Category Archives: Books

From Hell Island to Hay Fever: The Life of Dr Bill Frankland

A new biography of Dr Bill Frankland is published in October 2018.  Author Paul Watkins writes for RFHG about Frankland’s remarkable life.

The Toss of a Coin

On 28 November 1941, QSMV Dominion Monarch arrived at Singapore at the end of a two-month voyage from Liverpool. On board were 35 doctors from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), a number of Army nurses and 1700 men of the Royal Artillery. The RAMC group included 29-year-old Captain A. W. ‘Bill’ Frankland. He had qualified from St Mary’s Hospital in 1938 and had joined the Army two days before the declaration of war, in September 1939.

Bill Frankland
Captain A.W. ‘Bill’ Frankland. Courtesy of Paul Watkins.

The plan for the RAMC contingent was to form a General Hospital at Johor Bahru. However, four days after landing this changed and their fate was unclear. Bill Frankland, along with another new arrival, Captain R. L. Parkinson RAMC, was summoned to a meeting with a senior officer. There were two positions to be filled: one at Tanglin Military Hospital, working primarily in VD and dermatology, and the other as an anaesthetist in the newly opened Alexandra Military Hospital, a facility which Bill later described as ‘like Buckingham Palace’. Bill’s preference was Tanglin, as was Captain Parkinson’s; neither relished the prospect of administering anaesthetics. The senior officer broke the stalemate in a time-honoured way. A coin was spun: ‘You call, Frankland’ was the instruction. ‘Heads, Sir’. It was. Bill was sent to Tanglin and Captain Parkinson to Alexandra Military Hospital.

Four days later Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour, Singapore and Hong Kong. Over the ensuing months Tanglin came under heavy attack. During this time Bill treated many allied casualties and was also responsible for treating a small number of Japanese casualties taken prisoner. In addition he served as ‘prisoner’s friend’ to Captain Patrick Heenan, the ‘Traitor of Singapore’, who had been found guilty of treason.

On 11 February 1942, with Japanese troops no more than 500 metres away, Bill evacuated the hospital to the Victoria Theatre in Singapore City. Two days later, on Black Friday, he assisted British nurses, who had assembled at Singapore Cricket Club, to make their way to Keppel Harbour. He oversaw their passage onto small vessels which took them to the waiting SS Kuala. This was the last group of nurses to leave Singapore; many having worked at Alexandra Military Hospital. Reaching the gangway of Kuala they were greeted by Australian deserters armed with rifles, who allowed the nurses to board but told Bill that he could not. His reply was simple: ‘I do not intend to, I have plenty of work to be done back on land’.

Saturday 14 February stands out as one of the darkest days in the history of Singapore. On that day, Japanese troops surrounded Alexandra Military Hospital, and despite Red Cross flags being draped over the building, proceeded to attack. On seeing the situation unfolding Lieutenant W.F.J. Weston RAMC, walked out of the hospital towards the advancing troops, waving a large sheet as a white flag. He was immediately bayoneted and killed; he was 27 years old. His headstone poignantly reads ‘Greater love hath no man than this.’ Soon the Japanese entered the hospital creating unimaginable mayhem. Anaesthetised patients were bayoneted them as they lay on operating tables. Medical staff were also attacked. Captain T. B. Smiley, a surgeon with the RAMC, was bayoneted in the chest, but the blade was deflected by his cigarette case (a gift from his fiancée). Nearby, Captain Parkinson was anaesthetising Corporal Holden – both were killed.

Few patients survived the massacre and overall, more than 200 men lost their lives. Had it not been for the toss of coin in late 1941, Captain Bill Frankland would most certainly have been one of them.

Frankland blue plaque
The blue plaque outside Alexandra Hospital, Singapore. Courtesy of Paul Watkins.

Now aged 106, the biography of Dr Bill Frankland is to be published on 16 October. Entitled ‘From Hell Island to Hay Fever’, it details the remarkable and long life of Britain’s oldest doctor. It describes several occasions when Bill Frankland has been next to death, both in war and peace. The book provides unique insight into the remarkable medical career of a man who survived incarceration by the Japanese, worked for Sir Alexander Fleming, developed the pollen count and treated Saddam Hussein – it will be of interest to many and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

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.

 

New Book – Captive Memories

Captive_MemoriesCaptive Memories

By

Meg Parkes and Geoff Gill

Captive Memories, a new book by LSTM’s Honorary Fellow Meg Parkes and Emeritus Professor Geoff Gill, will launch next week at an event at the Liverpool Medical Institution. The book charts the history of LSTM’s longest running collaborative project involving Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOW).

At the end of WWII, even before the men returned to the UK following the end of hostilities with Japan, LSTM’s then Dean, Brian Maegraith addressed a large group of their families in Blackpool in early September 1945, answering questions about the kind of tropical diseases and infections that the men may return with. On their arrival back in the UK, the men went their own way, but in early post war months many, especially those living in the north if England, found their way to LSTM, beginning the unique scientific and medical collaboration which is now in its seventh decade.

From 1967 onwards LSTM became the primary centre to carry out Tropical Disease Investigations (TDIs) for FEPOW. By this time hundreds of men had been under the care of LSTM and in the mid-1970s Dr Geoff Gill became involved in their care until the last TDI was carried out in 1999. The relationship with LSTM did not end there and out of this enduring relationship came knowledge which improved the diagnosis and treatment of some tropical diseases.

In 2007 Meg began a social history project and recorded interviews with 66 former FEPOW as well as some of their wives and widows, the culmination of which is Captive Memories. It charts the history of these survivors, remembered six decades after their release. It is a touching and personal account of their captivity, survival and the struggles, both physical and psychological, faced on their release. Each person interviewed is quoted in the book which provides a fascinating history underpinned with eyewitness accounts and personal perspectives.

Price: £12.99
Imprint: Palatine Books
ISBN: 978-1-910837-00-9
Binding: paperback
Extent: 272 pages
Format: 243 x 169mm, with flaps
Illustrations: c40
BIC code: HBWQ
Category: history/war/medicine Audience: general and academic
Pub date: 28 May 2015
Author: Meg Parkes & Geoff Gill