve and respect the memory of your relative and help us bring this terrible human tragedy to life.

Anything you share will be treated sensitively. Screenwriter and producer Fang Li, who runs Laurel Films, has a personal ambition to ensure that the 828 British prisoners of war who perished in the disaster are not forgotten, and nor are all the other British and allied servicemen who fought in the Far East – many sacrificing their lives and others facing terrible suffering – all in the defence of freedom.

Laurel Films is an established Chinese film company with a string of successful productions and the winner of international awards and plaudits. We have pulled together an award-winning team to produce a comprehensive and authoritative documentary about the sinking of the Lisbon Maru.

We will be collecting data, film footage, documents, photographs and other material from a wide range of sources in the UK, the USA, Hong Kong, China and Japan to compile the most complete record of the incident ever produced. Your contribution will help us produce the fullest possible account, fleshed out with individual human stories, many of which will be very moving. The event is not widely known about and our aim is to spread knowledge more broadly. The film will be produced in English for an international audience and will also be screened in other languages. Filming has already started and we plan to release the documentary in early 2020.

We have appointed Major Brian Finch as our UK liaison contact. Brian served with one of the Lisbon Maru survivors, and has recently published his English translation of a Chinese book on the subject, A Faithful Record of the “Lisbon Maru” Incident, published by Proverse Hong Kong in November 2017. He can be contacted at: bfinch@tiscali.co.uk.

Cycling the Sandakan death march – Dr Clare Makepeace

Dr Clare Makepeace writes for RFHG about her moving eleven-day SpiceRoads/TKY Adventure Tours cycling trip in the north of Borneo, on which she mountain biked part of the Sandakan death march and visited memorials to the prisoners of war (POWs) who died there in the final year of the Second World War.

Sandakan march track
Part of the Sandakan death march track as seen today. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

The fate of the hundreds of Australian and British prisoners held at Sandakan, on the east coast of the Malaysian part of Borneo island, is one of less well-known episodes of captivity in Southeast Asia, despite being the most fateful. Their death rate was 99.99%, the highest suffered by any group of prisoners held by the Japanese.

In 1942 and 1943, 2,700 POWs were transferred to Sandakan to construct a military airport. Initially, conditions were similar to other camps: work was tough, discipline tight, but food was relatively plentiful. Gradually, however, rations were reduced and physical abuse increased.

From early 1945, fearing Allied invasion, the Japanese forced over one thousand of the prisoners on three marches westwards to the town of Ranau, 260km away. The conditions endured were atrocious. Already skeletal and suffering from diseases such as beri-beri and tropical ulcers, the prisoners were given no medical assistance, little food and often wore just a loin cloth. The Japanese were also under orders to execute anyone who could not keep up.

Approximately 500 POWs died on these marches, the rest perished in camps at Sandakan and Ranau, succumbing to starvation, illness or exposure, or were murdered in cold blood. Of 2,434 POWs imprisoned at Sandakan in January 1945, just six of them – all Australians who had escaped into the jungle – survived.

Cycle
Navigating the Sandakan death march track. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

I always find it incredible to visit sites of such significant history; to feel, in some tiny way, the conditions these men endured. It is immensely humbling. I found it challenging enough to bike down a single-track dirt lane, push my heavy mountain bike through numerous river crossings, cycle in saturating humidity and under the intense heat of a tropical sun. This, of course, was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what those POWs faced. I would like to say that having been there, I can better imagine what they went through, but I can’t. Perhaps that is testament to the extremities of human endurance they experienced; so far from our lives today that it is impossible to envisage in the slightest, even when one is stood on the same physical spot.

Until recently, little had been known about the Sandakan death march. That all changed in 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, when the route of the march was first mapped out.

I was inspired by how extensively it is now being memorialised in Borneo. Our trip included an overnight stay at Sabah Tea Plantation. The march passed through this area and the Plantation strongly identifies with this history. It carries two memorials to the prisoners and the accommodation also commemorates them. I stayed the night in ‘Lofty Hodges cottage’, named after the Sergeant who helped rescue four of the Australian escapees. We also visited two other memorials. One at Ranau, occupying the site of the camp of the survivors of the first march; another in the town of Kundasang. Kundasang war memorial contains two gardens dedicated to the British and Australians, as well as a roll of honour.

Roll of honour - Jundasang
The roll of honour at Kundasang War Memorial. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

The location for the list of the dead seemed highly fitting. Placed high above Kundasang valley and taking in a breathtaking panoramic view, there was a serenity and majesty to this space.  It was absolutely the memorial these men deserved.

Yet, once I came to read through the roll of honour, that tranquillity was shattered, as I became aware of one final horrendous feature of this atrocity. As I glanced through the alphabetical list, I noticed that beside the names of S. O. Bexton and T. Bexton were the words ‘These two were brothers’. Then I saw an F. A. and an F. R. Burchnall, with an additional note: ‘These two were father and son’. As I read on, I counted seven more pairs of brothers, one pair of twins and then, alongside the initials that shared the ‘Dorizzi’ surname, the horrifying sentence ‘These three were brothers’.

Kundasang brothers
‘These three were brothers’. Kundasang War Memorial. © Dr Clare Makepeace.

The younger two Dorizzi brothers died on the same day – 11 February 1945. It appears they were shot at Sandakan when they applauded the allied bombing of the airstrip. Their elder brother was killed on the march. Could war get any crueller than that?

Dr Clare Makepeace’s debut book is Captives of War. British Prisoners of War in Europe in the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – FEPOW DOCUMENTARY ART STUDY

We’re thrilled to introduce the first in a series of exclusive blogs for RFHG by Meg Parkes, previewing the artwork of previously unrecognised British military artists (both amateurs and trained).

These men took enormous risks to record and keep hidden their documenting of conditions and life in and around POW camps across south east Asia and the Far East during WWII.  Since 2012 this artwork – identifying the artists and locating and interpreting their work – has been the main focus of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s Far East POW (FEPOW) documentary art study. In addition to the six recognised British military documentary artists held captive in the Far East (i.e. Searle, Chalker, Meninsky, Rawlings, Thrale and Old), the study has uncovered artwork by over 40 more previously unrecognised FEPOW artists. Largely held in private collections, mostly by the descendants of the artists, much has remained unseen by the public.

LSTM in partnership with the Univeristy of Liverpool, is staging an exhibition to showcase these artists and their work. Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum will host the show, opening on Saturday 19 October 2019 and running through till mid-June 2020, the 75th anniversary year of the ending of WWII and Far East captivity. LSTM first became involved in the care and treatment of returned FEPOW in late 1945. It has stayed involved ever since.

  1. Andrew Atholl Duncan

Andrew Atholl Duncan was born in 1918 in St Andrews, Scotland. He studied mechanical engineering at St Andrews university and was proficient in technical drawing. As a member of the university’s Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) he took a commission in the Highland Light Infantry at the outbreak of war. While serving in the British Expeditionary Force in northern France he transferred to 6th Btn Argyll &Sutherland Highlanders (A&SH) and was drafted east in January 1941 to join 2nd Btn A&SH, part of Singapore’s garrison force. He joined HQ staff, trained in ciphers and was transferred to Java under General Wavell to set up British HQ in mid-January 1942. He was promoted in the field to captain shortly before fall of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI).

Captured in late March 1942 he was held at Tandjong Priok transit camp, on the dockside north of Batavia (now Jakarta) in Java, for the first eight months of captivity before being shipped to Japan to work in the coalmining camps in southern Honshu. Later he was transferred to Zentsuji and finally Miyata, a Dutch camp under a harsh regime in the mountains due north of Nagasaki.

He secretly kept diaries throughout his captivity and also made several pencil sketches of the interior and exterior of huts at Zentsuji, as well as detailed plans of three of the four camps he was in, drawn to scale and complete with compass bearings.

View from my bedspace, Zentsuji, 1944 Capt A A Duncan.jpg

 

‘From My Bedspace’, interior of hut at Zentsuji POW camp, Shikoku Island, Japan 1944, pencil sketch by Capt. A.A. Duncan (© Duncan collection)

 TP

Plan of Tandjong Priok camp drawn 1942-1943 by Capt. A.A. Duncan (© Duncan collection)

His pencil sketches and camp plans show an eye for detail. The sketches reveal a good understanding of perspective and give a clear insight as to living conditions in the camp he spent the longest time in (Zentsuji). He kept his diaries and artwork hidden throughout captivity in a false bottom and inside lining of a Dutch kitbag he had acquired.

Following his repatriation in autumn 1945, Atholl Duncan decided not to complete his engineering studies but instead switched courses to study medicine, qualifying in 1950 and becoming a GP in Wirral in 1951. He said his decision to study medicine was in part due to the extraordinary work he witnessed doctors and medical staff doing in camp.

Through much of his post-war life he spoke little of his experiences, taking just a few close friends into his confidence over time. He did not join a FEPOW club. Neither did he ever keep diaries, or draw for pleasure; both had served a purpose.

His diaries were published after his death. Atholl Duncan is one of the “unrecognised” artists whose work will feature in the Liverpool exhibition.

 

Stranger in My Heart – Mary Monro

On 9 June 2018, Mary Monro’s moving book, Stranger in My Heart, was published. Mary spoke about the book at our Leeds workshop in March 2018. Here, Mary describes how she learned of her father’s wartime experiences, including his escape from Hong Kong, and her own journey to retrace his steps and all that it uncovered.

Stranger In My Heart by Mary Monro

 It’s the silence that gets us all started isn’t it? This is how I unlocked my Dad’s silence, 30 years after he died, and in the process how I learned much about who I am. The Dad I knew was a Shropshire farmer, horseman, watcher of the TV news. We received a letter from his old Chinese interpreter every Christmas, but he never said a word about his 25 years in the Royal Artillery or about his experiences in the Second World War.

Major Munro

Major John Monro, 1942; © Mary Monro

Battle of Hong Kong

Dad fought at the battle of Hong Kong in December 1941 and kept a diary. This gave me an eyewitness account of the battle, which I could cross-reference with official reports and the accounts of other combatants.

Imprisonment at Sham Shui Po

After the surrender on Christmas Day 1941, 5000 – 6000 Allied troops were imprisoned at Sham Shui Po Barracks on the mainland. It was clear that they were in for a rough time. They faced the awful dilemma of staying for an unknown period in terrible conditions or escaping into territory patrolled by the Japanese and inhabited by potentially hostile Chinese, where they didn’t know the country, couldn’t communicate and couldn’t hide. Senior officers in the camp were against escape and the Japanese Commandant promised that escapes would result in reprisals for those left behind. But Dad was determined to go, and it later turned out that reprisals were more than offset by the boost to morale generated by escapes.

Escape From Hong Kong

Dad travelled 1200 miles across China from Hong Kong to Chongqing, a destitute refugee in a nation of destitute refugees. It was hard to understand his escape route which seemed to be a crazy zig-zag across the map. I had to learn where the Japanese forces were; road, river and rail links; the location of British Military Missions, and so on. Chongqing, China’s wartime capital, turns out to be the preferred destination for escapers and so I was able to compare his account with those of other escapers.

escape routeMajor John Monro’s Escape Route, 1942; © Mary Monro

Plan to Liberate Hong Kong PoWs

In Chongqing Dad was made Assistant Military Attaché and remained there until the end of 1943. Searching his diary I stumbled across a barely known piece of history.

November 26th 1942: “Cooper came to lunch today. Afterwards we had a long discussion on the intelligence he required and the steps to be taken to prevent news of American Airforce movements on the Kweilin airfield leaking to the enemy. Finally Cooper, Ride and I went out onto the balcony for a long talk. As a result of this Ride and I stayed up most of the night concocting a plan”.

There is a lot of information in those 4 sentences. Col Lindsay Ride was founder of the British Army Aid Group, a humanitarian organisation set up to support PoWs in Hong Kong. Dad had a plan to evacuate all these PoWs with the help of the American Airforce. This meeting was to firm up the plan with the Americans. Col Merian Cooper was Chief of Staff to General Claire Chennault of the US Air Force, and was a pioneering aviator, movie producer and creator of King Kong.

Chennault and Cooper were forward thinkers, keen to use air power to attack Japanese supply lines in China. A co-benefit of this plan would be the liberation of the Hong Kong PoWs. But Chennault reported to General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell, a traditional infantryman who was determined to have a land-based war in Burma.

Chennault and Stilwell presented their opposing plans to Roosevelt and Churchill in May 1943. Chennault’s plan was approved but Roosevelt omitted to sign the directive and Stilwell’s buddies at the War Department ensured that the error was never corrected. Thus Chennault never received the supplies he needed. This was catastrophic for Dad’s plan and for the multitude who lost their lives in Asia as a result of the subverted strategy.

I was becoming frustrated by the written word and decided to retrace Dad’s escape route across China. But would I gain anything from visiting a country that has seen huge changes over the last 70 years?

I started in Hong Kong, touring the battlefield sites and visiting the military cemetery at Stanley. It brought my grief to the surface but it also made me feel close to Dad. I took the train to Shaoguan, where dad had stayed for 10 days writing reports about the conditions for PoWs back in Hong Kong. I continued to Guilin with its stunning Karst landscape and learned more about the conquest of the city by the Japanese. Guizhou, a haven for many of China’s ethnic minorities, is relatively undeveloped, so I felt I was seeing it through Dad’s eyes. In Chongqing I visited Stilwell’s offices, preserved with furniture intact and giving a sense of the dramas that must have unfolded in those rooms. My trip still left me wanting more.

office
Stilwell’s office in Chongqing. © Mary Monro

Research

I started writing, using Dad’s diaries, reports and letters and filling in the background however I could. I hired researchers in the UK and the USA. I found that Roosevelt’s entire presidential archive is available online for free, so I researched that from home. I studied as many books on Hong Kong and China’s war as I could find and pestered friends for any other sources they might have lurking at home.

Finding Community

Unbound is publishing my book and will bring this story to a wider audience. I felt morally bound – and keen – to try and contact the descendants of the people whom Dad mentions. Their responses were truly heartwarming and I felt an immediate sense of community. We all wanted to honour and remember our relations. We were all floundering because of the silence. But for me, the silence had broken, opening to a greater understanding of China, my father and myself.

 

Remembering captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War