UPDATE: 7th International Researching FEPOW History Conference Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – June 2020

In the light of the growing worldwide uncertainty around the Coronavirus outbreak and its potential impact specifically upon the U.K. over the coming months, as well as in response to some concerns expressed by our delegates and speakers, the Researching FEPOW History Group has regrettably decided that we need to postpone the conference scheduled for June 2020. We have deliberated long and hard over this decision and we also consulted with our hosts, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

This news is of course very disappointing for everyone, especially in this 75th VJ Day anniversary year. However, with the growing uncertainty and anxiety expressed by some of the conference participants who have existing health concerns, we have little choice. We do not wish to put anyone at risk and we cannot run the conference without the required number of delegates and – of course – our team of expert speakers.

The good news is that the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have agreed to host the postponed conference in June 2021 (the precise dates to be confirmed). We very much hope that everyone who had planned to attend the conference in June 2020 will be able to join us next year. More news will be posted on the Researching FEPOW History website https://fepowhistory.com/blog (https://fepowhistory.com/blog/)/ as soon as we have the details for 2021. Emails to all the delegates and speakers have been sent.

We would like to thank everyone for their support and understanding and we very much hope to see you in Liverpool in June 2021.

-The organising team of the Researching FEPOW History conference

Dr Alfred William “Bill” Frankland, MBE

We are saddened to learn of the death of Dr Alfred William “Bill” Frankland MBE who passed away last night, 1 April 2020, aged 108.
Bill served as a captain in the RAMC during the Second World War. Captured in Singapore he remained there throughout captivity, first at Changi POW camp and later on Sentosa Island where he worked tirelessly to save lives. It was while a prisoner of war that his interest in allergy began. It was to become his life’s work: it was Bill who brought us the daily pollen count.
In 2012 Bill was the oldest FEPOW to contribute to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s FEPOW oral history project.
His remarkable story is told in From Hell Island to Hay Fever The Life of Dr Bill Frankland, written by Paul Watkins.

The Chindit Operations

Piers Storie-Pugh has travelled to Burma since 1985 and the Chindit Operations is one of his specialities; he has both written and made films about them. He regularly presents his talk “The Chindit Operations of Burma 1943-44”, which is supported by over 150 PowerPoint photographs, many never seen before.

From 1941 disaster followed disaster for Great Britain and her Empire and indeed for the Far East. The fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, was followed by the fall of Malaya and the disastrous surrender of Singapore in February 1942. A failed expedition into the Arakan sealed the fate of the Allies at that time.

Field Marshall Wavell sent for Orde Wingate, who had made his name in Palestine and Eritrea and told him to look at the feasibility of long range penetration into Burma. Wingate therefore paid a visit to Mike Calvert, then commanding the Bush Warfare School in Maymyo, right up in the Shan Hills. Together they walked through the jungle discussing the tactics and this was to be the embryo of the Chindits. Wavell decided that all operations into Burma in 1943 should be stood down but Wingate persuaded him that his 3rd LRP Brigade was eager to go ahead. Thus, Operation Longcloth was launched! Commanded personally by Orde Wingate three thousand men and five hundred mules and horses, with air support left Imphal and marched eastwards in February 1943. Along the way they bumped into groups of Japanese, crossed the very fast flowing Chindwin, continued eastwards, cutting railway lines, blowing bridges and perfecting the art of air re-supply lines and met friendly local Burmese. The Japanese were perplexed by both the purpose and how the Chindits were sustained in the field.

Having crossed the Irrawaddy, one of the widest rivers in the world, they were at the extreme range of air supply and becoming boxed in by a swiftly reacting enemy. Imphal Army Headquarters ordered their return to India. Wingate broke up the groups and under their own arrangements headed westwards; some went north via China, others through NE Assam; but some never made it – they had run into the Japanese force, which had gone ahead expecting a follow up Chindit Operation.

Wingate had his enemies not least because Operation Longcloth was expensive in the loss of men and most of those who got back were in no fit state for another such long range expedition.

However, the exploits were given triumphant coverage by the press, eager for some good news and entranced PM Winston Churchill. Wingate was sent for and accompanied the PM to the Quebec Conference. There he shared his vision for future operations, thrilled the American Chiefs of Staff who in any case needed support for their own efforts in China and Wingate gained the promise of sufficient air power to raise five brigades for 1944.

Given this American support it was decided to fly in the Chindits by glider on Operation Thursday, but with Ferguson’s Brigade marching in alone; he did so to protect Stillwell’s right flank advancing from China, south towards Myitkyina.

The most successful Brigade Commander was undoubtedly Brigadier Mike Calvert DSO*. Flown into Broadway with his 3,000 men plus mules and horses, he advanced to Pagoda Hill which dominated the Japanese supply line from Mandalay northwards. He attacked the hill, established White City Fortress and caused havoc in the area. Ferguson, when he arrived after an extremely arduous advance, established Aberdeen; later Jack Masters established Blackpool.

Wingate visited Calvert, and had a wonderful few days meeting officers and soldiers from his old brigade, before flying on to Aberdeen to see Ferguson. Wingate was killed in a plane crash and so in many ways did his dream. However, Mountbatten said that by this time the 14th Army was ‘Chindit minded’.

The Chindits now came under command of the American General Vinegar Joe Stillwell. He hated the ‘Lazy Limies’ but had a huge respect for Wingate.

Without Wingate to protect them and with the gentlemanly Joe Lentaigne as Wingate’s successor, the Chindits were driven ruthlessly hard by Stillwell. He ordered Calvert to head north and capture Mogaung. Described as a mini Passchendaele this battle started on 6th June 1944 (!) and lasted nonstop for three weeks by which time Calvert had only 10% of his force fully fit. Nevertheless, the Chindits captured Mogaung with Chinese support. Suffering from wounds, sores, malaria and other afflictions, not least the demands from Stillwell, they were ordered by Mountbatten to be flown out to India.

The Chindits cut the essential Japanese supply lines to their troops facing Stillwell’s Army: blew up bridges, had fierce hand to hand medieval battles and slowed the Japanese advance towards Kohima and Imphal; causing them to be beleaguered the wrong side of the monsoon. The Chindits lit a flame of hope and did a huge amount to keep the American Chinese Army committed to the front.

Slim’s 14th Army drawn from Great Britain and many parts of the Empire, as well as local troops, may have been the Forgotten Army, but their exploits live on and have become the stuff of legend: The Chindits are right up there in this catalogue of astonishing achievements.

Even in the most atrocious conditions against a cruel enemy, thousands of miles from home, The Chindit Operations will live on in history as endeavours of extraordinary courage, cheek, panache and considerable sacrifice.

Those who were killed on that operation are buried or commemorated in the Htaukkyan War Cemetery or on the Rangoon Memorial. There are over five thousand graves and some twenty thousand names on the memorial – testament to the sacrifice in this Forgotten War.

Some of the Chindits captured were flung in Rangoon Goal and suffered similar dreadful ordeals of cruelty, hunger, beastings, disease and despair as their FEPOW comrades in The Far East.

The infamous Burma-Siam Railway pushed through Three Pagodas Pass, where it crossed the border, to reach Thanbyuziat where one will find the third  Commonwealth War Cemetery in Burma.

Mike Calvert returned to Burma just once and is seen here with Piers on top of Pagoda Hill which he stormed in March 1944.
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For talk or tour enquiries please contact pierss-p@virginmedia.com

On VJ Day 74: Letters between the generations

On the 74th anniversary of VJ Day, Ashley Prime writes for RFHG about his father, Lance Corporal Ashley Prime – a former prisoner of war in Singapore and Thailand – whose moving post-war letters have been published open access for all to read.

Ashley Prime
Lance Corporal Ashley Prime. Courtesy of Ashley Prime

I had of course always known that my father had been a Japanese Prisoner of War. I grew up with that always in our minds in our home, but it was never really seen as a negative. It was just there, and from my childhood, I recall kindly former colleagues of his visiting our home. They were always kind and I never felt any anger in the way they were. At least to me as a small child. 

Later in life, I was living in West Germany in my early twenties, and whilst back in London on holiday, I asked my father about the war and his experiences. He said he hadn’t really ever talked to me about it but did want to rectify that. We didn’t discuss anything further, but it was at that point that I started to receive a series of handwritten letters on A4 paper, over a period of around 18 months. He had been meticulous in keeping as many of the original documents as he had, including the postcards he had sent my mother, the only letter he had received from her and his record card. All in support of his letters.

And he wrote and wrote and wrote. Sadly he died in 1983 before he was able to complete his life story. He had written up to the mid 1950s and had therefore covered the fall of Singapore, captivity and liberation.

Ashley Prime’s letters can be accessed here: Ashley Prime: Calcutta to Singapore

 What did I take from the letters? And how did it change my view of my father? Firstly, there was throughout his letters a lack of anger, a lack of bitterness, with a pragmatic acceptance of his fate.  He said that ‘you will be back’ – the parting words from his wife – and ‘another life experience’ kept him going. 

 He had already said to me that forgiveness was one of the most difficult things to do. But holding on to bitterness eats us all away from the inside and doesn’t allow us to move on. And I think he did that with his captors, with the evidence of him giving them cigarettes, refraining from beating them and pitying them at the end of the war when the Japanese themselves became captives.

 And that is how I remember him. He was always kind, thoughtful, loving and caring. I rarely, if ever, saw him angry and he never raised his voice to me. I miss him today in 2019 as much as I do when he was here. 

 

All words © Ashley Prime, 2019.

26 June 1944: the sinking of the Harugiku Maru

To mark its anniversary, Dr Lizzie Oliver writes about the first of two sinkings of POW transport ships en route to the Sumatra Railway…

Seventy-five years ago today, 26 June 1944, a large contingent of Allied prisoners of war who had been designated to work on the Sumatra Railway were shipwrecked following ‘friendly fire’ by the British submarine HMS Truculent.

At the time, the former S.S. Van Waerwijk – renamed the Harugiku Maru by the Japanese – was being used to transport supplies from one side of the island of Sumatra to the other. What those aboard HMS Truculent didn’t know at the time, was that the ‘supplies’ being transported also included 730 Allied prisoners of war crammed down into the hold.

‘They had approximately 2’6” by 5’6”…in which to sit or lie with such kit as they possessed. There were no port-holes open on either side…There was such a congestion that the last 50 prisoners were literally beaten in the holds with sticks’. [Captain James Gordon Gordon, Royal Artillery]

Conditions during the voyage were exceptionally difficult, with meagre food and the only breaks up on deck permitted after the ship had been sailing for at least 18 hours. After much remonstration with their guards, groups of 25 men were able to go up for some fresh air every 15 minutes.

At 2pm on the 26th, two torpedoes hit the side of the ship. She sank within minutes; 180 POWs were killed, along with half of the 50 Japanese also on board.

After several hours in the water, the POWs were picked up and taken to River Valley Road Camp in Singapore. Here they would stay for three weeks until they were transported straight back to Sumatra. This time, they would find their intended destination: the jungle camps and exhausting labour of railway construction.

‘We walked…with our few worldly possessions – a sack or haversack, with a spoon and a dish, water bottle, a photo or two to remind us of loved ones at home, a toothbrush and razor blade which lasted me for 3 ½ years… We were to build a railway line…and the technical staff who were to supervise its construction, had already built a similar one in the north. We knew nothing of the Burma-Thailand line, nor that this one would be 220 kilometres long, and cross over the equator. So we toiled from daylight…until after dark, seven days a week’. [Allan Angus Munro, RAF; IWM ]

To read more, the paperback edition of Prisoners of the Sumatra Railway is available now. You can order it with a 10% discount via Bloomsbury here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/prisoners-of-the-sumatra-railway-9781350118904/

Image: Wrecksite.eu

Special FEPOW Descendants’ Weekend – 16, 17, 18 November 2019

The SECRET ART OF SURVIVAL exhibition

25 October 2019 – 20 June 2020

Victoria Gallery & Museum (VG&M), Ashton Street, Liverpool L69 3DR

 SATURDAY 16thVG&M: FEPOW Focus Day 10.30am – 3.30pm

A FREE programme of activities focused on FEPOW family histories including:

·       Short talks ·       Practical workshop on looking after artworks
·       Exhibition tours ·       Sharing memories and stories
·       Archive and documentary films ·       Digital archiving of stories, artwork and artefacts

Please note this is a drop-in session and activities will be repeated throughout the day.

 

SUNDAY 17th noonFEPOW Remembrance Service, Liverpool Parish Church (near the waterfront)

Special FEPOW Evening at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (RLPO) Hall, Hope Street, L1 9BP

Doors Open 6.30pm, 7pm start

  • Welcome presentations, then in memory of all Far East captives, the RLPO Youth Choir perform the Vocal Orchestra arrangement of Dvorak’s Largo, created in 1943 by and for the Women of Palembang Internment Camp
  • Feature film – Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie, Tom Conti and Ryuichi Sakamoto

The booking line for the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Hall (RLPO) is now open – https://www.liverpoolphil.com/whats-on/film/merry-christmas-mr-lawrence/3459 Tickets must be booked with RLPO, either online or by telephone: 0151 709 3789, there are no reserved seats.

MONDAY 18th10–1pm VG&M: private guided viewings of the Secret Art of Survival exhibition – regrettably these are now fully booked.

NB- VG&M is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am – 5pm

 IMPORTANT

Please register your interest now, fepow.project@lstmed.ac.uk stating which events you wish to attend.

Accommodation: The Liner Hotel (www.theliner.co.uk) in Lord Nelson Street (to the right of Lime Street Station) is offering special room rates for FEPOW exhibition visitors, subject to dates and availability. To book direct, call direct on 0151 709 7050 (the lower rates will only be available when calling direct) and quote FEPOW Art.

D-Day

In honour of the D-Day commemorations, Martin Percival writes…

The 6th June 2019 sees the 75th anniversary of D Day. The focus, quite rightly, is on Europe. What’s interesting though is to understand when and how the news was received by the POWs in the Far East and the impact it had upon their morale.

My father, Frank Percival, was captured in Singapore in February 1942 and was a member of one of the early work parties that headed up country to Thailand in June that year.

Upon returning home in October 1945, contrary to Army orders, the story of his captivity was published in the local newspapers in North West London – the Willesden Chronicle and the Kilburn Times. He told me when I was a teenager that as a young man, before he joined the Army in 1939, he had aspirations to be a journalist. I have often wondered if this piece, written on the ship home, was an attempt at fulfilling his career aspirations.This piece was re-published  in full with some additional photographs on Ron Taylor’s excellent Far Eastern Heroes website – see below:

http://www.far-eastern-heroes.org.uk/Your_Gods_Stronger_Than_Ours/

The piece reveals that the news about D Day was already circulating in Thailand as early as 9th June 1944 – just 3 days after the allied invasion of France. Although not mentioned in my father’s article, the news was received via ‘canaries’ – secret radios hidden in mess tins and other items to help to disguise them. If found the men held responsible by the Japanese risked death by beheading. The section on D Day and receiving news on the progress of the war from outside is as follows:

‘Most prison camps possessed excellent news facilities. In the camp in which I was interned in 1944 we knew full details of “D” Day on 9th June. Towards the end however things deteriorated, mainly as a result of the frequent searches carried out by the Japanese. But this was compensated for, in some measure, by the leaflets which occasionally came into our possession printed in Burmese, Chinese, Japanese and Siamese. We ware easily able to follow the course of the War from these, aided by excellent sketch maps printed on their reverse sides.’

My father told me that these communications were an incredible boost to morale – and that especially the news on D Day helped the POWs to believe that maybe there was now an end insight.

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