Carl Murray is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary University of London. He obtained his PhD from Queen Mary in 1980 and then spent two years as a postdoc at Cornell University before returning to Queen Mary. Carl is a planetary scientist who specialises in the dynamics of the Saturn system.
Carl’s father was Major Frank Murray RAMC, who survived incarceration as a FEPOW in Changi and Hokkaido, Japan, before returning to Belfast to marry his fiancée, Eileen O’Kane. In the 1980s, Carl began to use his father’s wartime diary to learn more about the experiences of FEPOWs. In 2020 this research led to the creation of a website, thebelfastdoctor.info, where Carl documented Frank Murray’s life with the aim of providing a useful resource for descendants of Frank’s fellow POWs. In 2022 BBC Gaeilge broadcast an Irish language documentary based on the wartime correspondence between Frank and Eileen.
John Willis is one of Britain’s best-known television executives. Nagasaki: The Forgotten Prisoners is his third book about the Second World War, following on from Churchill’s Few and Secret Letters: A Battle of Britain Love Story, both published in 2020.
John was Director of Programmes at Channel 4 and Director of Factual and Learning at the BBC. In 2012 he was elected as Chair of BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). He is currently Chair of Governors at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (University of London) and Chair of the Complaints Review Panel, Guardian and Observer newspapers.
Louise Reynolds is a qualified psychotherapist and worked for 20 years as a couples’ therapist in London for Relate, for the Tavistock Centre and in private practice. Before that, she worked for the BBC as a studio manager (radio) and floor manager (television) and then for BBC Radio Training. When her husband was appointed BBC Foreign Correspondent, she and their young family spent nine years abroad in New York, Brussels and Jerusalem and latterly in Washington, and she contributed some radio features to Woman’s Hour and The Sunday Programme.
She began her research into her father’s experiences as a FEPOW after discovering his diaries amongst her mother’s papers in 2012. They covered his time as a Padre in Changi and then in Kanchanaburi beside the River Kwai, where he buried over 600 young men who had died of complications due to the appalling conditions of their captivity. She has published four books: Down to Bedrock, The Changi Cross and Eric and Scrunchball (a children’s book) and then in 2019, she embarked on a series of interviews for her latest publication, Echoes of Captivity, which illustrates and exposes the trans-generational trauma experienced by many FEPOW families. She has used her therapy training as a basis for understanding this phenomenon.
We’re really looking forward to our conference this June, and to add even more excitement, we can now begin to start announcing our confirmed speakers!
Here are the first three to whet your appetite, but we’ll be announcing many more speakers for our jam-packed weekend very soon. Remember to make sure you are signed up for our newsletter for sneak peeks at these announcements. Plus, we still have a few spaces available, so to secure your spot, register now.
John Tulloch MBE served in the New Zealand Army from 1965 to 1973, including a Tour of Duty in Vietnam from July 1968 to July 1969. He served in the Royal Artillery from 1973 to 2003 in the UK, Northern Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, including the Falklands in 1982. He served in the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces from 1978-80. He spent 21 years as a visiting Jungle Warfare Instructor and advisor to the UK Jungle Warfare School in Brunei.
His book ‘The Borneo Graveyard 1941-1945’ which took 12 years of research, was published in March 2020. His book was launched in the UK in 2021 at the CWGC VJ Day 2021 Service. The Sabah book launch is on 27 February 2023.
He was honoured with the MBE in 2003 in recognition of his service to jungle warfare training.
He gives talks on Vietnam and Borneo to the military, historical groups and schools.
Dr. Toby Norways is a Senior Lecturer in Scriptwriting at the University of Bedfordshire. He is an award-winning writer of script and prose. His films have screened in diverse locations around the world, including BAFTA Piccadilly, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Hollywood, and Iraq.
Toby was awarded a PhD in English Literature from Liverpool Hope University in 2021. The PhD involved writing a memoir of his late father, Bill Norways (1918-86), a Corporal in the 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment, who spent three and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese. Bill was a trained artist and brought back over 200 paintings, sketches, and photos from his captivity in Singapore and Thailand.
Dr Jon Cooper is a recent graduate from the Centre for War Studies and Conflict Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, having completed his thesis on the life and times of the Scottish soldiers in Singapore in 1942. Previously Jon spent 7 years in Singapore as Project Coordinator for The Adam Park Project, which looked at the archaeology relating to the defence of the Adam Park Housing by the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshires and the subsequent occupation of the wrecked estate by 3,000 POWs in 1942.
Jon curates an online virtual museum which holds all the Adam Park source material, which is linked to the book ‘Tigers in the Park’. He currently works as a freelance conflict archaeologist, battlefield tour guide and a tutor at the University of Glasgow in which the Singapore campaign is given the limelight. Jon also helps with the CoFEPOW Scottish section, introducing new Scottish members to the experience of the Scots in the Far East. His ambition is to get back out to Singapore to continue the surveys along the south coast battlefields.
We are looking forward to the 2023 conference this June, which is going ahead, barring any unforeseen last-minute restrictions.
As currently there are no restrictions on space at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), we are pleased to announce that we can now expand capacity. Those on the waiting list have been informed, and if you haven’t booked already, now is the time to do so, as there are a few places still available. Please fill out this form to secure your spot!
As a reminder, the dates are 10th -11th June. We expect the times of the conference to be 09:00-16:30 on both days for our core schedule. If you need accommodation, we recommend The Liner Hotel (with discount booking code: 0623LIVE. Please note to use this code you need to make your booking by ringing 0151 709 7050 or online email@example.com). The hotel is conveniently located next to Liverpool Lime Street Station and a short walking distance from the LSTM. Some optional evening sessions will also take place in The Liner too. But of course, there are many other options to choose from.
We will be announcing further conference news, including more speakers, in the lead-up to June. To be the first to hear any announcements make sure you are signed up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. All conference information can be found in our dedicated website section too.
Planning to put on this next conference has had its challenges!
As seasoned delegates will know, RFHG run the conferences on a shoestring; we are all volunteers and rely on delegate fees to underpin all but the venue costs. We are indebted to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine for its continuing support.
While we are all now learning to live with COVID-19, and with a further vaccine rollout this autumn, we still cannot be certain that something may arise to restrict plans once again. Therefore, in the event of another COVID-19 threat next year we must comply with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s safeguarding guidelines within School during periods of rising or high infection rates (such as mask wearing and social distancing).
FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED
This means that initially we have limited guaranteed places to the first 55 people for whom we receive completed delegate forms, together with deposits. When guest speakers and the RFHG team are added, we reach the school’s maximum number of persons allowed in the lecture theatre under the 2-metre social distancing rules.
However, we sincerely hope that by Spring next year we will be able to invite another 30 or more from the waiting list to join the conference. We appreciate your understanding. We will inform all those who register if they have a confirmed place or are on the waiting list.
NB previous delegates had priority booking (from 1 September) so don’t delay booking to avoid disappointment! If we do not reach our break-even by 1 November, regrettably we will have to cancel the conference.
Queries? Get in touch via email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or to email@example.com, or by telephone – 0151 632 2017. We aim to respond to queries within five working days.
It is with regret that due to the comparatively high infection rates and the resulting uncertainties, we have reached the decision that we are unable to stage the conference, originally planned for 2020, in 2022.
We have explored the potential for running an online conference, but have concluded that whilst technically this may be possible, we would lose many of the benefits of hosting the conference. We know from the feedback that we have had from our delegates over the past 15 years that we have been organising conferences, that the strength in what we do is to bring like-minded people together to meet others with similar (or not) research interests. Delegates are used to open access to the range of experts who agree to share their knowledge at the conferences, all within a convivial social setting. We simply cannot replicate this aspect of the conference virtually for our community.
The good news is that the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have agreed to us deferring the conference until June 2023. This means that it would fall within the school’s 125th anniversary year. This would inevitably help us to reach a wider audience than previously. We will let you know in due course how to register your interest for this event.
We may need to make some alterations to the original proposed conference programme to reflect any changes to speakers and any travel restrictions that we may need to consider. We also hope to be able to accept contributions from remote speakers via online platforms. We would like to hear from anyone who has any ideas for potential topics, either new or revisited, for the programme. We have also previously had some interest in the possibility of us holding a smaller online event during the coming year. If there is sufficient interest, we would like to hear from those of you who would like to join an event like this remotely later in 2021. Please click hereto share your thoughts on this.
We thank you for your continued interest and also your patience during these challenging times.
Martin Percival, Chair of the Researching FEPOW History Group
The Pacific War started for the Americans at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, but it was a few hours later and on the other side of the international dateline that Britain woke to war in the Far East and a threat to its Asian territories. The battle of Hong Kong, though key to events in China and ultimate victory, is a largely forgotten part of the Pacific War.
Churchill felt that it would be better for Hong Kong to fall into Japanese hands – to be recovered later – than to fall into Chinese hands, from which it might never be reclaimed. He certainly didn’t expect that Hong Kong could be held and refused to ‘waste’ extra resources on its defence. After receiving a request in January 1941 to strengthen the garrison, Churchill noted:
‘If Japan goes to war there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it. It is most unwise to increase the loss we shall suffer there…. I wish we had fewer troops there, but to move any would be noticeable and dangerous.’
Oliver Lindsay, military historian, commented:
‘For political and moral reasons Hong Kong had to be defended. Many Chinese would have been seriously discouraged from continuing their weary and interminable struggle against Japan, if Britain had lacked the courage and determination to resist and had abandoned the colony to the mercy of the Japanese before they had even declared war. Such a sordid act of appeasement would also have shaken the neutral Americans, who were then strengthening their forces in the Pacific while critically assessing Britain’s determination to fight on.’
The Allies in Hong Kong were woefully unprepared for a land-based attack and were poorly supported at every level. They were 15,000 men against over 50,000 Japanese, who were battle hardened from four years fighting in China. The garrison included Hong Kong Chinese, two Indian battalions, two newly formed Canadian battalions, British forces and the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps. Initially the Japanese air force knocked out the Allies’ capability for air defence and reconnaissance, before ground troops began to push south from the Chinese border. The lack of air cover combined with few troops defending the mainland meant that the Japanese made rapid progress through the New Territories. The mainland was lost by 13 December, following a last stand at the Devil’s Peak peninsula.
After refusing a Japanese demand for surrender there followed three days of bombardment of the Allied positions on Hong Kong Island. General Sakai demanded surrender again on 17 December after this punishing shelling but, again, the British refused. Fierce fighting raged for the next few days as the Allies obstinately refused to admit defeat. The Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young, eventually surrendered the colony to the Japanese on Christmas afternoon, 1941. In his official despatch General Maltby, General Officer Commanding explained:
‘The deployment by the enemy of such superior forces and armament, the exhaustion after sixteen days of continuous battle with no reliefs for any individuals, our vulnerability to unlimited air attack, the impossibility of obtaining more ammunition for the few mobile guns I had remaining, the serious water famine immediately impending – these were the factors which led to the inevitable conclusion, namely, that further fighting meant the useless slaughter of the garrison, risked severe retaliation on the large civilian population and could not affect the final outcome.’
Subsequently known as ‘Black Christmas’, the surrender of Hong Kong cost the Allies around 11,000 captured as well as 2,287 killed/missing and 1,300 wounded during the battle. Japanese casualties in the fighting numbered 1,895 killed and around 6,000 wounded. For the captured, this was the start of a long struggle for survival. Thousands died, either in Hong Kong or when they were shipped to Japan, with over 800 PoW fatalities on the Lisbon Maru ‘hell ship’ alone. Almost a quarter of Far East PoWs died in captivity. Very few men escaped from Hong Kong, where Japanese troops patrolled the colony and it was thought that the local Chinese might hand you over to the enemy. Besides, disguise for Caucasians was impossible and China was an unknown territory, with poor transport links and the Japanese army advancing across it. Only 33 men ever escaped from Sham Shui Po camp, for example, thankfully including my father.
Not that he ever talked about his experiences. It was though he, like so many veterans, kept a vow of silence after the war. The annual commemoration of the Great War (later known as the First World War) with two minutes’ silence is a ritualised version of the night vigil, when the dead were watched over by their surviving comrades. The purpose was to protect them against mutilation, looting or being eaten by scavengers; to guard their honour rather than as an act of remembrance. Perhaps survivors’ lifelong silence, particularly from the First and Second World Wars, served to guard the honour of their dead and their own scorched youth. But the families of veterans are left with a tantalising blindspot, a frustrating ignorance of what their loved ones did, achieved, suffered and felt.
On this 80th anniversary, what are we commemorating and how does the act of remembrance help us in our lives today? For those of us with personal connections to the Battle of Hong Kong, we can take this opportunity to collectively remember our loved ones, even if their specific role in the battle and its aftermath remain unknown to us. We are deeply indebted to Prof Kwong Chi Man of Hong Kong Baptist University for creating a commemorative, interactive map of the battle and its actors at https://digital.lib.hkbu.edu.hk/1941hkbattle/en/index.php. There you can see details of battle infrastructure, the chain of events, unit movements and biographies of individual combatants, pausing, zooming in and learning more as you go. It is an extraordinary achievement and a resource to be treasured.
More generally we can think about the values and behaviours that the Allied forces expressed. Britain, its empire and its allies had been at war for two years by this time and was facing an unknown, imperilled future. The opening of a new theatre in the Far East meant stretching scarce resources and, potentially, the loss of many more lives. It was widely accepted in Hong Kong that the fate of the colony was doomed and yet they fought to the bitter end.
These men were fighting with commitment, determination, camaraderie, fortitude, conviction, resilience and courage, in defence of freedom and in defiance of inevitable defeat. Like their colleagues in Europe they fought against tyranny, aggression and greed. They lost colleagues, friends and family and often suffered terribly themselves and yet they fought on. The Hong Kong civilian population suffered too but did not turn against the Allies, often supporting them at risk to their own lives. The battle was a joint effort, with Allied troops of every colour, culture and creed united against a common foe. Local defeat was the price of ultimate victory, with the China theatre keeping half the Japanese forces busy for the rest of the war.
We need this same spirit of teamwork, cooperation and willingness to make sacrifices in our approach to present day global issues such as the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis. This is a moment in history to stand together and to value our common characteristics above our differences in order to achieve a lasting security. Let us remember and honour that, with those brave people who fought for us lighting the way.
 Oliver Lindsay The Lasting Honour: The Fall of Hong Kong 1941 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978), 201
 General Christopher Maltby The London Gazette, 27 January 1948
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
Remembering captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War